Sustainability: The New Executives and what they do?

In today's growing environmentally conscious market, businesses are demonstrating their commitment to social responsibility by offering "green benefits". These eco friendly benefits are helping companies located is some of the most competitive regions in the nation gain an advantage in recruiting and retaining top talent. In addition, businesses are finding green benefits as a useful tool for decreasing their organizations environmental impact by creating a culture of sustainability, enabling their employees to live healthier and environmentally conscious lives.

These companies are adding new leaders to their executive team to help manage this process.  These new leaders are going by the title Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO), Director of Sustainability and Sustainability Managers.  The role of these individuals is to unilaterally introduce policies and programs to improve the organization’s social and environmental impact. 

Some of the things that these Executives look at is their organization’s impacts and try to understand the sustainability profile.  This leads to the creation of a “sustainability audit” which is done by asking:
  • What are the issues that are most important to the stakeholders?
  • Who ARE the stakeholders?
  • What are the problem areas on everyone’s radar screen?
  • Which ones are lurking around the corner?
Engaging employees is very important for the success of any change or progress is going to be limited.  These Sustainability Executives have to also have social presence, presentation skills and be good communicators to be able to sell the message of sustainability. They set sustainability goals, gather hard data of what the changes are bringing and report on it. They-
  • Analyze the sustainability data for trends
  • Balance safe and ambitious goals  
  • Create metrics that truly measure progress  
  • Follow what the stakeholders expect to see in a sustainability goal
Communicating progress is a key part of any successful sustainability program. All the great results in the world won’t matter if the employees, management, and stakeholders don’t follow along. So these Executives need to understand
  • What level of detail do employees need?
  • What is the best way to communicate with customers?
  • Can people understand where the organization is headed?
They need to understand simple and effective ways to communicate internally and creative ways to tie the organization’s sustainability progress to a brand image.  As they do that, they will need to be able to manage some of the following depending on what the organization wants to accomplish:
  • Energy Audits
  • Waste Audit 
  • “green” IT
  •  Creating a paperless office 
  • “green” business travel and/ meetings
  • Eco-purchasing system
These leaders also understand the importance to engage in the local community.  As part of the organization’s corporate social responsibility initiatives in greening the business practices many companies sponsor local green initiatives or participate in activities such as tree planting initiatives. There are many ways to engage with local community, and this involvement can be as broad as sponsoring a local carpool service to supporting school Earth Day events. Some examples of what can be done:
  • Explore ways in which the company can engage with the local community
  • Create an employee volunteer program
  • Partner with sustainability/green NGOs that can advise and guide your sustainability initiative
  • Become a vocal proponent of local and/or state government initiatives to support the greening of businesses
  • Start or sponsor a community recycling program
These are but some of the responsibilities that these new team of executive face and they are welcomed to help bring true sustainability to our business practices.

Company Re-branding and Sustainability

As we move into this decade we see change all around us.  Companies are requiring more LEED AP’s to join their ranks and others are pushing for specific specialties, i.e.  St. Louis based company McCarthy Building Companies, Inc has required all its LEED AP to have BD+C specialty. The hiring of Sustainability Managers and Chief Sustainability Officers is on the rise in all forms of industry.  An article in stated that 36% of larger companies in the US have Sustainability Leaders as part of their executive teams and the numbers are growing.  With all this change moving through the industry on all levels, how is your organization handling these changing times? What changes have to be made to start the rebranding process?

First the leaders or an organization have to believe that there are positive effects of sustainable practices on their organization, employees, bottom line and overall environment. Only through that belief will the commitment be there and true change will happen.  When the president of a company believes in sustainability and is willing to change the company culture will true change happen. Adding a few LEED AP’s on the team or a few consultants here and there will not cut it in the long run for any company that wants to survive as time progresses.  Change and rebranding need to happen to propel a company as one of the leaders in the industry and have the company stable in the future. These changes have to happen internally in a company with the change in company culture, policy and standards.  Consecutively changes have to happen externally with all lines of communication showing this change.

I want to first look at Simon Sinek ‘s simple philosophy of the “Golden Circle”.  The “Golden Circle” has 3 simple ideas Why, How and What?  Simon states that most companies concentrate on What they do and not Why they are doing it.   More successful companies are opening communication channels with why their company is there and attracting people that are dedicated to their vision and creating customer loyalty.  This philosophy stems not only to external customers but to internal staff.

When starting to think about rebranding, a company has to truly see:

1.       What its vision is and why they are doing it.  Taking those elements and seeing how this new vision is different from its current culture and how to make these changes; then communicating the Why to its staff and external connections. It is also important to have staff at all levels as advocates of this new vision.

2.       Looking into what services or product it provides and how additions or modifications to these can be done to follow the new vision.  How can these modifications happen with the least disturbance to company function?

3.       Redesigning the internal communication systems of the organization to make it easier for staff to achieve this vision . i.e. by creating standards, educating staff and supplying staff with proper tool to simplify the process.  In anything designed if the interface is simplified people will be more accepting of that change.

4.       Redesigning its external communication systems to include Why they do what they do.  Part of this would incorporate sustainability, CSR and collaboration with others that have the same vision, standards and integrity of the organization.  An organization needs to start looking into who they work with, i.e. contractors, manufacturers, engineers and products being used.  Working with companies that understand sustainability and have the expertise on staff to do the job right is important.  This is important on two levels, they get the work they truly want to produce without sacrificing quality, time and you further push the message of the organization.

These are things a lot of companies are looking to do, having people that understand these processes and how to make them happen is important, as I said this is being realized in the industry as Sustainability Managers, Sustainability Directors and Chief Sustainability Officers are being added to executive staff of all types of organizations.  Also, there are a lot of conferences on the subject, such as Urban Green Council’s “Speak Green” Conference that is dedicated to the subject.

To truly be a Sustainability Company you have to have sustainability on all levels not only in the work you do.

Eco Thinking: Sustainability

The world around us is transforming in many ways, everywhere we look a change is happening.  As we take in all the information, we should take the time and make a change ourselves.  As a society we need to start looking at sustainability and see the whole picture of the implications on all aspects of life.  From our manufactured products to the food that is consumed, all these things are connected.  Sustainability means we need to design better, need to build better, need to manufacture better and need to grow better.  In better I mean, thinking of designing things with no hazardous material, building things with the environment and people’s health in mind, manufacturing products that will not cause toxins from manufacturing to the grave in landfills and growing foods that will not hurt people and the environment.

Organization working together and supporting each other is very important.  Collaboration is a word that needs to be imbedded into our vocabulary and way of life.   Working together to start a change not only helps others but also can help a company’s bottom line.  As we all start to make these changes and ask for others to do the same, companies will start seeing this demand and develop products to support it.   

Sustainability is not only about our natural environment.  Sustainable practices protect human health and quality of life.  Sustainability in Social Corporate Responsibility in today’s changing market will not only benefit a company’s bottom line but also help others.  An Example of a company is Perkins + Will, this is a firm that understands how sustainability and corporate social responsibility affects us all.  This company is a carbon-neutral organization and is committed to supporting a diverse culture of sustainable design through applied research, internal education, public advocacy and outreach.  

Sustainability is very important to a business as it involves people, it involves our planet, it involves profit and making sure they all work together.  Sustainable practices protect our health, our children's health and insure that we have healthy people on a healthy planet.  Understanding that there are synergies in everything that we do and that supporting one thing will affect another is important.  Example, Advocating a program that supports locally grown organic foods and having them be available to people in all financial groups will not only lower our carbon foot print, support local business but help fight child obesity and disease. 

As a global community, it is time to take the lead for our planet and our children’s future.  All industries are affected in this area and understanding that all of us can make a difference is key.  As consumers we need to start supporting local organic farmers and eco products.  Starting this trend will show businesses that this kind of product is in demand and more will be on the market thus reducing pricing for such items.  As business owners, we will need to build sustainability practices into our business and collaborate with others who do the same.  Companies that do this will educate their employees on the subject and the collaboration can form partnerships to reduce pricing for the consumer and secure contracts that might have been lost to others.  As parents we need to educate our children on how eco thinking helps us and other living things.  Educating our children is of great importance on all levels as they are the future.

I am not a tree hugger or an extremist on the subject but a realist on what needs to happen.  In today’s market, the change is coming and having companies be leaders on this subject will only be a benefit for them.  Looking at the world around us and taking in the information is important.  Is it right to have lead in our children’s toys where they put them in their mouths and get poisoned?  Is it right that when a company manufactures a product it pollutes the drinking waters of the surrounding area to cause harm to the people and eco system around them?  Is it right to have hormones, pesticides and chemicals in our foods that is causing disease?  Is it right to have products in our home that emit toxins that we and our children breath?

With today’s technology and available information on sustainable practices, we can change our built environment to have none of the above questions ever uttered.  As designers, business owners, contractors, engineers, consumers it is our responsibility to start specifying, supporting and working with groups that are pushing sustainability.  It is one of the most exciting and thrilling times we live in because all decisions that are being made have an impact; and as individuals we have a say to make a difference. Don’t wait for others to take a lead, pave the road.