On the (Virtual) Park Bench with Sarah Gilbert

Carbon Credit Cart recently chatted with Sarah Gilbert, Director of Operations & IT at RHR International.

RHR International is a prominent consulting firm that works with senior executives around the globe to unlock their leadership potential. RHR believes that leadership is a principled undertaking with the ability to create tremendous good in the world. As awareness and urgency about climate issues are increasingly at the forefront of business discussions, RHR is uniquely positioned to help shape the dialog and inform the solutions companies are seeking.

Sarah has been instrumental in organizing internal efforts at RHR to get all levels of the organization involved with environmental issues.

CCC: When did RHR get serious about climate change issues?

Sarah: RHR started getting serious about climate issues over eighteen months ago as part of a global movement called COUNTDOWN 2020 – more on that later. As a company with 125 employees and consultants spread across the US, Canada, and the UK, we traditionally do quite a bit of air travel – COVID notwithstanding.  We want to do our part and have enjoyed the full support of senior management to pursue this. And, as a thought leader on best practices for successful corporate executives, we are compelled to put good ideas into practice – and help others do the same.

CCC: Tell us about one of the RHR initiatives that has raised environmental awareness and involvement among its employees.

Sarah: As I mentioned, we organized education and employee engagement activities in partnership with COUNTDOWN 2020. As part of that partnership, we participated in the online conference in October of last year that was a joint effort between TED talks, Future Stewards, and YouTube. It was very exciting. More than 3 million people and 650 companies participated. Then, to continue our work, a small team of RHR employees that included me started a group called Forces of Nature. Forces of Nature focuses on environmental issues and initiatives including food, transportation, materials, energy, and nature. Forty employees – about one-third of the company – have since signed up to join us. Together we are educating ourselves, conducting a carbon audit for the company, engaging clients in conversations about sustainability, training leaders, and helping employees convert their personal lifestyles to be more carbon-friendly.

CCC: What observations have you made about the efficacy of these programs?

Sarah: I think there have been two benefits that really stand out. The first, and most obvious, is that RHR is well on its way to normalizing and achieving carbon footprint reductions within the company – and this, in turn, lays the foundation for us to talk to our clients about these issues from the standpoint of experience rather than a hypothetical good. Secondly, and perhaps more texturally, as Forces of Nature teammates explore various environmental topics together, it becomes very personal and relatable and, therefore, real. We are finding that we feel more connected as we start to incorporate more conversations about how to become active stewards of nature and our environment in our everyday lives.

CCC: How so?

Sarah:  The Forces of Nature meetings help build bonds among the team members. And with those bonds, not only do we get wonderfully creative ideas, but people start connecting these initiatives to their personal lives and their behaviors outside of work. Once that connection is made, everyone shares more.  It ceases to be just “a work thing” and, instead, really blossoms into a much deeper, more meaningful connection with the mission and ourselves as whole people.

CCC: That sounds pretty cool. What’s the larger lesson here?

Sarah: This kind of personal connection ties into a theme getting popularized by Count Us In [count-us-in.org]. They have observed that when you shout about climate change from the mountain tops it’s, in fact, harder to get people involved and stay involved than if you work more intimately with existing groups.

CCC: Do you mean existing climate action groups?

Sarah: Not exactly. They have found that when introducing environmental topics into existing relationships at, say, one’s church, or a running group, or book club, those relationships hasten the participation and commitment to environmental actions. Just like the Forces of Nature experienceit becomes more personal. Less abstract. Less esoteric. Less daunting.

CCC: Do any of RHR’s programs focus on individual employees?

Sarah: Yes, we have been using carbon credit offsets as incentives and rewards for employees to become more involved with positive environmental actions as well as meeting personal improvement goals in health, exercise, and nutrition. In particular we have found the gift certificates from CCC to be really useful and engaging. We have been using them to recognize employee anniversaries, birthdays or exceptional contributions.

CCC: What are some of the other important shifts you’re seeing in the business world?

Sarah: Getting employees involved at a personal level is important. Another key element is helping senior executives have a broader context and purpose for their work by becoming more tuned into environmental and social impacts outside their traditional venues. For companies to be successful, it’s vital that senior executives truly understand the issues outside their silos.

CCC: Would you expand a bit more on what you mean by “broader context”.

Sarah: Rather than being singularly in the role of CEO, an executive has the opportunity to become a social entrepreneur by collaborating with others – outside of the CEO’s organization – and building long term relationships and stewardships that are more impactful and sustained than any single company’s efforts may be. It also reconnects the leader and the company to purpose, which is always an accelerant for success. Further, the executive’s world view for addressing climate change expands from ‘What can my company do?’ to ‘How can we work with all these other committed individuals and organizations across the globe to get the best ideas and actions possible in a manner that is respectful, sustainable, and beneficial to the impacted communities?’ A company’s impact is global, so why not view it that way?

CCC: So, get thee outside the box?

Sarah: Yes, get outside the box. The opportunities are endless.

CCC: Thank you so much for your time and insights. What’s the best way for people to reach you if they have questions about implementing carbon offset and community benefit programs at their organizations?

Sarah: Please feel free to email me at sagilbert@rhrinternational.com. Also, check out RHR’s web site at rhrinternational.com.


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