Tag Archives: top-line

Organizational Collaboration, Transparency, and Metrics CAN Foster Sustainable Change

20 Nov

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.

You can buy the book now on Lulu for $16.95 (paperback) or $6.95 (download).   www.portlandbottomline.com

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.

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Using Sustainability Metrics to Drive Business Performance, Innovation and Stakeholder Satisfaction

12 Jul

Environmental metrics were not much of an issue when I started as a young environmental coordinator at a Utah coal mine 30 years ago. The few environmental metrics I used were mainly driven by regulatory-agency permits, inspections and audits.  How many spill occurred this month?  How many fines did we get this quarter?  Did we exceed waste water discharge requirements? Our entire environmental compliance philosophy was driven by permit limits, rules and regulations.  My company was actually more concerned about environmental pollution and managing impacts of operations on the environment than most companies in a large western state at that time.   But at that time, there was a major disconnect between environmental performance and business performance. Environmental protection was seen by management as a cost “sink”, and not as an integral part of conducting business. Metrics weren’t designed to optimize our environmental performance or to understand the long-term impacts of our decisions on either our business or the environment. All decisions were made within a limited point of view.

Like the mining company I worked for, and like most businesses today, it’s clear that the ship has turned.  Companies are looking strategically at how environmental performance can have a direct impact on the bottom line of an organization.  Some are even taking a top-line approach to business success by accounting for social, natural and financial capital (http://bit.ly/93VBWG). Drivers such as globalization of markets, customer and shareholder preferences, regulatory pressures and business process re-engineering can claim a role in this sea change of decision-making.  This approach has fundamentally changed the way companies operate, design, manufacture, and distribute products.

Why Measure Anyway?

Well, the two old axioms state that “you are what you measure” and “what gets measured gets managed”.  Without a way to establish an internal benchmark for continual improvement, it becomes harder to innovate, advance and proactively respond to stakeholder expectations.  Key advantages to monitor and measure environmental and organizational performance include:

  • Setting Effective and Value-Added Priorities
  • Benchmarking to Continuously Improve
  • Encouragement of Bottom Up, Organization-wide Innovation
  • Reinforcing Personal and Organizational Accountability
  • Strengthening Strategic Planning and Goal-Setting Processes
  • Improved Internal and External Communication

Metrics can do one of two things: They can tell you what you should do, or they can tell you what you should have done. If you use them to tell you what to do, you’ll be using them to measure your successes. But if you use them to tell you what you should have done, you’ll be using them to measure your failures. So clearly it’s the first approach, not the latter, that forward-thinking companies should focus on.

The Advent of Verification and Triple Bottom Line Focused Metrics

In the not too distant past, as I noted above, environmental performance was primarily based upon a company’s compliance with local, state or federal permits and environmental regulations. With the advent of the ISO 14001-2004 Standard and Specification and its companion guidelines over the past 15 years, companies are taking a broader look at the ways they measure environmental performance (http://www.iso.org/iso/iso_14000_essentials). In addition, the ISO 14031 Guidelines on Environmental Performance Evaluation provide for establishment of measurable and verifiable environmental performance indicators (EPIs) appropriate to any public or private enterprise.

Many of the potential benefits from linking environmental and economic performance depend on the ability to integrate environmental management practices into the normal course of a company’s operations.  The ability to quantify environmental performance in a meaningful way is critical to the effectiveness of this integration.

Adding to the mix of the benchmarks for environmental indicators are the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)  (http://www.globalreporting.org), Global Environmental Management Initiative (GEMI) http://www.gemi.org) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBSCD) guidelines (www.wbscd.org).  Each of these measurements and reporting frameworks provide for reporting on the sustainability-economic, environmental, and social – dimensions of an organizations activities, products, and services.  More recently, Joel Makower (@makower) and the staff at GreenBiz.com (@GreenBiz) have been engaged with UL Environment to develop and commercialize a company-level standard for sustainability. This latest effort is being initiated in an attempt to harmonize all three of the above approaches and dozens of others into one global, measurable and verifiable third-party standard for sustainability (http://bit.ly/ajHxKy).

What to Measure and How to Frame the Message

Do your performance metrics have you tied up in knots?  Once organizations decide they have to do more measuring then the key question becomes: What do we measure and how do we measure it?  A few tips:

  1. Measure things that add value to organizational decisions. Measuring for the sake of measuring is a waste of time.
  2. Think about ways to measure things differently that your competitors.  Novel and unique metrics are just as important to differentiating you as your products.
  3. Measure at a minimum the same way others around the world were measuring, as this assures that globally focused metrics are harmonized.
  4. If you are a large company with multiple department, divisions or sites, the metrics of the individual parts must be able to be “rolled up” in a way that addresses the entire organization but still meets site or department specific needs.

When establishing appropriate measures (whether they are social, environmental, operational or financial), consider that metrics must be:

  • Representative
  • Understandable
  • Relevant
  • Comparative
  • Quantifiable
  • Time-based and Normalized
  • Unbiased and Validated
  • Transferable

Also, make sure that the metrics address the needs of all internal and external stakeholders in other words, your employees, customers, local community, government and shareholders.

Finally, good metrics if applied properly will foster innovation and growth.  Focus on continuous improvement as the primary driver for monitoring and measuring performance. If metrics don’t add value, they will not support continuous improvement and eventually will not be used.

Summary

Many of today’s environmental metrics evolved from the end-of-pipe command-and-control regulatory approach that has been implemented in a piecemeal fashion over the past 30 years since I joined the environmental profession. Why let regulatory agencies drive the key performance metrics that in turn drive business performance?  While compliance is a key benchmark for environmental performance, don’t stop there!

In this highly competitive, quickly changing and unstable business climate, organizational success requires agility.  Success also depends on having the correct set of metrics in place to gauge progress in meeting short and long-term business objectives.  Measuring performance with a sustainability lens is just one of the new responsibilities that companies can quickly embrace to nimbly drive organizational value.

Five Ways to Achieve “Top Line” Business Value Through Sustainability

29 Jun

Note: This article also appears on GreenBiz.com at http://bit.ly/9kjYTV

In a comprehensive study released last week by the United Nations Global Compact and Accenture, a survey of 766 CEOs from around the globe indicate that despite the economic downturn, sustainability will be critical to the future success of their companies.  An amazing 93% of CEOs indicated that “a tipping point” could be reached that integrates sustainability with core business processes and systems, and its supply chains. http://bit.ly/cS93dR

So this suggests that ‘triple bottom line’ (TBL) practices and measurements will become commonplace in business…or will it.  Perhaps there is another way of looking at this trend  given the top-down commitments that CEO’s believe are necessary to create this massive shift in corporate behavior.  This point of view is called “triple top line”, but has generally been trumped by its “bottom line” twin.

Setting the Context

Top-Line Definition (Sustainability Dictionary http://bit.ly/aRPZh8)

The total revenues an organization reports on their income statement. While many activities within an organization are focused on reducing costs, initiatives such as innovative product and service development focus on creating more valuable and desirable offerings that increase revenues. Attention to human and natural capital (as well as financial capital) can often increase revenue by differentiating a company and its offerings in a beneficial way to the market. When this is done poorly however, it can be seen as green-washing and results in the opposite effect.

In contrast, bottom-line refers to Net Income (top line revenues – expense).  Bottom-line activities typically focus on cutting expenses in order to improve income.  William McDonough also coined this term from a design perspective in his landmark book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (2002, North Point Press)

Triple Top Line Definition (Sustainability Dictionary http://bit.ly/9emKPX)

The effect that attention to sustainable management of natural, financial, and human capital has to an organization by increasing revenues (by offering more desirable products and services) and reducing costs and expenses throughout operations (through more streamlined operations. While many of these benefits are measured in terms of triple bottom line accounting, even more valuable are their effects to a company’s top-line financial performance because they require less capital investment and reduce the cost of capital.

In the UN/Accenture report, CEOs cited several barriers to achieving their sustainability goals, including ‘organizational silos’, competing priorities and lack of ‘value recognition’ by investors.  To counteract these barriers, several steps were needed, including CEO leadership to create real, value-added and long term change.  Specifically, five key areas were mentioned:

  • Shaping consumer preferences for sustainable products.
  • Training, training, training on sustainability issues- not only for the rank and file but managers too.
  • Improved investor communications with investors to create a better value proposition about sustainability.
  • Improved TBL metrics and communication of the value of business in society.
  • Partnering with governments to shape policy and regulation and create a level playing field.

A "Triple Top-Line" Strategy Yields Enhanced Business Growth

In sustainable terms, both a top-line and bottom-line focus is important. However, many recent efforts to slash expenses in the short-term can actually hurt long-term sustainable value.  Like the UN/Accenture study suggests, a focus on increasing top-line value through innovation, lean thinking, and smarter brand enhancement can lead to more sustainable and profitable growth.  I offer a simple framework to start down the path of sustainability from a top line perspective that recognizes human and natural capital as well as financial aspects of business.

1. Understand the current situation.

Gain awareness of the context in which environmental top line value can be realized.

  • Take stock of the organization’s core business strengths / strategies.
  • Identify the environmental aspects of the organization’s processes and services in each link of the organization’s value chain.
  • Identify customer environmental challenges and how the processes and services relate to customer needs.
  • Develop a business case for moving forward.

2. Develop a strategy.

Decide upon a strategy for creating environmental top line value that supports the organizations business strategy and takes advantage of the organization’s strengths.

  • Develop a top line strategy that will be a best fit for the organization.
  • Consider how the strategy will address sustainable business practices.
  • Determine whether any changes are needed to the existing business model or strategic plan to realize the strategy.
  • Develop an action plan to implement the strategy.

3. Choose initiatives and measure progress.

Develop and implement initiatives that will bring the strategy to life.

  • Consider how the organization’s existing processes and services can be positioned to address the chosen strategy, using the case studies for inspiration.
  • Examine each link of the product value chain to identify potential initiatives, such as reuse of recycled materials, resource optimization, reduced energy or water consumption, all of which can create top line value.
  • Measure your efforts by establishing meaningful and measurable key environmental, social and financial performance indicators
  • Be realistic about how process changes that can have direct environmental benefits fit into the overall set of differentiating features and benefits of the process. Do not assume that consumers will be willing to pay a price premium or accept performance or quality trade-offs.
  • Examine customers’ value chains to identify top line opportunities to meet customer expectations and support their sustainability initiatives.
  • Identify potential partnerships with stakeholders that will lead to top line value by promoting collaborative supply chain management.

4. Gain internal alignment.

The process of aligning an organization around the importance of taking action begins at the time an organization first develops an awareness of the context in which environmental top line value can be realized, and carries all the way through implementation of the top line strategy.

  • Gain buy-in from top management.
  • Communicate the business case for moving forward.
  • Identify internal champions within the organization who will move the top line initiative forward.
  • Start with pilot efforts to test the waters and generate early successes.
  • Communicate early successes.

5. Maintain the momentum.

Develop processes for maintaining the momentum of the top line initiatives.

  • Create a “change management” process to build environmental factors into new or modified processes or activities.
  • Develop business-based metrics of environmental and management and top line success.
  • Develop an award and recognition program for ideas or projects that result in environmental and/or management top line value.
  • Integrate environmental stewardship and associated activities with all operations.
  • Raise the capabilities of the customer service function to probe for and address customer-specific environmental or social responsibility issues/ concerns.

By following this simple ‘plan-do-check-act’ process, companies (large and small) can create upstream supplier alignment, downstream value for their customers and maintain a more secure competitive financial position in the global marketplace.

I believe the distinction between a good company and a great one is this: A good company delivers excellent products and services; a great one delivers excellent products and services and strives to make the world a better place. —William Clay Ford Jr.


What Really Matters in Business Happens at the Edges- Take the Lean and Green Challenge!

28 Mar

Is the economic downtown turning a corner? Well, yes it is…just which corner it’s turning no one really knows…yet. In the meantime, most companies are sitting tight, private capital is hanging on the sidelines, and the “green” natives are getting restless. So it was with great interest that this week an article was published in the MIT Sloan Management Review which echoed the sentiment that I have carried forward with my clients for years. Recalling Michael Douglas’ “Wall Street” character’s statement that “Greed is Good”, MIT Sloan’s basic message is… “Green is Good.

MIT presents two ways of thinking:

Old Thinking: Companies have long mistakenly thought that adopting environmentally friendly processes adds costs.

New Thinking: Green practices like recycling, reusing and reducing waste can cut costs because they make a company more efficient.

Using an example set by Subaru of Indiana, there are many proofs to the axiom that prevention of pollution and continually improving efficiencies …one idea that focuses on environmental improvement, and the other on business economics, works even in lean times. Subaru found that:

1.Profits come by increasing efficiency and reducing waste—but they don’t always come immediately.

2.Management’s leadership is vital in setting goals and getting departments to cooperate.

3.The front line workers have to be engaged to spot opportunities to reduce, reuse, recycle, and find other ways to create efficiencies.

4.Sustainability initiatives achieve maximum benefit from involvement of their supply chain.

5.All waste by-products are potentially new products

6.Green initiatives foster creativity and can enhance competitive advantage.

Let’s all be honest…that last point…competitive advantage is what really motivates business. So company sustainability initiatives cannot and should not be viewed through strictly an environmental lens, but through the balanced “sweet” spot of the Triple Bottom Line.

To paraphrase Guy Kawasaki in his book, Rules for Revolutionaries, what really matters happens at the edges. The action is not in the centers or areas of sameness. Organizations must challenge conventions and change the way products and processes are thought of and delivered.

So take the Lean and Green challenge…do what Subaru has done and get to work innovating and creating.