It’s a week past Earth Day, however, the focus on climate action and sustainability shouldn’t be limited to 24 hours. Especially given the financial and reputational dividends related programs can deliver.
The struggle for many organizations, large and small, is figuring out where to start. Fortunately, the answer doesn’t require hours upon hours of planning and implementation, or a significant outlay. It can be as simple as looking around the office. What changes can be made to help the environment? How can employees get involved to support greener practices and, in turn, help the company’s bottom line?
Here are three tips for kick starting a successful sustainability program. And they all revolve around one foundational element — a corporate Green Team.
Tip 1: Assemble!
Start a Green Team program by recruiting a group of passionate individuals who represent multiple aspects of the value chain within the company.
- Create a plan. Focus on projects that will have an immediate and measurable impact. Efforts that address local issues tend to elicit the greatest engagement and productivity. For organizations with a global footprint, create small, regional teams that can mobilize around needs specific to their communities. In parallel, establish a broader, overarching team to define and support company-wide initiatives.
- Make changes based on internal operations. Have Green Team members focus on their own day-to-day experiences, and make behavioral changes that will affect and advance the bigger picture.
- Have each member of the Green Team position themselves as internal advocates of the company’s goals and report back up the chain to increase transparency and executive level buy-in, which is critical to the success of a sustainability program (more on this to come).
- Make sure to include accounting and legal teams. As the team prospers and grows so too will the visibility and importance of their initiatives, which could lead to some big-time projects that require legal and financial approval.
- Bonus tip: Looking for a fun activity to broaden the reach of the team? Start a Green Team Treasure Hunt, for example. Within facilities, have the Green Team incentivize employees to identify low-hanging sustainability and energy-efficiency fruit. Identifying a leak here, lighting issues there or maybe something that can be recycled that was previously thrown in the waste bin could potentially provide huge savings for not only the environment, but also the company.
Tip 2: Get C-Level Buy-In
Don’t leave out executives when trekking down the path to a more sustainable future.
- Educate senior executives on initiatives the Green Team wants to implement. Bringing awareness and knowledge to issues that need change — and the value that change can deliver — will greatly boost their desire to support, participate and potentially offer additional funding.
- Keep executives’ reports in the know as well. When they see leadership engagement, they’ll offer their time and attention in turn.
- Bonus tip: Identify vice president-level or above as key project endorsers to create a critical mass in support of the Green Team. Include them throughout the team journey, and enlist their help in making a business case and supporting internal analysis.
Tip 3: Measure to Manage
The phrase is a bit cliché, but the need to track and measure is an imperative. All types of data, such as energy and water use, and waste output, can be quantified to show savings, both bottom line and greenhouse gas related. Without tracking data, businesses cannot prove the results of their sustainability efforts. Establish goals and a baseline to start, and track performance against key metrics year after year.
- Measurement doesn’t have to be onerous; it can be a practice that builds and becomes more sophisticated over time. Begin with an analysis of energy use and reduction in a facility with a Green Team, for example, and expand from there.
- Data is a great motivator. If employees see that their contributions are making a difference, studies show that their contributions will increase, boosting the return on investment with no additional time or effort. .Tracking and measuring data provides visibility of performance over time that can be communicated to employees, which in turn drives their contributions to find ways to do more with less.
- Tracking and reporting helps teams and executives effectively balance short-term goals and investments while also driving a vision and strategy to evolve with future environmental and social conditions.
- Bonus tip: Use a reporting platform to track data. ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager and CDP are a couple good reporting platforms that can help not only track company data but also benchmark companies against others in their industry.
Sustainability programs can significantly impact profitability. Check out this case study from the U.S. Department of Energy on how the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Lean Green Teams were able to save more than $41 million in one fiscal year through low- and no-cost initiatives. The teams also recycled more than 215,000 tons of material, saving $14 million in landfill fees and generating $24 million in new revenue.
The massive savings the USPS achieved is a testament to what other organizations stand to gain. And the success is largely owed to the Green Team concept. Activate and empower a team today, and a more sustainable, profitable enterprise could be tomorrow’s reality. Not only tomorrow, but for years and years to come.