Four Natural Laws of Creating Sustainability Ambassadors

Culture change toward sustainability, safety or even quality isn’t quick or easy.   Yet, Environmental Health and Safety Managers are often expected to lead these cultural transformations with minimal staff and resources.  Leveraging Employee Ambassadors can build a community of excellence within a company’s workforce.  But where do you start and how do you grow the movement?

The Starting Point

In the book, “The Tipping Point”, Malcolm Gladwell laid out the case that any socialtippingpoint movement could be “tipped” toward adoption if you could reach out to the right people, with the right message, for the right reasons.

1. The right people:

We all have “go to” people on our work teams.  Some of them are “connectors”; individuals who are formally and informally well connected in and outside the organization.  Some are “Information brokers”; employees who pay attention to the details and are keen to share their knowledge.  And some are “Persuaders”; charismatic individuals with powerful negotiation skills.  Engage these people first in your sustainability or safety culture movement; they are an essential leverage point.

2. The right message:

The right message is one that resonates with us.  How it resonates depends on the way we see the world.

Studies show that individuals who value discipline and authority, tend to respond to a “call to duty” message which asks them to do the “right” thing for their families, children, and social group.

Individuals who value freedom and individualism tend to respond to a “call to action” message that focuses on their personal goals and aspirations.

Individuals who value equality, and service to others, respond to a “call to imagine” asking them to help create a better world.

Individuals who value interconnectedness and understand how systems relate to one another, respond to a “call to service” asking them to help restore vitality and balance to the world.

3. The right reasons:

People buy “why” we do things not “what we do”, according to Simon Sinek, the author of “Start with Why”.startwithwhy

Therefore, situating your sustainability or safety movement in the context of “what is important”, helps people to understand “why” you are embracing these programs at this time.  Maybe it’s because your competitors have better quality products and you want to maintain job security within your company.  Or it’s because the lack of a safety culture safety is causing injury or death among coworkers.  Glue your reasons to the context and people will be more likely to buy in.

Growing the Movement

So you have your Ambassadors on side, but you are not done yet.  Roughly, 15% of your

You start to gain momentum after the early adopters are on side, roughly 15% of your workforce.

You start to gain momentum after the early adopters are on side, roughly 15% of your workforce.

staff needs to adopt your program before everyone starts to op in.  This is where the Four Natural Laws come in.  These Natural Laws can create the momentum to reach the tipping point to shift the system.

Law 1 – Have a holistic plan and put “why” at the center. 

As discussed before, people buy why you do things not what you do.  And the “why” needs to be at the center of your plan.  Ingersoll Rand’s One STEP Forward program is a key component  of the company’s sustainability engagement strategy.  STEP stands for:

S – Sustainable: Contributes to a better world

T – Transformative: Supports you in living your values

E – Encourages Others: Inspires your colleagues, friends, and family

P – Personal: Connects to something that is meaningful to you

Law 2 – The plan should inspire the “thinking”, “feeling”, “willing”, “social” side of associates. 

One size does not fit all.

Different things resonate with different people.  The program needs to appeal to the cognitive (thinking), affective (feeling), motivational (willing) and belongingness (social) side of employees.  Key messages and joining opportunities need to vary to tap into all these elements.  That is why FijiFilm ensures its Safety program offers multiple ways for Associates to be involved.

Law 3 –  People join because they crave belongingness and want to be part of something bigger than themselves.  Consider the Wisdom of the Crowd.

The Wisdom of the Crowd says, “If everybody else is doing it – I should too.”  So it is important to create intentional awareness around your program.  The more people see others doing it, the more they will likely opt in.  This is the reason that “Awareness Raising Activities” like a Resource Library, Sustainability Success Stories (SSS),  Lunch & Learns,  Sustainability tips calendar,  Sustainability quiz, Employee recognition, and Engagement surveys are conducted and communicated at Ingersoll Rand.

Law 4 – Structures and rules can be barriers or enablers for Sustainability Ambassadors.  Align yours to enable.

Individual Sustainability Ambassadors can create ripples through their own networks creating momentum for the program.  However, this can only happen if organizational systems support, and are not barriers, to employee involvement.

Leadership, decision, communication, recruitment, measurement and reward systems and organizational structures can put up barriers or pave the way to the adoption of your program.  This is why reinforcing systems such as: Safety Committees, See-Think-Plan-Do processes, Safety Organizational Structures, Daily, monthly, annual and random audits, Task assessment reports, Quarterly Meetings with Senior management on safety and Personal Pledges all reinforce adoption of the new safety culture at FujiFilm.

The Bottom Line

Like the diffusion of a drop of dye into a glass of water – there are natural laws to dyedropthe way that sustainability and safety movements grow.  If we start in the right place and consider these Natural Laws; over time, we can tip the system toward our new sustainability or safety culture.

Kathryn is President of the Sustainability Learning Centre, a learning and networking hub for sustainability.

For More Information on this Topic

Attend Inspiring Engagement in Sustainability (On-Line Course), starting Oct. 16, 2013

In this course we provide you with insights on how your facilitation approach, the different worldviews of your staff, ingrained habits,  and culture impact your employees’ engagement in sustainability.  We’ll provide you with a perspective and tools to “inspire” staff in your sustainability movement.  For more information: Inspiring Engagement in Sustainability On-Line Course 

“The program provided a great balance of important ideas and practical approaches to applying them. I valued the access to content from Thought Leaders in this space and the practical guidance from Kathryn Cooper and the Sustainability Learning Centre for applying them.”   Wendy Lomicka, Sustainability & Citizenship Leader, Nova Chem.

Attend 2013 National Association Environmental Managers Management Forum, Oct. 23-25, 2013

Track 4: Culture & Engagement – Identifying and Developing “Culture Change” Ambassadors for EHS&S Programs

This session will help attendees tackle this important challenge and provide methods to identify and engage EHS&S ambassadors. Take part in a short Ambassador training camp and hear success stories from your peers on how they’ve created effective EHS&S culture change.

  • Kathryn Cooper, President & Chief Learning Officer; Sustainability Learning Centre
  • Gretchen Digby, Director, Global Sustainability Programs, Center for Energy Efficiency & Sustainability; Ingersoll Rand.
  • Susan Roche Hendrix, Health, Safety and Quality Management Systems Manager; Fijifilm Manufacturing USA Inc.


  • Mark Fowler, Environmental Health Safety, Facilities Manager; Invivo

NAEM Environmental Managers Forum, Oct. 23-25, 2013, Montreal.  For more information:

Join the Sustainability Movement - Donate to the Sustainability Learning Centre's Student Scholarship Program

About Kathryn Cooper

Kathryn Cooper is a committed sustainability practitioner and educator moving companies toward “green” profitability and sustainable competitive advantage by unlocking human creativity and technical innovation. Over the last two years she has had the privilege to work with companies like Dupont, Zerofootprint, WWF Canada, and Partners in Project Green on sustainability issues, best practices and renewable energy. Kathryn is a graduate of York University with a Master of Education specializing on Sustainability and the Environment. She holds an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier University, and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Guelph.
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