Sustainability has evolved from an interesting buzz-word in the halls of industry and academia into a comprehensive strategy shaping institutional initiatives and producing innovative, active solutions to some of society’s most perplexing issues. One pillar of sustainability initiatives is minimizing the negative effects of chemical and energy misuse. Renewable and sustainable energy sources, elimination of harmful chemicals that pollute the air and water, and recycling of waste products are some general objectives of sustainability. Sustainable processes and products are constantly being developed and adopted at universities, municipalities, and corporations to achieve this mission.
Sustainability and competitive advantage are no longer mutually exclusive concepts. As the public becomes more aware of the realities of environmental abuse, many consumers have begun to look to companies that are creatively employing sustainable practices. And many sustainable products and practices today are less expensive to use and not as capital intensive to buy than traditional ones. Sustainable solutions may lower cost and improve efficiency, resulting in a more favorable bottom line and competitive advantage.
In my previous post I shared the importance of establishing a baseline for energy performance, setting goals and developing a plan as the first steps to a more sustainable operation. For public sector organizations hoping to identify existing conditions, I suggest contacting your State Energy Office. Many states offer basic energy audits at little, to no cost. If a State does not offer options to provide energy audits, there are a number of Energy Service Companies (ESCO’s) that may offer audit services as a standalone service or part of a larger comprehensive energy management program.
As companies embrace sustainability and environmental friendliness, they frequently look for solutions developed by their competitors and organizations outside their industry facing similar challenges.
Defining sustainability can be a moving target to say the least. Organizations must examine their own unique circumstances and challenges in formulating their long term sustainability strategies. Formulating strategy must begin with a well-defined goal and vision for organizational sustainability. This definition lays the groundwork for overall action.
Funding from government and private grants fuels sustainability and environmental progress in the United States. Each year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) alone awards over $4 billion in grants to support organizations to foster sustainable activity.
Sustainability Needs a Leader
Over the past decade, nearly every major company has made a clear commitment to sustainability and eco-friendliness. Some are driven by consumer perception and economic benefit while other initiatives stem from a sincere, management-driven desire to preserve the environment for future generations. Sustainability is now included in most Mission Statements.
Once top management makes organizational stability a priority and designates an empowered leader to direct the project, creating universal commitment is next. This encourages all stakeholders to elevate sustainability to a level on par with all other objectives like profit, quality and operational excellence. Integrating the mindset of sustainability into every individual aims at creating automatic behaviors.
What is the value added proposition for sustainability? For many years I have had the privilege of discussing sustainability with organizations across the country. Regardless of the group, be it a private company, municipality, higher education institution, or K-12 school district, communicating sustainability’s value proposition is at the heart of most discussions. This is a very important issue to address and helps shape organizations' sustainability strategies. There are certainly a number of positive outcomes when establishments adopt sustainable practices. But before we answer the “how” we need to discuss the “why.”
The road to becoming a sustainable organization starts with a sincere commitment from upper management. While the initial idea may originate from anywhere in an organization, real traction will never occur until leadership buys in. Supervisors bridging the gap between employees and top management are less likely to support sustainable initiatives until after their bosses have encouraged doing so. The perceived costs associated with shifting business practices is the primary obstacle in adopting sustainable practices. Since profitability is the central measure of success and management performance, significant changes in operations must undergo strict scrutiny before proceeding.