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May 30 2013


Best Practices in Sustainability: Employee Engagement and Reporting

Sustainable business best practices: the triple bottom lineIt is widely understood that adopting best practices in sustainability can offer a significant competitive advantage. There is ample incentive to get on board. In 2012, sales of sustainable goods and services reached $1 trillion globally and in 2013, it may double to reach $2 trillion. As early as 2017, the sustainable economy could be worth $10 trillion in annual global revenue.

Almost three out of four Americans now believe that climate change is real and they want companies to do something about it. The implementation of best practice campaigns can help companies to respond to consumer demand and capitalize on the rapidly growing sustainability market.

You can find sustainable best practices everywhere, from tourism to IT, from building to health care. You can even find it where it seems out of place, as in the mining sector or in the shale gas industry.  The words “best practice” are everywhere and they are often used inappropriately. A study on the most overused buzzwords showed that in 2010, “best practice” was used more than 4,600 times in industry press releases.

The question is what constitutes authentic best practice when it comes to sustainability?

As reviewed in the Green Market Oracle, a sustainable best practice campaign involves a comprehensive and holistic approach encompassing everything a business does. Although standardized sustainable best practices are still coalescing, they tend to address the following five areas:

  1. Air
    Monitor and manage emissions, set targets for emissions reductions. Reduce impact on indoor air quality.
  2. Energy
    Monitor and reduce energy consumption. Implement energy efficiency programs. Develop energy reduction targets for IT, manufacturing, lighting, heating and cooling.
  3. Transportation
    Track the mileage of all company vehicles. Tracking mileage and examining your travel routes can help you better understand your fuel usage and find more expedient routes.
  4. Water
    Monitor water consumption and develop strategies for water reduction. Effective strategies can start with something as simple as retrofitted faucets with low-flow aerators.
  5. Waste and Recycling
    Monitor waste and develop a strategy for waste reduction and recycling. Knowing the waste stream makes it easier to identify targets for waste reduction. Keep a log tracking the trash. Include a recycling program with a good plan including logistics that detail how recycled materials will be collected and stored.

Most commonly, these issues are addressed with the help of an internally selected group of dedicated sustainability managers representing different departments. This group is commonly referred to as a Green Team.

Three keys to success

Some noteworthy features of successful sustainability best practices campaigns are found in a McKinsey & Company study. This study was based on a July 2011 online survey of over 3200 executives. It identified best practices for setting and managing sustainability goals. The three features that stood out are:

  • Ensuring clear accountability for sustainability performance
  • Tying compensation to achievement of sustainability goals
  • Reviewing sustainability key performance indicators

There are two fundamental components which are absolutely essential to almost all sustainable best practice campaigns. They are employee engagement and reporting.

Employee Engagement

There is an art to securing the willing participation of employees. It is important to get employees involved so that they can effectively implement the campaign. The first step to engaging employees in sustainability involves setting targets. For employees to deliver, they must know what is being asked of them. This means developing clear strategic objectives and then crafting actionable plans to achieve those objectives.

It is important to provide incentives for participation from the inception. Establish recognition and/or reward programs for employees who contribute to the company’s sustainability initiatives. Publicize the campaign and schedule an inaugural event.

Use coordinated communications to promote the program, inspire employees and motivate change. Include internal signage and online communications educating employees about relevant sustainability concerns. Focus on educational efforts that help employees understand how their individual actions can make a positive impact on the organization.

Empower people at the local level. Provide opportunities for employees to participate and collaborate. While everyone within an organization needs to get involved, green programs work best if they are voluntary. Be open and transparent about the progress on individual sustainability projects. Develop interactive scorecards and encourage friendly competition between offices and regions.


Corporations are more vulnerable than ever to public scrutiny. Responsible conduct and transparent disclosure are the best ways to handle the risks associated with this new reality. Measuring performance is essential both as an internal metric assessing success and as an objective means of communicating with those outside of an organization.

It is imperative to develop metrics that track and monitor performance as well as identify and respond to challenges, opportunities and threats. Effective reporting commonly depends on technological tools to collect data and generate reliable metrics.

These reports must be able to simultaneously speak to the concerns of employees, suppliers and investors.

According to Pure Strategies the following approaches produce the best results:

  • Engage through storytelling: In addition to facts and figures people want to meet key players and follow the story behind their achievements.
  • Report progress against goals in a multi-year format: Multi-year charts are necessary as are any explanations of missed targets or unusual performance.
  • Push the transparency envelope:  Honestly explain your approach and reveal what worked well and what did not. Show how you will learn from your experience and do things better.
  • Follow the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standard: This is increasingly the standard for sustainability reporting. However, even small business can consider a “GRI-inspired” report.
  • Sustainability report formats: Supplement paper reports with interactive, web-based content, videos, social media, games, apps and any format that will allow you to convey your message.

Developing and implementing a sustainability best practice campaign can be onerous. However, businesses that succeed in engaging employees and providing cogent reporting support their brand, improve morale while developing a productive and collaborative culture. A well executed campaign can offer tremendous benefits that encompass the triple bottom line of people, planet and profits.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

The post Best Practices in Sustainability: Employee Engagement and Reporting appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

March 01 2013


An Addendum

Some longtime contributors to the Green blog will now be posting to the Caucus and Bits blogs instead, and they can be followed on Twitter.
Sponsored post

A Blog’s Adieu

The New York Times is discontinuing the Green blog but plans to press on with aggressive energy and environment coverage.

Q and A: The Angry Economist

Because of its natural gas boom, the United States is ahead of Europe in fixing climate change, the Oxford economist Dieter Helm argues.

February 28 2013


European Climate Official Urges Keystone XL Veto

Killing a 1,700-mile pipeline intensely opposed by the environmentally minded would send "a very, very interesting global signal,” Connie Hedegaard says.

September 04 2012


Illegal Logging Deals Rife in Liberia, Group Reports

A report says that control of one-quarter of Liberia's land has been granted to logging companies in just two years through permits that were illegally or fraudulently awarded.

August 31 2012


State Considering Studying Health Impacts of Fracking

Environmental groups are pressing New York to conduct a study of the health effects of hydraulic fracturing before the state makes its final determination on whether to allow the drilling process.

Unraveling the Nuclear Renaissance

A proposed twin-reactor plant in Texas and another planned project in Maryland, with a French connection, have become victims of tough economic and regulatory times.

August 29 2012


Pemex Finally Strikes Oil in Deep Waters

Mexico's state-owned oil monopoly has found a big oil field more than 8,200 below the water's surface in the Gulf of Mexico. The discovery could mute criticism of Pemex, which has struggled to develop new fields as older ones matured.

A Late Bet on Coal May Not Pay Off

A consortium of utilities decided to build a coal-fired power plant, probably one of the last that will be allowed under E.P.A. regulations, figuring it would be cheaper than buying electricity on the open market. The low cost of natural gas has foiled that calculation.

Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon Organize Artists Against Fracking

Artists Against Fracking, a new coalition organized by Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon, will spread its message through social media.

August 23 2012


Report Finds Americans Wasteful of Food

A report from the Natural Resources Defense Council says that much of the food produced for Americans goes unused, wasting water and the other resources that go into producing it.

US Chamber Rejoices As Courts Rule For Polluters

Earlier this week, an appellate court in Washington, D.C. ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had overstepped their authority with their Transport Rule that was put in place to reduce the amount of air pollution being spewed from coal burning plants. The rule would have put stringent limits on the amount of pollution that was being emitted and carried across state lines by weather.

The Courier-Journal has more:

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found in a 2-1 ruling that the EPA, in its so-called “Transport Rule,” had required too much pollution cutting when regulating power plants in 27 upwind states.

In looking at the rule’s “good neighbor” provisions under the Clean Air Act, the court found the EPA did not allow states time to reduce pollution on their own before taking its own action.

The EPA’s own estimates show that the rule could have prevented as many as 15,000 heart attacks a year, 19,000 emergency room visits, and would have reduced sulfur dioxide emissions by 73% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 54%. Both of those are known lung irritants.

Wasting no time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent their astroturf division out to tout the court’s ruling as a victory for businesses, and for America. The Institute for 21st Century Energy, the Chamber’s energy front group, released the following statement from their president, Karen Harbert:

“Today’s decision is good news for consumers and for the reliability of our electricity grid. It is notable that for the second time in two weeks, federal circuit courts have affirmed the primary responsibility of states—not the EPA—in determining how to meet air quality standards under the Clean Air Act.”

“It has always been the contention of the Chamber that EPA regulations should be supported by sound science and accurate analysis. The EPA has habitually inflated the benefits and underestimated the costs of its regulations.”

The EPA was granted the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions by the U.S. Supreme Court back in 2007, but the recently struck down rule did not apply to carbon dioxide, only sulfur and nitrogen. However, if the case makes its way up to the Supreme Court, it is likely that the 2007 ruling could be broadened to include emissions in addition to carbon dioxide.

And while the Chamber was quick to jump on the side of industry claiming that the costs of the regulations were too lofty, they completely ignored all of the available evidence that these new air pollution standards would have actually saved our economy trillions of dollars.

An analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency [PDF] shows that the cost of fully implementing the Clean Air Act – which included the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide regulations of the Transport Rule – would have cost $65 billion. However, they would have saved a grand total of $2 trillion for the economy as a whole, which includes the healthcare burdens shifted to American taxpayers for pollution-related illnesses, giving us a net gain of $1.935 trillion.

So now, we have an industry and their corporate lackeys at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who aren’t just putting their profits above the health of American citizens, but they are putting those profits ahead of the health of the already-fragile U.S. economy. The American taxpayers will continue to foot the bill for those who get sick from the pollution the dirty energy industry continues to pump into our atmosphere.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a long history of being on the wrong side of environmental issues. A few years ago, they were the target of enormous corporate backlash when they continued to ignore climate change, leading numerous high-profile companies like Nike and Apple to leave the group because of their backwards-thinking, science-denying operations.

The U.S. Chamber and their “Institute for 21st Century Energy” have also been strong proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, as Ben Jervey pointed out for DeSmogBlog last year.

But the U.S. Chamber isn’t the only villain – state and local chapters of the Chamber of Commerce have been on the forefront of climate change denial and polluter defense for years. Think Progress reported that the state branches of the Chamber of Commerce in Kansas, Michigan, West Virginia, and Indiana have done their best to either completely deny climate change, host speakers that deny climate change, or to confuse the public about this issue. In the state of Michigan, the Chamber is actually lobbying against efforts to invest in renewable energy, which would create much-needed jobs.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is consistently referred to as the country’s most powerful business group and lobbying organization, and they have worked hard to earn that title. So far in 2012, the group has already spent close to $60 million on lobbying and political spending, which already matches the entire amount that the group spent during the 2007 – 2008 presidential election cycle in the U.S.

One of the main reasons the U.S. Chamber has been so successful with their lobbying efforts is that they have a very broad focus. While most companies or interest groups focus solely on elected representatives, the U.S. Chamber has spent an enormous amount of time, money, and energy lobbying the Judicial Branch. And as this week’s ruling shows, that has been a wildly successful venture for the group.

And this week wasn’t a fluke, either. According to reports, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce emerged as the clear victor in this year’s Supreme Court session, allegedly remaining “undefeated” in the issues that they became involved in.

The court that issued this week’s ruling, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has a very conservative majority sitting on the bench. Only three of the appellate judges in the Circuit were appointed by a Democratic president, and those were from Bill Clinton. The Court currently has three vacant seats, which leaves President Obama as little as 4 months to fill those vacancies, if Mitt Romney wins this year’s elections.

Americans tend to forget about our Judicial Branch of government, and of the three branches, the Judiciary gets away with a lot more than our Executive or Legislative branches. It is also a branch that is dangerously susceptible to dirty money, and the lack of public attention allows activist, anti-environmental judges to receive powerful, often lifetime appointments that are nearly impossible to undo. The recent anti-environmental court rulings should serve as a wakeup call to American citizens.

August 22 2012


Overlooked and Underfoot: Sidewalk Cleaning in New York City

Who knew there were so many ways to keep the cement pathways clear of debris and discarded gum.

Managing the Ocean for Humans and Whales

Researchers seek the most protection for the North Atlantic's humpback whales at the least cost to the fishing and tourism industry.

August 17 2012


A 20-Year Low in U.S. Carbon Emissions

Energy-related emissions were lower in January to March than for any first quarter since 1992, partly because of the shift from coal to natural gas in power generation.

August 16 2012


August 15 2012


A Different Approach to Coping With Drought

To reduce evaporation, a start-up venture proposes to cover reservoirs with a layer of vegetable oil made from palm and coconut.
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