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Take it from the top. Passionate CEOs inspire environmental philanthropy at work

This story first appeared on June 21, 2014 in the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business.

Ask any organizational development consultant and you’ll likely hear that the key to affecting lasting positive workplace culture change is to start at the top. A group of Canadian Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) took this advice literally.

Earlier this spring, these CEOs spent an evening climbing Canada’s tallest tower. The grueling hike up the 1,776 steps of Toronto’s CN Tower was part of a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) fundraising event. It was also a daring opportunity for business leaders to join their employees and demonstrate their commitment to WWF’s mission from the top.

Canadian CEOs led the way in WWF’s inaugural Spring Things campaign: (from, left to right) Gordon Hicks, Brookfield Johnson Controls, David Miller, WWFCanada, Lloyd Bryant, Hewlett-Packard Canada, Paul Mead, FCB Canada Peter Melanson, Bullfrog Power. ©WWF-CANADA

Canadian CEOs led the way in WWF’s inaugural Spring Things campaign: (from, left to right) Gordon Hicks, Brookfield Johnson Controls, David Miller, WWFCanada, Lloyd Bryant, Hewlett-Packard Canada, Paul Mead, FCB Canada Peter Melanson, Bullfrog Power. ©WWF-CANADA

It’s an idea whose time has come. According to a PriceWaterhouseCoopers study, 88 per cent of all employees want to work for a socially responsible organization. And the OXYGENZ Global Workplace Innovation Study reported that 98 per cent of 26-35-year-olds would prefer an environmentally responsible workplace. “Businesses need engaged employees just as much as we need footprint reduction,” says Hewlett-Packard Canada CEO Lloyd Bryant. “We believe employee engagement can be leveraged to protect the planet. We’ve been working on combining the two for seven years at HP.” 

Since its inception in 2011, HP has championed WWF’s Living Planet @ Work employee engagement program which has provided more than 700 companies and their employee “green teams” with the resources and guidance to instil environmental consciousness in the workplace. The initiative has resulted in a surge of new energy-saving policies and practices, employee clean-up projects, and sustainability reports. In the last year, the program strengthened the effort to incorporate philanthropy. Living Planet @ Work’s Spring Things was WWF’s first-ever dedicated workplace fundraising campaign.

It’s no secret that Canadians have strong emotional ties to our spectacular natural environment. Yet, according to Statistics Canada, less than 3 per cent of all charitable donations in this country go toward environmental causes. And so, WWF enlisted the help of Canadian CEOs to raise the profile of environmental causes in the workplace.

Leading the way with Mr. Bryant on the Spring Things executive committee were fellow CEOs Rudi Blatter of Lindt & Sprüngli, Gordon Hicks of Brookfield Johnson Controls, Louis Martel of Canada Steamship Lines, Paul Mead of FCB Canada, and Bullfrog Power’s Peter Melanson. 

In all, more than 40 workplaces participated in the Spring Things campaign and rallied around three signature events: Polar Bear Week, Earth Hour and the Canada Life CN Tower Climb. Mr. Bryant propelled the campaign into high gear by literally taking the “polar bear plunge” into the icy waters of Lake Ontario. From February to May, employees organized bake sales, movie matinees, spin-athons, raffles and auctions. The campaign reached its peak in the race to the top of the CN Tower.

Between event proceeds and donations, generous corporate gifts and matching programs, Spring Things raised close to $400,000 in support of WWF’s conservation efforts. Mr. Bryant says the campaign is a bold new approach to the increasing corporate shift towards employee engagement on sustainability while also investing critical funds towards preserving the environment. “I’m proud of the leadership my fellow CEOs have shown in driving the success of this effort,” he says.

WWF-Canada CEO David Miller believes the movement will succeed with continued support from the top. “The most innovative corporations are transforming operations, supply chains and business models, and engaging employees to create value for their people and the planet, as well as for their business” he says. “With the Spring Things campaign, we saw an impressive group of business leaders harness the power of employees, catalyze new funding for the environment, and drive transformational change.”

Through events such as Polar Bear Week, Spring Things raised almost $400,000. ©WWF-CANADA

Through events such as Polar Bear Week, Spring Things raised almost $400,000. ©WWF-CANADA

Learn more about how your company can get involved with the Living Planet @ Work program and the many ways you can bring sustainability to your office and support WWF’s critical conservation work. 

This blog series highlights outstanding companies who have gone above and beyond their support and fundraising efforts for WWF through the Living Planet @ Work’s Spring Things campaign. Stay tuned for more company stories and successes!