Have you ever been a part of a corporate committee that just couldn’t get it right? Long meetings, no organization, and zero headway. Sound familiar? We feel your pain. Appointing a committee for "green initiatives" that will result in action and drive transformation is just as challenging as assembling any other corporate committee. Don’t waste time backpedaling because you relied on the same old approach. To make sure you get it right, read on to learn the top five pitfalls that prevent sustainability committees from being successful. Next week we’ll tell you how to avoid them.

The Top Five Barriers to Sustainability Committee Success:

1. Lack of accountability: Sustainability committees are a great way for executive sponsors to feel like they are accomplishing something without having to sacrifice too much in terms of a particular individual’s time or financial resources. Unfortunately, management often initially sponsors sustainability teams, but then no real timelines or targets are identified and/or no one monitors achievement to ensure that progress is made. Essentially, no one’s feet are held to the fire. Without accountability, committees go nowhere. Fast.  

2. Gaps in representation: In our experience, gaps in representation occur in two dimensions: One common misstep occurs when representatives from essential areas of the organization aren’t on the committee. In another case, the value of diversity is ignored. Including several people from one department, and not a single one from another, creates an imbalance in the collective knowledge and experience of the committee. So does discounting diversity by failing to include on the committee members who represent a range of professional experience, age, race, gender and other areas that contribute to bringing a variety of ideas and perspectives into discussions. Both aspects of this pitfall lead to solutions that fall short, because they either don’t include insight from key roles in the organization, or they stymy creative problem solving and innovation by homogeneity, or both.

3. Insufficient time: Committees of any sort compete for undivided attention from their members, who have countless other tasks on their plates. After all, serving in this role is only one aspect of an employee’s job, and it is likely not a formal part of the job at all. This makes it difficult to allocate time to attend committee meetings or to work on projects. If team members fail to prioritize these meetings and projects, progress slows and eventually stops.

4. Inconsistent progress: In most cases, committees work on several company-wide sustainability-related projects at once. For a committee to make progress on a number of objectives at one time, someone must be coordinating the details from week to week and month to month. Additionally, at least some (and preferably) most of the committee members must understand how to plan and implement a project. Without these elements, employees will struggle to plan and manage multiple projects at a time and keep the proverbial ball rolling.

5. Institutional roadblocks: We know that some things are out of your control. For instance, you might need help from others in the organization, only to find that they are unresponsive, too busy for you, or downright opposed to what you are trying to do. Say you need a report from the finance department and they keep putting you off or you sent the VP ten emails, all unanswered. These internal roadblocks pose a real problem in that they inhibit committee progress. They can also demoralize committee members and put a damper on the initiative if the committee perceives these roadblocks as a lack of support for the team and the initiative as a whole.

All this being said, in next week’s post we will give you the flip side: five ways to avoid these pitfalls completely. Meanwhile, click here to learn more about how sustainability projects can be used to engage employees!