There was a time when environmental sustainability practices were relegated to environmental organizations. Only green groups, the thinking went, had time to care about costly and difficult sustainability measures that distracted from other organizations’ missions.
That time is over. Social benefit organizations of all sizes and flavors are embracing sustainable practices. Why? Because environmental sustainability and organizational sustainability are linked.
This is true for large and small sustainable practices. For example, at more than half of organizations recently surveyed, paper documents create headaches for workflow, collaboration, version control and auditing, not to mention the costs of paper and ink. Yet online document services are cheap (sometimes free!) and easy to use. Videoconference quality, options, and cost have improved dramatically in recent years, allowing organizations to cut travel expenses, and employees to work from home. Office cleaning products emit harmful chemicals that increase employee sick days and reduce productivity. Greener options are now available, often at comparable prices, especially when the savings from reduced absenteeism are factored in.
Do you own your own building or office space? Even more savings abound. Next-generation programmable thermostats cost about $200 each, but save anywhere from $25-$41 per employee per year, without affecting comfort. A building energy audit can save $170 per employee per year by identifying cost-effective ways to cut your use. Better yet – make your own energy. The cost of solar photovoltaic (electricity) and solar thermal (hot water) systems has dropped dramatically. New financing options make these systems not just affordable, but profitable, even for small organizations. Many installers now offer no money down and loans with 0% interest.
The most important reason for organizations to care about sustainability, though, is more fundamental to their long-term existence: Millennials. In poll after poll, Millennials show strong support for environmental issues, including where they work. Since they will soon be more than half of the workforce, this matters. More than 80% want to work for organizations that care about their impact, and 75% say they would take a reduction in salary to work for a more responsible organization.
Many nonprofits will look at these figures and think, “We already provide social benefit to the world – we’re doing enough to attract their talent.” But Millennials care as much about what happens inside the company as they do about what it does for the world. 64% will not accept a job from an organization that does not have significant corporate social responsibility policies. 60% are committed to implementing sustainability practices in their work. Nearly 90% want their employer to provide hands-on activities in the workplace that support sustainability. An equal number want their bosses to share company progress and goals toward greater sustainability.
Many also expect their employee benefits to be green. Interest, and choice, for sustainably-minded investments are growing. Millennials are leading the charge to divest portfolios, including pensions and 403(b)s, from fossil fuels. And as Millennials choose bikes, buses, and trains over cars, free parking is no longer the perk it used to be. Bike racks, transit subsidies, and centrally located offices are. Human resource officers, take note.
Managers, too, should take heed. The biggest barrier Millennials report to implementing sustainable solutions at work isn’t cost. It’s the reluctance of their managers, who are often Baby Boomers. Listen to your employees. They’ll repay you with greater loyalty, productivity and, ultimately, a more sustainable organization in every sense.
Are Millennials’ green glasses a passing fad? Not likely. Post-Millennials (so-called Generation Z) report similar levels of sustainability concern. That includes their choice of employer. If organizations want to ensure long-term health as the generational balance shifts, embracing environmental sustainability must be part of their strategy.
Kyle Gracey is a nonprofit professional who focuses on Millennial issues. He served as the executive director of two social benefit organizations, and joined his first board of directors at age 24. He now serves on four nonprofit boards of directors, where he is the chair of three. Kyle is based in Pittsburgh. firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is reprinted from Issue #8 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today so that you won’t miss other actionable articles that will help you run your nonprofit organization with less pain and more gain!
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