Eco-Friendly Benefits: How Green is Your Benefits Package?

April 19, 2018
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In preparation for this Earth Day (April 22nd), we’d like to shed some light on a few environmentally friendly work perks that your employees will love! How do we know? Studies show employees want to work for companies that publicly display their core values– and not just for profit. Giving back to the community and promoting social responsibility is important to workers. According to a recent Robert Half study, which asked CFOs about how social responsibility programs helped their organizations, 71% said these programs helped increase employee morale. And 60% said they enhanced recruiting and retention efforts.

As businesses strive to be more socially responsible and attract engaged employees, some companies are introducing sustainable or ‘green’ benefits. These benefits offer employees the opportunity to participate in programs that benefit the environment as well as local and global communities.

We spoke with Holley Rogers, Director of Research, Insights and Sustainability at Butin Integrated Communications for her perspective on this trend. “Research consistently indicates that millennials, and Generation Z, are not only using a company’s sustainability or corporate responsibility efforts to determine purchase decisions and brand loyalty,” says Rogers. “They are also incorporating these elements into their decisions to either stay in their existing positions or take jobs with new companies.”

So, to stay competitive and ethical, this trend might be worth looking into.Wondering what kind of sustainability benefits your own company could offer? Here are a few examples of successful initiatives to pave the way:

Cleaner Commute Incentives

One easy way to reduce the carbon emissions threatening the global environment is through reducing our dependence on traditional transportation methods and choosing new, cleaner ways of getting to work.

Look into clean commute incentives to offer your employees as part of their benefits package. Look for ways to encourage biking, walking, taking public transport, carpooling, or carsharing.

For example, Clif Bar & Company, makers of the popular Clif energy bars, offers employees $500 to use towards purchasing a “commuter bike” as an eco-friendly (and healthy) alternative to driving to work. In Baltimore, businesses can participate in the state Live Near Your Work Incentive Program which will match up to $2,500 of employer funding towards the down payment and closing costs of purchasing a home in neighborhoods near the place of employment. This encourages workers to walk, bike, or easily carpool to work.

There are many ways to offer green benefits around commuting, including:

  • Gift certificates to local cycle stores for the purchase of a commuter bike (and helmet)
  • Annual gift certificates to local sporting goods stores for walking shoes to encourage a walk-to-work culture
  • Covering cost of car-sharing programs offered in some larger cities. This can help employees run occasional errands that necessitate a vehicle without having to own a car.

Locally Sourced Food Programs

Beyond supporting your local economy, buying locally grown food also plays a large role in reducing your carbon footprint. Ultimately, buying local food reduces the number of vehicles on the road (or planes in the air) and therefore their emissions. Depending on your organization’s size and demographics, there are a variety of ways to offer sustainability benefits focused on locally grown food.

Some companies combine green activities with community or social giving. For example, outdoor footwear and clothing company Timberland has a unique project to offer employees opportunities to take part in the local food movement. The Timberland Victory Garden is a 1200 square foot fruit and vegetable garden on the front lawn of the company’s global headquarters. Voluntarily maintained entirely by Timberland employees, the garden produce is sold to staff and local residents, with all proceeds going to charity. Most recently those proceeds were directed towards building a home for a family in Haiti.

Some ways to encourage locally sourced food programs include:

  • Subsidized memberships for local farm cooperatives that supply farm fresh produce, eggs, dairy products, or meat
  • Hosting classes, workshops and activities to promote learning to garden for employees who want to try gardening on their own
  • Subsidized purchases at local nurseries/garden centers for gardening supplies

Related: Sabbatical With a Cause: Conditional Sabbaticals Benefit Everyone

Energy Efficient Home Discounts

Improving energy efficiency at home and work is another hot topic recently, and employers know their teams want help in this area. Through rebates and incentives, companies across the country are helping their staff with their energy efficiency goals.

At Green Mountain Energy in Texas, employees can take advantage of a variety of sustainability programs through discounts on renewable energy choices, green products, and vehicle purchases. Staff may also receive discounts on solar installation and smart thermostats.

Depending on your location, demographics, and area energy options, some sustainability benefits to consider offering include:

  • Discounts on alternative energy installation or upgrades (think solar or wind)
  • Rebates or discounts on energy efficient appliances and monitoring devices such as thermostats

Look for ways to partner with local area energy efficient providers in order to bring discounts, rebates, and incentives to your team while supporting your local businesses.

Sustainable Flex Allowances

Sustainable benefits and green benefits are a new area for employers and companies are still developing systems and ideas that work best for both employers and staff. For more flexibility and to determine which benefits work best, some organizations offer flex allowance packages for employees to apply towards the sustainability area of their choice. This is similar to the flex benefits in a health savings account. For an example, Vermont Energy Investment Corp offers benefit programs a Sustainability Benefits Package, which you can read about here. Typical sustainability benefits to choose from in this type of package may include:

  • Energy efficient appliance rebates
  • Energy efficient transportation incentives
  • Home energy assessments subsidies
  • Sustainable food management options/product discounts
  • Sustainable waste management products like composting supplies

Keep in mind that you can be truly creative and unique when putting these packages together. There is no right way to do it, but rather there is a way that suits your company’s interests and values best. “When introducing new sustainability programs, whether building on an existing foundation of programs or developing a program from scratch, companies must carefully and transparently communicate about their initiatives,” says Rogers. “If the efforts are new, admit that. If the company has struggled to reach a sustainability goal, report that, and explain why. Millennials are often willing to help a company grow, but unwilling to accept inflated sustainability promises or results. This communication balance can be achieved through content, tone, timing and communication channels.”

Corporate social responsibility and sustainability are no longer limited to giving back financially to worthy causes at the holidays. Today’s forward-looking organizations focus on making lasting positive social and environmental impacts. Furthermore, they’re encouraging this behavior as a crucial aspect of their company culture. Get creative to come up with some sustainability benefits to offer your own team – benefits that can impact the world beyond your office doors.

About

Sarita Harbour is a business and personal finance writer who comes from a long line of business owners. When Sarita isn't writing, she's homeschooling her younger kids and encouraging her older children as they continue the entrepreneurial family tradition.

Category: Benefits, Culture, HR Tips & Trends, Management


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