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LoyaltyOne employees can book one of the company's two Smart cars for their business about Toronto.
LoyaltyOne employees can book one of the company's two Smart cars for their business about Toronto.

Environmental initiatives

Embedding sustainability in company culture Add to ...

When LoyaltyOne employees have meetings offsite, they can book one of the company's eco-friendly Smart cars to go about their business in Toronto. This way, they can still take public transit to and from work and leave their personal vehicles at home.

Employees of Belleville, Ont.-based InterfaceFLOR Canada Inc., meanwhile, are part of a Canada-wide effort to divert used carpeting from landfill sites through a joint industry-government program called the Canadian Carpet Recovery Effort.

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The green culture is now so embedded at LoyaltyOne, operator of the AIR MILES reward program, and at carpet-manufacturer InterfaceFLOR, that both organizations have appointed senior executives as chief sustainability officers to co-ordinate and implement ideas springing from the grassroots levels of their firms.

Both companies, as well, have been cited in a soon-to-be-released report on best practices for embedding sustainability in organizational culture.

While it is fashionable for companies to be seen as green - and many pay lip-service to the concept - business leaders cannot weave environmental responsibility into their day-to-day operations without widespread buy-in from employees, said Tima Bansal, a professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business and a co-author of the best-practices study.

And the best way to get this buy-in is to fully engage employees in the process, she said.

"Do not lock these discussions up in the C-Suite - garner feedback from internal and external stakeholders," the Network for Business Sustainability, which operates out of Ivey, and Canadian Business for Social Responsibility, a non-profit business organization, said in a joint study, to be released May 3.

This is also an area where corporations should collaborate for the greater social good, said the organizations, which based their report on discussions at a recent workshop attended by academic researchers and business leaders intent on pushing for sustainability.

"The insights are in contrast to conventional management wisdom, which assumes that business strategies are closely guarded and emerge from the top down. Clearly, navigating the uncharted territory of sustainability demands new, unconventional business practices," the report authors said.

Canadian Business for Social Responsibility - which counts some of Canada's major banks, retailers and manufacturers among its 110 members - has found that progressive environmental policies have the potential to "really capture people's hearts and minds," Barb Steele, the organization's membership director, said in an interview.

But such initiatives only work if they are both "top down and bottom up," Ms. Steele said.

LoyaltyOne's sustainability platform originated with a volunteer group called LEAF, or Living Environmentally Aware Forum, said Debbie Baxter, a senior vice-president and chief sustainability officer at the company.

The company's chief executive officer, Bryan Pearson, was also "tremendously committed to the green movement - he's been involved in this way before it was cool to have solar panels on your cottage and do recycling programs," Ms. Baxter said. Recycling programs are well-entrenched at the company, which also has bragging rights to what it says is the largest rooftop solar panel installation in Canada at its main call centre.

The firm's My Planet rewards program gives bonus AIR MILES points to customers who make environmentally friendly purchases and, since last year, employees have had the option of booking one of the company's two Smart cars - adorned with the My Planet logo - for their business about town. This has become an incredibly popular perk and the company now plans to expand its "green fleet," Ms. Baxter said.

InterfaceFLOR has been building a culture of sustainability since 1994, said Nadine Gudz, the company's director of sustainability strategy. The mission is "to eliminate all negative environmental impact by the year 2020.

"That means no more use of non-renewable energy, only using recycled materials in our products, zero waste to landfill, zero environmental footprint," she said. "We're about 60 per cent there."

The initiative spans all levels of the organization. "It seems like every associate is a brand ambassador for sustainability," Ms. Gudz said.

There is no question that organizations can save money by eliminating wasteful practices, Prof. Bansal said. At the same time, corporations are facing increased pressure from consumers to do the right thing environmentally. The study aims at offering organizations a framework to embed sustainability into their corporate cultures by reporting on best practices.

In addition to the LoyaltyOne and InterfaceFLOR examples, the report cited the following initiatives, among others:

  • Farm Credit Canada has established an online panel inviting customers and others to comment on what they like and do not like about the company's efforts;
  • The Pembina Institute "engages every single employee on sustainability and gets their ideas on the table;"
  • And SC Johnson Canada, which manufactures household cleaning products, "had waste baskets removed from offices, and recycling bins placed down the hall," the study authors found. "An individual's waste was reinforced by the physical act of discarding it."

Read report on best practices for embedding sustainability in organizational culture.

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