In an earlier post I mentioned the soon to be availability of “The Portland Bottom Line: Practices for Your Small Business from America’s Hotbed of Sustainability”. Well, the book has arrived and I am more proud than ever to be a contributor to this publication. The short 400 word essays by myself and over 50 contributors explores how small businesses can effectively and efficiently shift toward sustainability and thrive in a challenging economy. Contributors collectively chose, by vote, the local community organization Mercy Corps Northwest, which supports the launch and growth of sustainable ventures, to receive 100% of the profits from the book’s sales.
My excerpt from the book can be found in Part 3- Prosperity and is included in its entirety below. Enjoy, buy the book and make a contribution to the growth of sustainable enterprise!
A few years ago, I assisted a water utility in implementing a sustainability focused initiative based on the International Organization for Standardization (“ISO”) 14001-2004 Environmental Management System standard. Many public and private organizations operate in functional silos, often don’t coordinate well, communicate effectively or run efficiently. Creating a triple bottom line-focused organization requires that all parts work together—like organs of a living being. This utility was inefficient with taxpayer dollars and under intense public scrutiny to improve its operations. It was not healthy. Through the two-year journey with the [utility], I worked hard to know each of its parts, how they interacted, where the trouble spots were, and where good health was. The goal was to build a holistic, sustainable organization that capitalized on its best assets: the staff.
To be truly optimized and efficient, it was vital to shore up operational weaknesses. The program focused on new communication techniques, champion-building, public environmental awareness, and creating a culture of continuous change management. Public agencies are often stuck in a business-as- usual (“BAU”) mindset. The ISO 14001-2004 program and other internal performance turn-around initiatives required moving beyond the BAU mindset. Key steps and measures that contributed to the turnaround included the following spheres:
- Environmental: Early establishment of cross-functional performance improvement teams that focused on key measurable indicators, e.g. energy efficiency, resource management, and waste reduction.
- Operational: Collaborative fact-finding, problem resolution and decision-making around staff utilization and scheduling, resource optimization, asset management, emergency response, and predictive maintenance.
- Social: Proactive external public education and awareness campaigns at city-run facilities to engage community support related to natural resource management and watershed conservation efforts; employee initiatives that encouraged buy-in and financial rewards for cost saving measures and led to a reduced environmental footprint.
The organization achieved its ISO 14001-2004 certification, garnered prestigious national awards, and saved the City over $100 million in 5 years. After the certification award, a 30-year veteran of the department approached me. He hadn’t believed in the programs value at the start—maybe because of his BAU approach, or maybe he didn’t like change. He said, “Dave, I want to thank you. You made us do something that we would not have done ourselves”. That is what cultural change is all about. For once, I was speechless.
The keys to the success of this sustainability program and others like it are: cross-functional collaboration and employee input (early and often), early stakeholder collaboration, and metrics. These ingredients alone will go a long way toward laying the foundation for long term success of your organization’s sustainability initiatives and going beyond business-as-usual.