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Metrics, Compensation and Culture in Corporate Sustainability

Sustainability professionals need more than passion and great ideas – they must be experts in all aspects of business operations. A successful change agent understands what drives each department within an organization and what issues are important to individual decision makers. When ideas are framed within the context of each department’s goals (e.g. financial, health and safety, brand enhancement), sustainability professionals can make those around them shine, thus increasing support for their initiatives. Finding allies and achieving sustainability goals becomes much easier when people in all departments can easily answer the question, “Why is sustainability good for me?”

Better Clarity in the Vision

But let’s be real – framing all ideas within the context of the goals of each individual department in an organization is a daunting task and certainly not a long term solution. The metrics of corporate sustainability must change and move beyond traditional revenues and margins. We need to better define sustainability in a holistic way that goes beyond simply reducing waste, water and energy and we must define metrics to support our vision. Corporate sustainability measures must be broadened to include improvements in labour practices, reductions in supply chain toxicity, protection of biodiversity and innovation that leads to cradle-to-cradle solutions.

Grease the Wheels

With this new definition in place and supported in tangible ways by senior leadership, the next step is obvious. Grease the wheels by providing clear signals that reward individuals when they take strides towards making the organization more sustainable. Employees must know with absolute certainty that finding and implementing greater sustainability in their particular job will benefit them directly in terms of compensation and/or the opportunity to be recognized and promoted within the organization. When compensation and vision are clearly aligned, the more intangible benefits of sustainability will emerge; the organization will become more creative and innovative in the way that it conducts business. Connect the dots and you’ll find greater profitability.

It’s the People

There will be little time to rest; competitors will be watching and will quickly copy what they see. But it won’t matter, because the real benefits to the organization are with the social capital that is being developed internally – a culture of innovation. While your competitors are copying your last idea, with no “first to market” PR benefits, your organization will be well on its way to the next innovation.

Corporate leaders who truly understand the changing economy recognize that there is little need to be possessive of proprietary information that could easily be duplicated by competitors, because true value now lies in a far more elusive commodity, an innovative and engaged workforce. This idea is clearly expressed by Charlie Eitel of Interface, “We’ll give our competitors our whole playbook – but they can’t execute it! I’ll tell you every play I’m going to run against you but you can’t beat me! Do you know why? You don’t have my people; you don’t have my process; you don’t have my discipline; and you don’t have my culture!” (The Natural Step for Business, Natrass and Altomare, 1999).

Brad Zarnett is the Founder and Director of Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series (TSSS).

The next TSSS event will be April 4, 2012:Moving Beyond Waste, Water, Energy. At the event, Dr. Blair Feltmate, Director of Sustainability Practice, University of Waterloo, will explore this idea as he presents cutting edge research that will soon become the standard used by progressive companies to set goals and drive new behaviors towards greater sustainable performance.

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