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Leveraging Internal Energy to Achieve Sustainability Success

As organizations are implementing environmental management or sustainability programs, results are mixed. Programs that are viewed as successes may be leaving quite a bit of opportunity on the table. Often, sustainability programs are seen as a bolt-on solution aimed to achieve specific marketing, operational or mitigation results. Along with their programs, sustainability professionals can struggle with an undefined sense of organizational belonging.  Sustainability professionals may find that the necessary resources to build an integrated and successful enterprise sustainability program already exist at their company or institution. Leveraging internal talent is one of the keys to driving sustainability programs that are tied closely to strategic business objectives.

Sustainability programs cannot succeed without an engaged workforce invested in a unified vision. One of the best ways to engage employees is to employ them in the effort, but this can only be successful if a systematic approach is taken. As a first step, corporate sustainability professionals need to take inventory of the resources available within the organization. Are there individuals or groups who can provide value with their experience or expertise? An architecture/engineering firm can tap the expertise of its architects and engineers to help with green building tactics, while a law firm can access the knowledge of its environmental lawyers to understand how various legislation might affect its sustainability plan.

As one case study, SAIC is a leading provider of scientific, engineering, systems integration and technical services and solutions, and its corporate environmental sustainability program, ecoaction@saic, has leveraged the broad expertise of its energy and environmental-focused employees. For instance, SAIC’s engineers performed energy audits to identify hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy savings opportunities.

Corporate sustainability professionals should seek out the sustainability touch points in their business offerings. Some employees may be skeptical of the validity of environmental action as a business imperative. When communicating enterprise sustainability initiatives and goals, it is very important to stick to the business case: cost reductions, supporting strategic initiatives and aligning with customer values. Avoid making it a moral imperative, or risk losing the interest of a portion of employees.

Continuing the SAIC example, energy and environment solutions are seen as strategic growth opportunities for the company, so ecoaction@saic supports the overall corporate initiative. Through the use of employee expertise, the company has seen valuable cost reductions while providing a strong performance model of sustainable solutions. Innovative energy procurement, conducted through an auction offered by SAIC’s Energy Solutions Team, yielded more than $280,000 in annual rate reduction while purchasing 10 percent renewable energy in select SAIC facilities in Maryland and Ohio. Additionally, SAIC has installed its proprietary Enterprise Energy Dashboard to monitor and effectively manage real-time energy consumption.

Corporate sustainability professionals should recognize that while engaging employees in internal sustainability programs is beneficial, it must come with a balance. Line functions will likely need to focus on revenue-generating activities, so finding the time to work on internal projects may be difficult. Balancing expectations and weighing the necessity to demonstrate business solutions is a key lesson to leveraging internal talent.

However, the results of employees engaged in sustainability programs do not always need to be focused internally. Corporate sustainability professionals should consider the overarching goals of the enterprise and how the sustainability program may come in to play both for internal objectives and external opportunities. For example, while researching enterprise energy and carbon software platforms for internal application, SAIC’s sustainable solutions business identified a product that not only suited the corporation’s data management and reporting requirements, but also represented a significant strategic business relationship for integrated go-to-market solutions. Software implementation provided the line an opportunity to integrate enterprise data, monitoring capabilities, and energy solutions that contribute to internal sustainability management while demonstrating capabilities to potential customers.

To fully engage line functions, which may traditionally be thought of as disconnected from sustainability solutions, sustainability professionals will need to understand customers’ environmental objectives. For example, SAIC’s cybersecurity organization has seen increasing requests for information about SAIC’s corporate environmental policies and mitigation efforts, as part of customer initiatives to green their supply chain. Moving forward, these supplier questionnaires will become the norm, and the companies that provide the best answers will benefit. Line functions that traditionally support mission-critical projects may need to understand the implications of energy, waste and water as part of their proposed solution. Competitive advantage may come to those who recognize the intersection of environmental impacts and mission-critical support. To succeed, corporate sustainability professionals should train employees on the business drivers of sustainability, equip them with resources to answer customer requests and recognize when sustainable solutions should be applied.

Motivating employees to green their workplace behavior is typically the focus of employee engagement efforts, and internal sustainability efforts will not succeed without this commitment. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Involving employees in the execution of the corporate sustainability plan is the true win in employee engagement. Establishing working relationships with line functions, management and individual employees ensure that sustainability remains visible and central to the momentum of an organization. Make the connection between employee engagement, environmental goals and business objectives; the overlap will provide the foundation for a strong program and continued progress toward a sustainable enterprise.

As sustainability program lead, Nick LiVigne manages SAIC’s corporate environmental sustainability program, ecoaction@saic. LiVigne facilitates the company’s senior-level Sustainability Working Group that frames the strategic direction of the program and strives to improve SAIC’s environmental performance. Management of SAIC’s key environmental metrics, including greenhouse gas, energy, waste, water and transportation, gives LiVigne the knowledge to make measured progress on the company’s journey towards sustainability. By leveraging the broad capabilities of SAIC, LiVigne has created an integrated approach that improves environmental impact, cuts operational costs and provides a demonstration platform for SAIC’s sustainable solutions.

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