Recognizing Environmental Actions in the Workplace

Incorporate a green component into your corporate rewards program

Alexander Graham Bell would be proud. SaskTel, Saskatchewan’s provincially owned telecommunications provider, calls its employee recognition program the Alex Awards, paying tribute to the inventor of the telephone and his indomitable spirit of innovation. The program, launched about three years ago, allows any employee to nominate a colleague for an achievement in one of several categories—including environmental leadership. As one of Canada’s Greenest Employers for 2011, says Nichole Bourgeois, SaskTel’s performance management manager, “the environment is a huge focus for us.”

But in the halls of corporate Canada, employee recognition and reward programs with a green component are slow to catch on, and recognition programs focused specifically on the environment are even more unusual, notes Razor Suleman, founder and CEO of I Love Rewards, a Toronto-based company that builds and manages recognition and reward programs for major clients such as Rogers Communications Inc., PwC and 3M Company.

Including a green category in a program is a “great strategy,” says Suleman. But when it comes to environmental action, recognition is a stronger motivator than rewards. “It’s an internal motivation that drives that desire,” he says. “As soon as you start to reward it, it cheapens it and takes away the altruistic nature of it. The recognition is their reward.”

At SaskTel, only two employees over the past two years have earned Alex Awards for environmental achievements. In one case, an intern was recognized for his leadership in developing a green IT strategy. The other employee helped initiate a recycling program at SaskTel’s 13 retail stores. Under the Alex Awards program, which has three levels of recognition, successful nominees can choose rewards valued from $25 to $200.

Response has also been muted at the Toronto Zoo, where three employees were recognized for green initiatives in 2009 under the zoo’s Rewards program, and none last year. Because of the nature of the zoo, says spokesperson Katie Grey, even achievements in other categories are often related to the environment or conservation.

SaskTel is involved in a wide variety of green initiatives that involve employees from across the company, says Bourgeois. “There are people doing things all the time,” she says. “But even if you provide the tools, it doesn’t mean people want or need the attention.”

More commonly, companies offer incentives
for specific green programs. Vancouver-based Vancity, Canada’s largest credit union, offers discounted monthly parking for carpool vehicles. The company also sponsors an annual Bike to Work Week campaign, providing bike lockers and showers for head office employees who bike to work.

At I Love Rewards, employees are given one day every quarter to devote to a charitable cause, some of which are environment-related, says Suleman. In return, they record their name or charitable act on a leaf, which they place on a tree at the company’s head office called the VolunTree. “It’s symbolic of our impact on our local communities,” says Suleman. “And recognition is free,” he adds. “I don’t care what a company’s budget is, there’s no reason you can’t ingrain recognition into everything you do.”

By John Schofield

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