Social Sustainability: Beyond Community Engagement

Melissa Solberg

When most people hear the word "sustainability," they think about efforts to protect our air, water and biodiversity. Those more actively engaged in the sustainability profession recognize that it's about more than just the environment. Sustainability is also about considering and balancing three critical elements: people, planet and profit.

For airports, sustainability is often defined by the acronym EONS-economic viability, operational efficiency, natural resource conservation and social responsibility. Airports across the globe actively support sustainability concepts by considering return on investment and operational lifecycle factors, protecting and enhancing the natural environment and engaging their stakeholders and community. At Tampa International (TPA), our comprehensive program encompassing all aspects of sustainability is dubbed Legacy of Environmental Actions for our Future (or LEAF). 

So, we're done here. We've got it covered, and we're all on-board. Right?

Not necessarily.

Although the industry has made major headway supporting initiatives that foster environmental sustainability, there's one area that has yet to gain broad exposure. It's the concept of social sustainability-but not just at the community level. It goes one step further to the individual level. The human level. It's your co-worker, your manager, your team. It's the individuals who make your airport operate successfully. Social sustainability is the protection and enhancement of humans as resources. Just as we strive to protect our environmental and fiscal resources, we must do the same for our human resources.

At TPA our solution is straightforward. We focus on the health and wellness of individual employees. This, in turn, leads to greater organizational strength and continuity.

This year, TPA renewed its commitment to social sustainability with the launch of Be WELL, an internal campaign designed to educate employees about wellness. The program's tagline, Sustainable Living Starts with Me, helps emphasize the importance of health and well-being in their day-to-day activities-both at work and at home.

The primary message of Be WELL is simple: Employees' health and well-being matter. Healthy, emotionally engaged employees striving for common goals are happier and more productive at work. Education and awareness, open dialogue and employee development are at the forefront of the campaign.

Be WELL encourages employee engagement and provides a common platform to address wellness as we strive to:

  • engage employees in personal and programmatic development;
  • actively listen to their needs and suggestions;
  • provide mechanisms for open conversation and feedback;
  • encourage all employees to lead by example; and
  • support employee interaction throughout all levels of the organization

Melissa Solberg

Melissa Solberg, LEED AP, is the sustainability manager at Tampa International (TPA) and part of a diverse team leading the airport through a historic period of construction and growth. Specifically, Solberg is responsible for implementing TPA's sustainable management plan and employee health and wellness program.

Additionally, Be WELL supports the idea of individuality, recognizing that each employee has a unique set of skills that contribute to the greater good of the organization. The program has evoked a sense of pride, purpose and responsibility in our employees' pursuit of personal sustainability goals. Our employees are encouraged to become more aware of their mental, emotional and physical health, and also to support friends and colleagues pursuing their respective personal goals.

The program is helping develop individual leaders throughout the organization by offering each team the freedom to use means that work best for current and future goals. One size does not fit all.  Ownership of the Be WELL program is encouraged department-by-department, recognizing and accepting that there are many different paths for achievement and recognition.

Individually and collectively as an organization, the emphasis on social sustainability has led to increased environmental stewardship and economic vitality through improved employee interaction, engagement, productivity, health and well-being.

Through the implementation of social sustainability, we are developing leaders who feel invested not only in their own personal health and well-being, but in that of their colleagues. Focusing on the human aspects of sustainability helps TPA succeed as one of America's favorite airports.

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