Remember Jerry Maguire? “Show me the money”? Tom Cruise when we all still liked him? And that adorable little kid who was famous for 15 minutes in 1996?

This week I attended New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility’s annual conference. Hearing from leaders across the state—and beyond—about how to more effectively integrate sustainability into our organizations, I got inspired. And I kept thinking about Jerry Maguire, and realized it was no coincidence that some of the movie’s most memorable quotes apply pretty darn well to my top conference takeaways:

1. Not a memo. A mission statement.

(Bring sustainability into the culture from the top.)

In a previous life, I worked at Timberland in corporate social responsibility. I was in a meeting where then-CEO Jeff Swartz spoke to a group of approximately 30 employees. (Swartz is famous for shaping Timberland into the sustainability leader it is today, implementing programs like the “Path of Service,” which gives employees 40 paid hours per year to complete community service work of their choosing. He also banned plastic water bottles in Timberland corporate buildings worldwide, replacing them with water filtration systems.) Anyway, in this meeting, Jeff was talking and happened to glance down at a power strip on the floor. The power strip was plugged in but not in use—powering nothing. Offhandedly, casually and continuing to talk about something else, Jeff reached down and unplugged it.

Picture it: a multi-millionaire CEO notices a small amount of power being wasted, and instinctually does something about it. And while I couldn’t tell you now what he was talking about, I remember that action and what it represented.

For companies to truly integrate sustainability, it has to become ingrained in the culture—to be more than just an annual report. More than gallons of water conserved, tons of garbage recycled, or hours served in the community. Organizations need leaders who live their vision all the time. Employees want to be inspired—and change won’t happen without leaders who are, well, leading the way.

2. Help me help you.

(Invite employees to the table.)

Employee engagement and sustainability are inextricably linked. To reduce your environmental impact, you need employees who are willing to toss that can into a recycling bin instead of the trash. To reduce operating costs, employees have to be motivated to think about ways to be more efficient. True sustainability can’t be pushed down from leadership if employees aren’t motivated. And it can’t be forced up from the bottom without leadership buy-in.

How can companies foster employee engagement? There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and, of course, the answer depends greatly on the size of the company. But most organizations, large or small, can start by inviting everyone to the table. Start a conversation—whether through a survey or a simple roundtable discussion. Ask for ideas. Be open. Start big, then narrow the focus. Make everyone feel valued. Engagement doesn’t exist when the conversation is one-sided.

3. Help me help you (part 2).

(Involve customers, too.)

Sustainability isn’t just about the business anymore—it’s about making sustainability more accessible to customers in their everyday lives. It’s not just, “look at us, aren’t we great…” but recognizing that true sustainability is a joint effort. We (the company) don’t exist if you (the customer) don’t exist, if natural resources don’t exist, and so on. It’s no longer a crunchy idea, but a reality—and one that’s coming into sharper focus with every passing season.

An example: Companies like Casella Waste Systems are taking the same data they use for their sustainability reports and working with local communities to increase recycling and reduce waste. Essentially, they give customers back their own data in a more useful, actionable format.

4. Did you know the human head weighs 8 pounds?

Just kidding; this has nothing to do with sustainability. Just a shout out to Jonathan Lipnicki.

Want to talk more about getting your sustainability strategies in line or reporting on the work you’re already doing? Give us a holler.

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