Sustainability has become a new buzzword for many organizations, and thankfully it’s becoming common among individuals as well. We see large corporations committing to sustainability goals because their consumers, their brands and even the stock market demand it. While these large organizations have a global environmental impact, it can easily be stated that midsize and small organizations have an even more significant role to play in sustainability because they exist within their local communities.
What does it mean to be sustainable? The United Nations (U.N.) World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainability assumes that resources are finite and should be used in a manner of respect, conservation and harmony. Simply put, sustainability is about our people and the planet’s resiliency toward the future.
In 2015, the U.N. adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), creating a road map for the future peace and prosperity of the people and our planet. Here are few examples of the SDGs: affordable and clean energy; responsible consumption and production; and industry, innovation and infrastructure. Each SDG includes priorities, impact and goals for the future.
How is your organization looking at sustainability and preparing for the future? Is sustainability something your organization has recently talked about or started to look at recently? If you have, that’s great. Keep going by identifying your next set of targets. If you haven’t, don’t worry, you’re not the only one.
There’s certainly a lot to consider within an organization when it comes to which areas of sustainability your business should focus on first. Do you reach for the objective with the largest impact or start with the easier targets?
I always encourage my clients to take a deep look into their organization and assess their “triple bottom line,” their impact on 1) customers, vendors and employees (people); 2) waste, energy, emissions, water and natural resources (planet); and 3) efficiencies that could be gained or realized (profit).
Many organizations identify this through their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. However, this is not limited to large entities such as corporations. All organizations have a social responsibility. I always say it shouldn’t be only Fortune 500 organizations that have these objectives and tools to help them reach their targets. All organizations (and people, too) have a social responsibility, and we will see our greatest achievements as a collective participating group of people.
This is one of the reasons I left my 20-year career at the Walt Disney World Resort, where I was helping lead the company’s environmental programs. I saw a profound change occur once people were given the right tools, training and resources to make significant positive changes in their business operations and achieve identified targets, and in many cases even exceed them. I knew I wanted to help other organizations set and achieve their sustainability targets.
Here are a few ways your organization can start identifying your impact. Set the expectation and take the time to train your team members on the changes you’re making and be sure everyone is on board. Update operating guides and manuals to ensure consistency for the longevity of your program.
- Utility Reduction (Energy and Water)
- Identify and create a baseline. Review your facility’s energy and water usage for the past one to three years. Create a plan to reduce your usage by a set percentage by a certain year. You can create annual plans to start and then progress to five-year and 10-year plans.
- Identify infrastructure changes. Update appliances and equipment on a set cycle to a more energy-efficient or conservative model.
- Take advantage of rebate opportunities. These can be through your utility provider as well as manufacturers.
- Support net zero emissions. Look at installing renewable energy solutions such as wind turbines or solar panels on your property to reduce your carbon footprint.
- Become carbon neutral. Once you’ve identified your opportunities and have a plan to reduce your utility consumption, you can implement a plan to become carbon neutral by supporting certified carbon neutral programs.
- Waste Reduction
(Solid Waste and Packaging)
- Identify and create a baseline. Review your current waste output by measuring the volume and frequency of waste you are producing. Your service provider should be supplying this information to you. How much material are you sending to the landfill or recycling? Identify this by volume and weight for the past one to three years.
- Consider hiring an expert to quantify your waste diversion. This might be necessary if more detail is needed to create a baseline.
- Review all inbound and outbound packaging. Determine where opportunities exist to reduce or eliminate dunnage, padding material used to protect goods during shipping. Look for identifying marks to determine whether the material is recyclable, and check with your hauler to ensure it will process the material. Plastics have a “resin number,” usually located at or near the bottom of the container. Not all plastics are recyclable and not all haulers will take all plastics.
- Create a plan to address the volume of waste produced. Initiate a recycling program that is aligned with your organization’s waste output. Identify your opportunity to increase your recycling rate. In some cases, businesses can implement recycling at a cost-neutral rate or even save money on hauling fees once the right recycling program has been initiated.
- Work toward a goal of zero waste. Divert at least 90% of your waste (based on weight) from landfill or incineration to a recycling or composting facility. In most cases, you will need to hire an organization to quantify and validate these metrics before you publicly state them.
Sustainability in business is achievable and, in many cases, much easier than you think. A business must embrace a diversity of people, thoughts, experiences and cultures. This will help your team consider all aspects of sustainability and prepare your organization for the positive change needed to become resilient and ready for the future.
Andrea Ruiz Hays is founder and chief strategist for Eco Strategies Group in Orlando, which is committed to supporting the sustainability journey of all organizations. She can be reached for a complimentary consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org