The extent to which organizations embrace sustainability varies widely. Corporate sustainability programs are instituted for a variety of reasons including implementing cost cutting measures, for brand management, or when making an effort to consider the environment and the community affected by an organization’s operations. Some companies have embarked on the journey to reduce their environmental impact by integrating the totality of their operations while simultaneously continuing to innovate. Still others are not able to institute sustainability beyond the simplest of measures.
But, the fact that an organization may not be capable of implementing a comprehensive corporate sustainability program doesn’t mean that it cannot start slowly and build from there. The decision to integrate sustainability in an organization does not have to be an all or nothing proposition. Incremental adoption of sustainability measures is an easy way to start your sustainability program. This is achieved through a series of pilots that will test your sustainability initiatives and demonstrate their value to your organization. Wherever you are on the sustainability spectrum, piloting sustainability is a prudent and proactive method for learning what you want in a sustainability program. And a pilot can be devised for just about any measure that will help your organization become a more sustainable operation. Electric vehicle charging stations? Reducing product packaging? Sealing air conditioning ducts to eliminate leakage and reduce energy waste? Implementing a green product procurement strategy? You get the idea. But, you will want to get organized and set up a road map.
First, it is important to define a vision and strategy for your organization’s sustainability agenda. Bear in mind that the scope can be adjusted over time. As with any successful and well-crafted corporate program, input from a wide range of stakeholders is needed. The goal and vision of a corporate sustainability program should be developed in conjunction with key stakeholders. Incorporating their input and “buy-in” from the start will strengthen commitment and ownership, which are an essential part of the success of a program.
Strategy will determine a list of “low-hanging fruits” or priorities. These are projects which, when implemented, yield the most obvious and quick results. They are typically associated with cost savings measures such as lowering energy or water consumption. Near term achievable successes are key to gaining momentum in the organization and transforming its culture.
Secondly, the development of metrics is important for establishing baselines, benchmarks, and for monitoring progress over time. You will need to establish a baseline to determine where the organization stands in terms of its environmental impact. Assess, at a minimum, one year of utility bills and usage data. Utilizing data from multiple years will allow you to determine trends and will assist at prioritizing measures. If you do not have data available, start measuring present usage or consumption. Key performance indicators will also allow you to quickly recalibrate your strategies regarding particular initiatives.
Most organizations start with energy efficiency, water conservation and waste reduction measures. These projects can be easily quantified and successfully carried out to get a program started. Also, utilities often support these measures through rebates. Partnering with utilities and vendors allows your organization to capture incentives and take advantage of financing options that can help you reduce the need to front-fund your project. Many vendors willingly work on pilots, invest their time and energy, and even provide sample products for testing and prove their value. As more and more technologies become available, it is important to both the vendor and the customer to understand how they work and how they pay for themselves.
Piloting sustainability allows you to test products and their performance. You can measure results in a limited environment and make adjustments to achieve success. Make sure you share this information and keep everyone involved in the loop. As you develop your program, the results and data collected will drive the continued expansion of your corporate sustainability program and support of your entire organization.
Adrian Tylim is a sustainability specialist with All Energy Matters, focusing on developing corporate sustainability programs for large organizations. He also teaches Sustainability as Adjunct Professor at California Lutheran University’s Sustainable Business MBA Program and at UCLA Extension.