Page 1

corporate sustainability

Implementing sustainability A step-by-step plan

This is the second in a series of articles to help you design, implement, verify and market your company’s sustainability journey. The first article summarized nine basic steps to design a successful sustainability program. This article will focus on implementation. T h e m o s t i mp o r t a nt s t e p to successfully implementing sustainability projects or corporatewide strategies is to understand the culture of the organization. As Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” If sustainability is presented as another project and another purpose to an organization it stands a much lower chance of succeeding. Some people will be supportive, but when the hard decisions come about how to allocate scarce resources, sustainability may draw the short stick. Here are 10 steps to help provide a sustainability strategy with a much greater success rate: Spend time getting to know key business leaders in your organization; in particular get to know formally stated business objectives and the key barriers the leaders are facing. The more you are able to understand business leaders and listen to them, the better you can mold and integrate sustainability objectives within their business.

For example, a vice-president of I n f o r m a t i o n Te c h n o l o g y w a s approached and the main sustainability project was initially t hought to be a rou nd energ y eff iciency of servers and reducing paper from printers. However, before presenting such a plan, conversations led to identifying IT’s key pain point being the high t urnover rate of programmers on legac y systems. A f ter some discussions, the V P created space for sustainability to be part of their on-going employee engagement programs. Sustainability got lots of bandwidth to interact with IT and many g reat, unex pected projects emerged, including industry leading energy efficiency. Build from the existing level of s u s t a i n a b i l i t y l i t e r a c y. B e f o r e b eg i n n i n g i mplement at ion of a sustainability strategy, find out what p e ople a l re a d y k now a nd wh at activities are already underway. If there has not been a forma l susta inabi l it y prog ra m, ma ny employees were likely hiding all the Summer 2012 11

12039_BS&S_Summer_resize_2012.indd 11

12-08-31 4:44 PM

corporate sustainability

“For a sustainability strategy to be more than a greenwashing function it must engage with core reasons why the organization does what it does� CARMA_CondoBusiness_01-19-2009_CS2--F.pdf


5:41:35 PM

g reat env i ronmenta l a nd socia l programs and successes for fear that they would be criticized for doing stuff outside of their role and not formally endorsed by executives. W h e n t h e G r e a t e r Va n c o u v e r R e g ion a l D i s t r ic t w a s g at he r i n g information for its first sustainability report, officials were amazed at how much covert sustainability had been happen ing inter na l ly. T here were unsung champions throughout the organization. Spend the time to try to f ind these unsung heroes and then prov ide t hem w it h a mea ns of interacting w ith the other unsung heroes. If you are not that lucky, then you know that you have to start from the basics. Make sure you start from where people are at. Get an executive champion. They may not fall out of the sky, so be prepared to work for a few months to frame sustainability in a manner that enables the executive to be comfortable as a champion. They may need a tight business case presented to them, and they will likely modify sustainability to fit their personal ethics and how they want to see t hemselves in t he community, in the public spotlight and in a corporate context. Be adaptable but provide honest, thoughtful feedback if they are straying too far from the sustainability strategy. The executive champion should be essential to the financial and strategic success of the company (a final gatekeeper/ enabler) or in any senior role if they are charismatic and highly visible to a majority of employees. If you can get both, even better. Without such a champion, you can still get a sustainability strategy to work, though your timeline will likely be much slower. Align sustainability Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) with corporate business objectives. For a sustainability strategy to be more than a reporting or a greenwashing function it must engage with the core reasons why the organization does what it does. If you are in retail, a sustainability strategy must help with the procurement of goods and then selling those goods for a profit. If you are in mining, it must help with the profitable extraction of m i ne r a l s for s a l e to pro c e s s or s / customers. In order to demonstrate this to internal leaders and keep sustainability

12 Building Strategies & Sustainability 11002_Carma_2011.indd 1 12039_BS&S_Summer_resize_2012.indd 12

11-05-02 11:09 AM 12-08-31 4:44 PM

corporate sustainability

relevant to the organization, at least a good proportion of sustainability KPIs must align with pre-existing business objectives. In retail, this can include a suite of KPIs that show that operational costs are going down (without affecting sales). If a store can operate just as well, but use 21 per cent less electricity, the prof itability per item sold will logically go up. Find KPIs that tell a good stor y which makes sense to business leaders. Executives should be able to use sustainability KPIs to bolster their case that they are meeting their fiduciary obligations. Below each KPI you may have more data indicators in order to track projects, but most people in the organization do not need to know about them. For example, for the next few years carbon footprint per square foot of real estate may be lesser k nown than kilowatt hours per square foot. Why? Business leaders know that they are paying for k ilowatts but unlikely paying for carbon (at the real estate level for most of Canada). Clear, transparent and rigorous project management. Sustainability is messy and interconnected, it will spill across usual structures within an organization. As such, people in the organization will see that they alone cannot control completely a project or an outcome, so they will repeatedly be tempted to abdicate responsibility to somebody else. A core function of sustainability practitioners is to take messy projects and break them down into manageable tasks. Depending on your cult ure, this may mean the creation of cross-functional units that are responsible for an outcome; for example, packaging optimization and cost reduction is something that was rarely centrally managed at retailers. Several retailers have delivered huge cost savings by bringing together cross-functional teams with buyers, logistics, direct impor t, loss prevention (if they are responsible for reducing returns and damaged goods), etc. Cross-functional teams need to be back-stopped by a project manager who keeps the team on track to deliver objectives and also challenges them to be more innovative, and more sustainable.

Gain momentum. Before trying to change the whole organization at once, del iver a nd doc ument a profitable sustainability win in one pa r t of the organization. T he predominant bel iefs a re that sustainability is a mixture of corporate philanthropy which has now nuzzled its way from the community into how a company tries to operate. Sustainabilit y is still ver y often perceived to be a feel good factor that looks good somewhere near the end of a Po w e r Po i n t p r e s e n t a t i o n t o e mploy e e s , bu s i ne s s-to -bu s i ne s s customers, or as a small label added on a product. This must be challenged. E xe c ut iv e s , a nd , e v en more s o, middle-management, will need to see the details of how sustainability has delivered real business value to their organization. They need to see that it is not a sleight of hand; that it is not succeeding just because the CEO threw a lot of money and inf luence to create a pretty report. They need to see susta inabi l it y del iver ing a profitable return in ways that they did not expect. Do that quickly and you will have evangelical converts. Be persistent. Get into every nook and cranny of the organization. Don’t wait for people to come to you. Don’t expect other people to think your sustainability strategy is so great that they will hop right into implementat ion. You need to be persistent and reach them through formal meetings, through socializing ideas during informal encounters, by going to indust r y events and introducing them to competitors who have prof itable susta inabi l it y p r o g r a m s , b y i n v it i n g t h e m to sustainability events that are directly of value to their business, by sharing with them sustainability articles from the journals they read and respect. You need to create the presence of sustainability as the mega-trend with which they must reconcile. Lean on the executive champion. In as much as possible, have an open d ia log ue w it h you r e xecut ive champion. They must be aware of what is going well and what is moving slowly. Within reason, and respecting t he cor porate cu lt u re a nd t he relationships you have built, use the

executive champion as a carrot and a stick. They should reward businesses t hat a re at tempt ing to integ rate sustainability. Some of the most powerful rewards are public recognition by an executive, and praise by an executive in meetings. A wake-up call for a business leader is when an executive champion asks for an update on an ag reed upon sustainability project that has gone nowhere. Make sure that the project makes business sense and there has been documented project management. Then stand strong and b e more mat u re t ha n t he p et t y retribution that may follow. Persist in being rational and you will win. Get the ana ly tics right and be passionate. The best business cases still need to be driven by an engaged leader. People shou ld see you as c o m m i t t e d t o s u s t a i n a b i l i t y, committed to driving success. Most people want to feel that there is a leader if they are going to follow a new path. Be a few steps ahead to pull people along with you. Always give them credit for being the movers, never you. Lead through empowering others. Ta k e t i m e fo r y o u r s e l f , t a k e vacation. You will likely get ver y emotiona l ly connected to the sustainability transformation you are trying to affect. Criticism of what you are doing should be seen as a window into the critics thinking as opposed to a personal attack. Take time to write down all your projects, tasks and frustrations. If work thoughts are occupying your personal, out of office time, you need to get them out of your head and onto paper. This way you can rest and come back more able to provide mental clarity to complex problems. We w i s h y o u w e l l o n y o u r sustainability journey. Please share your successes and lessons with us so we can report on it in subsequent articles. BS&S Peter Love and Dr. James Gray-Donald are volunteer directors of Rethink Sustainability. Peter is an Associate at Elenchus and an Adjunct Professor at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies. James was recently appointed vice-president sustainability at Bentall-Kennedy. Summer 2012 13

12039_BS&S_Summer_resize_2012.indd 13

12-08-31 4:44 PM

Implementing Sustainability  

Implementing Sustainbility 2012