Companies have come up with all sorts of amazing innovations to reduce environmental impacts — from dissolvable labels and bricks in toilets to packaging mimicking an armadillo. Yet sometimes, the solution is much simpler. Companies are learning that oftentimes the best way to reduce environmental impacts is to just ask employees to play a part.

When Virgin Atlantic wanted to reduce its environmental impact from fuel usage, it went straight to the people on the front lines – its pilots. In a study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research and reported on in Fast Co.Exist, a handful of economists analyzed the results of what happened when Virgin Atlantic educated pilots on what behaviors they could do to save fuel. The pilots were divided into three groups (plus a control group). One group was educated on fuel saving tips and given feedback on their performance, and the second group received tips and feedback, but also targets to meet. The third group received tips, feedback, targets, and was incentivized by a donation to a charity of their choice if they met their goals. The findings were definitive: the pilots saved around 21,000 tons of carbon across 40,000 flights for savings of $44 million. Moreover, the two groups who were given goals to meet performed the best. And interestingly, the added incentive of a charity donation only slightly improved performance over those who were simply given targets, revealing employees were most motivated by simply having a goal to reach.

This research is yet another proof point to the employee engagement rallying cry: employees want to be a part of company CSR efforts. In fact, our recent 2016 Cone Communications Employee Engagement Study found 77 percent of employees want their company to provide hands-on activities around environmental responsibility and another three-quarters (78%) want to help their company improve its responsible business practices by providing their own solutions and feedback. Employees are ready and willing to be engaged in sustainability initiatives, all companies have to do is ask.


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