A little over 41/2 years ago I first heard the term “employee-owned.” At the time, I did not fully appreciate what it meant to be an employee-owner within a company, but the meaning started to emerge when I was integrated into a mission-driven business. I am an employee-owner in a small environmental consulting company in Northern New Mexico that puts forth the desire to make an impactful and positive contribution in the world.

What does it all really mean?

I can simplify my employee ownership experiences with these three words: engagement, voice and community. An employee-owned company is only as successful as the culture it creates. Encouraging a high level of involvement is key in building a successful business framework.

For example, I actively participate in the company financials, decision-making processes and innovative projects, in addition to performing the technical work for the client base. Participating in all of these activities has made me feel more engaged with the mission of the company.

The knowledge of how my work ethic fits into an overall view makes me feel more equipped and empowered in my work, and it has led to more connectedness with my colleagues.

Participation as an employee-owner in various company tasks, decisions and projects has given me a deeper understanding of a greater representation of the company as a whole. Being able to voice an opinion is essential for my involvement in decision-making within the company as it creates accountability for participating within the company. It makes me feel connected to the mission and, ultimately, the bottom line — to advocate for the environment, improve the economy, and foster equity — not only among the employee-owners but within the larger community of Northern New Mexico.

My experience has shown me that a group of employee-owners who feel empowered to pursue the company’s mission can make real change, even creating a solution to one of the many environmental challenges out there. A project that the company has been working toward long before I joined has been engineering a chemical-free advanced wastewater treatment system for residential use.

A unique feature of this system is that it has a chemical-free way to process sewage waste into water acceptable for use with irrigating landscape, a benefit in the arid Southwest and other environments with water challenges. Over the years, development of this advanced treatment system has sparked motivation throughout the employee-owners to do good.

It is the feeling of connectedness within the company that holds us firmly to our mission. Being an employee-owner makes me an active participant in my professional life. I believe that alternative business frameworks, such as an employee-owned model, could have a real effect on the levels of employee engagement, and that engaged, empowered employees can be a real force for good in their communities.

Kate Ellers is a transplant from Lake Placid, N.Y. She is a conservation biologist for Adelante Consulting Inc. and a current graduate student of Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), and has been a resident of Santa Fe for more than five years.

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