Michael Alexander: Engaging Employees to Deliver on Water and Other Sustainability Goals

By Michael Alexander, Head of Water, Environment, and Agriculture Sustainability, Diageo

This leadership perspective is part of a series on the theme of creating business value and development impact in the WASH sector. The series and accompanying discussion paper are co-produced by Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor and Business Fights Poverty.

In 2008, Diageo announced a slate of sustainability targets that cut across carbon emissions, energy use, waste and water. We have long recognised that we have to invest in sustainability across our business and reduce our overall impact on the environment.

However, many of our employees do not work at breweries or wineries or places where they can contribute directly to the large, operational projects that have a direct impact on our environmental footprint. We have recognised that we have to make our sustainability agenda relevant beyond our supply chain and into our business around the world—not just at sites where we can make direct capital investments into environmental projects.

GREENiQ was established in 2009 in response to this need, and as an acknowledgement that our employees are already engaged on and motivated by our commitments to sustainability. The programme encourages employees to drive improvements at their own offices and manufacturing sites, whether they are in developing or developed markets, and supports them by linking them to one another through an internal network.

To deepen their engagement we created a competitive element and a medal system, so that employees can receive bronze, silver and gold medals for achieving a range of criteria in each of our four target areas: water, waste, carbon and ways of working. At the end of each year we also give out an award of around £10,000 to the best of those medal winners to implement an environmental project of their choice at their site.

We track our employees’ engagement through an annual value survey, and we refresh the content and goals of GREENiQ regularly. We’re aware that we need to keep it ever-changing to maintain the level of employee engagement that we want to achieve.

Understanding the impact of the water aspect of the programme can be complex. With carbon and energy reduction there is a direct and obvious cost-saving, but, with the exception of offices or sites with metered water supplies, it is harder to monitor the direct economic benefit from reducing water usage. We are also working on water audits with our larger offices to better understand our water use.

In many emerging markets water concerns are present and complex—whether that’s water shortages and drought or whether that is flood. However, in developed markets it can sometimes be more challenging to really connect people with water issues. Part of our wider engagement under GREENiQ is to get employees worldwide to connect with our Water of Life programme, which runs water development projects in a number of African countries.

The success of these kinds of programmes often depends on the individuals involved. GREENiQ has support from the highest levels of Diageo, but maintaining buy-in across the business is critical. Naturally we monitor the physical water we save as a result of the programme, but we are also measuring the level of employee engagement over time.

The next level will be to build a more sophisticated online platform that will give us much better data on how people are contributing to the programme and on what motivates them. Although the return on investment of this kind of project is complicated, our own internal analysis shows that people who are engaged on environmental issues and programmes tend to be high performers more generally. We see a direct correlation, meaning that investing in employee engagement on water and other sustainability goals has a clear economic return.

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