Archives for December 2014

Measuring Sustainability in Organisational Culture

The original version of this article appeared in Awake’s ‘Wake-Up Call Nov/Dec 2014 newsletter.

graph mapping SCI results

It’s been a big year of applying psychology to sustainability, and especially for implementing the Sustainability Culture Indicator (SCI).

SCI is a survey tool for measuring sustainability within your organisational culture. It has been developed so that organisations have a standardised measure of employee attitudes and engagement in sustainability, can track their progress over time, and can compare their results to their peers. It is designed to bring some rigour and metrics to the ‘soft science’ of culture and engagement in sustainability.

I’ve recently spent some time reviewing the SCI results for over 2000 employees of a variety of organisations, including local councils, multinational corporations, NGO’s and more. The SCI was even recently adapted to implement in a number of schools in Melbourne. In the future I’ll be writing up the results for peer-reviewed journals, but in the meantime I thought it would be timely to share some of the initial observations.

Firstly, a very brief overview of the SCI. It measures 13 enablers of sustainability within organisational culture. These are divided into individual enablers and organisational enablers.

The individual enablers are the psychological and attitudinal factors which employees need to engage in sustainability, such as relevant beliefs, responsibility, knowledge and control.

The organisational enablers are mechanisms which support employees to engage in sustainability, such as leadership, processes and facilities.

The presence of high levels of these enablers indicates sustainability is well embedded in the culture. The SCI also asks survey respondents to indicate the frequency they undertake a variety of behaviours such as recycling and minimising energy use, both at work and home.

Across the organisations which have completed the SCI, the individual enablers which tend to score highest are Beliefs about Sustainability and Personal Responsibility for it. That means people believe sustainability is important and consider it to be something they should personally play a part in. That forms a great basis for organisations to embed sustainability in their culture, as they don’t need to convince too many people it is important.

The lowest-scoring individual enablers tend to be Sustainability Knowledge and Perceived Support. This indicates that one of the big barriers to embedding sustainability is people knowing how to do their jobs differently in order to be ‘more sustainable’, while they also don’t always feel like sustainability is part of the culture and norm in the organisation. Given the role of social norms in promoting sustainable behaviour, this latter finding demonstrates a need for organisations to ensure people feel sustainability is something valued and reinforced in the culture.

In terms of organisational enablers, those which scored highest across all those surveyed were Strategic Commitment and Innovation. These indicate that the organisations in question are doing a good job of defining and communicating their sustainability goals, and that they effectively support new ideas for sustainability.

The least highly rated organisational enablers are Rewards and Recognition, and Processes. People often feel like they are not explicitly rewarded for engaging in sustainability, while processes are regularly misaligned with sustainability goals (printing policies and processes are the most commonly cited of these in the written comments).

When it comes to on-the-job action, the sustainability-related behaviour which people most commonly report is shutting down their computer at the end of the day, followed by recycling. Respondents are less likely to report choosing low-impact transport options and influencing others for sustainability.

Outside of work, energy and water conservation behaviours are the most commonly undertaken by respondents. Transport again features as an uncommon behaviour, along with making environmentally-friendly food choices.

One common perception is that people are more likely to undertake sustainability-related behaviours at home than they are at work. The story goes something like ‘people are not paying the power bill at work, so they don’t bother saving energy’. The SCI results indicate that this may indeed be an accurate assumption in the case of most behaviours measured. As shown in the graph below, people are more likely to conserve water, energy and other resources at home, as well as influencing other people. The exception is recycling, which people report more frequently at work. This may be due to the likelihood that workplaces are often set up to make recycling simple for people. It may also be something to do with the role of social norms in recycling behaviour.

All the differences below are big enough to be statistically significant, although we should also bear in mind that these are self-reported behaviours (and possibly overstated).

One area of great interest is the correlation between enablers and behaviours. Identifying which enablers have the strongest link to behaviours can help us prioritise our efforts to support and engage employees for sustainability.

For a start, all of the individual and organisational enablers measured by the SCI correlate significantly with behaviours at work and at home. This means that, for instance, the higher we score for Beliefs about Sustainability, the more likely we are to engage in such actions as recycling and conserving water.

The individual enablers with the strongest correlations with behaviour are Responsibility and Perceived Support. This tells us that those who have personal convictions aligned with sustainability, and perceive that those around them are supportive, are most likely to engage in sustainability-related behaviours.

Of the organisational enablers, the analysis shows that Job Responsibilities and Activities to Embed Sustainability are the strongest predictors of behaviour. Those most likely to adopt the relevant behaviours are clear about how sustainability fits into their role, and perceive the organisation’s efforts to educate them to be effective.

In summary, making a deliberate effort to engage people in sustainability on an attitudinal and psychological level, as well as supporting them with education, clarity and supportive processes, is most likely to result in an organisation which has sustainability truly embedded in its culture.

If you’d like to chat about implementing the SCI in your organisation, I’d love to hear from you. Email

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headshot of Tim Cotter

Tim Cotter is an environmental and organisational psychologist with extensive experience in organisational culture change. Tim founded Awake in 2005 to provide resources and leadership in applying psychology to sustainability to support organisations and communities to develop a culture of sustainability.  Visit for more info, or download the Sustainability Culture Indicator brochure.