Green recognition a mere whisper

Even among eco-friendly employers there’s not a huge push for green products

Inside a small but growing number of Canadian organizations, sustainability and environmental concerns are giving life to diverse green initiatives.

From commuting challenges and energy reduction programs to ethical sourcing policies, organizations at the forefront of this movement say environmental concerns are increasingly influencing the way they do things.

But not necessarily things related to recognition. Whether it’s because of “silo thinking” or because recognition is a relatively minor concern within an organization, even employers that promote environmental awareness have little to say about the ways their recognition awards or programs are green. Some chalk it up to a lack of interest.

“Rewards are things that people want. If you think about things in the marketplace that excite people, like a flat-panel TV, there’s nothing green about it,” said Adam Kafka, vice-president of Universal Links, a Toronto-based recognition company.

Not all employees want stuff

But others disagree that employees are only interested in stuff. At the City of Kamloops in British Columbia, employees have sometimes asked for the cash value of their recognition rewards to go a charity instead, said Jackie Frigon, human resources advisor at the city, which employs 650 people not including seasonal staff.

“They feel they’re well compensated for the work they do, and they don’t need the gift. They would prefer to give it to the people who do not have as much as they do,” said Frigon.

The food bank, the United Way and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals tend to be on top of the list. In the first years, it was only one or two people who opted for the charitable donations, but “we made a big to-do about those individuals, and the next year, we found a few more people” making the same decisions, said Frigon.

Corporate values influence recognition

In some workplaces, a certain set of values have become so ingrained they automatically influence what managers give out to reward employees.

At Vancouver-based retailer Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), a commitment to sustainability has been central to the way it does business.

“Count on us to act with integrity,” the co-op promises customers, who have to become members to shop. That commitment means products are made from organically grown or recycled material and manufactured in factories that respect labour standards and provide workers with good working conditions and decent wages.

“When we do give gifts, people at our organization like it when those gifts are ethically sourced,” said Cathy Smith, senior manager of HR at MEC. That’s why for the retailer’s service award program, which recognizes employees at five-year intervals, recipients get MEC gift certificates. For other types of recognition awards such as spot awards, however, Smith said managers would more often do something special according to the person’s likes and interests.

“We try to personalize the relationship as much as possible,” said Smith.

Sustainability goals met with green gifts

Like MEC’s, the recognition program at the Vancouver-based credit union Vancity isn’t gift-oriented. Nor is it very centralized. Different branches and different departments have considerable latitude in recognizing employees in their own way, said Tonya Frizzell, communications specialist at Vancity.

The credit union has been procuring green gifts, however, to give to employees who take part in its sustainability initiatives. Each month, employees on the sustainability team set out challenges for colleagues. Those who meet the challenges — leave the car at home at least twice a week, or routinely turn off the computer, for example — can go to a website and enter their names for a draw. The rewards are sustainability-themed, including a bike, a solar charger for gadgets or a gift certificate for a restaurant that serves local and organic food.

Vendors hear little interest in green

At Fairware Promotional Products, a Vancouver supplier of sustainable and ethical products, owner Denise Taschereau said silos inside an organization are probably the reason why marketing departments and sustainability teams, but not HR departments, contact her.

“Companies are recalibrating their DNA. Organizations such as BC Hydro and Telus are mindful of the need to change the way they work. So they’re setting up checklists for procurement or they buy recycled products or they reduce their airline travel,” said Taschereau. “But recognition issues are at the bottom of the list. It’s ‘Oh my gosh, we have a staff event next week.’ It’s the last thing people think about strategically. But if you think about it, all those little knick-knacks you give out at those events say something about you.”

Though the level of interest is barely audible, some recognition providers are starting to hear it and are stocking their catalogues with green options.

At Toronto-based I Love Rewards, there have only been a couple of people who’ve redeemed the reward points they get from managers for the green products offered on the web-based catalogue. But sales and marketing manager Rob Catalano thinks that number will grow.

At Terryberry Canada, a Mississauga, Ont.-based recognition vendor, Laurie Smith has been waiting for employer clients to express an interest in greener options.

“But so far, there’s not a lot of interest,” said Smith, a customer support employee. She has tried to gauge clients’ interest in paperless recognition awards, where employers would direct the star employee to an online catalogue instead of giving out paper catalogues, but to little avail.

“I guess people want to have something in their hands,” said Smith. “They want to have the paper certificate and the paper catalogue and hand it over to the employee.”

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