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Sustainability and anxiety: how to ease your business into the “change” mindset

When implementing projects at work, stopping to take the time to consider the sustainability implications can seem like a big burden. Worse, it can seem costly. A “green” company picnic may be great in theory, but the higher expense of compostable plates and recyclable napkins adds up. For this reason, those who are tasked with overseeing the implementation of projects may be resistant to a company sustainability program. The “oh no, it’s you!” mindset about sustainability officers and green team members can become ingrained all too quickly.

In most cases, this attitude stems from the fear of change. Considering the sustainability of a project means considering entirely new sets of factors. Even when there are company green teams to provide assistance to project manages, integrating sustainability can be seen as an “extra” (and time-consuming) task.

To ease this anxiety, it is important to clarify the role of sustainability in your company. We’ve talked before about how sustainability programs can be viewed as “flashes in the pan,” or “new fads.” However, if you are able to explain how your company’s green efforts are tied into your strategic plan, then this allows sustainability to be treated like any other facet of business operations. It is helpful if your CEO or President takes the time to explain this in a meeting.

Sustainability programs are not about change and trends, but rather they enable your business to remain successful moving into the future. Between increasing regulations and public pressure for companies to “go green,” the failure to become sustainable presents a market risk—one that may be costly to ignore. Though technically, yes, a sustainability program is a change from the status quo for a company, it can be viewed more as an adjustment to the needs of the market, than a disruption to current business practices.

Once it is made clear that sustainability is important to your company’s future success, project managers will be less inclined to look at its consideration as a burden. Successful projects need think about sustainability concerns, just as they would think about fiscal concerns. With that mindset, sustainability officers and green team members go from being viewed as individuals who make project managers’ lives more difficult, to valuable resources.

Nobody expects every employee to become an expert in sustainability. For that reason, it is important to advertise staff members who are involved with your company’s sustainability program as the experts to whom project managers can turn when they need help. The idea is not to create more work, but instead to view the work from a different perspective—a perspective green team members have learned and understand.

In the infant stages of a sustainability program, this may require a hands-on approach. Try to have a sustainability representative sit in on meetings for major projects. Just having that voice in the room ensures that sustainability factors will not be overlooked. As that thinking becomes increasingly ingrained in your company, project managers may even start to seek out sustainability representatives in the planning stage.

The key is not pretending that things aren’t changing: they are. Instead, it is important to demonstrate how sustainability will not require additional work from most employees. For the large majority, nothing is really changing for them and what they are expected to know; it is simply that there are new market factors to consider, and a lot of people to help project managers do just that.