In my last article, I outlined the environmental mission statements and policies of nine hotel companies. It was interesting to compare how these organizations chose to define their relationship with the Earth. All companies understood that operating their properties has significant affects on the natural world. Most discussed how they plan to protect the Earth. Several listed goals they have developed in order to minimize their impact. A handful provided clear tools they will utilize to achieve these goals. While the interest in environmental sustainability these companies have shown through their policies is very important, I believe focused environmental mission statements are much more effective than general statements of how a company interacts with our planet.
The number one hurdle many organizations face when looking to bring sustainability into their company is the same obstacle that slows down many new initiatives: Executives have a difficult time defining a road map. They do not know how to begin the process of making the products and services they provide more environmentally sustainable. This is where a strong environmental mission statement is crucial.
An environmental mission statement is the sum of three parts: Why + Goal + Success
- Why is this topic important to us? We believe …
- What is our end goal? We want to …
- How is success measured? We envision a world ….
Taken separately, these three questions are powerful enough to spark conversation and suggest that change is in the air. When grouped together, they can light a “green” torch that will illuminate the best path forward.
Why is this topic important to us? The reasons are almost infinite. There may be an operational problem that needs to be solved. Stakeholders may have become restless about the status quo and are demanding change. Incentives may have been put in place by the government. Maybe other major players in the industry are already starting to move toward sustainability and you do not want to be left behind.
Whatever the reason, you have to be honest with yourself about why you are ready to go “green.” Very often a variety of factors are at play. Each and every one of these should be documented and vetted. Together they will enable you to figure out what is important to your organization. Understanding the reasons behind the change allows you to move with confidence and passion.
An example of a response to “Why is this topic important to us?” may be : “We believe developing environmentally sustainable business practices is a vital step toward decreasing our company’s carbon footprint, increasingly its competitive advantage, and preparing for inevitable government regulations. ”
What is our end goal? I believe that given the choice, all business leaders would elect to run their operations as cleanly and efficiently as possible. How does that look in your business? Will your products be produced with 100% recycled material? Will travel be replaced by virtual meetings? Can your people work remotely 85% of the time?
These seemingly basic questions create an outline for what needs to be done to meet your sustainability goals. Even within the same industry, hospitality for example, a hotel’s path to “green” differs from an airline’s, which differs from a travel agency’s, which is not the same as a cruise line’s course to environmental sustainability. Looking at the ways in which your business negatively impacts the Earth and defining all the areas in which you need to change will help bring your road map into focus. Keep in mind, your environmental mission statement should evolve as your company and our world move ahead. Consider it progress when you have to edit your statement because you have accomplished your goals.
An example of a response to “What is our end goal?” may be: “We are working to assess the full extent to which our products and services touch the natural world. We will finish this process by August 1st, 2010 and use the findings to develop a strategic green vision to be launched in January 2011.”
Be bold when developing your goals. This is a time for action.
How is success measured? Close your eyes to block out distractions and imagine the possibilities. Current research now shows that daydreaming is proving to be another effective method for developing creative ideas. So, choose your means and imagine your successful end.
Envision your customers, your employees, your office, and your suppliers. What are they doing in five or ten years? How about in 15 or 20 years? See if you can conjure an image beyond today’s technology. How are your goods and services packaged, distributed, sold, used, and recycled? Who purchases them and why? Do not worry if your vision seems a bit out of reach. Your enthusiasm and leadership regarding an inspired goal will rally your employees to find creative ways to make it a reality.
An example of a response to “How is success measured?” may be: “We are striving to revolutionize our industry and change our world. We envision products that honor the materials from which they are made and inspire those who use them. They can be recycled by simply leaving them out in the rain. They can last for a lifetime if stored in a cool, dry, and sacred place.”
Some will say that having goals is too specific for an environmental mission statement and should be reserved for an annual environmental report. I disagree. Placing all of one’s efforts into an annual report can lead to an environmental policy that is too generic, such as, “We will ensure that our products are safe for the Earth and its people.” Annual reports are incredibly important and should discuss the story behind developing, pursuing, and achieving your goals.
Mission statements are made to inspire action. Without clearly stating why you are seeking change, defining your goals, and how to measure their success, an environmental mission statement does not live up to its potential.
Matt Courtland is a Senior Consultant at The Natural Strategy, a consulting firm based in Portsmouth, NH that works with business leaders to incorporate environmental sustainability into the core strategy of their organizations. Matt uses The Natural Strategy’s Eco-Position Survey to assess the current relationship a business has with the environment and to understand its future sustainability goals. He then guides leaders through developing an environmental mission statement, creating a strategic plan that will carry out the sustainability objectives of the company, and educating employees on how to be “green” in the workplace.