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Three Goals to Get Your Sustainability Program Off and Running

The SSC Team February 14, 2019 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.

Your company recently formed a green team, but it doesn't seem to be accomplishing much. Or maybe you've just been designated as your organization's green champion, but can't seem to get anything done. Sound familiar? 

You may be suffering from "start-up" syndrome. Back in June, Inc. Magazine published an article by Peter Cohan called 3 Simple Goals You Must Set to Succeed, which discussed the importance of setting goals for start-up enterprises. We found it intriguing that his suggestions so closely mirror the questions we ask newly formed green teams during consulting engagements.

1. Mission: What is the enduring purpose of the venture?

To answer this, ask yourself what problem matters most to your venture and why you are willing to go years with little pay or sleep to solve it. A start-up’s mission must be deeply meaningful to the founder and be compelling to people that the founder wants to hire. After all, without capital, a hungry start-up’s only currency is denominated in terms that are hard to quantify: the difference between a humdrum existence and work that has deep meaning.

Before you jump into developing new programs and initiatives, get clear on your sustainability goal. Is it to "green your office" or to "green your organization?" That answer will tell you whether you should be focused on replacing styrofoam in the kitchen or developing a comprehensive green supply chain program. It will also tell you who needs to be on the team -- whether is a cadre of mid-level employees, or top executives with budget-wielding power. Setting the enduring vision of your sustainability program will help determine the scope of your ambitions.

2. Long-term goal: What will this company look like in five years?

A long-term goal for your start-up must satisfy the aspirations of the founder, the investors, and the employees. And that forces the entrepreneur to trade-off a desire to maintain control with drawing in capital so investors can get a sizeable return.

Start with the end in mind -- what do you want your organization's sustainability program to look like in 20 years? (While in start-up land, 5 years might be an eternity, we would argue that it's not really "long term.") Where do you want sustainability responsibilities to reside? Who should be managing sustainability? What do you want to have accomplished? Where do you want to stand relative to your peer group? Understanding the long-term goal will help you make smart decisions now about where to focus your efforts.

3. Short-term goal: What frugal experiments must we make to reach our long-term goal?

If the mission and the long-term goal are the 1% of the inspiration needed to build a successful venture, the short-term goals are the 99% perspiration. Create a series of real options. I mean that you should make small, inexpensive bets -- a win means that the venture can go on to the next short-term goal; a loss means a chance to learn what went wrong and do it better the next time.

Sustainability guru Bob Willard says that pilot projects are the surest way to convince management to move forward to bigger sustainability commitments. They are small, they are relatively cheap, they are exciting, and they create a sense of innovation. You may not get a huge budget or a lot of responsibility -- but as the green champion, you may get the leeway to tackle a couple of "frugal experiments." Use these opportunities to show what you can do, and you'll get a bigger bite at the apple next time around.

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