Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Secrets to Successful Sustainability Initiatives

The Secrets to Successful Sustainability Initiatives

If you’re feeling frustrated after Copenhagen and ‘Climategate’, take heart. Your actions can help tackle climate change while making your company - and career - stronger and more successful.

I know this because as part of the research for my new book, Climb the Green Ladder: Make Your Company and Career More Sustainable, my co-author Shari Aaron and I spoke to over 80 sustainability specialists - from organizations including Hewlett Packard, Royal Mail and the London School of Economics - who successfully changed their organizations from within.

Our research revealed that all sustainability strategies are underpinned by the same six maxims which can help guarantee success - whatever your level or industry. These principles are described in much greater detail in the book, but you can read a sneak preview below.

1) Get the mindset
. Believe in your own power, and you can make a difference.
At the Phelps’ Group, Kristen Thomas’ idea to swap disposable dishes for reusable ones started a green tidal wave that ultimately led to her company becoming the largest private solar power installation in their area.

2) Make the business case.
A business case which demonstrates how your sustainability initiative can add business value will show colleagues you’re no hemp-wearing hippie but a business savvy, strategic thinker who understands the new marketplace dynamics. Doug Shaw’s mobile handset recycling scheme at BT Wholesale delivered £3 million in cost savings whilst generating cash for charity and increasing recycling. It also kept customers happy as a survey had found customers cared about these issues.

3) Get colleagues on your side. From using peer pressure to change behaviour to giving people the freedom to develop their own solutions, engagement is vital.
Dr Paul Toyne from Bovis Lend Lease formed sustainability action groups across the company, asking directors to recommend people to ensure top level buy in. This meant new initiatives were embraced as solutions came from within.

4) Have 2-way conversations. It’s crucial to communicate your messages effectively and that means making it real and relevant.
Coral Rose persuaded fabric buyers at Walmart to use organic cotton by giving them a packet of kitty litter which was the equivalent weight of chemical fertilizers and pesticides used to grow cotton for a single conventional t-shirt. The result? Wal Mart is now the largest user of organic cotton in the world.

5) Work together. From working with others in your company to competitors, customers, suppliers, NGOs and government, collaboration can reap great rewards.
For example, in Scotland, Boots has teamed up with another company to share deliveries. The initiative has save 6,000 delivery miles a week and 150,000 litres of fuel per annum – reducing costs and the company’s carbon footprint.

6) Make it part of the culture. From making an action plan to making targets personal and part of everyone’s job, the most successful organisations are those who have made sustainability an everyday part of business thinking.
Randy Boeller, from HP US, has seen how an integrated approach reaps real business rewards. Take packaging for example. The carbon footprint of getting a product to the consumer can be four times as much as processing the raw materials for that packaging. This means that a lighter, but more environmentally-intensive material could be the better choice overall, demonstrating why you have to look at sustainability at every level to make the most intelligent decisions.

More about the author:
Amy Fetzer is a journalist and sustainability consultant.

Her book, Climb the Green Ladder: Make Your Company and Career More Sustainable, gives readers the tools to set their workplaces and careers onto more successful and sustainable paths.

Amy’s work focuses on creating engaging communications, from environmental white papers to workshops, that inspire, entertain and inform.

Amy studied Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey for a Masters degree.

Amy’s clients range from the BBC, Green Futures and The Guardian to Hewlett Packard, Sodexo, The Sunday Telegraph and My Weekly magazine. To find out more, please visit:

1 comment:

Derrick Mains said...

Hooray! Someone gets it. Cultural shifts are too often overlooked by corporate America.

PEOPLE drive sustainability.

I can build an extremely energy efficient LEED certified building and go all out on alternative energy and offsets – but if it’s minus 10 outside and my warehouse crew opens the dock doors (letting out all the heat)rather than going outside to smoke a cigarette then what good is all my effort.

It’s like building the safest car on the planet and then handing the keys to a 13 boy along with a bottle of whiskey and programming his GPS to the AutoBahn!

Sustainability must include shifts in attitude and culture otherwise they will eventually be derailed.

Great post - can't wait to read the book.

Derrick Mains