Eight Tips for Getting Your Sustainability Project Off the Ground

By Deborah Fleischer, June 23, 2009

1. Look at the big picture and identify your company’s greatest impacts. Review your key business operations to understand the key environmental issues for your business and the opportunities and risks presented by these issues. Alex McIntosh, Director of Corporate Citizenship at Nestle Waters, advises new directors to “think broadly about what sustainability means to your business, look beyond your four walls, up and down your full value chain.” Then,” he continues, “quantify your impacts [green house gas (GHG) emissions or life cycle assessment (LCA) or tons of waste] and prioritize the places where your impacts are the greatest. Pay lots of attention to how people inside the company are being rewarded or penalized for their performance in those areas.”

2. Land some quick wins — go for cost savings. To start, prioritize and focus on capturing the low-hanging fruit. Look for opportunities that will deliver results quickly, such as increasing efficiency and reducing waste. Scan your business and look for logical opportunities to save money and develop measurable metrics to track results.

3. Be authentic. If you are going to use sustainability as a product differentiator, be sure you have done all you can to be authentically green. This does not mean you have to be perfect. Consumers want honesty and transparency, not perfection. But with today’s social media tools, it only takes a moment on Twitter for someone to accuse you of greenwashing.

4. Develop internal partners. For directors getting started, begin to network throughout the company and create relationships with directors who oversee key functions, including product design, procurement, sales, supply chain, governmental affairs, social investment, analyst relations and employee engagement. Look for opportunities to gain their trust and educate them on the value sustainability offers the company, including product differentiation that can capture market share and drive top-line revenues.

5. Engage your stakeholders. McIntosh suggests meeting with as many people as you can outside of your company, “prioritizing to meet with the most influential and interested stakeholders first.”

“Stakeholder engagement is an important, essential element in good citizenship and good business strategy. You need to know what issues are most important to the people that are most relevant to your business,” suggests McIntosh.

Include your supply chain, customers, investors and employees in your outreach so you can understand what leadership looks like or what risks may be coming. What issues do they care about? What is important to them? How are they tackling their end of the equation? Answers to these questions can help inform your strategy and programs.

6. Engage employees. If you are short on resources to implement new programs, look to your employees. Bonnie Nixon, Director of Environmental Sustainability at Hewlett Packard, explained that the company engages employees on multiple levels, ranging from providing them energy kits to reduce their personal carbon footprint at home to offering incentives for biking to work to encouraging them to innovate more and find ways to imbed sustainability into product design, the supply chain and the sales process.

7. Develop a communications strategy. A key component to a sustainability program is communicating both internally and externally about your efforts and results. Develop a strategy that details how you are going to communicate your efforts — both your successes and future areas for improvement.

8. Develop a long-term strategy. Going green does not happen overnight. Hunter Lovins, the president and founder of National Capitalism Solutions warns, “avoid the temptation to be green all at once. This is a years long process, like continuous improvement.”

Bonnie Nixon adds, “in addition to a short-term strategy, you need to develop a longer term plan that looks at potential trends and regulations out there and what your future customer segment is going to look like.”

Ultimately, you want to aim for an authentic strategy that is linked to your company’s mission, vision, brand and values that will deliver significant, quantifiable, bottom-line results.

Other Resources to Help Get You Started:

OECD Toolkit for Sustainability
If your business is looking to tackle sustainability – what it means, how it relates to your business, and how you can benefit from greener production, the OECD Sustainable Manufacturing Toolkit is a great place to start. The OECD Sustainable Manufacturing Toolkit provides a set of internationally applicable, common and comparable indicators to measure the environmental performance of manufacturing facilities in any business size, sector or country.

The Toolkit offers two components; a step-by-step Start-up Guide, and a Web Portal where technical guidance on measurement and relevant links are provided.

12 Steps To Sustainability
This report from Kanal Consulting focuses on practical ways that organizations can implement sustainability to improve the bottom line. Successful companies have realized that sustainability is a key element of strategy, and are profiting from it. When sustainability is tightly integrated with the business it is possible to achieve financial success while meeting the “green” expectations of customers, investors and other stakeholders. This report is a blueprint to help organizations succeed in all dimensions.

Green IT For Dummies
An entertaining and easy to read guide on ways to get your company on a “green” or “sustainable” pathway. This book gives you pointers on how any organization can decrease their impact on the environment.  Though the focus is initially on IT, many of the pointers are extremely relevant to other manufacturers, and even service industry businesses.  The focus is to help all parts of any organization to become more environmentally friendly, in the areas of transport, energy, and more. This book is highly recommended!

Grow Me the Money
An Australian site, designed for Small and Medium sized businesses that are getting started on Greening their businesses.  The link will take you to their “Top Actions for Greening Your Business”.  Many companies will already have addressed some or many of these, but it is a nice list to get anyone started.  Click on any of the Actions for in-depth discussion of what is meant, the benefits and how to implement.  You do not need to register to access the information.

Green Teams: Engaging Employees in Sustainability
This report explores and outlines the 10 best practices for bringing all your employees on board with your company’s sustainability projects.

The Role of Human Resource Management in Corporate Social ResponsibilityCoro Strandberg Consulting
This report provides recommendations for human resource professionals in developing a firm’s capacity in sustainability.This will be most useful to companies who are just starting on their sustainability journey. Human resource professionals have a key role to play to help a company achieve its CSR objectives. They have the opportunity to leverage employee commitment to, and engagement in, the firm’s sustainability strategy. Sustainability can be integrated into the HR toolkit, thereby improving social and environmental conditions locally and globally.

A companion 10-step checklist is also available.

The Natural Step Primer
Strategic, green advice is everywhere. But, the truly sustainable organizations succeed through collaborative, coordinated strategies. The Natural Step Sustainability Primer provides an excellent foundation for your sustainability program and to familiarize senior management with the basics of sustainability.

How can you “green” your project?
Use this website to identify and prioritize cost-effective green building strategies you can implement to incorporate sustainable concepts into office operations.  Learn how to select sustainable materials, incorporate daylighting strategies, educate your employees, save on water and conserve energy.

The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard. — Gaylord Nelson, Senator and WI Governor

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