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Raising the Level of Sustainability: Stakeholder Alignment and Cultural Change

One of the major challenges in making a sustainability program truly sustainable is stakeholder engagement, both internal and external. As public and employee expectations rise for greener operations and services, organizations face new opportunities and risks.  Green workplaces consistently rank higher in productivity and employee engagement, and are able to reinforce customer loyalty and partner support, according to studies by Carnegie Mellon, UC Berkeley, University of Michigan. Yet a disconnect between green pronouncements and legitimate action can waste valuable resources and credibility among staff and in the marketplace.

Deloitte’s Office Greening
Deloitte has actively engaged more than 27,000 employees in a national Office Greening program, and implemented more than 2,000 projects. Successes at selected offices included a reduction in paper purchases, lowered datacenter power use, and reductions in travel. In implementing the program, Deloitte effectively followed the GreenSync principles to encourage and reinforce meaningful behavior change throughout the organization.

A critical element of success is to recognize that behavior change lies at the heart of long-term sustainability.  To instill lasting change is rarely easy, but a concrete framework of action, communication and reward will likely reinforce needed improvements, inside and outside the organization.  What would be beneficial is an integrated change management program that builds on core business operations, sets achievable metrics at the outset, and involves stakeholders in both planning and reporting.  Deloitte Consulting has engaged over 27,000 people in our own Office Greening program (see inset) and the results are encouraging.

In our experience, meaningful behavior change is more likely to occur when people are both enlisted in the solution and when they know their performance is being measured.  Yet how does one align strategy and stakeholders in a way that truly positions the organization for the long term?  Among other considerations, we believe sustainability initiatives should generally reflect, six specific  principles.

1.     Be honest: set realistic goals, and be transparent in communicating how good a job you are doing at hitting them.

2.     Connect to the core business: businesses typically do not just tackle sustainability because they can. There needs to be a compelling business case to do so.

3.     Empower and incent grassroots efforts through opt-in programs: top-down only goes so far. Line employees ultimately drive sustainability efforts and will likely determine success with implementation.

4.     Track changes: there must be a mechanism and specific metrics in place to track changes as they occur.

5.     Celebrate wins while keeping an eye on what still needs to be done: highlighting wins keeps momentum going, and keeps the organization excited about what still needs to be achieved.

6.     Practice what you preach: leadership and the actions of the organization must align with the initiative.

Effective engagement helps amplify the impact of a company’s sustainability efforts – from talent attraction and retention to raising the organization’s customer and investor profile – and sets the stage for putting these principles into practice. A framework for stakeholder engagement can be applied to internal and external candidates.

First, the organization begins by defining a clear vision and goals that are realistic, connected to the core business, and have full leadership support. Where, for example, will the organization focus its efforts?  Cut GHG emissions, lower fuel consumption, or shift the supply chain to increase green content? Once goals are established, then the organization is able to define distinct initiatives or projects that will drive the sustainability vision going forward.

With these initiatives defined, the organization is able to move to the second phase by assigning organizational role and responsibilities and defining metrics.  At the organizational level, it is important to identify stakeholders who are associated with each initiative and engage them in driving and developing meaningful projects going forward.  Stakeholders should be actively involved in establishing realistic and measurable metrics as part of a concrete plan for implementation.  We have found that a straight-forward diagnostic tool or survey can support both efforts.  If properly implemented, the diagnostic will help to gauge staff readiness for implementation, identify where program resources can be maximized, and set a realistic baseline to measure future progress.  The result is an organizational roadmap that clarifies stakeholder roles and targets.

In phase three, the organization implements the planned initiatives focused on the five categories we have found to be the most important to successful sustainability efforts (reflected in the outer circle of the wheel).

  • Stakeholder alignment – identify, include, and support critical stakeholders
  • Learning – drive employee understanding of the changes needed and create opportunities to learn the new behaviors required
  • Rewards – encourage sustained behavior by integrating rewards, recognition and incentives  into employee performance evaluation and support
  • Culture – transform organizational culture from one where sustainability is a new idea to one where it is the norm
  • Communications and branding – develop initiatives that are clearly defined and branded, and which also help ensure that both progress and feedback are clearly communicated

When implementing any large-scale initiative, organizations must recognize the long-term behavioral change that must occur for sustained success.  At the same time, the key to success is an integrated approach that combines targeted learning, communications and rewards to effect behavior.  As one example, Deloitte assisted a large US government agency in their efforts to simultaneously deploy strategy and create a culture that actively engages personnel in critical sustainability initiatives.  Here, Deloitte advised the client on multiple aspects of this undertaking, from goal setting and project definition to stakeholder alignment, communications and performance-based recognition.  The result has been an evolving culture shift that reinforces sustainability behavior throughout the agency.  By aligning stakeholders with strategy, targeting key behaviors, and enabling change, organizations are better able to build momentum for ‘sustained sustainability.’  In this way, leadership, management and staff are involved in the design and implementation of meaningful change that will better position green initiatives for the long term.

Jessica L. Bier is a director with Deloitte Consulting LLP and serves as Deloitte’s Human Capital for Sustainability leader. James Hacker is an analyst with Deloitte Consulting LLP.

As used in this document, “Deloitte” means Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries. Please see www.deloitte.com/us/about for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries.

This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor. Deloitte shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this publication.

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2 thoughts on “Raising the Level of Sustainability: Stakeholder Alignment and Cultural Change

  1. Jessica and James

    Excellent and well-written article.

    You are right on with your comments regarding alignment between stated vision/mission and behaviors practiced within an organization.

    Alignment is crucial.

    Where I see many organizations falling short in their commitment to creating a sustainable planet is by continuing to buy the least expensive office supplies, particularly paper.

    These usually foreign-produced, supposedly “green” office products, impose a huge ecological footprint associated with the thousands of miles traveled to get here. Not to mention that no recognized third-party is verifying their environmental claims.

    When no accounting is kept that calculates the cost of continued natural resource decline, loss of water and air quality, and extinction of fellow species, it is easy to buy those cheap foreign goods.

    At Dolphin Blue, we support the values of organizations and individuals that share the belief that in order to be truly sustainable, we must see beyond the transaction invoice.

  2. Jessica and James, real nice post.

    I totally agree that a critical element of success is to recognize that behavior change lies at the heart of long-term sustainability. As I see it, to adopt sustainable practices, companies have to not only redefine their unsustainable practices, but also connect it to their business strategy.

    As presented, such behavioural changes may transform organizational culture from one where sustainability is a new idea to one where it is the norm.

    I agree that companies have to adapt their culture in order to actively engage personnel in critical sustainability initiatives. However, as I see it, norms should not be implemented to define sustainability practices. For me, norm has a negative connotation.

    When defined in a corporate environment, norms are usually perceived by employees as a formal rule against which individual’s behaviour is judged according to what was defined, as right or wrong by the “regulator”.

    As I see it, sustainable practices should be defined by ethical principles and not according to a norm. Otherwise, employees can not be rewarded for their sustainable initiative if their simple complying with a norm. Sustainability must continue to be perceived as a new idea and a source innovation in business practices.

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