Engaging middle management to meet environmental objectives at Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo has made an ongoing commitment to protecting the environment and reducing the environmental impact of its operations. The company’s goals include achieving by 2020 a 65 percent recycling rate, a 40 percent increase in energy efficiency, and a 35 percent reduction in absolute greenhouse gas emissions. To accomplish these objectives, Wells Fargo uses internal Green Teams to engage employees around sustainability issues. One of the greatest challenges in implementing the Green Teams program has been gaining buy-in and support from middle management.

Middle management plays an important role in helping Wells Fargo meet its corporate citizenship goals. Managers assist in making philanthropic funding decisions by participating in regional grant committees. They also make vital decisions regarding the environmental performance of the company’s operations. It is a challenge to place increasing responsibilities on middle managers when they already must juggle competing, demanding priorities. However, participation by middle management is critical for company-wide efforts such as sustainability initiatives.

Krista Van Tassel, vice president for team member engagement at Wells Fargo, shared some of the methods Wells Fargo used to engage middle management in environmental issues. She stressed that the key is making the program or initiative relevant to middle management. Rather than position programs as new commitments, the Green Team emphasizes the alignment between new initiatives and processes already in place. Green Teams promote managerial support as an extension of the culture of sustainability at Wells Fargo and as another way to increase operational efficiencies. With operational efficiencies a priority for middle management, the Green Teams highlighted the bottom line benefits of their efforts.

To identify the opportunities programs offer, Wells Fargo enlisted the support of True Impact, a consulting firm that specializes in helping organizations measure the social and business value of their operating practices. In conjunction with True Impact, Wells Fargo developed a Green Team ROI Tracker that allows the company to track and measure the environmental and financial impact of the Green Team projects. This information is reported to local managers, who share it with their superiors and garner support for the program. “The key is making the program relevant to them and a way for them to meet their existing goals rather than create new ones,” Van Tassel said.

An example of the kind of value delivered by environmental initiatives was demonstrated when the Green Team in San Francisco embraced the city’s mandatory composting ordinance. Working with the corporate properties team and a local waste hauler, the Green Team conducted a waste audit that found a significant amount of waste could be diverted from the trash stream. With an education and outreach program in place, in the first full year of composting in San Francisco Wells Fargo was able to divert up to 75 percent of its trash in major office high‐rise buildings resulting in a savings of about $50,000 in trash bills for each of the company’s high‐rise locations.

“That’s real savings back to our corporate properties team budget and it helped us really solidify the Green Team partnership in San Francisco,” remarked Van Tassel.

Green Teams are now engaging middle managers as executive sponsors. In this role, managers advise Green Teams on programs and help increase participation in their local offices, allowing managers to proactively promote operational efficiencies and employee volunteerism.

“The participation of an executive sponsor can help teams gain credibility in a market where environmental issues may be new and they can often help team members navigate corporate policies so that all of our work supports Wells Fargo’s Vision and Values,” Van Tassel added. To increase the visibility and scale of its environmental programs, Wells Fargo is launching a Green Team Leadership Council this year. This group is charged with identifying enterprise opportunities and scaling programs to achieve the Green Teams’ environmental objectives. This council will also be a source of information on Green Teams’ progress. Green Teams will submit an overview of their accomplishments and plans for the following year. This process will give managers an understanding of what projects are in the pipeline and allow them to begin to work on how to support them.

Managers have responded well to their increased involvement with Green Teams. “We’ve actually had managers request Green Teams at their locations as they seek to develop a stronger tie to their local community or address an operational inefficiency in the company,” Van Tassel noted. The Environmental Affairs team has been successful at quantifying and communicating the value that Green Teams bring to the company. The importance of this is demonstrated by the rapid growth of the program. It began in 2009 with only 30 Green Teams and since then has more than doubled to 70 teams, including some in international locations. With support throughout multiple levels of the company, Green Teams at Wells Fargo are well on their way to meeting its environmental commitment.

'Bagzilla' helped the Wells Fargo Green Team make its recycling initiative fun.