Employee benefits such medical coverage and vacation are crucial to attracting and retaining employees, but a recent study by the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition shows that companies might also need to start considering offering employee perks that benefit the environment too in order to attract and retain top talent.
The number of American businesses with formal green programs increased 54 percent in 2010, according to a Buck Consultant survey of 120 American businesses. From technology firms and hospitals, to government offices and non-profits, 69 percent the organizations surveyed said they took deliberate actions to improve their environmental and social impact.
Outdoor industry professionals should be glad to see companies in other sectors jump on the “green” bandwagon -- our work and our play are inherently connected to the environment -- but how well is our industry really on the front.
Room for improvement
Many women working in the outdoor industry want their employers to share their commitment to the environment. OIWC’s 2008 Satisfaction Survey indicated that 89.8 percent of women surveyed wanted their companies to take a strong stance on environmental issues.
But nearly 40 percent of those same women said their companies were doing an only “OK” or “worse” job of addressing environmental issues. Less than three percent reported that environmental issues do not at all concern their employers.
Companies in our industry need to consider how deeply their employees value environmental responsibility. Maybe their impression of the company’s values is what attracted them in the first place. For many working in this industry, environmental responsibility at the professional level improves job satisfaction. Lifestyle satisfaction can also increase if your daily job helps you be the environmental steward you want to be.
Measuring the impact of the somewhat intangible environmental focus can be tricky. The easiest and most enticing benchmark for a green initiative is money saved. However, this hardly measures some of the most important components of a comprehensive environmental program. Seventy-eight percent of American companies in 2010 said cost saving incentives motivated them to go green, while only 58 percent of said they environmentally retrofitted their policies to “create community goodwill.” Truly comprehensive green programs built on shared values, initiated at the top, do not always positively affect the bottom line. And developing shared values with employees as well as the community takes more thought and manpower than just a nifty logo or press release.
Setting a good example
Backcountry.com, an online retailer of outdoor gear based in Park City, Utah, is a good example of a company backing environmentally focused corporate programs that equally support the community and its more than 700 employees. For starters, Backcountry.com has a full-time employee dedicated to helping other employees engage in environmental issues as well as their recreation and their communities.
Sara Hutchinson is the lucky one they call the employee engagement specialist. A big part of her job is to chair Backcountry.com’s Green Team, a volunteer coalition of 50 Backcountry.com employees that regularly meet to steer the company’s internal environmental initiatives as well as $100,000 of annual external charitable giving to organizations that promote environmental sustainability and access.
Jim Holland, the founder of Backcountry.com, instigated the Green Team model in 2007 to more systematically address the environmental issues the company has been engaged in since its founding in 1996.
“The Green Team is different,” Hutchinson said. “It provides a venue of engagement for our employees… It gives you a chance to work with other people that share similar interests.”
Backcountry.com’s Green Team, in partnership with an executive committee that provides input for all financial decisions, has put in place several benefit programs that have successfully helped employees become the environmental stewards. Each employee is allotted a $500 cash annually to pay for a home compost bin, a home energy audit, matching a Questar or Rocky Mountain Power rebate, subsidize a CSA farm share, or for cash incentives to use carpool or the bus system. The Backcountry.com green rebate is simply added to the employee’s paycheck as it is used.
The Green Team has also planned successful on-site lectures that give employees an hour-long forum in the workplace to dialogue about environmental issues important to them.
There are 50 employees signed up for the Green Team, but only about 20 are active at a time because employees’ schedules change over time. And Hutchinson tries to call on volunteers when their professional expertise can contribute to the cause.
“We are accommodating of people’s schedules,” Hutchinson said. “We don’t make ourselves crazy about getting 100 percent participation, we just want people to get involved if they want to.”
Backcountry.com also doesn’t want the program to aggravate any of its employees. The company strictly avoids any environmental groups and initiatives that have a political bent. It focuses on programs that promote ongoing environmental stewardship.
“The goal is to ultimately retain the best people to work at Backcountry.com,” Hutchinson said.
The company’s plan seems to be working. Kate Showater, a copy manager at Backcountry.com going on five years with the company, says Backcountry.com’s attention to environmental issues has improved her life on a personal level and helped her connect with others that are mindful of their responsibility to take care of the environment.
“Often it seems as though doing the ‘right thing’ has to cost more,” Showater said, “But I can reduce my environmental impact without emptying my savings, much of it thanks to Backcountry.com’s green initiatives and benefits.”
Showater has taken advantage of many of Backcountry.com’s green benefits, like carpooling, the subsidized home energy audit and utilities rebate.
Plus, with her CSA share subsidized by Backcountry.com and delivered by the farm to the office weekly, Showater can regularly feed her family a variety of locally grown produce.
“I love that I can grab my greens at work, instead of trekking to the farmers market or grocery story,” Showater said.
Companies in the outdoor industry will make their employees their greatest advocates by providing benefits that help them sustain their personal dedication to the environment. Backcountry.com certainly isn’t the only company in the outdoor industry that honors its mission and employees’ values through environmental initiatives. However, it is an excellent example of how a company can make sure its pro-environment purpose translates to the lives of those that ultimately run the show and represent the company.
-- Elizabeth O. Hurst
Stay tuned for monthly columns from the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition featuring companies big and small, with examples of how they successfully implemented Work/Life balance programs for their employees. If your company has a program you are proud of, email email@example.com to be featured in an OIWC SNEWS column.