In our pursuit of a more sustainable world, the role of behaviour change cannot be emphasised enough. While technological advancements offer promising solutions, the significance of altering our own behaviours to achieve sustainability goals should not be underestimated. As highlighted by the UK Climate Change Committee, 62% of emission reductions rely on behaviour change, underscoring the role individuals play in driving positive change. With a global network of 7,700+ B Corps and more than 700,000 employees, the potential for sustainable impact is immense. Imagine the collective power of these employees if they were wholeheartedly engaged in their company’s sustainability journey. This vision comes to life through our partnership with Behaven, a behaviour science consultancy and B Corp. Together, we created an employee engagement toolkit designed to empower B Corps to actively involve their teams in their sustainability journey.
In this interview, we explore the intersection of behaviour science and sustainability with Fred Dorsimont, co-founder and Managing Director of Behaven. Discover how behaviour science enhances employee engagement in sustainability and tackles engagement obstacles with innovative solutions.
Fred Dorsimont, co-founder and Managing Director of Behaven
Can you tell us a bit more about Behaven and the importance of behaviour change for sustainability?
Sustainability is often talked about in terms of new technology. The idea is that thanks to new technology, we can keep doing business as usual while also reducing our environmental footprint. It sounds great, but the truth is, we need to both create new technologies and change our own behaviour to make the world more sustainable. The UK Climate Change Committee found that 62% of emission reductions rely on some form of behaviour change. Some of this change, about 9%, comes from using less energy, like turning down the heat. The majority, about 53%, comes from adopting new behaviours, like switching to public transport. This means that most of the power to reduce emissions is in our hands. Although the majority of people know they should change their behaviour, too few actually act on this knowledge. This is known as the ‘intention-behaviour gap.’ And to make the world more sustainable, we need to bridge this gap; that’s where behaviour science comes in.
Many organisations struggle to encourage customers and employees to make sustainable choices. At Behaven, we develop behaviour change solutions that motivate people to take action, enabling these organisations to have a real, measurable impact with their initiatives.
How can behaviour science be used to increase employee engagement in a company’s sustainability journey?
Sustainability is a complex topic that involves many factors. A crucial part is how employees at a company act and make decisions. Behaviour science comes into play by helping us understand and influence people’s behaviour using predictable factors. For instance, it studies how individuals are influenced by others’ actions or how decisions are presented to them. Behaviour science studies these factors and provides proven methods to guide people to make more sustainable choices. Some companies think that making their sustainability efforts visible or providing general information is enough to get people on board. But behaviour science shows that people also need the right context and social signals to bridge the gap between what they intend to do and what they actually do. For instance, if you want to encourage your employees to reduce their car usage and cycle to work, informing them about the benefits of cycling is only part of the solution. It might boost their motivation to change but if they cannot safely park their bike at work (context) and if they find that most of their supervisors or colleagues drive (social signals), they probably won’t make any shift in their behaviour.
Employees being able to fully align their personal motivation with the company’s vision
How does employee engagement contribute to the success of a company’s sustainability journey, and what specific benefits does it bring?
Employee actions and decisions significantly shape a company’s culture and overall outcomes. While a company may have a well-designed sustainability plan, its success ultimately relies on the choices and actions of its people. This includes high-level strategic decisions, supply chain choices, marketing strategies, and even day-to-day behaviours like commuting to work – all of which impact the company’s sustainability journey. These behaviours are influenced by certain factors that, if not considered, can slow down progress toward sustainability. Identifying these factors and developing solutions is key to integrating sustainability into a company’s core operations and fostering greater employee involvement in the process. One example of such a factor is the ‘present bias,’ where staff, especially in managerial positions, prioritise short-term gains over long-term benefits, making it difficult to commit to initiatives like addressing climate change that require immediate action for uncertain future gains. Day-to-day, this bias naturally pushes them and their colleagues towards tasks that bring in quick profits, rewards and satisfaction. Giving more time for certain projects, fixing longer-term objectives, and cutting back on reporting could counteract this tendency and give employees space for the slower, long-term progress that sustainability calls for.
Does B Corp certification contribute to employee engagement in relation to sustainability initiatives?
The B Corp certification is a great way to boost employee engagement by giving the company a clear, tangible commitment to sustainability. It can serve as an incentive for employees who may not be intrinsically motivated to engage in sustainability initiatives, while also amplifying the efforts of those already engaged in these initiatives. Furthermore, it elevates the company’s attractiveness when recruiting (intrinsically motivated) talent. Additionally, the certification serves as an opportunity to educate employees about the company’s core values and empowers them to become advocates for the B Corp movement. When employees understand the positive impact their company is making on the economy and the planet as a B Corp, they feel proud to be a part of it and will actively work to make the company even better.
Team members of Behaven, Certified B Corp since July 2023
Employee engagement is a universal challenge across industries. Based on your expertise in behaviour science, what are some common barriers or obstacles?
On an individual level, some employees might not know how the company’s choices affect sustainability, or they might not actively care about sustainability unless it is directly connected to the business. On a social level, there might not be much recognition or role models for sustainability/B Corp engagement within the company, so employees don’t realise its significance. On a contextual level, there might not be clear communication about the company’s mission and values, or there might not be enough time given to employees for sustainability efforts. These are examples we found through interviewing B Corp companies, but every company is unique and faces its own challenges.
How can organisations address these barriers or obstacles effectively?
The exciting thing is that behaviour science has already done a lot of the work for us, and it has identified several techniques to boost employee engagement in sustainability. Let’s take a look at a few interventions we’ve developed using our behaviour science tools and workshops:
These are just a few examples of how behaviour science can boost a company’s sustainability and B Corp employee engagement. By using such techniques, companies can have a bigger positive impact on the environment and society while creating a more engaging and rewarding workplace.