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Sustainability: How to Get the Troops on Board

While presenting at a sustainability symposium earlier this year, I had the feeling that most of the people attending my seminar were well aware of the need for facility managers to operate in a greener and more sustainable manner. Their big concern was how to get everyone else on board.

It is one thing for the head of an organization to send out memos encouraging employees to recycle paper products, turn off lights that aren’t in use, and shut down or lower individually controlled HVAC systems at the end of each business day. However, it’s something else entirely to really make it happen. Directives such as these often get some people’s attention for a while, but sooner or later, they get lost in the shuffle for just about everyone.

To address this challenge, I suggested that managers create a “culture of sustainability” whereby everyone in their facility—CEOs, managers, staffers, and even vendors—contributes to the goal of operating the property in a Greener, more sustainable manner. In essence, we must go beyond using memos and directives that tell people what to do and institute procedures and methods that get staffers to want to do something. When this happens, a culture is born that becomes the “modus operandi” of the organization.

This emotional buy-in is usually best accomplished by using a combination of top-down and bottom-up management:

–Top executives or managers in an organization decide that the facility is to operate in a more sustainable manner, setting goals as to what they want to see accomplished over time—for instance in the next six months, twelve months, and so on. This is the top-down part of the process.

–The next step is accomplished by letting staffers and others within the organization become actively involved in implementing, managing, and even owning the program. This is the bottom-up portion.

The process is similar to the one I developed for transferring a facility from conventional to green cleaning:

–Make the decision. The decision to become more sustainable and develop a culture of sustainability starts at the top.

–Form a team. Sustainability team members meet with top managers to understand the goals of the sustainability program, what it means to the organization, and why it is happening.

–Spread the word. Team members then meet with staffers throughout the organization to describe the program, its goals, and the reasons behind it. And, key to creating a culture of sustainability, team members encourage staffers to make it happen, finding ways to reduce consumption and waste, save energy, and cut costs.

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