As sustainability leaders, we receive numerous requests to join or support environmental organizations. From green building committees to wildlife groups, many sustainability-focused organizations regularly vie for our money and support. Further, these groups meet throughout the country, requiring members to travel long distances to attend meetings and events. While most of these organizations have worthwhile missions and we find benefit from participation, we do not have the time or the money to participate in them all.
However, we can receive many of the same benefits of national organizations through local sustainability groups. We have found this to be true through the development of the Greater Cincinnati Green Business Council. Whether you live in an urban or rural location, you can easily develop a sustainability council that aligns with the sustainability needs of your respective business while helping reduce costs and promote sustainability within your local area with just a few simple steps.
Step One: Assess Relevant Organizations and Potential Partners. To develop worthwhile alliances, it’s important to first assess the landscape and seek out the different types of organizations available. In our quest to find a worthwhile green alliance, we first met with other sustainability directors of local businesses to find out the types of committees, clubs and associations in which they participated. We toured these businesses to identify the types of programs they had in place. We asked what local organizations and groups they participated in and found to be the most impactful. We found that many businesses worked on a national level with sustainability groups, but very few engaged with other sustainability leaders on a local level.
Step Two: Gather Key Stakeholders and Launch the Group. Once you have determined the need for a local green business group that aligns with your sustainability and business objectives, the next step is to invite a select number of targeted partners or members to join. This should include sustainability leaders representing a cross section of businesses in the area. In the invitation, identify that the goal of the group is to come together with the purpose of sharing best practices and collaborating on projects with the goal of driving change locally. Hold the initial meeting at your business or a neutral location, like a nearby Arboretum or Nature Center.
Step Three: Set an Agenda and Guidelines. The most important part of establishing a meaningful coalition is to refine its scope at the outset. The organization should not be so big in size or focus that it becomes unmanageable and does not achieve the original objectives. By starting with a select few organizations and ensuring slow growth, you can more easily chart the course of the group without compromising long-term goals.
For example, with the development of the Greater Cincinnati Green Business Council, we first established who we wanted to be as a group. We collectively decided to make the focus of our group about best practices that would benefit our organizations with a long term goal of pooling resources to drive down costs. In our mission statement, we incorporated the language of “employers” as opposed to using “companies” because we wanted to keep it open to educational facilities and universities that might want to participate in the future.
In addition, we determined that our membership would be extended to other types of businesses in the greater Cincinnati area that are looking to decrease costs, waste and generate revenue through their sustainability initiatives. We also asked that the representative have significant or primary responsibility for sustainability efforts at their company.
Step Four: Make It Meaningful. Each stakeholder will have their own agenda, so the first meeting is an ideal opportunity to define the objective for each participant as it relates to the overall objectives of the group. On an ongoing basis, the structure of each meeting should allow time for each participant to update the group on some of his or her own sustainability initiatives. Understanding the activities and objectives for all of the participants will help define the resources available to the group along with educational topics for future meetings.
Within the Greater Cincinnati Green Business Council, we have identified a few key issues that we’d like to explore. For example, each company has an issue with food waste. In subsequent meetings, we will work toward identifying ways we can collaborate and drive down composting costs. We have also decided as a group that we want to make the council a sounding board for our initiatives rather than an opportunity for someone to come in and try and sell us something.
Step Five: Establish a Vehicle for Follow-Up. After the meeting, provide members with forums to continue the dialogue outside the group. Emails and LinkedIn groups are effective ways to keep in touch and stimulate discussion amongst members. In addition, providing everyone with a copy of minutes at the conclusion of the meeting offers a useful recap of activity and relevant action items.
While there are a lot of valuable “green” organizations available throughout the world, sustainability officers find it challenging to dedicate time to all of them while keeping the sustainability momentum strong within their organizations. Providing a local forum for peers to meet, explore ideas and identify best practices for business not only improves the way business is done on a local level, it’s an effective strategy for stimulating meaningful dialogue that can move your business forward.
Pamela Coleman is Senior Director of Supplier Diversity and Sustainability at Cintas Corporation. Headquartered in Cincinnati, OH, Cintas Corporation provides highly specialized services to businesses of all types throughout the world. Cintas operates more than 430 facilities in North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia, including six manufacturing plants and eight distribution centers. For more information, please visit www.cintas.com.