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Vouchers for compact fluorescent light bulbs and rooftop solar panels have taken their place next to health insurance and flextime as popular employee benefits.

Young job-seekers want to work for socially responsible, environmentally friendly companies. That’s one reason why more companies have begun offering “green” employee benefits.

Green benefits have become a core tactic to recruit and retain talent.

At most organizations, earth-friendly perks emerge from an overall effort to green the business. As companies begin recycling, upgrade to energy-efficient heating/air conditioning systems and seek production efficiencies that save energy or reduce carbon emissions, it’s natural to consider green benefits.

Organizations in the renewable-energy and environmental products industries have pioneered many green benefits programs:

  • Employees of NRG Systems in Hinesburg, Vt., get up to $300 a year to buy energy-efficient light bulbs or upgrade the windows in their homes, plus $1,000 to spend on solar hot-water systems, solar panels, wind turbines or wood-pellet furnaces.
  • Development Design Group in Baltimore matches a state grant of up to $5,000 for employees who participate in a live-near-your-work program. The grants offer down-payment assistance for homes within 10 miles of the office.
  • Employees of 2FormArchitecture in Eugene, Ore., who participate in the company’s retirement savings program may choose to invest in a fund made up of socially responsible companies.

10 tips for green benefits

Here are 10 ideas for making the most of your organization’s efforts to provide green benefits:

1. Help employees start making changes at home, and then watch them practice environmentally responsible behaviors at work. Once they witness substantial energy savings from the solar panels or Energy Star-rated refrigerator your organization helped them afford, they’re more likely to buy into the value of saving energy and resources at home and at work.

2. Ask employees to suggest ways the organization can go green. Example: Development Design Group started an employee “green team” that drew 20 volunteers from the firm’s 110-employee workforce. The group meets monthly and has spearheaded changes such as the addition of transportation incentives and the use of recycled paper in the company’s in-house printing shop.

3. Publicly congratulate employees who take advantage of the company’s green benefits. Publish a quarterly, online newsletter devoted exclusively to their stories—and to reminding workers about green benefits and how to participate.

4. Look beyond the obvious benefits like mass-transit subsidies. First American Corp. saved 60% on printing its benefit enrollment guide simply by rewriting it so the information is more concise and easier for employees to understand. The slimmed-down version simply has fewer pages, so it costs less to print and mail.

5. Tell everyone about your green benefits: employees, job candidates, shareholders, the media, your community. Include your environmental focus in advertising campaigns. Send press releases to local media, which might publicize your unique employee benefits. Make anything green part of every employee communication.

6. Review what you already do. Consider your company’s ongoing benefits and practices. Have they been green all along? Then publicize them! Rewrite job descriptions to highlight any green aspects of a position.

7. Sell the concept to top management by collecting data. Example: Gather information on whether quality job applicants are accepting job offers because of the organization’s green benefits—or walking away because you don’t do enough. Make it a point to ask candidates how important those benefits were to their decision.

8. Choose a green theme for events you already host: the employee health fair; your benefits-enrollment fair, holiday parties, recognition ceremonies, even staff meetings.

9. Help employees understand the real, cash value of green benefits. In the Las Vegas area, employers tout the following when communicating the value of public transportation subsidies: It costs a local commuter nearly $7.50 to make an 11-mile commute alone by car—about $150 a month. The same trip costs $75 a month in a two-person car pool, or $55 via public transit.

10. Don’t “greenwash.” Employees—and the public and media—usually can see through an organization’s attempts to hype its green benefits and practices. Publicize what you’re doing; in fact, shout about it. But verify that every green claim you make can stand the test of scrutiny should an employee, a journalist or a competitor decide to challenge it.

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