Leveling Up Employee Engagement & ESG Leadership with Susan Hunt Stevens
In this episode, Susan Hunt Stevens, CEO of WeSpire, shares with host Lincoln Payton ways in which businesses can energize employees by actively including them in ESG initiatives, develop ESG maturity models, and inspire workers to find the courage to combat the climate crisis.
“What we need is a bunch of courageous people right now. People who are willing to advocate and fight in their business life and to fight for what we need at the civic and government and arguably global level.”
In this episode, Susan Hunt Stevens, CEO of WeSpire, shares with host Lincoln Payton ways in which businesses can energize employees by actively including them in ESG initiatives, develop ESG maturity models, and inspire workers to find the courage to combat the climate crisis.
Susan Hunt Stevens is an experienced business executive and sustainability advocate. She has held positions at The New York Times, WeSpire, and the Sustainable Brands Advisory Board, and is an expert on using digital game mechanics and social mechanics to drive behavior change.
- People really internalize and change their points of view when they experience something. This is why companies need to get executives and teams across companies engaged on sustainability in ways that they can see, feel and quantify the results.
- If you have or are starting to embrace ESG initiatives in your workplace, you need to make it a priority to make programs easier, clearer, and less susceptible to fraud or greenwashing.
- Tip for companies who need or want employees to engage more in sustainability: Engage them in your ESG practices. They want to help and know that they are making a difference in the world.
Dana Dohse: On this episode of The Decarbonization Race.
Susan Hunt Stevens: How do you motivate and inspire courage? How do you motivate and inspire leadership? How do you get people doing the things they need to do at a systems level, at a policy level, and a practices level to decarbonize our planet?
Dana Dohse: Susan Hunt Stevens, founder and CEO of WeSpire and employee engagement platform joins host, Lincoln Payton, to discuss how businesses can effectively include employees in the critical mission to become more sustainable. Susan is currently serving on the board of New England Clean Energy Council. She’s a member of the emeritus board of the Center for Women & Enterprise, and a member of the Sustainable Brands Advisory Board. In this episode, she talks with Lincoln about the very human element of encouraging sustainability values within companies through their employees and how business leaders can effectively do the same. Ready to lead the sustainability pack? This is The Decarbonization Race.
Lincoln Payton: Hello, everybody, and welcome to The Decarbonization Race. I’m delighted today to have Susan Hunt Stevens.
Susan Hunt Stevens: It’s great to be here, Lincoln. Thank you so much for having me.
Lincoln Payton: It’s really a pleasure. So for our listeners, this is a super interesting tangent for us to approach this very broad and very topical issue on because we look at the technical side, we look at the detailed metrics side, we look at some of the policy side, but here, we have the people side and particularly from an employee and a corporate employee angle. So very excited to cover some of that, but first of all, tell us a little bit about your background. How do you get to be sitting where you’re sitting? I know that you had some pretty impressive journalistic credentials in Times. First of all, what was that like? Was there any ESG content in that that led you to where you are and how did you come to start WeSpire?
Susan Hunt Stevens: So I have always been on the business side of journalistic organizations, most notably the New York Times for nine years. As I saw my job, it was how do we fund the fourth estate, and especially in this transition between print and digital, which was proving, when I joined the industry in 1998, to be transformative, exciting, and terrifying all at the same time, and because I started on the digital side, what I had the opportunity to really do was pioneer digital marketing and digital customer acquisition and digital customer service.
The New York Times was very ahead of its time in terms of targeted advertising, and I actually ended up writing one of the first white papers on the entire internet about behavioral marketing and advertising. The result is I was learning how you get people to change behavior using digital, game mechanics, social mechanics, things like that, that were just emerging in the early days, and then as I personally got more passionate about sustainability, I thought, wow, maybe there’s an opportunity to combine my digital expertise with my passion for ensuring we have a planet to live on for eternity.
Lincoln Payton: So one of those board representations is very interesting. So the Sustainable Brands Advisory Board, you’re clearly in a sustainability advisory type role in the WeSpire slot. What does that suggest to you, that brand awareness of this whole issue today? What’s your experience from that board activity?
Susan Hunt Stevens: So I’ve been really fortunate to work with Sustainable Brands for 10 plus years in various capacities, the advisory board, but also on an initiative, Brands for Good, that has been incredibly exciting, and what it’s doing is it’s pulling together the power of the world’s largest consumer brands, Procter & Gamble, Pepsi, Target, et cetera, to be able to collaborate to solve the problems that every brand is facing when trying to think about how we create a more sustainable world, and the track I lead is around consumer behavior change and how we are helping consumers think and make changes in their lives around these nine sustainable behaviors.
So the ones that between Project Drawdown and others have been scientifically proven to be the things that ultimately matter. What I love about the initiative is that there’s a whole component that is around climate and carbon, but it’s also recognizing how important the social aspects of behavior are, and so one of the nine behaviors is empowering women and girls because what all the research is showing is in societies where women and girls are empowered, those societies thrive and are more sustainable, and in societies where women and girls are not empowered, there’s a much larger gap, and so it’s looking at both the social and environmental impacts that create a more sustainable world, not just carbon.
People are ultimately at the core of what needs to happen. What we need is a bunch of courageous people right now, people who are willing to pioneer in their personal life, people who are willing to advocate and fight in their business life and to fight for what we need at the civic and government and arguably global level, and there’s just not enough courage for us right now to move at the pace we need to move and so we’re falling behind. How do you motivate and inspire courage? How do you motivate and inspire leadership? How do you get people doing the things they need to do at a systems level, at a policy level, and at a practices level to decarbonize our planet?
Lincoln Payton: Reminds me of the famous quote that if you look at society, it’s always small groups of very committed, motivated citizens that have made the changes, and that seems to be mirrored in what you’re saying there. Just one drill down on exactly what WeSpire is doing. So you have the leading employee engagement platforms. Some of them are very metrics driven. If we have listeners who are running businesses here, they’re very review and feedback driven. Clearly, WeSpire has a very particular focus. How would you describe that focus in the employee engagement platform companies that are out there?
Susan Hunt Stevens: Our focus is first and foremost education and then activation that drives to measurable impact. We started in the sustainability space. There is not a company that has run more employee sustainability education engagement programs than WeSpire, and about seven years ago, we started to add some of the other components of ESG. So we now also offer a module that focuses on volunteering, giving, and community impact, a module that focuses on holistic wellbeing, both financial, social, physical, mental health, and then a component that is around inclusive culture, which is helping organizations educate and activate their employees to be more inclusive, to drive up belonging, increase psychological safety.
And helps them facilitate the groups that make that happen like employee resource groups or affinity groups. So we sit in this very interesting frontline because we work through organizations not independently with people, and so first and foremost, the organization has to decide that they want to educate and activate their employees in these topics. Then they have to decide they want to do it in a sophisticated, transformative, measurable way, and then they have to know what’s going to be material to them. So we help an organization, once they have figured out what’s material and what they care about, cascade that into an impact strategy and an engagement strategy that delivers the outcomes they’re looking for.
Lincoln Payton: Fantastic. And I love the way you said something very much that we focus on in Cleartrace too, which is leading to measurable actions. This is what we want across change management generally, whatever the topic is, and let’s not just talk about it, but let’s try and measure the actions that are promoted from that. Last technical question on how WeSpire works. How do you do that? What are the tactical implications, the applications when a company says to you, “Hey, we want to run a program that is going to engage our employees around ESG or one aspect of it,” physically, how do you do that?
Susan Hunt Stevens: Most of the time, they’ll have a strategy and goals and then we will map it into a set of activities in partnership with them that is getting people to learn the things they need to learn, do the things they need to do and share their successes and their stories and their data with others to motivate that network effect to begin to take place in the workplace, and then to produce the data that every business executive needs that proves this is driving value in the workplace, and so there are two different value outcomes that we’re helping people with. The first and foremost is their ESG outcomes.
And so whether they need their employee footprint for scope 3 emissions reporting or whether they need to know the dollars and the hours that were donated, matched, volunteered, and potentially, the social impact that that money and time had, how many employees are getting involved in wellbeing programs that we’ve helped from a financial wellbeing or mental health standpoint, but the piece I’m super psyched about is not just the ESG outcomes because I think that’s data you need for reporting and that reporting is increasingly mandatory, and so it’s very valuable to be able to provide that component of the data, but ultimately, when you ask an executive, why are you engaging employees in these efforts, what you hear is our employees really care about this.
They want to know what they can do, they want to know that we’re doing something about it, and they want to know that this is ultimately a company that’s a force for good in this world, and if we do this well, people are going to be more likely to want to work here, more likely to stay here, and more likely to become leaders here. Employees who are very, very active in these ESG programs are more likely to recommend their company, are more likely to stay at their company, and are more likely to become leaders and managers at the company. These programs drive culture and in this environment where most employees are saying, I want to work at a company that’s changing the world for the better, this is a way to bring that aspiration to life.
Lincoln Payton: Now, Susan, tough question because we live in an increasingly bifurcated world, we certainly see there’s the rise of ESG. There’s also the rise of the resentment or lack of commitment to it on both sides. First of all, how do you measure that? You could go to a company, for example, that is feeling, no, we don’t believe in climate change. Therefore, if we ran this kind of program, it wouldn’t be positive. How do you manage that kind of situation?
Susan Hunt Stevens: To some extent, it manages itself. We’re not going to have somebody come to us and say we want to get a platform to run ESG initiatives if they don’t believe in ESG. It’s self-selecting at some level. The other thing I just want to remind folks is this is such a US problem. This is not what’s happening around the world. There’s a lot of the politicization of ESG that is very unique to the United States and our political situation more broadly. Ironically, I actually see the attention around this as challenging, but not bad, and the reason is that there was no attention when it didn’t matter.
There was no attention when people weren’t having to change, there was no attention when people weren’t having to report, there was no attention when investors didn’t care. The reality now is we are at a place where investors care, regulations are coming, people have to change, people are going to change. This is the future, and whether it’s a future that hits tomorrow or it’s a future that hits five or 10 years from now, it is a crisis that requires a response.
And the people who are fighting hardest and politicizing it and funding the politicians who are politicizing it are the people who have most to lose in a carbon free energy economy, and so what happens when you’re important and you matter is it gets political and it gets hard and it gets battling, and I guess having been in the field for 13 years and maybe felt in the first five or eight, it didn’t matter as much, and now it does, you’re going to get backlash. I think the other piece of it is upon not only our industry but the companies who are embracing ESG, we have got to make it easier and clearer and less susceptible to fraud, greenwashing, all those things.
Lincoln Payton: This is a topic very close to my heart, obviously, again with Cleartrace and transparent measurement and metrics, and let’s drill down now into really the employee’s perspective, and I’d like to come to you on some metrics and feedback on what difference it makes or doesn’t in a second, but what difference does it make that your programs are based on solid ground in terms of transparency and not accusable of being greenwashing, but really metric fact based? What difference does that appear to make to you?
Susan Hunt Stevens: It certainly makes sense to the executives who are evaluating the programs that are on the platform and the platform itself and how it’s measuring things. It’s not only valuable to them, it’s their why. We’re doing this not only because we believe we want to educate our employees, but we want to be able to prove it’s making a difference because I think if you think about what we are competing against often, if putting signs up in hallways or break rooms or putting posts on the internet, did you know, fun facts, things like that, which are great, but couple things. One is adults don’t change by learning. They change by doing.
And so until you get an adult not only learning, but actually putting that learning and knowledge into action, they don’t actually really retain and learn, and so you’ve got to get people doing things to actually move the needle. The second is that the campaigns themselves might not be effective and if you’re an organization that’s spending money and spending time and employee energy when there’s 400 things they could focus on, you need to know that this is making a difference, and so what you know is that you’ve got a whole cohort of employees, but particularly, millennials and Gen Z who care passionately about this and expect the organization to be sustainable and to be healthy and to be inclusive, and they will vote with their feet if you are not.
Dana Dohse: As Susan discusses in this episode, while this politicization of ESG has ramped up in recent months, there’s still lots of global disparity around ESG and decarbonization efforts. Take the differences between the US and the EU, for example. The EU has produced a range of conduct based regulations by agreement of the EU nations dubbed the corporate sustainability reporting directive. The EU has increased their requirements for reporting on ESG risk factors on a level never seen before, requiring far greater visibility in areas like supply chain transparency and raw material sourcing.
This will greatly affect many more companies than in prior years, including public and private non-EU companies that have certain present thresholds in those countries. For US insurers, the new EU rules will result in mandatory reporting on a broader set of ESG topics than those required under current and proposed security and exchange SEC rules. In stark contrast, the US approach on ESG has traditionally been voluntary with investors, NGOs, or stakeholder groups applying pressure on companies or through goals the companies develop themselves in keeping with standards like those from the science-based target institute.
However, new regulations may add both pressure and requirements like the Securities and Exchange Commissions rule on climate focused ESG disclosures for publicly traded companies. This will require those companies to provide disclosures on a range of climate related risks, what government structures are in place, and how the company plans to address them. Regardless of where pressure to address ESG concerns is coming from, Susan breaks down further here the impact that employees can have on their leaders to encourage ESG programs and better climate related regulations. Her data shows us a ripple effect from employee to leader to overall industries all the way up to lawmakers to set the standard for best practices in creating a better environmental future for generations to come.
Lincoln Payton: How are we measuring the effect of what you’re doing, retention rates, motivation, corporate performance? How do you think about that? How do you measure it? How do you go back to the executives that have hired you and say yes, this looks like it worked or no, it didn’t, we need to try another tack? What data do you collect feedback and then reflect on it?
Susan Hunt Stevens: Certainly, there’s a lot of attitudinal data, but I’m more wedded to the behavioral data. So the attitudinal data that comes through not only our own platform but also the employee surveys that sometimes third parties, whether that’s Quantum Workplace or Gallup or somebody are running, is looking at sentiment changes and looking at the difference in likelihood to recommend, intention to stay, satisfaction, things like that among employees who are active participants in the programs versus those who are not and looking for those differences, and we absolutely see very, very significant sentiment differences.
The question that we asked and said was really important to prove is does that translate into actual behavior? Can we look at retention differences around program participation, and absolutely. We, for example, worked with a retailer who was a very already committed sustainable brand and were able to show that for those new employees in the retail environment in their first year, if they got actively involved in their ESG programs, they retained 37 percentage points higher than new employees who did not. So you’re graying in people as new employees who seem the same, one gets involved, one doesn’t. That one that gets involved is much more likely to be there and that’s a hugely valuable business outcome.
Lincoln Payton: Yeah, that’s a dollars and cents statement.
Susan Hunt Stevens: Exactly. It’s a dollars and cents and it’s the retail store manager is now going to be very committed because I think that’s one of our observations today in terms of the state of the industry is I actually think the executive level is getting it and it is really, really understanding that this is important. Investors care about this, regulation is coming, we need to do this well or better.
And it’s that middle tier. Chris Jarvis from Realized Worth calls it the “frozen lasagna” effect. The frontline is very, very engaged and wants to do this. The senior executives are very engaged and want to do this. It’s that frozen lasagna middle that you’ve got to really help understand how this is making their lives better, helping them hit their individual goals, and not that it’s this corporate initiative here that’s getting in the way of this thing I need to do here.
Lincoln Payton: Right. Now how does that work, the frozen lasagna or in fact, the senior management who may be pulling the levers at the end of the day? We have an interesting employment environment right now. We have people going back to the workplace after COVID. So it’s a change in pattern. Many people like to be remote. You’ve got an economy where it’s a little poised and people are concerned about that. You’ve got the quiet hiring, the quiet firing, the tech cutback.
How do you pick your way across those stepping stones to keep moving your message forward, and I guess the last element to that is we’ve got these different substrata in our society. We’ve got the millennials, we’ve got Gen Z, Y, whatever the way you want to think of it. I guess I’ll ask you that question once generally, which is how do you pick your way across the stepping stones of this complex employee environment, but secondly, what are the differences between those different subgroups?
Susan Hunt Stevens: Let me break apart a couple of things in your questions. So first is how is the changing work environment having and driving an interest or lack thereof or challenges in delivering on ESG goals? First and foremost, the ability to rely on in-person synchronous information sharing is gone for many companies, and so they’re having to think very creatively and very differently about how to better communicate, better educate, better activate and engage employees in an asynchronous connected digitally, but disconnected personally environment, and that in that environment, particularly in the area of carbon, one of the big challenges is that $9 billion of energy spending that was concentrated in the offices rapidly becoming more renewable has now shifted to employees at home.
They don’t know how much it is, they don’t know if it’s renewable, and so you’re also now where does the workplace start and stop? Is my employee’s home office actually part of my footprint, and so you’ve got all these changes that are happening that are really changing how you educate, activate, and communicate, but also what you need to measure, activate, and communicate, and so it is pushing the boundaries and one of the reasons that we actually launched a scope 3 employee emissions calculator with the ability to then educate and reduce your home footprint is that we have all these clients who have set a hundred percent renewable energy goals or carbon neutrality goals.
And all of a sudden, now in 2021, that workplace legitimately is sitting in 50,000 employees’ different individual environments, and it’s really challenging. So it is influencing everything, not just ESG, but everything. I personally think that no one has figured out hybrid well. I think you’ve got really good best practices for fully remote. I think obviously, people know how to do in person. I think everybody’s still wrestling with hybrid and what the right balance is and how to do it. What it does require and what you’ve seen and what we’ve benefited from is you absolutely have to have better digital tools. You cannot rely on offline communication methods to reach people in a hybrid environment, so that investment is clear.
Whether it’s social platforms like Teams or Slack or platforms like WeSpire that are supporting your ESG efforts. Now you had another part of the question though that I think is important for everybody to also land on, which is that where companies are is very different depending on the company, and so we created this thing called an ESG engagement maturity model and we do a quiz and assess where people are and aren’t on engagement, and you could have two companies in the same industry and one is ready for transformational engagement.
They’re putting impact goals as part of compensation, they’re measuring every aspect of it, and they are transformative, and then you have people who haven’t even figured out what their 2030 targets are going to be and everything in between. So companies are on a journey. Many are just getting started, some are very transformational, but most are somewhere in between and everyone needs help on that roadmap, not just for the ESG side, but also the ESG engagement side, and so I joke that I’m sure it’s true for Cleartrace and I’m sure it’s true for WeSpire, which is arguably, every company in the world needs what we do. It’s just who’s ready.
Lincoln Payton: Yes, that’s very, very true. To that point, and I’m going to come back to the different strata of society again, but a different axis on the matrix, let’s say, of the strata. There’s a lot of companies that pre the ESG world rising in importance and profile, they talked about purpose-driven work. So we’re here to do something, to achieve something hopefully positive. How does the ESG purpose differ from the general already established purpose-driven work? We’re looking to achieve this, we’re looking to achieve that, and do you have any thoughts or feedback on the differences in effect it has in almost those metrics. The retention, the motivation?
Susan Hunt Stevens: I still remember showing up at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year event and Simon Sinek was speaking and his book around Find Your Why is a bible within the purpose-driven work movement, and a CEO of a company that I will not name stood on the stage talking about what their purpose was, and boy, it didn’t seem to me what I thought of as purpose. It felt a lot more like a mission or a vision statement because I think where I come at this from is when you’re a purpose driven business, you have a purpose in addition to profit that is, at its core, about making society or the world a better place.
Michael Porter might call it the shared value approach. There’s just that somehow, it is bigger than you as a company. It’s about what your role as a company can do for society as a whole, and so if your purpose isn’t somehow tied into benefiting society as a whole, I don’t actually think it’s a purpose. I think it’s a mission statement or a vision statement, and that’s fine. It’s just don’t call it purpose-driven work.
Lincoln Payton: Right. You’ll know many more of the statistics than me on this, but in preparing to chat, we looked at a Marsh McLennan study that found that employee’s retention rate is significantly enhanced, particularly amongst the university graduate community, that milk round of hiring where you have better, lower carbon emissions, more diversity, and a human empathetic culture, let’s say.
How do you go about selling that fact to people who may be saying, “Hey, there’s a recession coming. I need to cut back my employee budgets. I need to think carefully about every incremental dollar I spend?” How do you make that point to employers who may be saying, “Hey, we’re building the first A, B, C, and that’s a purpose enough and people feel excited about trying to achieve something?” How do you sell to them that frankly, the softer caring culture actually makes a difference?
Susan Hunt Stevens: The good news is I don’t have to do the primary research to prove it. The really nice part of this is that pretty much anything you look at from Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan Review, Stanford Innovation Review, things like that, will point to factors that are driving high performing cultures, and Google in particular did incredible work around what creates highest performing teams and what they found, looking at hundreds of different factors for high performance, was that psychological safety, which is a seven question assessment of how an employee is treated at work essentially and how they feel at work was the biggest driver of high performance.
There’s so much incredible data that cascades that says first and foremost, a culture of psychological safety is what drives high performing teams, and then you ask questions about what creates high psychological safety and for whom and you can start to find really fascinating connections between programs that are about increasing belonging for people who may feel in the minority in the workplace. They build relationships, they have stronger psychological safety, they feel more empowered about work. It is incredibly important to have an environment that allows for innovation. So I think the data is there that says this is what drives high performance. I think the hard part in workplaces is let’s just take the stats from Gallup, whether we buy into them or not, but only 30 to 35% of employees on average feel engaged.
Lincoln Payton: Right. If I’m not getting it wrong, some of the data we looked at actually felt that number is falling recently. Is that correct?
Susan Hunt Stevens: Yeah.
Lincoln Payton: So almost how can that be because whether you’re carbon focused or you’re not, I think that sense of communication and human empathy, it’s aware. In our society, we are aware of it. So in the corporate world where this data is out there that says if you’re more that way, you generally get cost-effective effects, retention, motivation, commitment. Why do you think that that employee engagement level number is falling at this point?
Susan Hunt Stevens: Let me start with why I think it’s so bad and why is it not getting better. I think the reality is that people and connecting with people, leading people, managing people might be the hardest thing we do as people. We are really complicated as human beings and interacting with each other to get things done. We’ve all been on a team that just gelled and worked really well and we’ve all been on a team where it just didn’t, and what it takes to gel and do really well is a lot of work and a lot of expertise that not a lot of people have. What I like to say is that we would never let a hotel be 70% unoccupied.
We would never let a website be down 70% of the time, but we persist with this 70% disengagement rate because we don’t know what to do about it as leaders and people because it’s hard and it’s hard work, and none of us were probably very well-trained in it. If we really think about how and who becomes leaders and managers in workplaces, it’s often the strongest individual contributors at a specific skill, competency, or task, not the people who were incredible people leaders who might have been average at that skill or task, and so one of the things that I just think as a society broadly, we have to be thinking about is how do we develop people.
And how do we develop leaders and how do we create the opportunities for people to develop leadership and to develop innovation and opportunities, and that’s where I see that ESG programs, we’ve been able to demonstrate that the people who are active participants in green teams are more likely to become supervisors. Why? Green teams have to lead through influence. They don’t own anything. They have to get people to make changes operationally that they don’t own. That’s a leadership competency. I think these things are part of what unlocks great leadership, but we have to acknowledge it’s not the only thing that unlocks great leadership. Great leadership has to be cultivated.
Lincoln Payton: To that cultivation point, so listening to what you’re saying there, communication, basic human interactive skill, and you talked earlier on about that, especially in bigger corporations, that middle layer of the management that are running teams, but maybe not seeing the vision the way the top level of management are and maybe not seeing the will to make other contributions the way the daily workforce is. How do we promote communication in that respect? That’s one of the things that you try to do when you run your programs, but how do you do this?
Susan Hunt Stevens: This is where having been a marketer, I think I have a better understanding maybe than most about what it takes because think about marketing and what it takes to get somebody to buy something or purchase something or to remember your brand. It’s a combination of reach and frequency. So not only you have to reach the people you’re wanting to reach, you have to repeat things multiple times to get them to do it in lots of different venues with lots of different triggers, with lots of different things, and yet it seems like often in a company, corporate communications and internal comms has forgotten the basic rules of marketing because they will not allow frequency of communication.
One of the things executives and managers and folks need to do is think about how many times we have to keep saying the same things over and over and reminding and being that prioritization, and I mean, I don’t run a huge company and I screw it up all the time and I’m conscious of these things. I’m sure you probably feel the same way, but the other piece of it is to acknowledge that piece, which is it’s not just about communication and that’s, I think, the thing that we sometimes rely too heavily. Well, we told them, get back to people do not really internalize, especially adults, really internalize and really change the set of lenses that they see the world through until they have an experience that makes them do that.
Which is why some of the most transformative programs in sustainability and the environment is when you get executives out of the office, out of their environment, plop them for a week in the Amazon, and they see deforestation up close and personal, it’s a life-changing event for how they lead when they get back. There’s other kinds of things, but that’s, I think, why at the core, some of what we do works is because we don’t leave it at the education information stage. We say, let’s get people doing these things and doing these activities, give them positive feedback and reinforcement and storytelling around it, and that is not only going to make them more likely to change and have that change stick, it’s more likely to influence others to change as well.
Lincoln Payton: Very cool. Very cool indeed. So what’s next, and maybe that’s for you, but probably it’s for WeSpire at this point, which is what’s next? When you look forward and we look at, I think there is a realization around the ESG space, I think there is a realization around that human capital element, particularly post COVID of employees and the corporate world, what comes next for you as you look forward, next two, three years as people are trying to hit 2025, 2030 goal? Many have made it, I think others will. How does your engagement, communication, repetition of the message, how does that evolve?
Susan Hunt Stevens: So I think the last five years were really spent recognizing that these silos were coming together, and so our technology needed to support the silos coming together under the ESG umbrella, purpose at the top, ESG underneath, and then the programs and the activities to reinforce that. I think there’s two pieces to this that are important. The first is that I still think we’re very much in the infancy technologically of knowing which employee should be prompted to join which program at which time, both given their own readiness and the materiality that really matters for the organization.
So just getting much, much smarter by using AI and machine learning and things like that around nudging employees for the programs and the activities that will ultimately lead to the greatest value for them and for the organization, and so that’s just getting better at what we do already, but in a deeper, smarter way. The other thing is just really asking very interesting questions around what else could we be helping people with in this area of purpose and impact, and so there’s certainly a number of programs that we don’t necessarily support today at scale, but could and should. So those are the interesting questions that we just ask ourselves is, is this making the organization a more purpose driven organization and is this driving environmental social goals, and if it is, it fits in our sweet spot.
Lincoln Payton: I’m going to boast on behalf of our management team at Cleartrace. Clearly, we are a fast growth small company, some of whom rather well, and we are sensitive to how people feel and how motivated they are and how aligned with what we’re all trying to achieve together. We took a recent survey in the company, a hundred percent of the employees felt that they have a sense of purpose in their role and contributing to the mission, which is about climate change and is more than just a job. That’s a metric I love. As a fast growth company, I love the revenue metrics and the client metrics too, but that’s a phenomenal one. So I think you’re right that people can get very excited about these things.
Susan Hunt Stevens: That engagement metric is the thing a CEO should be proudest of because clearly, if you look across the industry, it’s the hardest one.
Lincoln Payton: It is. And you know this. As you grow with a number of people, keeping at a hundred percent is pretty hard.
Susan Hunt Stevens: Absolutely.
Lincoln Payton: I can tell you we’re going to keep trying.
Susan Hunt Stevens: And we measure psychological safety and there’s always areas that we can improve on that front, but at least we’re measuring it.
Lincoln Payton: Absolutely.
Susan Hunt Stevens: And knowing what it is and then tackling the things and trying to address the things.
Lincoln Payton: Let’s talk your books because you and I, we were comparing notes before we started. We have similar office backgrounds here with a lot of books on the shelves. What’s the kind of books you like reading and are there any that stand out for you that you’d point out now, whether they’re classics, whether they’re new?
Susan Hunt Stevens: It’s a mix of sustainability books. I’m a complete sustainability nerd. Love reading about it and understanding it, and then it’s behavior change and habit formation, and then last, but certainly not least, leadership. Again, something that I just feel like you need to be, as a founder and a CEO, a lifelong student in, and the thing I watch most and ask every day is, am I still the right leader for where we are at this place in time, and if there’s ever a point where that answer is no, I want to make sure I know it before anybody else does and raise my hand and say it’s time.
Lincoln Payton: Very cool. I think takes quite a bit of courage to do that in an honest way, which is look in the mirror and say, “Hey, am I getting this right and am I actually in the right spot today?” So you’ve given me something to think about this afternoon, that’s for sure. Last question, what is your main mission as it relates to your great family?
Susan Hunt Stevens: I started WeSpire because of health issues that my, at the time, two-year old was facing with some pretty serious food allergies, and so I on ramped into this from the environmental health side of things more so than climate, and it was only maybe three to four years into my journey that I realized that I could give him all the organics in the world, but if we don’t solve climate, the world that I’m leaving for these kids is not a world I should be proud of, and so the one thing that I have just said with this business or whatever I choose to do with my career is that I want to be able to look my kids in the eye and say I did everything I could, and I think that’s what gets me up in the morning is just being able to know that I did everything I could to have it not be this bad for their sakes.
Lincoln Payton: Well, that’s great. Anything that you feel we haven’t covered that you’d like to cover?
Susan Hunt Stevens: Well, I think the only other thing is there’s been a lot of buzz around some books in particular that are suggesting that individual actions don’t matter and that the only thing that matters is going after the fossil fuel companies and fossil fuel subsidies and things like that, and while I agree that we should go after fossil fuel subsidies, I really disagree with that belief that individual actions don’t matter and the reason is that, well, yes, from an LCA standpoint, it’s dwarfed by some of these things. It completely misses the point of how people actually wake up and put on a sustainability set of lenses to see their world through.
And until you try yourself to be more sustainable and figure out how freaking hard it is to do some of these things and how the system is just really messed up and if we don’t change things at the system level, it’s never going to be able to be done, and so what it dismisses is that the individual action is ultimately what leads to changing people’s hearts and minds. I guess my encouragement to anyone in this space is as tempting as it is and as bestselling as it is and as buzzy as it is to say that this stuff doesn’t matter, it’s missing the point of why you do this stuff. Everything comes down to people’s hearts, minds, and courage and willingness to act. All about people at the end.
Lincoln Payton: And change does take effort all around. Look, super interesting. So happy to spend this time and–
Susan Hunt Stevens: —It’s great to spend the time with you too, Lincoln–
Lincoln Payton: —to get to know you a little better. Really enjoyed it. I’m sure we’ll get to meet because we’re not so far geographically apart, but this was really great and thank you very much. I’m sure we’ll get some follow up here and we’ll follow up with it.
Susan Hunt Stevens: Yeah. Well, thank you.
Dana Dohse: Thank you for joining us on The Decarbonization Race. For more resources to help you lead the pack in the most important race of our lifetime, visit cleartracee.io/podcast.