Credit: Tan Kian Khoon
For businesses of all kinds, a new element has been added to the increasingly competitive race to streamline operations and minimize costs while growing a customer base: sustainability. Small businesses and large corporations alike are looking to meet green standards with the hopes of expanding their markets and improving their relationships with existing customers.
“Corporate Sustainability Management: Best Practices,” a white paper by Tucson, Ariz.–based Yudelson Associates, discusses five steps that organizations can take to establish their own sustainability programs. According to co-author Jerry Yudelson, a green building consultant and a principal with Yudelson Associates, sustainability is a defining characteristic of the corporate world’s future. To be a part of it, he says, companies large and small should begin the process now. “You’ve got to run to where the ball is headed, not to where it is right now,” he says. “How can you get ahead of the curve and build a sustainable enterprise?”
Yudelson suggests a series of steps to develop a company’s sustainability mission and message.
Step One: Visualize
Imagine a sustainable version of your company. Figure out in what areas your organization excels and then align those with the increasing consumer demand for sustainability. This will help your business become more competitive.
Step Two: Assemble
Strong leadership and a dynamic internal task force are essential to achieving sustainability goals. Yudelson advises selecting individuals from multiple areas of the company to form this task force. This ensures the ideas discussed and implemented are in the best interest of the entire organization. “It really takes very strong leadership in a company to make things happen,” Yudelson says. “So the number one thing is executive leadership and a very strong focus on internal corporate leadership.”
According to the white paper, that leadership increasingly includes naming a chief sustainability officer, or CSO. This is someone on the executive team of larger corporations who is responsible for tracking the organization’s sustainability performance. Similar measures can be adopted by smaller businesses.
Step Three: Measure
It is important to use the right tools to measure your environmental impact. Viable accounting tools can be developed in-house or drawn from existing resources. Using any of these, you can reduce your business’s footprint in areas such as greenhouse-gas emissions, energy use, waste generation, and water use.
Today, profit is not a business’s only bottom line. Using sustainability-measurement tools can help a business develop its environmental impact standards and determine the success of its sustainability program based on how it compares with these criteria.
Step Four: Implementation
To emphasize your company’s commitment to sustainability, the first thing you should do is green your supply chain, Yudelson writes. Look to attain green certifications, picking well-supported, viable programs that provide results from independent, third-party sources. Yudelson recommends looking to the Global Ecolabelling Network in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, to find green-labeling and certification programs or to attain certification based on the criteria of the Washington D.C.–based U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance, or LEED EBOM, rating system.
Step Five: Communicate Results
Becoming a sustainable organization requires communication with both internal and external shareholders. Annual sustainability reports can be used to help achieve this, the paper notes. Exterior networks exist to provide a framework and the standards for sustainability reporting.
A company also stands to benefit financially from the new measures, both internally and with regard to its day-to-day business practices. Yudelson explains that many of his company’s clients who modified their practices to make themselves more sustainable ultimately regained the money they invested within the first two years.
What This Means
Corporations in the process of setting sustainability goals need to quantify their progress. It’s impossible to manage what you can’t measure, so companies need to outline their sustainability plans and figure out within the organization how it’s going to be done. It is then vital to articulate those efforts to customers and clients.
In the paper, Yudelson cites Atlanta-based Interface, a manufacturer of modular carpet for commercial and residential applications. The company is nearly 17 years into its corporate sustainability program, Mission Zero. Interface is consistently reviewing its strategy, which utilizes systems thinking and life-cycle analysis, and is analyzing its progress in an effort to better direct its objectives and to effectively reach the plan’s conclusion in 2020. The company’s plan includes a seven-step framework, dubbed “The Seven Fronts.” The outline graduates from the first level, “Eliminate Waste,” passing through “Benign Emissions,” “Renewable Energy,” “Closing the Loop,” “Resource Efficient Transportation,” and “Sensitizing Stakeholders,” before finishing with “Redesign Commerce.” This final step deals with rethinking the model of how products are purchased and delivered.
“It’s easy to quantify the activities that reduce environmental footprint—things like waste, energy, and emissions,” says Erin Meezan, vice president of sustainability for Interface. “It’s harder to quantify the cultural change, but it’s there.” Going forward, Meezan says Interface will have to maintain the sustainability focus of its corporate culture while dealing with a few technical issues that, if solved, would put them closer to satisfying their objectives.One way to ensure success is to
ave the entire corporation on board with sustainability goals. It is helpful to create the dynamic corporate culture that Meezan references. If a company educates its employees about what sustainability means to its business, what it means to the environment, and what it means to the community, it is easier to get the type of employee buy-in needed.
Overall, Interface’s Mission Zero has proven effective and good for business. “There are a bunch of intangible benefits that can’t be easily measured but are a positive for the business,” Meezan says. “The reputation as a sustainability leader has given us loyalty from consumers. The goodwill of the marketplace gets us sales.”
Building Green Relationships
Corporate commitment to sustainability has been felt across the board, including in the construction industry. As Yudelson explains, it is something that can be utilized to bond corporations to customers and vice-versa.
Part of his plan includes communicating results by attaining certification, such as the USGBC’s LEED EBOM, to help build a green-focused relationship with customers. “The effort alone starts to teach you a lot about how sustainable practices look and what your customers are talking about when they ask you to do these things,” Yudelson says. Construction is a major resource consumer, and he encourages contractors to green their own facilities to make a positive impression on customers.
Many construction firms have focused on training their employees and bringing more LEED Green Associates or LEED Accredited Professionals to the table at the behest of their clients. Today, more customers and clients are looking for ways to have measurable success with sustainability, and programs like LEED help to facilitate that.
Attaining a third-party certification also helps eliminate the suspicion of false or exaggerated claims of sustainability. Making general statements about being green can only get a company so far because consumers have become much more savvy about sustainability issues and are on the lookout for unsupported claims and greenwashing. Organizations that establish measureable and clearly articulated goals and commitments are the ones more likely to see success from their sustainability operations.
Hallie Busta writes about sustainability and metal from Chicago.