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A New Year: Iterating Your Sustainability Program

When it comes to an organization’s sustainability program, setting goals, choosing projects, and implementing your plan are the lion’s share of the work. Once projects are completed, it can sometimes be difficult for companies to regain momentum, even when you have success.

This is the perfect time to pause and look at what you accomplished and how your business landscape has shifted.  This is what we call the “iteration process.” Taking time to review and reflect before moving forward is a critical component to future success.

As you take this time, here are some questions you might consider:

  • What were your successes or failures, and why?
  • If any of your projects hit stumbling blocks, how will you move forward with confidence? What lessons did you learn?
  • What were the projects your company was most interested in pursuing last year that didn’t get done? Are they still relevant and most important? Why or why not?
  • How have company goals and key business objectives changed?
  • Who was helpful and who championed or got enthused by your sustainability work? How might those people be more engaged and helpful going forward?
  • How do all these things affect your company’s sustainability program?

As you look back on the projects you completed, think about what business problems you solved.  For example, perhaps your company installed hydration stations to reduce a reliance on bottled water, and this was a big hit with employees. What criteria did the project meet? These hydration stations likely had a fast ROI time period, were not resource-intensive to implement, and were a plus to the employees (particularly if the change and benefits were well-communicated). If the stations are visible to the public, you probably got an added brand reputation benefit.

On the other hand, if your project to provide quarterly sustainability education sessions to your employees fell flat, it may have been because it required too many man-hours to organize, or the benefits seemed too amorphous to justify the time.  Reflecting on what went wrong is really helpful, too.  When you think about what went wrong (too resource intensive, not enough bang for the buck), you can gain important information like: we don’t have capacity for major projects yet or we need to be able to measure a clear benefit.  This helps you peg the right criterion for future project evaluation.

So when it comes time to iterate your sustainability program, think about what criteria are most important to your company’s strategy. Both examples above demonstrate important criteria:  fast ROI, not too resource intensive, engaging for employees, brand/reputation enhancing, and a measurable benefit.

Is the goal of your sustainability program to reduce operating costs? To enhance your brand? Are these still the most important ways sustainability programming can support business objectives? Getting the right criteria will help guide you in further goal setting and project selection.

To ensure a greater chance of success, see if you can get middle and upper management to “rank” the criteria you will use. List the factors that will guide your project selection process. You might choose criteria such as ROI, initial level of financial investment required, potential for new customers, resource requirements for implementation, and so on. Then have management place these in the order of importance for how they think a project should be chosen. This will not only help increase the odds of picking projects that you can successfully implement, but it will also increase management’s buy-in for the sustainability program and process. And that’s support that can go a long way toward making your overall program a success.

Iteration is a stage in the sustainability management process. It’s a little breather that helps increase the chances of success in the future. So take a break, reflect, and reengage. Put your sustainability program in good shape for the year to come.