How to Engage Your Employees in Sustainability

Smart restaurant owners understand sustainability benefits their bottom line and customer base. if you’ve decided to get started, how do you get employees excited about sustainability too? Your employees will complete the majority of your sustainability actions. 

“But turnover!” I can hear you say. Restaurant turnover is legendary. In 2018, the National Restaurant Association listed it at almost 75 percent. The majority of that is due to students and teenagers. Guess who cares about sustainability? Students and teenagers. 2016 reports say that 83 percent of millennials-students and teenagers- are more loyal to companies engaged in environmental issues. 

Follow these guidelines after sustainability ideas or action items are ready. If you’re reducing food waste or saving energy and need employees on board, read on. Here are some tips to get employees excited and energized about sustainability. 

Ask for Feedback and Input

After you announce your goal to make the restaurant more environmentally friendly, ask employees for input. Employees are on the floor daily, making the restaurant run. Their ideas are critical and helpful in making the initiative work. This is valuable to both your plan and to the employee’s morale. 


In creating strategies for a recycling and food waste plan, ask them how they would put that into practice. If employees have better suggestions for reducing energy and think that need is greater, take those instead of your idea to reduce water.

After you’ve put a plan into action, ask for their feedback on how the initiative is going. Is it hard for them to add to their daily activities? Is there a way it could be done better? Then take their feedback and incorporate it into your plans. 

Use Known Communication Tactics 

If you are starting to think and act on sustainable and environmental practices, don't make it harder on yourself. When you address this change to employees, use the communication practices you already use. Don’t start a new communication system.

If you regularly email employees, include this information there. Include it with communication you’re already sending, just add it as an addendum. If a specific initiative was an employee’s idea, thank them and acknowledge their contribution.

Be explicit in what habit you’re asking to change, new step you’re including and what the point of the change is. Include what job function it will include, how often it will need to take place and how long it will take. 

Set goals so all employees know what they are working towards. “10 percent energy reduction compared to 2017 by the end of 2020” or “95 percent correct recycling by July compared to the 55 percent of 2018.” Put those goals in the communication and let employees know you will be tracking savings and how that will be monitored. 

Tie it to Their Job Description

Especially when hiring new employees and posting job descriptions, include sustainability tasks in the posting. Explain how the responsibility is included and detail it in the description. 


Review your existing description and see where you can make changes. An example would be, “All servers are responsible for identifying and understanding the restaurant’s waste management system.” You can also include these updated job descriptions in the communication actions above. 

There’s another benefit to the job description. Putting sustainability into a posted job description will also help you attract new employees that are interested in sustainability and want to help. This differentiation will set you apart and create a competitive advantage. 

Share Benefits and Savings 

Track the benefits and savings after the plan gets moving. Check your utility bills or your waste pickup information. Do some quick calculations on landfill avoidance with food waste separation. 

Then share those savings with employees as a thank you. Again, with your known communication, send a monthly update on how much energy or water was saved. If you feel comfortable, share the monetary savings as well. 


If you are sharing monetary savings, consider using some of the savings for an employee happy hour or have employees choose a non-profit to donate to. Tie their work and effort to a reward to continue the sustainability savings. 

The Bottom Line

You know your employees best. As a manager, knowing what motivates them and engaging them can lead to significant sustainability savings and other benefits for your business. Ask for their input and share with them how their actions improve the business. The earth and your employees will thank you.