Case Study: Union Pacific – Gathering Employee Feedback
Employees are a powerful resource for improving a company’s environmental citizenship responsibilities. A successful sustainability program starts with input from employees at all organizational levels. Those employees closest to the work often have the best context for reducing the company’s footprint. The challenge for Union Pacific, a company with nearly 50,000 employees located across 32,000 miles of track, is ensuring an effective exchange of ideas. In 2008, the company launched a stewardship suggestion process. By the end of 2014, more than 1,800 employees had generated more than 3,200 suggestions.
The company’s Environmental Management Group manages suggestions and formalizes this process, providing a web page for employees to submit their suggestions. Recognizing that not all employees will submit an idea online, the group also uses other communication methods. In a typical year, the company receives about 600 suggestions, and more than 40 percent result in some sort of change. Depending on the suggestion, that change could happen at an individual level, within a work area, or across the company.
Stewardship suggestions have affected Union Pacific’s environmental performance. Suggestions have increased recycling at dozens of locations, reduced printing by millions of pages, and saved energy in multiple locations. The suggestion process has strengthened employee environmental commitment, deepened engagement, and increased pride in working for the country’s largest freight railroad.
The suggestion process also provides a broader framework for the company’s environmental stewardship. At the surface, suggestions can help identify the next potentially significant area to pursue. At a deeper level, the ongoing dialogue gauges how well employees understand stewardship principles and the company’s efforts to carry them out. For example, initial suggestions were heavily focused on recycling; reinforcing the message that “reduce” offers more sustainable value than “recycle” led to a greater percentage of “reduce” suggestions.
Union Pacific’s stewardship suggestion program has added tangible value – from environmental footprint reductions to the integration of engagement throughout Union Pacific’s culture.
[This case study was featured in the GEMI Quick Guide for Engaging Employees in Sustainability.]
Image from UP Intranet