Tips for Starting a Sustainability Program at Your Organization

Stakeholder acceptance and adoption are essential to any successful corporate sustainability program. Here are some tips to start earning buy-in and gaining interest in sustainability at your organization.

You’re reading the final installment of a ten-part series titled Nine Beacons to Chart Your Business Towards a Sustainable Future. We recommend starting at the beginning to gain the full picture. Here’s the first article.

Building Greatness

We spend a lot of time in buildings. I’m told I was born in one. I currently live in one. I even sleep in one most of the time. Perhaps you’re reading from inside a building at this very moment! A famous 2001 Lawrence Berkely National Lab study found Americans spend 87% of their lives indoors!

We humans sure do love our beloved built infrastructure, and rightly so. But did you know our buildings consume nearly 40% of all U.S. energy?

That’s a lot of energy! How much? Energy nerds tell us U.S. buildings consume 21 Quadrillion British Thermal Units (Btu) annually.

21,000,000,000,000,000 Btus. That’s right, 15 zeros. But what does that even mean, in English?

A Btu is a measure of energy. One Btu is roughly equal to the heat released by burning a single match. So U.S. buildings consume the energy-equivalent of burning 21 quadrillion matches. Every year!

Conserving Some Coin

Said differently, buildings are often ripe with energy savings opportunities. Therefore, any sustainability crusader is smart to start with energy conservation and efficiency.

Of course, plenty of onsite generation options exist such as solar photovoltaics (PV). But energy professionals are quick to remind of the “reduce, then produce” philosophy. It’s easier and less expensive to address conservation and efficiency opportunities before investing in on-site generation.

Here are some quick tips to gain momentum and earn some quick wins in your sustainability journey.

Does your organization own its facilities? If so, and it’s been over five years since the last energy audit, make it top of the list. Audits are useful, low-cost assessments that can identify slam dunk energy projects. Audits also establish building baseline energy consumption metrics. Who doesn’t love a two-for-one?

Engineer some quick wins for early traction. First projects should be easy to implement with high success rates. Boost that confidence by identifying “low-hanging fruit” projects. Popular first topics include lighting retrofits, thermostat setpoint adjustments or scheduling, upgrading motors to variable frequency drives (VFD), and emphasizing good old-fashioned recycling.

Energy nerds love finding that fruit. But let me know if you find low-hanging desserts. Those projects are so elusive that I’ve actually never seen one.

Look Well Into Thyself

Highlight projects or initiatives already underway. Ask staff about ongoing projects in an initial staff survey. Ask HR or your marketing team if they’ll help support your mission to save the company money (how can you say no to that?)

Remember: Investments + Accomplishments = Wins. 

Share and celebrate wins across the organization. Recognize individuals through their actions or ideas towards sustainability. Be generous with congratulations. Remember, symbolism matters, particularly early on.

As previously mentioned, create a “Green Team” if one doesn’t already exist. The team will prove a vital internal bellwether and valuable agents. Green teams can help garner ideas, communicate progress, and advocate for sustainability initiatives throughout the organization. For example, be sure to leverage the group to support sustainability proposals. Many signatories will offer a stronger project endorsement than a sole author. Decision-makers will notice. It makes getting to yes easier when they see support from other respected colleagues.

Identify and invite sustainability champions within the organization to get involved. If a green team already exists, help them find a champion among senior leadership or the executive team.

When reporting progress, use terms that relate to employees. (Remember the matches?) For example, most people don’t think in kilowatt-hours. But they can relate to their home. Use domestic equivalents for water or energy references. For example, refer to the water or energy required for 1,000 homes, not gallons or kilowatt-hours.

Out to Open Water

Turning on your sustainability bat-signal requires an all-hands-on-deck effort. Your staff is busy and most businesses are scant on resources to get their crew into ship-shape. I just couldn’t help but sneak in another seafaring reference.

Like Magellan’s explorations, many business leaders label corporate sustainability as terrifying unchartered territory. For myriad reasons, organizations are wise to cautiously ponder the journey. When you’re ready, SiS exists to help your business co-pilot the sustainability schooner.

Solutions in Sustainability understands the needs and challenges that companies face around sustainability. We specialize in helping clients develop strategic energy roadmaps that align with organizational sustainability goals. SiS helps clients create effective stakeholder engagement programming. We lead internal staff “Green Teams” that align with corporate strategy and offer busy teams experienced technical resources.

You just read the final article of a ten-part series titled Nine Beacons to Chart Your Business Towards a Sustainable Future. To start from the beginning, check-out the first article in the series or simply download the entire publication PDF.

Are you ready to chart your sustainability journey? Could you use help creating the right sustainability goals for your organization? Contact Solutions in Sustainability today to share your long-term vision. We want to help identify the right Solutions in Sustainability for you.

About the Author

Alex Kaufman is a science communicator, clean energy specialist, sustainability nerd, professional engineer, travel enthusiast, and resident of San Diego, California. When not helping clients, you can usually find him cycling, hiking, reading, spending time with loved ones, or planning the next big adventure. He is open to speaking engagements. Contact him at alex@alexkaufmanpe.com.

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