Saying is One Thing, Doing is Another: Implementing Sustainability Programs with Success

30 Jul

NOTE: You can read the entire guest column as it originally appears in Sustainable Business Oregon

If you have a tween or teen living under your roof, you’ll be able to relate to this: When I tell my daughter to clean up after herself, I can pretty much expect that it will not get done.

On the other hand, when I lead by example and help build a culture of cleanliness, this becomes self-gratifying and I get the critical mass I need to have a clean house — that makes my wife happy too.

If you work for a well-meaning company that talks a good sustainability talk but lacks on the execution, well, you may be able to relate too.

Getting to “Git ‘er Done.”

I have written about the foundational aspects of the triple bottom line and sustainability and the strategy of planning for it. But once the talking is done and the planning is complete, it’s time for the heavy lifting, time to “git ‘er done.”

It’s at this point that your staff might scurry for shelter like when the lights come on and the mice scramble to their hidey holes — unless you’ve already established a culture of change. It’s been proven time and again that when a company says that it’s going to implement a sustainability initiative, but lacks the cultural framework or inertia for stakeholder “buy in”, it’s less likely to succeed.

Why? First, in Bob Doppelt’s Overcoming the Seven Sustainability Blunders, organizational traps that can lead to implementation failures often stem from weaknesses in cross-organizational communication and empowerment. In this 2003 article, Mr. Doppelt (who is executive director of resource innovations with the Institute for Sustainable Environment at the University of Oregon) discusses the “Wheel of Change Toward Sustainability.”  This process shows how seven interventions can systematically deflect those blunders, and form a continuous reinforcing process of transformation toward sustainability. Communication, feedback loops and transparency are key elements to successful transformation.

Also, in William Blackburn’s indispensable Sustainability Handbook- The Complete Management Guide to Achieving Social, Economic and Environmental Responsibility, he points out three key elements needed to achieve the critical mass for sustainability program execution:

  • Deployment into the rank and file.
  • Integration with existing tools and resources.
  • Alignment across the entire organization.

These critical factors place organizations in a position where all parts are pulling together. While top management commitment is vital to the success of any organizational change, it will fail without proper execution.  The foundation for implementation success then rests first on selecting a “cross functional” team, consisting of one or more talented and motivated individuals from across all organizational departments. This team will be well versed in the system elements, mechanics and will essentially be the “champions” by which the system can be deployed.

The rest of the guest column appears in Sustainable Business Oregon

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