Jennifer Woofter provides some sure-fire ways to make sure your sustainability efforts don't go to waste.
There is nothing more frustrating than seeing your company’s hard-fought sustainability strategy slip away as a result of competing priorities, disengaged employees, or an opaque bureaucracy. Don't let your efforts go to waste! Incorporate as many of these ideas into your sustainability plan as you can to ensure that it continues to evolve and adapt (and even improve) long after the initial enthusiasm is over.
1. Frame sustainability in terms of business process and success
The more you embed sustainability into the existing systems of your company, the more it will become business-as-usual, and thus harder to forget or ignore. If your company has a standard three-year payback time for capital investments, then make sure your sustainability expenditures pay for themselves in less than 36 months. If your HR department has a skill categorization used for new hires, then make sure that sustainability aspects are added to the tool used by the HR managers. Make sustainability criteria part of the existing new vendor on-boarding process, rather than a separate questionnaire. And in each of these areas, make sure that you can clearly and concisely explain why sustainability adds business value. If you can't do that, you're going to have major trouble getting others on board.
2. Put sustainability into job descriptions
What does your sales team need to know about the company's sustainability goals? What kind of eco-design experience do product developers need? What do facilities managers need to know about LEED? What do customer service reps need to be able to explain to sustainability-minded buyers? In which sustainability reporting standards and green marketing guidelines should the marketing staff demonstrate competence? Go through each category of job descriptions - by both department and seniority level - and identify the hard and soft sustainability skills that are needed to execute and improve the company's sustainability strategy over time.
3. Put sustainability into work orders
Make sure that the instructions don't have sustainability jargon written all over them.
Embed sustainability into the way that your work gets done. Whether you call it work instructions, or a standard operating procedure - make sure that you make it explicitly clear who, where, when, why, and how sustainability should be incorporated into everyday tasks and periodic activities. But make sure that the instructions don't have sustainability jargon written all over them - instead, make it simple and clear so that the discrete components of a larger sustainability activity are broken down and inserted into the relevant business process.
4. Set corporate goals, but require business units to get involved
Letting each department create its own sustainability strategy is like herding cats - it’s nearly impossible to get everyone headed in the same direction. Forcing business units to conform to a single set of corporate sustainability activities is also a recipe for disaster since it ignores the innate differences that appear across geographies, duties and responsibilities, and workforce demographics. Instead, opt for a hybrid approach: decide what sustainability means for the company as a whole. From there, develop three to five top sustainability goals - like reducing carbon emissions by 15% in five years. Then, let the individual business units create action plans to get there - using whatever means are most applicable to their unique situation. When business units take ownership over execution of the plan, they are much more likely to see it through to the end.
5. Institute a semi-annual sustainability presentation to the board of directors
The board will force you to answer the question, 'what value does this bring to the company?
Nothing creates a sense of accountability like standing before the highest governance body of your organization to report on your sustainability successes and failures. Particularly when you follow the rule #1 above (frame sustainability in terms of business success), your board will be eager to hear about how sustainability is reducing operating cost, mitigating risk, increasing revenue, opening up new markets, and improving staff recruitment and retention. Perhaps more than any other group, the board will force you to answer the question, "what value does this bring to the company?"
If these aren't enough for you, consider adding these options as well:
- Publish an annual sustainability report - it's hard to step backwards once you've put yourself out there in terms of transparency and disclosure. And once you're committed to doing a report, you'll be motivated to keep it full of awesome stories, meaningful metrics, and a sense of momentum.
- Incentivize sustainability performance - make sure that your performance-based compensation structure (bonuses, stock awards, other perks) are linked to achieving sustainability goals. Make sure to include both short- and long-term sustainability goals, so that people are encouraged to see the big picture, rather than just the year-end goal posts.
- Dedicate time and money to bringing in outside experts - outside perspective can be invaluable. Whether it's a sustainability consultant, a local government representative, or the leader of a national NGO, hearing from sustainability advocates can test your assumptions, reveal new possibilities, and validate your charted course. Get inspired, get challenged, and get re-committed!
What has your company done to keep the sustainability momentum alive and well? Share your comments below, or tell me on Twitter (@jenniferwoofter). And if you liked this article, please share it on your social media platform of choice!
Jennifer Woofter is the founder and president of Strategic Sustainability Consulting, a boutique firm specializing in helping rapidly growing mid-size businesses integrate sustainability into their business model. She tweets at @jenniferwoofter. This article was reprinted with permission from Jennifer Woofter.