Harnessing the Power of Internal Sustainability Champions

June 10, 2024

Sustainability champions are the beating heart of your organization's environmental goals. Their energy and dedication invigorates their colleagues, weaves sustainability into the corporate culture, and accelerates the adoption of revenue-generating practices. But how do you spot these champions? And how do you effectively engage them as part of your overarching strategy once you do?

In this article, you’ll learn the strategies needed to answer both questions and enjoy the benefits that a team of motivated, passionate individuals can bring to your sustainability initiatives.

What defines a champion? 

Champions aren't defined by their position on the organizational chart but by their passion, influence and commitment to making a difference. They can be found throughout the company, from the executive suite to the frontline staff, each bringing a unique perspective and set of skills.

The challenge lies in effectively spotting these hidden gems and empowering them to lead change. Because finding internal champions provides essential strategic benefits, it's something you'll want to prioritize earlier in your sustainability journey. Consider the advantages your champions can bring to the table:

  • Shared Ownership: When you involve your colleagues in decision-making and sustainability efforts, they start to feel a real sense of ownership. This encourages shared responsibility for your company's eco-conscious efforts and chances of success.
  • Diversity of Ideas and Innovation: Champions from various parts of an organization bring diverse perspectives, fostering innovative solutions and strategic improvements.
  • Enhanced Sustainability Culture: Champions make sustainability a natural part of our corporate culture, blending it into our daily business operations and decisions.
  • Resilience and Continuity: Having a network of advocates means that sustainability efforts will keep going strong, even if key leaders move on from the organization.
  • Improved Community and Stakeholder Engagement: Internal champions bridge the company with external stakeholders like community groups and regulators, improving relationships and enhancing the company's reputation.

Below, we dive deeper into the strategies that will help you identify these key players and set the foundation for a more sustainable and resilient future.

Spark a passion for sustainability.

Building a genuine connection with potential champions is key. Start by hosting group discussions to encourage collaboration on your initiatives. To ensure the engagement is both meaningful and persuasive, go into meetings equipped with some compelling talking points. Here are a few to consider: 

  • Shared Goals: Outline your company’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) targets and how they align with broader global sustainability efforts. This frames the conversation within a larger context, emphasizing the significance of individual and collective action. 
  • The Business Case: Highlight the economic and competitive advantages beyond just the environmental benefits. Discuss how increased energy independence can lead to cost savings, improved brand reputation and greater employee satisfaction.
  • Opportunities for Leadership and Growth: Discuss how involvement in sustainability efforts can offer personal and professional development opportunities, including leadership skills, cross-departmental collaboration and visibility within your company.
  • Open Questions: Encourage potential champions to share their ideas and visions. Ask open-ended questions like, "What are your interests and experiences related to sustainability?" or "How do you think sustainability can be integrated into your current role and department?" 

Incorporate these talking points into your conversations engages individuals on a deeper level, igniting their passion for sustainability and motivating them to become active proponents of change.

Don’t tackle sustainability alone.

Achieving sustainability is such a big undertaking, so you shouldn’t strategize alone. The best solutions often come from those on the frontlines. When you actively ask your colleagues for feedback and ideas, you will discover things you might not have thought of yourself.

By involving others in discussions, you will begin to see who is knowledgeable and eager to contribute. Your champions will naturally emerge, offering valuable insights, volunteering for projects, leading by example and motivating their peers. 

Understand how to motivate your champions.

Creating a system of incentives can encourage employee participation. Think recognition programs, bonuses and professional development opportunities—these can all help reward and encourage participation effectively.

A comprehensive incentive system can vary from simple acknowledgments to complex rewards, designed to encourage and celebrate employee participation. A well-designed incentive system increases participation and highlights those truly invested. These individuals often become internal champions, motivated by a real commitment to sustainability rather than by rewards only. 

Including sustainability metrics in performance reviews and setting specific goals also serves as a powerful incentive. This ensures that contributions are encouraged, expected and valued as part of an employee's overall performance and growth. When highlighting the achievements of those who contribute to sustainability goals, you create role models, inspire others and foster a culture of appreciation and motivation toward sustainable practices.

Ignite Change by Empowering Your Champions

Once you've identified your champions, engaging with them effectively is crucial to amplify impact, foster innovation and drive cultural change within your organization.

Prepare them for success.

Empower your champions with the right tools and knowledge by setting up targeted workshops and giving them access to a curated selection of sustainability resources. Encourage peer-to-peer learning to increase their understanding and commitment to the cause, making sure they're ready to lead the way. Also, clearly define your champions' roles and responsibilities so each department lead knows who's who. This clarity helps streamline processes and integrates sustainability efforts across the organization smoothly. Establish a solid reporting structure between the champion and their department lead to align on the sustainability vision, ensuring everyone is on the same page and working together effectively.

Have your champions connect with industry peers.

Attending conferences like the EEI National Key Accounts Workshop, SED Net Zero Forum, Climate Week, Cleantech and others is a fantastic chance for your internal sustainability champions to network, learn and dive deeper into the industry. These events bring together thought leaders, innovators and key stakeholders, making them a goldmine for knowledge exchange and collaboration. Through keynote addresses, workshops and panel discussions, participants get to explore the latest trends and best practices in sustainability.

One of the best parts is the networking sessions. They offer invaluable opportunities for your champions to connect with peers from other organizations, share experiences and build professional relationships that can spark new ideas and innovations. These interactions often lead to the exchange of strategies that can be applied back at home, speeding up progress toward sustainability goals. Attending these conferences keeps your team up to date with industry developments, inspired by leading figures and feeling part of a community with a shared mission. This not only boosts their growth but also enhances their ability to drive sustainable change within your organization.

Build expertise, not surface-level knowledge.

To further empower your champions, consider offering advanced training sessions that go beyond the basics. These sessions focus on specific aspects of sustainability, such as maximizing use of energy-efficient technologies, adopting smart building controls, integrating renewable energy sources, achieving scopes and emissions targets, sustainable supply chain management and more.

By providing in-depth knowledge, your champions become experts who can drive more sophisticated initiatives and influence decision-making processes within the organization. When you empower your colleagues like this, they will actively take part in co-creating actionable programs, making sure that initiatives are both ambitious and achievable.

Foster a culture of sustainable innovation.

Encourage your champions and all employees to work together, share ideas and brainstorm innovative solutions to sustainability challenges. Creating a supportive environment where everyone feels comfortable contributing leads to groundbreaking initiatives that significantly impact your organization's strategy.

  • Encourage Cross-Departmental Teams: Promote the formation of teams across different departments to work on sustainability projects. This multidisciplinary approach generates more holistic and impactful solutions by combining diverse skills and perspectives. 
  • Host Idea Challenges: Organize challenges, inviting employees to share their ideas for new projects or improvements to current practices. Offering rewards for the best ideas motivates participation and uncovers novel solutions that might not have appeared through traditional channels. 
  • Share Success Stories: Make it a point to regularly share stories of successful sustainability initiatives within your organization. Highlighting the achievements of cross-departmental teams and the innovative projects they’ve developed celebrates their success and inspires others to contribute their ideas and efforts.  

Unlock The Transformative Impact of Passionate Sustainability Champions

Imagine what your organization's sustainability efforts would look like if they had a team of passionate, motivated individuals driving them forward. That's the power of internal sustainability champions. When you empower, train and recognize these champions, you spark meaningful change and nurture a culture where collaboration and innovation thrive.

Deploying internal sustainability champions is a major step in navigating the sustainability journey. It’s a powerful strategy for companies looking to integrate sustainable practices into their core operations. Remember that by cultivating a network of motivated champions, you create a catalyst for change that accelerates the achievement of sustainability goals, enhances your company's reputation and contributes to a more sustainable future. 


Energy Management Collaborative (EMC) manages and scales turnkey energy efficiency solutions for Fortune 500 clients across their North American portfolios. Since 2003, the company has used its total project management approach, EnergyMAXX®, to successfully implement thousands of projects annually including efficient lighting, smart building controls, specialty disinfectant lighting, ROI-driven IoT solutions, electric vehicle supply equipment infrastructure and ongoing maintenance and warranty support. In doing so, EMC has helped clients realize billions of kilowatt-hours of energy savings and advance their net zero emissions goals.