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.

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