Book Review: Employee Engagement with Sustainable Business – Nadine Exter

Nadine Exter Book CoverTitle: Employee Engagement with Sustainable Business: How to change the world whilst keeping your day job.

ISBN: 978-0-415-53225-9

Author: Nadine Exter

Publisher: Routledge (2013)

Language: English

A key shift has taken place in recent years. Environmentalism and corporate social responsibility – have become global social movements. This has had a strong influence on public opinion and has put pressure on corporate organizations to be responsible, transparent and innovative. Organizations are believed to be socially constructed realities but “the specific way of doing business seems to be so widespread that many within this system have lost perspective on what is acceptable societal behavior and what is not”.

Book ReviewThis book is based on the overarching theme that employees have the potential and can be intrinsically motivated to move into sustainability focused roles. Such employees need to be engaged who can be the “difference makers”. However, this would require a deeper understanding of the roles that can exist within the organization.  The key contribution of the author is towards exploring and identifying five different types of sustainability roles – “Unsung Heroes, Sustainability Specialists, Social Intrapreneurs, Sustainability Champions or Sustainability Godparents”. The author conceptualizes these roles through an understanding of organizational culture and value systems.

Before joining organizations, employees make their own meaning of what transpires in their social and environmental contexts. As they experience and interpret different situations, it shapes their personal value systems that dominate their thought processes. When they join organizations, the interplay between organizational and individual values on social and environmental issues can have conflicting or enabling consequences. Sustainability driven individuals may feel disconnected or there may be a strong urge to transform from a latent supporter of sustainability causes to a more active player in the form of above mentioned roles.

The book stresses the role of culture as a “structural mechanism” that moulds an organization’s response. The right set of values deliver a “socially responsible outcome” which otherwise would be “socially useless”. This leads to a more fundamental challenge for companies – How to integrate sustainability into their culture? This would, no doubt, need deeper level changes.

The author’s attempt to integrate established concepts such as – organizational learning, culture and value systems, where much research has been done over the last few decades, and the current evolving concept of employee engagement with sustainable business, is appreciable. The book brings out fresh perspectives by taking a case study based approach, which seems to be an appropriate method for building a framework to understand employees’ motivations, intellectual curiosity and ability to create impact.

The author is dedicated towards keeping a simple style of expression that makes the book an easy-read. At times, some of the narratives seem to echo with some part of your life and that’s where the author is likely to succeed in striking the right chord with the reader.

The book starts off by painting a startling but realistic picture of how life would be in the next 30-40 years. It portrays how our future generations would be at an extreme disadvantage because of our unsustainable ways of living. Building on this perspective, the author posits why a sense of urgency for ‘sustainability’ is needed now. As a matter-of-fact, in the not-so-distant future, sustainability is poised to become a widely accepted reality among employees when performance and targets would be linked to how creatively they can think about sustainability.

The book gives valuable advice on how to engage employees with sustainable business. It has the potential to expand your thought process and take you to the next level on the journey to become a truly sustainable company.

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