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To make employee social engagement more successful, give it local color

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A team at Intel's Chandler plant is improving its recycling rate by turning plastic reels into pencil boxes for local school systems.

If you want to get employees truly engaged in an employee engagement program, let them think local. Not only will the impact at their workplace stare them in the face every day, they will also see how their efforts affect the community in which they live.

That refrain is becoming an increasingly common one for Intel's Sustainability in Action program. Even though the different projects do have the potential to become global initiatives, the must have relevance for each community in which they are adopted in order to really take hold.

"We don't want people going through the same learning hurdles. We want them to focus on things in our culture that we take for granted," said Suzanne Fallender, director of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and communications for Intel.

Intel's Sustainability in Action program provides $125,000 in annual grants to 9 or 10 projects that help perpetuate the company's sustainability aspirations. It is one of the pillars of the company's overall CSR and employee engagement programs.

The ideas for these projects are often very simple. One recent example is a plastics recycling project spearheaded by the technology giant's manufacturing operation in Chandler, Ariz., that turned 1,500 pounds of polystyrene reels used to hold computer chip components into more than 4,000 pencil boxes that are being given out in local schools.

Mind you, Intel already recycles almost 87 percent of waste from its operations globally. What was intriguing about this particular initiative was its focus on addressing how to recycle or reuse items that aren't really handled within existing waste management strategies.

Everyone involved in this particular project comes from the Chandler community, and here are several reasons why:

  • It didn't make sense for the materials to be sent elsewhere for processing, because that would sort of defeat its green nature by adding emissions for transportation.
  • It provided a vocational training opportunity for disabled individuals working at the community's Gompers Rehabilitation Center.
  • It afforded an opportunity for local small businesses, Plastics General Polymers and Fiesta Plastics, to become involved (and perhaps to develop a new line of business)
  • It enabled Intel to supplement local school curriculums with education about recycling, both for plastics and electronic waste.

Intel is studying whether or not the initiative will be taken global, but if it is, those emulating the project will be encouraged to adapt it for the needs of their individual operation, Fallender said.

That means figuring out which materials it makes sense to recycle, figuring out an end product and cause that could benefit, and then organizing the local training and business relationships to make it happen.

How does Intel benefit? For one thing, the Chandler team feels more empowered to think out of the box. Plus, the Intel branding on each of those boxes will help raise the company's profile among school-age children.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure