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Getting Back in Gear After Your Sustainability Program Stumbles

Implementing sustainability programs in any organization has its challenges. Some projects just will not work out. There are many reasons why a sustainability project may not be implemented: from a lack of money to an overburdened department. This “failure” can be demoralizing for those involved with sustainability planning. It is important to learn how to recover, adjust, and regain momentum. Here’s how:

Acknowledge the lack of success. Some may want to move on from a frustrating project, but addressing the issues a failed project uncovered is paramount. There is a lot to learn from mistake, and analyzing what went wrong is a helpful part of the process for sustainability programs. Try to put your finger on the biggest sticking point. Was it an absence of funding? If so, does that suggest a lack of top-down support in the budgetary process? Determining this “root cause” of failure helps guide you in the future. Try asking “Why?” five times to get to the root of the problem. Once you’ve determined the underlying issue, you can brainstorm ideas to avoid it in future. These ideas will be a great asset moving forward for further sustainability planning.

Hang a lantern on your problems. Hitting stumbling blocks with a project can feel embarrassing, and some may want to downplay them to management. Instead, explain to the appropriate parties why you struggled with a project and what you learned. Let people know how you plan to avoid the same mistakes in the future. Showing this kind of adaptability benefits you, and demonstrates that a sustainability program can evolve based on company needs. Ask management for input on how to avoid pitfalls in the future. Act on the advice. This creates buy-in for your future projects when management sees that the advice was beneficial.

Maintain a positive attitude. This is one of the most difficult aspects in regaining momentum for a sustainability program. For those working on the program, roadblocks and scrapped projects can feel like wasted time and effort. Others might begin to think that a sustainability program is just not feasible. The solution to both of these mentalities is to keep the focus on the big-picture. Yes, a particular project may not have gained traction. But when you learn from your mistakes and keep working on your sustainability program, you end up with projects that truly demonstrate your company’s commitment. Explain to your colleagues why they aren’t seeing your promised projects. Then explain what your next management-sanctioned steps are. Even starting out with small wins can fuel an exponential growth in momentum.

Adapt. For those closest to the work on your sustainability program, stop bemoaning wasted time and make the most of everything you’ve learned. It’s rare that you would have to completely scrap a project; there’s almost always some way to adapt it to your organization. For example, even if you weren’t able get that on-site composter, maybe you can still educate about best waste management practices. Your project may end up being completely different than what you envisioned, but that doesn’t mean it is worse. If you adapt, your next project will be better suited to your company’s needs and capabilities.

No one enjoys hitting snags in workplace efforts, but they are an inevitable part of beginning any new program. For sustainability programs, the best way to keep momentum high is to analyze what happened, brainstorm solutions, and maintain a positive attitude. If you can do that, there’s no true failure. It’s just about discovering the best possible process for integrating sustainability into your organization.