Thinking sustainably is about seeing the interconnections of systems around a particular business problem or issue. Since, among other things, the people involved, the natural world, and government regulations are ever-changing, there’s no way for a business to solve the sustainability issue once and for all. Businesses must embrace the fact that there will always be context or circumstances outside of their control, potentially knocking their systems flow off balance.

But there are ways to better prepare for that crazy, unpredictable context.  And, I see employee engagement as a crucial part of keeping any corporation’s sustainability development alive and innovating.   On that note, a recent Economist blog article (on design thinking for the workplace) caught my attention.  What co-authors John Hagel and John Seely Brown write about seems to broadly apply to the sustainable business perspective:

“This suggests another design principle: how to design for evolution rather than creating a static design optimising for the present. What would it mean to design the systems we work in to continually evolve our ability to experience more and more flow, especially the flow of people and ideas?”

The bottom line: corporations must work to maintain the flow of their employees’ brainpower and enthusiasm, which will then aid their smooth(er) ride over unanticipated circumstances.

Employee health, well being and productive participation are crucial to fluid systems interactions with all the other aspects of a business.  Do you want your employees to understand why you are newly enforcing more stringent energy use policies?  Do you want them to make the connection between the people in the local community and what your manufacturing plant puts in the landfill?  Do you want them to enjoy work, stay healthy and stick around?  If so, don’t ask for feedback after your initiatives have already been designed or passively place a suggestion box in the lunchroom.  Instead, proactively leverage employees – at all levels – as internal sustainability-promoting partners now.  Smart employee engagement strategies will fill any static business systems void with more energy, and keep the flow of great ideas strong.


  1. Devan Perine October 31, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    I actually read an article from WSJ the other week talking about how happy & motivated employees take something like 10x less sick leave and stay in their jobs twice as long. 

    What do you think about offering creative perks for employees? Do you see it as a good motivator/engager?

  2. Anonymous October 31, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    I do think creative perks can be a good motivator/engager, especially if they are really customized and reflect a deep understanding of employee interests.  In some (few) cases, “prizes” might b motivating or clever, while in other cases, adding another flex vacation day per year could be a huge perk.  Or, let’s say a corporate office is in the middle of a suburb only accessed easily by car or bus.  In that case, instituting “bike to work” incentives would seem disingenuous and really disconnected from employee concerns.

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