It™s Back to School Time: Employee Education is a Key Factor in the Success of Green Programs

As a business owner, the decision to go green requires research, cost-benefit analyses, and changes to operations and procurement strategies. But, when planning for green, don’t overlook the importance of employee buy-in.

For your green programs to have the desired positive impacts on your operational costs and overall savings, your employees must be invested in your environmental goals and objectives. Not only that, but they’ll need a basic understanding of environmental issues in general in order to implement specific programs around your company’s resource use and environmental impacts. Joel Makower of says “the more employees understand about the impacts of their jobs and the opportunities to make them greener, the greater the chances they’ll rise to the occasion.”

Give your green programs the best chance of success by investing time in employee education. Send your team “back to school” to learn the basics of green business practices. Here are five key ways to help your employees understand the importance of going green:

  1. Share your mission. You set out to go green with a specific end goal in mind — cost reduction, customer satisfaction, increased market share, new business opportunities, etc. It’s important that you be clear in sharing what you hope to accomplish through implementing sustainable practices in order for your employees to fully understand what’s expected of them and for them to feel invested in the success of the program.
  2. Know what they don’t know. How much do your employees know about the green challenges facing your business? How much do they care? What is the depth of their environmental knowledge? Get a clear picture of the existing knowledge base in order to determine what — and how many — green lessons need to be shared.
  3. Create a Green Team. Bring together a group of employees across all pay grades and disciplines to lead the green effort. While it’s important to have executive management buy-in, many daily responsibilities for the success of your green programs will fall to administrative staff and lower management. According to the national Environmental Education Foundation, “while there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to environmental and sustainability education, engaging employees at every level of the company is essential to successful initiatives.” By involving them in the design of your program and oversight of your green efforts, you will create a sense of ownership and help them feel invested in the overall outcome.
  4. Keep it going. Many businesses start off their sustainability programs with big kick-off campaigns, which are followed by…nothing much. Make green education a part of your every day employee communications. Allow employees to contribute ideas and suggestions and implement the best ones as soon as feasible. Send out weekly progress reports — whether a dollar amount for cost savings, or some other measurement of success.
  5. Make it fun. To many of your employees, your green program may, in the beginning, seem like nothing more than extra work. Get people invested by making sustainability fun. Implement contests and games — continue the education of your team by creating an “eco-trivia” contest, or “Eco-Jeopardy” game. Pit one department against another to see who can recycle the most paper or save the most ink. Reward top “green” performers. Recognize successes.

The success of green programs lies in the overall planning AND employee execution of sustainable practices. Give your program the best chance of success by sending your employees “back to school” to learn the basics of green business.

Katherine McGraw Patterson is the Director of Marketing for the Green Business Bureau, a national third-party program that provides certification for businesses that follow environmentally responsible practices. You can get updates and news from the GBB on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

Image: Carlos Porto /

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