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Put Punch in Your Policy: 8 Must Haves for Sustainability

How many times have you heard someone say, “We have a policy for that? Really?”  What if your biggest customer asked you not only whether you have a particular policy, but also how you measure compliance with the policy? Too often policies are written with lofty ideals only to sit on a shelf with other good intentions that never yield fruit.

So how do you make sure you are not wasting time crafting a dead end policy? The answer is to start with a great template. Here’s what our template covers and how it helps ensure that a policy will have a healthy, accountable life.

  1. The Effective/Last Revised Dates. The effective date of a policy lets everyone know when the company expects behavior to begin conforming to the policy requirements. Revision dates confirm that the policy is regularly reviewed and updated by management to reflect expectations.
  2. The Policy Steward. This is the person responsible for all activities needed to make sure the policy is alive and well within the company. This is a living, breathing human being. Someone accountable to management for implementing and measuring the success of the policy as a way of corporate life.
  3. The Policy Governor. This is also a real person (or group of people, such as a committee) who will act as a check on the Policy Steward and make sure that the policy is reviewed, on track, and, when necessary, revised. This is where the policy buck stops.
  4. The Intent. Policies should never exist as window-dressing, adopted because everyone else seems to have it. The whole idea of a policy is to set the course for who you are and/or the direction you want to go in as a business. It is the document that gets the workforce onboard when the train leaves the station. We use the intent statement to describe what’s going on in the world and where the company stands (or intends to go) in that context. It should be educational and inspirational. It should make the case for why the company is asking for behaviors and conformity set forth in the policy commitments.
  5. The Scope. This lets the reader know whether or not the policy applies to him or her. Some policies apply to everyone in the company; some just to a particular group. Some policies, like non-discrimination and human rights might extend to people outside the company, like suppliers or business partners. The scope is a quick way of saying either, “Yes, we mean you!” or “No need to read on.”
  6. The Commitment. This is the guts of the policy. The commitment is a series of statements that define the company’s position, actions, and expectations on a particular topic. It defines the company norm to which all within the policy scope need to conform.
  7. The Policy Steward Role & Responsibilities. Setting out all the actions the Policy Steward is expected to take to make sure the expected norm truly becomes the norm rips the policy from the shelf and sets it in motion. Who should the Policy Steward work with to operationalize the policy? How should the Policy Steward find, implement, monitor, and report on metrics that will show the policy is alive and well? What are the Policy Steward’s authority and resources? Outlining all of this keeps management at the policy drafting table, thinking about and committing to what it will take to realize and maintain the changes and conditions the policy is describes. Without this, it’s like sitting around all day, every day, eating ice cream while saying you want to be physically fit!
  8. Performance & Review. Every good system has built in checks and balances. The performance and review sections of a policy create a system for period performance reporting and policy review. The idea is that at least once a year, the Policy Steward issues a report to the Policy Governor about accomplishments, non-compliance, metrics, lessons learned, and any other issues or recommendations. The Policy Governor is responsible for providing feedback, reporting to management, as needed, sponsoring changes that are warranted and so forth.

Creating and maintaining the behavioral requirements that policies are designed for is always a challenge. Many companies spend lots of useful time defining their expectations, but fall short on making them a reality. It is only through a vigorous and regularly reviewed framework of activities and metrics that wanna-be ideals morph into who you are.

We use our policy template for all our sustainability policies. To see the template in action, contact Jennifer Anderson at janderson@sustrana.com for a free demo of our new sustainability policy builder tool.