How we engaged employees, strengthened community ties, and made the world a little greener

Nearly 2,000 Alcoa employees, their families, and members of their communities learned how to save energy, save money, and help the environment at green fairs over the past three months.

These fairs, organized by the C2ES Make an Impact program in partnership with Alcoa and the Alcoa Foundation, are an example of an evolving approach to corporate social responsibility and employee engagement.

Building awareness of environmental challenges is important, but it isn’t enough. A new approach, bringing together several engagement strategies, aims to build a work force that is both knowledgeable and active in local organizations. The goal is to create stronger relationships among a company, its employees, and community stakeholders, a win-win-win.

Employees, community members and even two mayors came to Alcoa Green Fairs to meet with local businesses and groups providing sustainability solutions. The events took place on weekends or during work breaks in Fullerton and Torrance, Calif.; Hampton, Va.; and Warrick, Ind. Participants could ask questions and get tips about recycling, saving energy and water, and making choices to promote sustainability.

Hands-on activities made it fun. For example, at each fair, we challenged people to see how much physical energy is needed to turn a hand crank (pictured at left) and produce enough power to light an old-fashioned incandescent bulb compared with a modern, efficient compact fluorescent bulb, which requires 75 percent less energy.

The team from Virginia Naturally challenged Hampton fair-goers to guess how long it takes for different types of litter to decompose, driving home the importance of recycling. California employees answered trivia questions from Heal the Bay about storm water management and water conservation.

The fairs informed employees and strengthened Alcoa’s connections to its local communities. More than 50 organizations participated, paving the way for future partnerships and employee volunteer opportunities that will improve the sustainability of each community.

This approach to employee engagement seems natural. Although web-based tools, like our recently updated Make an Impact Carbon Calculator, are becoming more popular for their interactivity and convenience, they may not reach all employees, especially those who don’t spend a lot of time at work in front of a computer. That’s why Make an Impact complements these tools with activities like green fairs, where we can interact one-on-one and approach topics like climate action and energy efficiency from an individual, family, and community perspective.

Companies are increasingly looking to their employees to help them achieve their sustainability and corporate responsibility goals. Creating the right culture – through training, incentives, and social and educational events like green fairs – is essential. Equally important is empowering all employees, not just the company’s environment, health, and safety teams, to help build that culture.

The lessons learned and connections made at this year’s Alcoa green fairs can help employees, community groups, and company leaders all take steps toward a more sustainable future.