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In February 2018, Henkel Singapore launched its Year of Climate Action. This involved various initiatives including 'Bring Your Own Cup', increasing aircon temperatures and daily Earth hour from 12pm to 1pm.

Apart from the workplace initiatives, the German chemical and consumer goods company behind well-known brands including Loctite, Schwarzkopf, and Persil, is also getting its employees involved in corporate volunteering and donations through programmes such as the Sustainability Ambassador programme, and initiatives like Sustainability Week.

To gain further insight on the activities undertaken, Human Resources spoke to Thomas Holenia, president of Henkel Singapore and corporate vice president, global purchasing, Henkel, to find out why and how the company gets employees involved, and the benefits of such activities from a business perspective.

Q A lot of Henkel’s sustainability initiatives involves volunteering. What are some of the initiatives you have in place?

Sustainability is one of Henkel's five corporate values and is stated as "We are committed to leadership in sustainability." We want to create more value - for our customers and consumers, for the communities we operate in, and for our company - while, at the same time, reducing our environmental footprint.

Besides creating sustainable value through our business activities, a focal area of Henkel's sustainability strategy is to actively contribute to social progress, where a key initiative is to further develop and boost our employees' engagement in sustainability.

For example, Henkel's Sustainability Ambassador program was launched in 2012 to train and equip our employees to share their knowledge and engage with various stakeholders at work and in the local communities. By the end of 2017, more than 50,000 employees have been certified as Sustainability Ambassadors, and Henkel had reached over 137,000 schoolchildren in 53 countries.

In Singapore, with the support of PUB, our Sustainability Ambassadors have been visiting preschools every year on World Water Day to teach young children simple tips to be sustainable at home. This year, we have also expanded our program with Little Footprints Preschool beyond the classroom with the sponsorship of the 'Be a Bucket Filler' Journal to encourage students to put into practice what they have learnt.

Additionally, we have been supporting the Bukit View Secondary School in its sustainability outreach efforts targeting primary and secondary school children. Overall, since 2016, Henkel Singapore has reached more than 1,200 school children through our school projects.

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During its Sustainability Week from 30 May to 5 June, employees engaged in various activities to learn more about the company’s sustainability programs, interact with other sustainability advocates, and contribute to social causes. This year's activities included an 'I ambassador' Special event, which reiterated the company's commitment to leadership in sustainability.

A highlight was Henkel Singapore's switch to 100% solar energy for its electricity use, effective on 15 June. Employees also shared how they contribute to sustainability at work and in their teams. This ranges from developing sustainable innovations for customers and reusing old pull-up banners to using wooden drinking straws and stainless-steel water bottles.

As a supporting partner of the 'From Asia to Antarctica' documentary by the Eco-Business media company, Henkel Singapore also held six screenings of the film during Sustainability Week to create awareness of the threats of climate change and the urgency for action and collaboration.

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Additionally, in the area of corporate volunteering and donations, Henkel Singapore is a strong advocate of an active lifestyle, not only among employees but also within the community. We donated 400 pedometers to Alexandra Health, which distributed them via home visits, medical appointments and its LIVE! Intervention Programme. Additionally, in conjunction with Henkel Day, employees joined residents of Changi Simei community club for its brisk-walk programme and donated 200 pedometers during the occasion.

In 2017, Henkel won first prize in the "Workforce Size Under 200" category of the National Steps Challenge™: Corporate Challenge, which was organised by the Health Promotion Board. To celebrate the achievement and based on the positive feedback of Alexandra Health, we donated another 150 Xiaomi Band 2 fitness trackers to Alexandra Health in March 2017.

Q How do you as a business leader find value in such activities, and how do they affect the bottom line?

From a HR perspective, Henkel's commitment to sustainability and social involvement have strengthened our position as an employer of choice, internally and externally. From informal surveys, our employees have indicated their pride in working for an ecologically and socially responsible company and being able to make a difference.

Other benefits include better teamwork and greater job motivation across the organisation. Furthermore, as volunteers, our employees act as ambassadors for Henkel and our corporate culture, therefore positioning Henkel as a responsible company in the local communities.

Very often during interviews, job applicants have cited our priority on sustainability as a reason for their interest in job opportunities at Henkel.

Q How are the results of such an activity tracked - employee satisfaction improved or more applications from graduates, for example?

Globally, Henkel tracks its social engagement along five indicators:

  • Total number of projects supported
  • Number of people supported
  • Time off from work for employee-initiated projects
  • Donations (financial and product donations)
  • Number of people reached by our Sustainability Ambassadors.

In 2017, Henkel provided funding for more than 2,000 social projects, bringing help to more than 1.2 million people worldwide. Our Sustainability Ambassadors also reached more than 42,000 school children. 204 days of time off were granted to employees to work on their volunteer projects.

Henkel has also provided financial and product donations amounting to more than 8 million euros.

Q What are dos and don’ts to getting employees involved and engaged in such activities?

To intensify our employees' involvement, we have adopted an inclusive approach, where our programs are open and accessible for all employees to participate. For example, our Sustainability Ambassador training includes both e-learning and classroom formats in various local languages to cater to our employees worldwide.

To ensure consistency, standardised training materials are used. The materials cover the fundamental principles of sustainability – from concept to key global challenges. It also explains how Henkel is responding to these challenges and implementing sustainability along its value chain.For volunteer activities, employees may also request up to five days off from work per year.

Q With employees spending time on such initiatives, what do you do in case their manager is not comfortable with devoting time away from the core job?

With corporate citizenship anchored in our corporate culture, Henkel encourages and fully supports our employees in their social engagement activities. Notably, commitment to sustainability is an integral part of our company’s history of more than 140 years.

Since Henkel was established in 1876, our founder, Fritz Henkel, had the vision of making people’s lives easier, better and more beautiful. From the beginning, the company assumed responsibility for its employees, the communities it operates in, and society.

In line with this, on the anniversary of Henkel on 26 September, which we designate as ‘Henkel Day’, our employees worldwide engaged in various social projects and volunteering activities. In Singapore in 2017, our employees gathered to create dementia kits for the Alzheimer's Disease Association.

This year, Henkel’s Sustainability Ambassadors will participate in coastal cleanup and plastic debris sample collection at Tanah Merah beach as part of the NUS‒NParks Marine Debris Monitoring Programme.

Q What advice do you have for organisations looking to do more in terms of sustainability?

Sustainability is a universal challenge and, therefore, a shared task. It is essential to have a holistic perspective in promoting collaboration and dialogue with all stakeholders along the entire value chain. This includes involving employees in playing a key role not only at work but also as members of society.

Photo / 123RF

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