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The Top Five Ways Sustainability Committees Can Avoid Common Barriers

Last week we highlighted the top five pitfalls involved in successfully running a sustainability committee. We promised not to leave you hanging, so here are the ways you can avoid those obstacles all together.

Five Ways For Sustainability Committees to Succeed:

  1. Lack of accountability: Creating accountability is most effective when done by the executive who sponsored the sustainability committee in the first place. If this has not been done from the outset, the committee should work with the sponsor to assign accountability within the committee by appointing a leader and formalizing a structure of accountability in a committee charter. The committee can outline its planned activities, along with timeframes, in the committee charter and ask the executive sponsor for regular meetings to update him or her on progress and challenges. With the help of the executive sponsor, responsibilities of committee members will be built into the framework of the committee, so that accountability exists at multiple levels. For additional support, make the plan public to all employees. The more in the spotlight the plan and timelines are, the more accountability will be felt across the organization.
  2. Gaps in representation: In order for any committee to get off the ground, cross-functionality is key. Ensure that members represent a good cross section of your company. Representatives from key organizational components should be included such as finance, HR, marketing, facilities, technology, product teams, and customer service. In doing this, the value of diversity should not be overlooked. Diversity in terms of thought, job function, gender, race, and professional background and experience paves the way for innovation and creativity in your solutions (and that’s where we want your company to shine). It also has the added benefit of building a stronger company culture by bridging communications gaps where they might exist across the organization.
  3. Insufficient time: Serving on a committee is not each member’s only focus. For this reason, it is crucial that committee members get concrete buy-in from their respective managers. This is an area where having a solid committee charter comes in handy. If an employee is asked to join the committee, ensure that he or she has a copy of the charter. The charter should detail committee members’ responsibilities, duration of appointment, and time commitment requirements. The employee should first review the charter in detail and then review it together with his or her manager so that expectations are clear and commitments are agreed upon. Once employees have a green light from their managers to spend time on committee meetings and tasks, it is important that the committee leader uses meeting time efficiently and sets realistic goals so that committee members are able to make progress and succeed within their allotted time commitments. This way, the committee does not become a burden, but instead functions as a feasible part of each member’s job.
  4. Difficulty making progress: Preempt this potential pitfall by making sure that several members of your sustainability committee have project management know-how. Since implementing green initiatives at your company has far-reaching implications across all departments, many projects will be in the works at once; make sure you have some committee members who can help manage that process. If at all possible, we recommend creating a sustainability coordinator position to support the work of the committee. This individual should be able to have at least a quarter of a full time employee time commitment to manage the day to day details of the committee work, conduct needed research, track down information and gather data, facilitate work with project leads, and generally keep communication flowing among committee members as well as between the committee and the sponsor.
  5. Institutional roadblocks: To avoid problems of responsiveness from others within your organization, lay some groundwork before the committee gets going: Try to generate company-wide support before you start. Easier said than done, right? Start by having the initial message come from top management, from as senior a manager as possible. Hopefully the committee sponsor is well positioned to help the committee facilitate this critical key to success. Top-down communications should minimize pushback from potentially critical or skeptical employees or managers, as well as show that the company as a whole is committed to sustainability. The message should be repeated frequently by the most senior level advocate, along with updates on progress relative to the plan. Also, spend time building critical relationships within the organization, outside of the committee. Begin by listening to what is important to these key “gatekeepers” and help them to understand how sustainability is relevant to them and how it might help them meet their goals. This way, when you need to turn to these people later for help, you have a foundation upon which to build.

Launching successful sustainability teams is no easy feat, but doing so with intention and these five tips on the barriers to success can make the process smoother. At Sustrana, we have plenty more suggestions when it comes to sustainability committees and initiatives.