Want to Make a Change? Don’t Forget the Human Element
There is a consensus among the top brass that sustainability delivers business value. A survey of one thousand global CEOs conducted by Accenture revealed that 76 percent of CEOs “believe that embedding sustainability into core business will drive revenue growth and new opportunities.” And yet, studies show that despite the prominence of sustainability on the executive radar, there is a disconnect between intention and action. According to MIT Sloan Management Review, only 10 percent of respondents to their 2013 Sustainability Survey reported that their organizations fully tackle social and environmental issues.
For many companies, inertia begins with not knowing where to start. They lack the internal resources and expertise to conduct the type of top to bottom assessment needed to pinpoint where the opportunities lie. But doing just that is crucial to maintaining profitability and competitiveness, particularly for the food and beverage industry. The powerful demands of consumers and retailers combined with regulatory pressures and rising raw materials and commodity prices have created an environment where margins are tight and competition is fierce.
Every kilowatt saved and gallon reduced is a step toward lowering costs and maintaining margins, but improving operational efficiencies must be done strategically. Implementing a benchmarking program can to do just that. Benchmarking can help food and beverage companies assess the environmental performance of their production operations and identify opportunities for improvement. Benchmarking service providers audit the entire plant, including both the processing and packaging lines, assessing performance in areas such as water efficiency, waste water treatment, energy efficiency, product yield and waste and carbon footprint.
That data is then used to benchmark a company’s performance against their competitors, industry best practices and even their other operations to understand which projects will yield the greatest returns.
Don’t Stop There!
Benchmarking is just the first step on the route to organizational change. It can be the spark that ignites a conversation internally with far-reaching effects. But reports and their recommendations have a tendency to sit on a shelf and gather dust. And it’s not always about the money (or lack thereof) that stymies action. Some organizations tend to get caught up in the pursuit of more data, more metrics, more KPIs, as if the data itself will lead to change. All too often, common human factors that lead to project paralysis are overlooked. To avoid this fate, confront these factors head on:
Leadership vacuum: Change is unlikely without an internal champion who acts as a bridge between different departments and brings the necessary stakeholders to the table. You’re looking for a change agent — a passionate individual who is persistent yet patient, has strong relationships built on transparency and trust, who walks the talk and is a team player, not a lone wolf.
A full plate: The heavy lifting of sustainability is most often done by internal employees whose plates are already full with existing responsibilities. It’s incredibly important to get them on board in advance of rolling out a project, give them the space and time to do it right, and seek their input in its design to create ownership, engagement and pride. It’s also helpful if you can show that it’s often a matter of doing things differently — not doing more things.
Fear of risk: People are often hesitant to be first out of the gate, especially when costs are high. Communicating the “why” and the “how” is a must. Pilot projects are a great way to overcome the fear inherent in big changes and to manage risk. Start small, prove the concept and then scale up. And remember to revisit the “why” on a regular basis.
Toeing the line: Many organizations have created a culture that rewards maintaining convention and not rocking the boat. Be on the lookout for any indication that people who suggest doing things differently are regarded as trouble makers. Bringing forth new ideas and innovative thinking should be encouraged and valued.
The Ripple Effect
Benchmarking exercises are just the start. They provide the foundation for a path forward. They tell you where you are today so that you can plan where you want to go tomorrow. The key is what comes next. Change leaders can leverage benchmarking results and action plans to foster collaboration within their organization and uncover a network of change agents to take on more transformational change in the future.
Understanding that taking responsibility requires going beyond the realm of your control can be seen either as a daunting proposition or as an opportunity for exciting and fruitful collaboration. Champions of change fall in the fruitful camp, and I suggest we follow their lead.
Elisabeth Comere is the director of environment and government affairs at Tetra Pak. She joined the company in 2006 as environment manager for Europe, where she helped define and drive Tetra Pak’s environmental strategy and contributed shaping recycling for cartons in Europe. Since 2010, she has been based in the United States, focusing on advancing the Tetra Pak’s commitment to sustainability in the US and Canada and is involved in various industry and customer packaging and sustainability initiatives. Prior to this, she served as a political adviser to a member of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, and headed the environment department of the Food & Drink Industry group in Europe. She is currently a member of the board for the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment (AMERIPEN) and is vice president for Government Affairs for the Carton Council. Comere currently resides in the Chicago area. For further environmental insights from her, visit www.doingwhatsgood.us.
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