Lofty sustainability goals like becoming carbon neutral by a specific date or committing to science-based targets for greenhouse gas emissions sound good. Making them public can spur progress at your company and with suppliers and customers. However, these goals can also feel overwhelming or too distant to tackle. Employees need to understand their role in supporting climate action at work and believe that management cares about their ideas. They want to know how they can make a difference.

The Role of Employee Action Groups

Employee Action Groups (EAGs), sometimes called Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), are one way to engage more employees. They generally support a subgroup of employees whose voices might otherwise not be heard. EAGs offer a safe space to share common interests and challenges and to generate ideas to share with management.

The idea of formal EAGs for sustainability is new, at least to the semiconductor industry. At a SEMI webinar in June, I learned about sustainability EAGs at Lam Research, DuPont, and NXP that have started in the past year or two.

These groups generally start with a grassroots effort: a few employees decide to gather like-minded colleagues. For example, the sustainability EAG at Lam started with an email to fewer than 50 employees. It has since grown, and over 1,000 Lam employees are members.

EAGs usually work on side projects unrelated to the core business. Examples include offering vegetarian and vegan options in the company cafeteria, eliminating disposable water bottles, promoting carpooling or bicycling to work, and implementing takeback programs for company-owned phones and laptops.

Beyond Side Projects

I appreciate that these examples are on-site and recurring. One thing I warn about in my book Beyond the Green Team is doing occasional feel-good projects and having that be the extent of your efforts. Annual beach cleanups don’t help as much as you might think. Ideally, a sustainability EAG works on projects that are related to the company’s overall goals and values.

Suggestions about a company’s products or manufacturing practices are more challenging to implement. They need to go through a formal approval process. If the EAG is separate from corporate sustainability, it may have more freedom to try out creative ideas. But if there is some connection, it might be easier to get buy-in for projects that involve capital expense.

Lam has a separate Sustainability Innovation Team that proposes ideas related to Lam’s products. That’s where engineers can be empowered to design products that compete on more than performance and cost. I wonder if linking that team with the sustainability EAG would help both groups accomplish more.

Some companies run innovation challenges that encourage employees throughout the organization to propose suggestions. In large companies, these challenges can attract hundreds of responses. Ideally, management reads through all of them and responds. They can’t implement everything, especially not right away, but employees know that management heard them.

Finding the Time

Employees at smaller companies looking to start a sustainability EAG sometimes worry that they don’t have the resources. That shouldn’t be an obstacle. In fact, small companies have an advantage in that there aren’t as many layers of management between individual contributors and top executives. Employees who want to create a group may be able to go directly to the CEO for approval.

A poll during the SEMI webinar asked about the greatest obstacles in starting an EAG for sustainability. Lack of time got the highest number of votes. How can you allocate time? Start small. If the core members give just a few hours per month, you can make progress that will encourage more employees to join in. Once you build the team, it is easier to spread out the workload and get more done. It’s also important to celebrate small wins. That keeps motivation going.

Budget is another problem. I found it sobering when NXP announced that its EAG has a budget of $5000 per year. That’s not much. Hence, when most of these groups invite speakers, they are usually employees with insights to share who aren’t paid extra to speak.

That said, it is possible to start without a budget so long as top executives have bought into the value an EAG can offer. With support from the top, employees can take time out of their day to work on sustainability initiatives. It can be considered part of their job rather than something they squeeze in on top of all their regular responsibilities.

Does your company have a sustainability EAG, or are you thinking about starting one? I invite you to comment on this blog and get the conversation going.


Julia Freer Goldstein

Julia Freer Goldstein is an author and business owner on a mission to make manufacturing…

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