More and more companies are making sustainability a highly visible part of their corporate strategy. There are many factors driving companies to go green, from the desire to improve corporate image to competitive differentiation. But whatever the reason, the training department can be a key part of the strategy. This dovetails nicely with the overall trend in training to align learning with corporate initiatives. If your company is championing a green strategy, there is a great opportunity for training professionals to become part of the effort. Most environmental programs make employees learn new ways of doing things, but the training department itself can contribute through eco-friendly training methods. The definition of sustainability in the context of environmentalism is to make
use of processes and materials that can be maintained indefinitely, reduce or eliminate contaminating toxins, and minimize any negative environmental impact. For instance, by reducing the use of paper, an organization contributes to the sustainability of forests. A heavy equipment manufacturer has a different view because it faces daily challenges in managing energy consumption, emissions, and complying with countless government regulations. The software company, meanwhile, may have little it can do beyond recycling, using energy-efficient computers and finding opportunities to recycle obsolete computer equipment. Regardless, the training department can contribute to improving environmental performance. The most successful green strategies produce business benefits. Finding the overlap is not difficult; many green initiatives produce cost savings. For instance, a priority of environmentalism is to produce less waste. This might mean eliminating printed materials from a training event. Cost is saved on printing and there is no waste — an easy win. In other cases, there may be a trade-off involved of up-front costs versus long-term return on investment, such as switching to longer-lasting, energy-efficient light bulbs in your training facility. Conversely, the cost of not being environmentally conscious can be enormous, because violating environmental regulations can result in costly fines. Being a good environmental citizen saves money, but when that is put to work in more productive ways, it can contribute to innovation and revenue growth. A good environmental policy allows a company to attract socially conscious investors. Proactive environmental policies create competitive advantages. Surveys have found nearly half of Americans say they have purchased a product because of its environmental qualities. This is encouraging, but remember that consumers will consider the environmental impact as one of many influencing factors. As with other business objectives, it’s important to blend the environmental message with others about the product. TRAINING’S ROLE Training can play a key role in helping support an array of environmental initiatives. Because going green requires new ways of thinking and doing, training is often the starting point for a company’s programs. Encouraging managers and employees to think creatively about environmental issues can be part of a larger change management effort. It can have a crossover effect of bringing new creativity and motivation to other areas. Any major shift in corporate behavior requires support from top management. To get senior managers started on a greener path, consider assigning short readings or video presentations to stimulate thinking. Hearing Jeffery Immelt, CEO of General Electric, talking about the early days of its green initiative may help to overcome skepticism. Managers at all levels can benefit from courses, books and videos on how to manage change and inspire teams. The nature of the organization plays a role in what learning opportunities are provided. For companies in manufacturing, utilities or transportation, the learning often focuses on environmental safety and health (ES&H) training of front-line employees. Online courses are an efficient way to deliver these, since completions are automatically tracked in the learning management system, simplifying record-keeping for compliance purposes. Off-the-shelf e-learning courses provide everything from a general overview of government environmental regulations to the details of handling specific hazardous substances. Many courses are available in multiple languages and are designed to be appropriate for a wide range of skill levels. Some companies choose to create custom learning programs that reinforce the company brand and culture while delivering the green message. DHL Express Europe, which has been running an environmental program for more than five years, in 2006 introduced a “carbon-neutral” shipping option allowing customers to offset the emissions associated with a shipment by buying renewable energy credits (RECs). Another department that has recently become more active on environmental issues is IT. Ever-increasing power consumption and cooling requirements in data centers are taxing businesses globally. Although server virtualization and consolidation boost utilization and capacity, they also aggravate cooling problems. This hikes the cost of ensuring reliable computing systems. Moreover, some 800 million PCs that will be discarded during the next five years will add significantly to the mounting challenge. Many contain toxic materials (lead and arsenic) that can pollute groundwater if not properly disposed. —The author is vice president of corporate marketing at SkillSoft. To learn more about this topic, download “The Greening of IT,” from SkillSoft’s AnalystPerspectives series: http://www.skillsoft.com/online/Greening_of_IT_APAC/.