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Accidental to Purposeful Sustainability: Using What You Already Have to Grow Sustainability

cramer, mariaWith green considered the new gold, many corporations are looking to jump on the sustainability bandwagon. The issue is finding a way to make the programs effective and impactful. Employees, customers, vendors and corporate watchdogs are looking to determine whether the programs are meaningful or just lip service. The question becomes, “How do you create a sustainability program that is in line with corporate values, culture and meets the needs of employees and other constituents of the business?” There could be 50 ways to do it wrong and maybe two or three ways to do it right. One way to do it right is through a concept called “accidental to purposeful sustainability.”

“Accidental to purposeful sustainability” is based on understanding your business’s current cultural norms, the demographic make-up of employees, customers and vendors, and an analysis of what sustainability best practices already exist or have come about due to other corporate initiatives. The goal then is to use current trends and activities to shift the company, over time, to more sustainability best practices and then celebrate the successes along the way. This approach is a gradual push that allows employees to shift and change in a way that best appeals to their personal views of sustainability in a way that also helps the company.

Evaluating Current Practices

The first step toward making sustainability real is to understand your employees’ and customers’ attitudes toward conservation. By understanding the attitudes of your stakeholders you can begin to evaluate what activities will have the biggest return on investment and which activities will frankly be a waste of money. One way to approach this is through an old-fashion survey. A survey is a tried and true method to understand attitudes and opinions. You want to ask questions that not only get at office practices, but practices at home. You will want to consider questions like:

  • I seek out ways to conserve in all aspects of life
  • I only remember to conserve when reminded
  • I am proud to work for a company with a culture of sustainability

Another way of understanding current norms is to monitor efforts that are already in place, such as use of recycle bins and other company efforts. Just as our minds are trained to hit the brakes when we see a stop sign, many folks will unconsciously throw their paper, cans, and bottles into blue recycle bins or turn off the lights when the sign over the switch directs them to. If you put these practices in place or already have them, be sure you’re measuring the impact they have on waste reduction and electricity consumption.

Analyzing the Data

Once you have collected the qualitative and quantitative data, it’s time to analyze those trends. The data is important because the methods you use to move your organization toward a greener environment can cause an impact on the attitude of stakeholders in the organization. The more you can create initiatives that are in line with your organization, the higher the rapport, loyalty, and commitment will be to your initiatives. This analysis will give you an indication of three things:

  • How important a culture of sustainability is with your stakeholders
  • What methods are currently in place that you can capitalize on for a purposeful program
  • How overt you should be in integrating sustainability

Moving from Accidental to Purposeful

Armed with the analysis, it is time to develop a campaign. When implementing a campaign, it is important to remember you can’t change the hearts and minds of individuals in one fell swoop. Adapting behaviors is a personal choice that happens one employee and customer at a time. This requires a multi-faceted campaign. The campaign should include the following benefits:

  • Respect for environment – Your business is doing its part to better the community
  • Respect for the bottom line – Your business will save money by reducing the use of such things as consumables and natural resources
  • Respect for each other – Your business will build better relationships by finding ways to network and share through activities like ride sharing

When you focus on the different reasons that might resonate with individuals, people will feel personally compelled to change their behaviors. Then, group think kicks in and the outliers either get on board or eventually may choose to work somewhere that better fits their personal value system.

What you end up with over time is a purposeful sustainability program that capitalizes on your current culture: those things you are already doing by “accident.” It becomes a program that individuals can get behind and embrace because they have had input and feel a personal connection with the initiatives. A natural byproduct of this process is that leaders in the organization demonstrate they are in touch with the culture and customers. By moving from “accident” to “on purpose,” a company can build a loyal employee and customer base dedicated to making the environment a better place, all while sustaining profitability and keeping valued employees.

Maria Cramer is a director in the Organization Transformation Solutions practice at Hitachi Consulting.  She has more than 10 years of change management experience with a specific focus in communications, change readiness and leadership development related to system and process implementations, and is responsible for managing the organizational change practice in the Dallas region.  She can be reached at mcramer@hitachiconsulting.com.

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4 thoughts on “Accidental to Purposeful Sustainability: Using What You Already Have to Grow Sustainability

  1. I was following the logic your article but after reading it a few times I realized that with this approach the best you can hope for is to ‘capitalize on the current culture’ and what they most feel comfortable doing for a purposeful sustainability program. My issue is that we cannot be satisfied with ‘what is comfortable,’ we must be changing our behaviors significantly.

    Last year, experts determined that we have about 10 years to effectively turn things around. A ‘comfortable approach’, I fear, will not result in a significant lasting impact.

    In Al Gore’s newest book, he quotes an Indian proverb,’If you want to fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ We must go far quickly.

    Respectfully,
    John Bergdoll
    Twitter @JohnBergdoll

  2. I was just assigned as a Sustainability Officer in my company and have been charged with instituting a program like you describe. Unlike the enviro-crazy approach that Mr. Bergdoll fails to describe, I think your recommended process is logical, pragmatic and more likely to succeed in a corporate environment. I feel better prepared to take on this task now, thanks.

  3. I appreciate the infusion of internal and external customer behavior and attitudes into your concept of “accidental to purposeful” sustainability. If we are to engage people in meaningful ways, we have to understand how they think and feel, and meet them where they are currently. That said, given the urgency of the current situation, employee and customer engagement must be complemented with robust sustainability leadership at the top, infused throughout all management, marketing, communications, and operational activities.

  4. One way that companies can look at their existing operations to find opportunities for meaningful environmental efforts is by seeking out either more sustainable materials coming into their supply chain, and/or by reducing waste coming out of their supply chain. Not all companies are even cognizant of the true impact of their supply chains, but when you break it down and really think about where all of the materials your company uses comes from, it really adds up. Particularly for companies in manufacturing or companies with more significant waste streams, services like http://www.recyclematch.com can help find sources or solutions that lower costs and environmental impact.

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