Planning and Strategy for Engagement of Employees for Sustainability (Session 1 – SEND)

Planning and Strategy

(This is the first post in a series within the Sustainability Learning Centre’s Sustainability Engagement Network Discussion (SEND) initiative)


Wendy gained experience as the Sustainability Engagement Manager for a large multi-national engineering firm with 171 offices.

By Wendy Firlotte, Employee Engagement for Sustainability Specialist

Whether your organization is looking to start a new sustainability engagement program or to revitalize an ongoing one, creating clear direction and focus with an effective strategy is useful.

The formulation of an engagement strategy provides a framework to shape what sustainability means to your organization, assess needs, set priorities, determine content, outline methods for engagement as well as evaluation and reporting processes.

Creating a strategy can also be an opportunity to engage leadership in the planning process to increase their understanding of and encourage support for the program.  Familiarizing leaders with the engagement framework and proposed outcomes also provides a concrete illustration of how the program directly relates to organizational goals and priorities.

A strategy is also a useful tool to address challenges by identifying actual and potential obstacles and building in approaches to tackle them.  The engagement framework serves as an avenue to monitor challenges and discover new approaches to address them.

Photo Credit: Renjith Krishnan

A strategy is also a useful tool to address challenges by identifying actual and potential obstacles and building in approaches to tackle them.

The following sections explore some considerations for creating a relevant strategy depending on your organizational needs and context.

Feel free to draw on what is relevant for you whether you are working on a comprehensive program or a single initiative, event or project.

Many of these topic areas will be talked about in greater detail in later discussions so this will be a relatively high-level overview with our next group discussion focusing on how we could use strategy to address some of our challenges that were identified in our first discussion.

1. Assessment

Laying the appropriate groundwork for your engagement strategy is a critical step. Key understandings of organizational goals, culture, and structure, in addition to employee needs form an excellent basis for creating an effective framework.  Creating a sustainability engagement program is not about creating something totally new, but whenever possible imbedding sustainability into your organization using existing initiatives, systems and operations.

Organizational Context:  Understanding and incorporating local and organizational context are key factors for effective sustainability engagement programs.  The better integrated, embedded and relevant the engagement program, the more successful it is likely to be.  Some considerations for performing an internal scan to better understand your organization; identify:

  • Your organization’s type of corporate culture


    The better integrated, embedded and relevant the engagement program, the more successful it is likely to be.

  • Program related organizational strengths, challenges and resources
  • Overarching organizational goals and priorities
  • Internal key liaisons and potential partnerships for better program coordination
  • Your organizations official sustainability definition, policies, statements, strategies, etc.
  • Available communication avenues and policies, corporately and/or locally
  • Existing sustainability related initiatives, program or events
  • Potential sustainability champions within leadership, corporately and locally

Visioning: Since determining your organizations sustainability journey is dependent on your specific context, visioning is a very effective tool.  Visioning encourages discussion towards a common understanding of organizational values and a collective, preferred future vision. Where are we now? What do we value? Where do we want to be? How will we know when we get there?  This process not only provides direction, but also ownership, motivation and enthusiasm.

Needs Assessments:  Assessing employee needs will go along way in the effectiveness of any engagement program.   Information may be collected from any avenue that makes the most sense for your organization.  Some examples include surveys (paper or online), focus groups, suggestion boxes, email feedback, individual interviews, etc.

Employee surveys are an effective way to collect information especially for larger organizations.  There are many online tools available to facilitate data collection and analysis; Survey Monkey and Zoomerang are two similar online survey platforms that are free or reasonably priced depending on your needs.

2.  Formulating a Strategy

The information collected during the initial linkedin people search assessment phase serves as the foundation to determine content areas, program structure and methods of engagement.  This is the space to align the program framework with company context, goals and priorities.  To bring the entire process into perspective by looking at the “bigger picture”, ideally an effective engagement strategy should have a strong, logical framework that would, for example, allow an employee to see a clear link between their daily actions and outcomes presented in a company sustainability report.

The structure of your strategy will depend on your specific program.  Below is an example of a strategy template.

 Strategy Objectives

Identify from the beginning the objectives the document.  With so much background information and program possibilities, it will help to stay on point during the strategy development.

 Employee Feedback Summary


There are lots of interesting ways to present feedback like creating word clouds.

After participating in needs assessments, people are often very curious about the results.  This is a great space to share the highlights of employee surveys, focus groups, etc.  Including response statistics is useful, but there are lots of interesting ways to present feedback like creating word clouds, Wordle is a fun online resource for creating them.

Priorities and Time Frame

Although many areas to address may have arisen while analyzing the background data, to keep the strategy and program manageable for everyone, try choosing two or three program priorities.  Keeping these priorities in the forefront of your mind will help keep the strategy development focused and on track. It is also important to consider how much time should be allocated to achieve these priorites; is one year enough? Two years?  Also keep in mind program implementation usually takes more time than you think, so be conservative with timing estimates.

Structure of Program

This section should outline the nuts and bolts of the overall program in a clear and simple framework.  Building the framework structure will depend entirely on your specific context.  Here are some items to consider:

  • Scope – Give an overview of the major program activites and to whom they are being delivered.  How will both corporate and local contexts be addressed?
  • Content –Based on background research, what will be the main topic areas for content?Where were there gaps in understanding?  What topics were frequently identified by
    participants as a knowledge building area?
  •  Define focus areas – how will you label the program’s focus areas, for example, community, employee wellness, environment, social etc.  Do these correspond to other relevant initiatives, for example, what focus area labels are used in organizational sustainability reporting?
  • Methods of Engagement – how will the program function, for example: is the focus on teams or on the individual?  Who will implement local or corporate events, initiatives?  How will success be celebrated?  How will knowledge be shared?



It is worth reaching out to a marketing and communications department/person within your organization to work with you on this to make sure your plans are as effective as possible.

Marketing and communication is a key aspect to an engagement program.

It is worth reaching out to a marketing and communications department/person within your organization to work with you on this to make sure your plans are as effective as possible.




Some considerations:

  • What media and communication avenues available to you?
  • Will you create a unique marketing campaign for the program?
  • Does it make sense to create employee communication plans for both corporate and local contexts?
  • Include communication plans for leadership as well as other relevant internal contacts

Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting

Creating processes for continual reflection, learning and improvement is key to the ongoing success of the engagement program. This section addresses a couple of aspects.  Firstly, it addresses how to create a monitoring framework that is measurable by identifying related outputs, outcomes and determining specific indicators.  This quantitative data is useful for reporting and building the business case for the program, but qualitative information to accompany the metrics is also important.  To address program effectiveness, providing a support network to teams and individuals through ongoing feedback and follow up is helpful.  This can help identify in a timely way when teams or individuals are struggling or need support.  It also can help identify best practice and local examples.  Some considerations:

  • Determine appropriate milestones, metrics, outputs and outcomes.
  • Create support frameworks including avenues for ongoing feedback, regular meetings, local champion support, follow-up, etc.
  • Provide avenues for ongoing feedback and support from all levels of the organization
  • Determine timelines for formal evaluation and reporting on program performance

Again this post was intended to be a high-level look at developing an engagement strategy in order to determine where and how to address program challenges from the planning stage.  If there are any comments, items to add, experiences to share please do so in the comments section below.  If there are any particular items anyone would like to discuss during our discussion next week either send an email or share in the comments section as well.

 Moving Forward – February 13th:

  1. Questions or comments on strategy and planning – share examples anyone has used in their planning and strategy process
  2.  Group discussion on how challenges can be addressed using some of the challenges identified in our initial group discussion
    • Beyond start-up – dealing with plateaus and revitalizing programs
    • Participation – overcoming barriers and competing priorities
    • Integrating sustainability into operations – creating culture, gaining leadership support, KPIs
    • Tracking and Measurement – outputs, outcomes, metrics
Join the discussion, contact Kathryn

Join the discussion, contact Kathryn

If you are interested in participating in our ongoing sustainability engagement discussions, please contact Kathryn  at :

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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One Response to Planning and Strategy for Engagement of Employees for Sustainability (Session 1 – SEND)

  1. Pingback: Sustainability Engagement Network Discussion (SEND) Series – Session 3 – Communicating with Frontline Staff | Sustainability Learning Centre Blog

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