Cracking the code: An introduction to incorporating sustainability into organisational DNA through induction training

Cracking the code: An introduction to incorporating sustainability into organisational DNA through induction training

By SMU City Perspectives team

Published 26 June, 2023


While organisations may wish to leap-frog with big, bold and newsworthy changes, getting employees and their families involved in this change through participation is critical in making a difference.

Thomas Menkhoff

Professor of Organisational Behaviour & Human Resources (Education), Singapore Management University

An organisation can signal its commitment to sustainability through green certification and labels, or marketing campaigns with messages of environmental stewardship. However, according to Thomas Menkhoff, Professor of Organisational Behaviour & Human Resources and Dr Kevin Cheong, Adjunct Teaching Mentor at SMU, making bold statements and focusing solely on operational changes such as the eradication of single-use plastics is not enough to drive meaningful change. Instead, they stress the importance of setting specific and achievable goals and ensuring organisation-wide involvement. 

Prof Menkhoff says, “Some organisations embark on the sustainability journey with 1) lofty, non-specific goals or without getting all levels of the organisation involved, 2) haphazard implementation of a sustainability blueprint, 3) lack of technical skills to measure GHG emissions or to conduct materiality assessments as well as 4) insufficient alignment of the sustainability plan with key business goals. These factors lead to problems that hinder organisations from reaching their sustainability goals.”

In their case study Enhancing the Sustainability DNA of Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay through Induction Training, Prof Menkhoff and Dr Cheong highlight sustainability-related challenges and develop induction training solutions that can be applied by the human resource team of Gardens by the Bay in support of the overall mission and vision of the organisation. 

Highlighting the significance of this endeavour, Prof Menkhoff shares: “Developing a positive sustainability mindset among participants of an induction training programme is one thing, to make it stick so that employees proactively initiate greener actions towards a more sustainable future once they have completed the training is another.”

He says that linking induction training to the organisation’s sustainability action plan can help to motivate employees to implement achievable change initiatives such as responsible printing, meeting sustainability reporting requirements, participating in the organisation’s tree planting scheme, reducing water and energy use, composting, etc.

Summarising a key takeaway from this learning journey, Dr Cheong observes, "Sustainability cannot be an afterthought, we need to be conscious of how we operate and manage our businesses and how these will impact the environment, society, community and stakeholders.” 

In this article, Prof Menkhoff and Dr Cheong share their insights on the role that sustainability-based induction training programmes play in creating meaningful change, and how businesses can inject sustainability into their organisational DNA, regardless of their size and industry.

Starting on the right foot

So the question now is, why are sustainability-based induction training programmes important? Induction training programmes, conducted at the start of a new hire’s employment, establish a shared language and platform for organisations to efficiently manage and communicate the importance of balancing economic growth, social well-being and environmental care. 

“All too often, organisations start and end with the environment in pursuing their sustainability efforts,” says Prof Menkhoff. He shares that companies should instead, approach sustainability from the inside out, starting with organisational culture change and their employees. 

“If we look at sustainability from the perspective of being thoughtful and mindful about how business activities affect and impact our stakeholders, then we will start to think more deeply about our decisions, actions and omissions in a responsible manner.” adds Dr Cheong.

By incorporating sustainability principles into these programmes and engaging new hires in experiential activities like carbon offset quantification, hands-on waste segregation and treatment, or tree-planting, organisations emphasise to their employees the priority, importance and significance of sustainability. This approach ensures that new hires not only understand but also embrace the organisation’s commitment to sustainability, setting the stage for a workforce equipped with the necessary green skills to support corporate green transition efforts.

3 tips for organisations

Prof Menkhoff and Dr Cheong highlight three tips for organisations that want to integrate sustainability DNA into their operations and create meaningful change: 

  1. Start small: 
    • Run pilot programmes.
    • Celebrate ‘everyday sustainability heroes’.

  2. Ensure that induction training programmes: 
    • Get employees and their families involved.
    • Cover trends around emerging skills in the green economy. 
    • Incorporate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives and commitments.

  3. Explore existing programmes as starting points:

Click the images to learn more

Leaders must set the tone

To both Prof Menkhoff and Dr Cheong, sustainability is more than just volunteering for beach cleanups or finding substitutes for single-use plastics. 

Sustainability-focused training programmes allow employees to voice their concerns and empower them to suggest new ideas and execute them. New hires will see and experience how and why the organisation is reducing its carbon footprint to mitigate climate change.

Business managers who want to master more sustainable practices should look for guidance from The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Being familiar with the GRI Standards is important for any Chief Sustainability Officer tasked to publicly report the economic, environmental and social impacts of corporate activities.

No longer is sustainability about merely talking but enabling action to proactively address sustainability and climate change issues and help to cut greenhouse gases.

“My message for leaders is,” Prof Menkhoff says, “walk the talk. You must ensure that organisational activities are sustainable and in line with social responsibility and environmental objectives.” 

“Sustainability is not a buzzword that reflects the ‘flavour of the month’ or a media campaign. It must be an organisation-wide commitment towards improving the quality of people’s lives, protecting our ecosystem and preserving the planet’s natural resources for future generations,” adds Dr Cheong.
[Featured image: The iconic Supertree Grove of Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay (GB) – Prof Menkhoff and Dr Cheong collaborated with Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay to help integrate Singapore’s new Green Plan into its sustainability induction programme.]

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Methodology & References
  1. DBS Bank. DBS. (n.d.).
  2. Enterprise singapore. Enterprise Singapore. (n.d.-a).
  3. Enterprise sustainability programme. Enterprise Singapore. (n.d.-b).
  4. Environmental & Social Footprint. Patagonia. (n.d.).
  5. The global leader for impact reporting. GRI - Home. (n.d.).
  6. Home. SkillsFuture SG. (2023, April 3).
  7. Homepage: Singapore eco living resort in Sentosa, Siloso Beach Resort welcomes you. Resort in Siloso Beach. Siloso Beach Resort - Sentosa on the island of Sentosa. (n.d.).
  8. Menkhoff, T., & Cheong, K. (2022, March 15). Enhancing the Sustainability DNA of Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay through Induction Training.
  9. Sustainability reports. CDL Sustainability. (2020, March 21).

Inside the mind of

Thomas Menkhoff serves as a Professor of Organisational Behaviour & Human Resources (Education) at Singapore Management University. His research focuses on Entrepreneurial Leadership in Asian (Chinese) Business, Knowledge and Innovation Governance and Technology-enhanced Teaching and (Blended) Learning. 

Kevin Cheong is an Adjunct Teaching Mentor at SMU and has spent the past 20 years in developing, managing and marketing tourist destinations. His tourism career started as the Sales (Commercial) Director of Sentosa and he later became the Managing Director for JTB MEEMO.