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Derrick Emsley, CEO of TenTree, says most people know that his company plants trees with every purchase.DARRYL DYCK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Eco-friendly retailer Tentree doesn’t have to advertise its carbon-reduction efforts to potential hires. Most applicants are familiar with the Vancouver-based company’s values and mission, including the trees it plants with every purchase, and are looking to join the company partly because of it, says founder and chief executive officer Derrick Emsley.

“Many people seek us out because of the impact we are having,” Mr. Emsley says. “We are fortunate to have many applicants for virtually every job and have very low turnover by industry standards.”

More companies like Tentree are learning that sustainability isn’t just a customer-facing proposition.

Research shows employees care more than ever about the environmental impact of their workplaces and are willing to stay longer in jobs where they feel they’re part of making a positive difference.

A PwC survey from last year found that 86 per cent of employees “prefer to support or work for companies that care about the same issues they do,” and that 84 per cent are more likely to work for a company that stands up for environmental causes.

A Marsh McLennan study from 2020 on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) as a workforce strategy found strong policies in this area can be a “key lever in a time of unpredictable turnover and tough competition for talent.”

The paper cited prior research that found satisfied employees “work harder, stay longer with their employers, and seek to produce better results for the organization,” noting that by 2029, millennials and Gen Z workers – groups that are said to care more about ESG than their predecessors – will make up 72 per cent of the world’s workforce.

“It’s a tough thing to quantify [but] anecdotally, we see that our team is much more committed, stays at the company longer and is much more excited to share the impact of their work with family and friends,” Mr. Emsley of Tentree says.

The company is on a path to carbon neutrality, which has required deep analysis of the business and its partners. It’s also continuously updating its goals and plans in light of evolving information on sustainability.

For other companies hoping to reduce their emissions, experts recommend starting by measuring their current impact.

“How do you gauge success?... You need to know where you are first,” says Rafiq Dhanji, executive director of Sustainability Leadership, a Hamilton-based organization that helps local businesses become more environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.

“A lot of people jump in and then try to figure out if they’re successful or not,” he says.

He suggests starting with baseline questions like: How much electricity are you using? How much natural gas are you using?

To compare the effect of a business’ usage of different types of resources, Mr. Dhanji suggests using an online calculator such as Carbonzero.ca to generate metrics that allow for comparison. Even a small amount of gas usage can be much worse emissions-wise than a larger amount of electricity – particularly in places where much of the power available comes from renewable sources – so it can be hard to gauge emissions without a shared metric, he says.

His organization has developed a program that guides businesses through the process. He’s found that many small businesses have good intentions related to sustainability, but have few staffers shouldering numerous roles, so it can seem like a challenge to commit the resources.

“We realized small- and medium-sized businesses need… direction. A lot of organizations are focused on trying to stay alive and keep their doors open,” he says. “It’s very difficult to divert your attention to something else that seems to require a lot of focus. Our theme this year is ‘get started…’ You don’t need to wait for the right set of circumstances.”

At Tentree, Mr. Emsley says each business department sets short- and long-term goals each year.

“There are projects and things we can work on that will have a significant impact immediately, and then there are longer-term projects like [changing our supply chain and] implementing new fabrics and materials,” he says.

One area Tentree often revisits is the amount of product that is air-freighted, says Mr. Emsley, noting shipped freight is more environmentally sound but air is sometimes necessary to avoid the delays present in the current supply chain. He points to opting for sustainable web hosting and reducing car commuting as other out-of-sight areas where businesses can often lower their emissions.

Once Tentree has cut back as much as it can in a given area, it then purchases carbon offsets to cover the rest, Mr. Emsley adds.

And, as the name indicates, his company plants 10 trees for every product it sells. However, it doesn’t count those trees toward its carbon-neutral calculations.

The organization also recently launched a new business, Veritree, which aims to help other businesses integrate tree-planting into their own models, something its website notes can help engage stakeholders and consumers in the business.

Employees who see that the company has a clear direction on its sustainability initiatives are more likely to be strong contributors, notes Mr. Dhanji. The added dedication from employees means less turnover, which translates into cost savings, he adds, noting it typically costs about $1,500 to replace an employee, including staff time for recruitment and training.

“You don’t have that recruitment cost, but also you attract really good talent,” Mr. Dhanji says. “[There are] organizations that barely advertise their roles, and as soon as they do, they are overwhelmed with applications.”

Dan Zitting, chief product and strategy officer with Diligent, which makes governance, risk and compliance software, says well-documented environmental achievements are increasingly important to consumers, investors and employees.

To drive change within a business that is looking to improve its emissions, he suggests starting with an impactful near-term business goal, such as attracting a certain type of investor or going carbon neutral, and structuring a plan around that.

It’s key to set the tone from the top, so employees understand the corporate vision and feel empowered to make decisions that help the company meet its targets, he says.

“Often the easiest thing to do is write a simple, one-page manifesto [describing] what kind of company [you] want to be… and how [you] expect employees to act,” he says.