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Blog5 ways to encourage employees to brainstorm creative, sustainable ideas

5 ways to encourage employees to brainstorm creative, sustainable ideas

Sustainability in the workplace is the talk of the town these days. Given how much the environment needs effective, eco-conscious actions taken as soon as possible, it will remain a hot topic for longer than one can foresee. Small to large companies are among the most prominent players on the environmental stage, influencing how negatively or positively our surroundings are impacted.

For this reason, more and more companies seek ways to shift from unsustainable practices to eco-friendly ones, whether we talk about getting rid of waste sustainably or reducing energy consumption in the workplace. Some upper management representatives are yet to realize, though, how valuable resources their employees are when contributing ideas to developing sustainable strategies.

Regardless of whether it’s easy or challenging, one should never underestimate the resourcefulness of employees. Encouraging them to think creatively and brainstorm solutions can be facilitated by following the tried-and-true recommendations outlined below.

First and foremost, there shouldn’t be such thing as a “good” or “bad” idea

Having someone rain on your parade after you’ve put your heart and soul into an idea, only to see it being trivialized, can be highly discouraging, all the more so in a professional setting. Whether an employee brings forth a concept that is undoable and unlikely to impact the enterprise’s sustainability efforts, there should be no room for judgment, discouragement, bias, or any other disheartening behaviour. Such attitudes can only discourage employees from sharing their ideas in the future.

Give both good and bad ideas the same fair shake; after all, strange ideas can inspire positive, effective initiatives. Keep an equitable stance towards both great and poorer suggestions, and you’ll see how your employees will open like a treasure chest of ideas, engaging in debates and idea-sharing.

Serve as a model

Hardly can an employee engage in sustainable practices that serve a higher purpose when their entire environment is anything but eco-conscious. In order to see them mobilize and make a tangible difference, the upper management and leadership team must lead by example and show commitment to their endeavours. Individuals such as board members or the CEO must be the first to show the way for the staff to follow.

Practical commitment can take numerous forms and must be impactful and large-scale. Something as humble as inviting plants indoors for purer air and reducing pollutants and volatile organic compounds is indeed a healthy practice, but it will likely pass unobserved by many. Conversely, when the company adopts baling solutions for the sustainable disposal of materials like cardboard, plastic, glass, and mixed waste—all of which significantly harm the environment if handled differently—employees are presented with a powerful source of inspiration.

As such, the more involved managers are, the more likely it is that employees will follow in their footsteps. Similar practices will help broaden their perspectives and develop a knowledge foundation on which they can progressively build and explore ideas infinitely.  

Offer idea-sharing opportunities and feedback

It’s commonplace to have highly ingenious and resourceful employees who only demonstrate their skillfulness quietly, in the shadows, without showing significant involvement if unasked so. Sometimes, employees tend to keep ideas to themselves to avoid being judged, or simply because they’re more introverted and shy. You want them to disclose their brilliant ideas, but what can be done when they’re reluctant, and it’s hard to get under their skin? Well, luckily, many things can be done in this respect.

Among the most impactful endeavours is encouraging team members to form teams, talk, and work together. Subsequently, they can validate the results of their peers. After some exercise, even reserved employees will gain the confidence to put their ideas out there without worrying if they turn out to be irrelevant, off-topic, or wrong. They would have already witnessed alternative perspectives that were not that successful, yet were not received with ridicule or judgment.

Acknowledging that a similar initiative is not a one-size-fits-all solution is noteworthy. Sometimes, employees need to work independently, and this approach may be more effective, depending on the company’s needs, structure, and teams. This calls for reassurance that you will always be available to consider their suggestions, ideas, and feedback and develop a safe space where they can freely express their thoughts.  

Make being green a rewarding practice

Among the most impactful factors that influence the engagement of your employees when it comes to involvement in sustainability efforts is how consistent and advantageous the process is. You can simply boost their interest and engagement in these initiatives by implementing a reward and recognition system. Numerous studies demonstrate that the attention and loyalty of employees grow when they are offered and encouraged through substantial incentives, especially more as the teams feel the involvement of an upper management representative.

And this is no revelation; it’s normal to feel greater motivation when there’s personal gain involved as well. For this reason, and per the latest research from SHRM HR University, only 10% of corporations have yet to implement incentives in their policies, whereas 99% of publicly traded companies have already employed short-term incentives to motivate employees.

An example of a “green incentive” can be monetary recompenses. This way, employees associate environmental responsibility with financial rewards, feeling more encouraged to brainstorm ideas to make the process more financially advantageous. The business’ sustainability goals will ultimately become part of their daily tasks.

Empower employees to speak their minds

Making the meeting comfortable and giving employees a voice to say whatever goes through their heads will effectively create room for brilliant ideas to emerge. They must feel in a safe space when the brainstorming sessions start. Additionally, they must feel empowered to take charge of different initiatives, tasks, or projects. When presented with the opportunity to contribute to the sustainability program instead of simply following instructions, they feel more motivated to think creatively and conceive ideas and solutions.

An excellent method to achieve this goal is to build a “green team”. This is a context where employees can debate the points that need improvements and decide which solutions are worth implementing. For additional support, you can also conduct surveys among employees where they can anonymously share their opinions and approaches.

Don’t stress if things don’t go smoothly from the beginning. With enough commitment and time, your employees will begin exchanging ideas and collaborating effortlessly.

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