Capturing Hearts and Minds with Green Teams

Capturing Hearts and Minds with Green Teams

Dr. Jeana Wirtenberg, nationally recognized expert in organizational change, shares the second of four exclusive excerpts adapted from her new book Building a Culture for Sustainability.

Ingersoll Rand is committed to making sustainability a widely held value that becomes a central part of how its employees live and work every day; it is going beyond compliance, or simply “following the rules.” Gretchen Digby, director, global education and engagement, CEES, explained that Ingersoll Rand wants to help its employees find ways to integrate sustainability and “apply it to everything we do.” She called this behavior-based sustainability. It is similar to “behavior-based safety,” in which safety becomes a value that is fundamental to how you live and everything you do.

Ingersoll Rand has created numerous programs to excite employees about sustainability and provides myriad tools and programs to encourage them to take action. In her white paper “Step Up to Sustainability,” Ingersoll Rand Sustainability Specialist Katie Pogue notes that “employee networks are the driving force creating a culture change for sustainability [at Ingersoll Rand],” and highlights two of the programs that I discuss later in this chapter: “Together, Green Teams and One STEP Forward program participants create a world-wide network of sustainability champions at Ingersoll Rand who are enabled to bring sustainable values into the workplace and spark a culture  change.”

Green Teams

Ingersoll Rand’s green teams are volunteer grassroots groups of employees who improve their facility’s environmental performance, encourage and educate their colleagues about triple-bottom-line sustainability (people, planet, and profit), and work with and in their local community on triple-bottom-line issues. Although green teams have been active at Ingersoll Rand for more than a decade, in 2011 the company formed a global network of such teams—which is, significantly, sponsored by the senior vice president of integrated supply chain and global operations and vice president of global services—and an intranet portal to coordinate them.

Since then, green teams have become a driving force for culture change, greater sustainability, and environmental action at the company. They are both an outlet for employees’ passion and a means of increasing employees’ enthusiasm and dedication; Ingersoll Rand considers these teams “one of our most successful engagement programs.” As an added bonus for employees, participation in the teams is considered a form of accelerated development.

Through kaizen events—group activities designed to continually improve all functions and involve all employees—the green teams identify areas of improvement in the company. In addition, the green teams’ results in certain areas are measurable, and, through a robust set of processes, the company tracks their impact on key performance indicators (KPIs) such as energy consumption and reduction, water consumption, and waste-to-landfill reduction. It also tracks the number of people participating in green team–led activities. This data is reported within the company’s environment, health, and safety (EHS) performance system.

These teams, as I mentioned earlier, are also leading to higher levels of employee engagement and satisfaction. In its 2012 internal survey of employee satisfaction, Ingersoll Rand found that company sites with green teams scored significantly higher than sites without such teams; people on green teams are less likely to look for a job outside the company (indicating a higher retention and lower turnover rate); and people on green teams are more likely to refer a friend to the company for potential employment. Green teams are considered one of the company’s big sustainability success stories.

The number of green teams at Ingersoll Rand doubled from 25 in 2010 to 52 in 2011 and again to 110 in 2012. As of July 2013, there are 133 such teams and their number is still growing. Although the goal is eventually to have a green team at every one of the company’s sites, as is the case with its safety committees, the company has not made this mandatory. Instead of forcing green team participation on people, the company helps the teams expand organically by communicating the benefits of their activities.

Green Team Certification

In 2012, the company switched its focus from increasing the number of teams to increasing the effectiveness of its current teams. Toward this end, Ingersoll Rand developed a certification program that evaluates, measures, and strengthens the teams by providing resources, processes, and recognition. It formally recognizes teams’ work on projects at company sites and in the local communities where they are making a difference.

Green teams are eligible to apply for one of five levels of certification, each representing a higher level of maturity: (1) beginning, (2) evaluating (Certified), (3) improving (Silver), (4) succeeding (Gold), and (5) leading (Platinum).

One Step Forward

Ingersoll Rand recently launched One STEP Forward, a program designed by CEES, to increase employees’ awareness about global challenges and shift their mind-sets and behaviors at work and at home. With the program, the company “aims to personalize sustainability for every employee and begin a movement that starts within the walls of our company, but quickly moves beyond, and has lasting impact in homes and communities.” It hopes to do this by making employees comfortable about taking initiative and by ensuring them that their managers and the company are behind them when they do this.

Digby explained that the idea for One STEP Forward came to her after she heard a sustainability champion comment, “If each of us just takes one step forward, we have a collective impact that is almost immeasurable.” It occurred to her that a program based on this concept would encourage Ingersoll Rand employees to “step up to sustainability.”

One STEP Forward introduces STEPs (sustainable, transformative, encourages others, and personal), or actions, that employees can take to personalize sustainability. These STEPs are defined as

  • Sustainable: Contributes to a better world
  • Transformative: Supports you in living your values
  • Encourages Others: Inspires colleagues, friends, and family
  • Personal: Connects to something personally meaningful

These easy, effective actions are collaborative, have a positive and measurable impact, can save costs, and influence others in their department/site/community to take action.

Looking at Ingersoll Rand’s employee-centered programs holistically, I became convinced that more than anything else, sustainability is a value at the company. After this value is embraced, it gradually becomes a way of living and working. This process starts with a shift in mind-set: people become conscious of sustainability. Then that mind-set influences the way they see the world: they begin to view everything they do through a sustainability lens.

2 thoughts on “Capturing Hearts and Minds with Green Teams

  1. Hi Dr. Jeana,
    I am an Engineer with Trane Ingersoll-Rand. I have a niece who is in college stuyding Enviornmental Engineering. She is concerned that this may not be the right path for her. She asked me a bunch of questions, but I am not in the same field. I work with Building mechanical system and controls.

    Do you know of any women egineers in enviornmental engineering that she can talk to?

    Any ideas or suggestions would be appreciated.
    Thank you,


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