Burritos, Shampoo, and Blue Jeans – Oh My!

Sustainable Brands
26 July 2012
Written by Lily Thaisz (Program Manager) & Colette Crouse
2012 Intern

What do blue jeans have in common with burritos and shampoo?
All are making the business case for sustainability and employee engagement. And they are doing so by empowering their employees, unifying company and employee values, and collaborating internally and externally. As part of this month’s guest editorship of the July Issue in Focus on employee engagement, we received case stories from Levi Strauss & Co, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and Aveda, which are using these practices to achieve their goals.
Levi’s uses engagement to break a “dirty little habit”
Becca Prowda, senior manager of Community Affairs at Levi Strauss & Co., is a woman on a mission. Two missions, to be exact: corporate social responsibility, and wearing her jeans at least five times before washing them.
Prowda is one of the pioneers behind Levi’s Go Water<Less™ Challenge, a competition that encouraged employees to break a “dirty little habit” and wear the same pair of jeans five days in a row without washing them and without sacrificing style to do it. By day five, they had more than 1,800 photos tagged #gowaterless on Instagram. With such a high amount of participation, finding three winners proved a difficult task – they ended up with nine winners. On the winners’ behalf, Levi’s gave grants to five nonprofit organizations working to bring clean drinking water to communities in need.
Levi’s Go Water<Less™ Challenge is more than just a successful exercise in employee engagement. The campaign serves as a model for melding sustainability and stakeholder engagement to achieve qualitative and quantitative bottom-line results. Through using a less water-intensive finishing process on its Levi’s® Water<Less™ jeans, Levi’s has saved 172 million liters of water, and presumably millions more via customers who heed the company’s “wash less” advice. Additionally, Levi’s has tangibly connected its brand name to water conservation, developed a positive PR campaign around its environmental efforts, and bridged the gap between personal and company values.
Companies are realizing the importance of unifying company values with employee values. Says Prowda, “In the end, we know building sustainability into our business starts with changing the way we all think about sustainability, including something as simple as how often you wash your clothes. What better way to embrace that change than to use it as a unifying – and fun – rallying cry.”
She’s right. Sustainability as it pertains to business does connote change, but it should also connote unity between workers, management, society and the environment. We know that American workers, particularly younger generations, want to work for socially and environmentally responsible firms. We also know that, far from a trend, sustainability is a business imperative. Give the people what they want, and everybody wins.
Chipotle and Aveda build mission-driven engagement
At Chipotle, employee engagement begins with the hiring process. Everyone who works at Chipotle is hired because they possess 13 characteristics – traits Chipotle believes can’t be taught, but rather are innate. Employees that possess these characteristics – being energetic, kind, infectiously enthusiastic – are passionate about the work they do and about supporting the company’s mission and values. Chipotle has discovered that employees who care are the cornerstone of employee engagement.
Also working beyond simply internal engagement, Chipotle spearheaded a food scrap program in their Cleveland restaurants, partnering with the Rosby Companies, a regional group of agricultural, horticultural, and recycling operations that funnels food scraps into its compost production process. Before the program began, Chipotle and Rosby workers had an opportunity to meet at one another’s facilities and engage in an informal Q&A about their respective roles and how the program would function.
Much like Chipotle, Aveda begins the employee engagement process during recruitment. They seek people who are predisposed to Aveda’s mission and who can help the company care for the world we live in and give back to society. At Aveda, employee engagement goes beyond the daily business operations to a broader employee commitment – both individual and collective – to give back to society in diverse ways. Employees are directly engaged through newsletters and formal education programs focused on sustainability issues, and are encouraged to do service in their communities through the “Activism for the Earth” volunteer program.
Employee engagement is not just about companies engaging their workers, but also about workers engaging one another and their communities. In the world of sustainability, the power of many will always be stronger than the power of one. Sustainability, in fact, offers the perfect opportunity to unite CEOs, employees, customers, and outside partners toward a common goal. Reason being, you don’t have to build a moral case for sustainability to build a business case; so long as the end goal is the same, differences in motivation matter little.
Aveda’s most successful employee engagement initiative combines internal and external forces, this time bridging the gap between for-profit and not-for-profit entities. For its annual Earth Month program, Aveda’s network of salons, spa partners, and institutes teams up with over 40 nonprofit organizations to raise millions of dollars toward clean water initiatives.
Sustainability and employee engagement are taking American industry by storm. The surprise is not how quickly these words became part of the business vernacular, but rather that it took them so long to do so. Natural and human capital has forever been the foundation of successful business, and we will come to rely on them more and more in a service-centered, environmentally conscious economy. Whether your company sells jeans, beauty products or burritos, sustainability and employee engagement are the keys to its success. Such work will, in turn, benefit the bottom line and enhance your company’s competitive edge.
Contributing authors:
Lily Thaisz, Program Manager at Natural Capitalism Solutions;
Colette Crouse, Sustainability Implementation Intern at Natural Capitalism Solutions;
Becca Prowda, Senior Manager of Community Affairs at Levi Strauss & Co;
Chuck Bennett, Vice President, Earth & Community Care for Aveda;
Holly R. Johnson, Vice President of Human Resources and Global Education at Aveda;
Caitlin Leibert, Sustainability Coordinator at Chipotle Mexican Grill

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