The Playbook for Becoming a Sustainable Business

If your company is working toward becoming a more sustainable company, you need a strategy, plan and roadmap.  There are ten steps we’ve defined at Green Business Bureau to gear your company’s purpose, culture, focus and actions towards sustainability.  The steps below were summarized in Executive Guide for Becoming a Sustainable Business – Step 1. Today’s article will focus on Step 2: Create a sustainability committee or green team.

  • Step 1: Define your vision, mission and values
  • Step 2: Create a sustainability committee or green team
  • Step 3: Benchmark and assess your current sustainability performance
  • Step 4: Engage your employees
  • Step 5: Plan, set goals and prioritize based on over 400 GBB initiatives
  • Step 6: Implement the plan, establish and communicate new policies and practices
  • Step 7: Leverage the GBB Scorecard to track progress and measure results
  • Step 8: Analyze your results and compare to goals and benchmarks
  • Step 9: Celebrate and communicate your accomplishments
  • Step 10: If you’re ready, get Certified or continue making improvements

Step 2: Create a Sustainability Committee or Green Team

The second step in your sustainable business journey is establishing a cross-functional team responsible for implementing a Sustainability Program at your company.  Organizing a constructive and progressive team within your company can be one of the most empowering and valuable moves on your sustainability journey. Sometimes though, it can be a bit daunting to get one started, especially if you don’t have a serious focus on sustainability within the business yet and commitment from all executives.  Today, despite the early challenges, most companies that are serious about becoming greener have a productive green team or sustainability committee that is leading the charge and making a real difference.

What Is A Green Team?

It is important to first understand exactly what a green team is (sometimes referred to a sustainability committee) and what it can look like depending on your specific situation. A green team is a group of employees that either volunteer or have been designated to get together periodically to identify opportunities that improve the sustainability of their organization and to develop actionable solutions for these goals.

This team of like-minded employees typically focus on two main areas of responsibility: operations and culture. The operations focus covers developing strategies to change policies and processes in order to lower environmental impact and potentially improve the efficiency of the business. The other focus, creating a green culture, covers employee participation and educating employees about the why’s and the how’s of sustainability, ultimately encouraging engagement and participation.

Business Value of a Green Team

The culture aspect of a green teams’ responsibility is paramount to ensure a lasting culture of sustainability and a program that successfully drives change.  A culture that is purpose driven is proven to be more productive, engaged, happier and motivated.  A great culture becomes a company differentiator, a reason why great people come to work for your company.  Establishing a green team is an effective way to develop a purpose-driven attitude throughout your business.

The more tangible business value of a sustainability team stems from improving operations to be more efficient, less wasteful, or more eco-friendly.  A cross-functional team can use on the ground observation that otherwise may be overlooked or go unreported to drive their priorities. This can range anywhere from facility, energy, manufacturing or operational process efficiency.  In other words, the team can provide a strong economical return on investing in sustainability. Further, having a designated green team provides routine oversight and develops the company-wide accountability needed to follow through with sustainability goals.

Green Team Challenges

There are many challenges to creating a reliable and impactful sustainability committee.  Here are some of the top challenges:

  • Lack of executive support and alignment
  • No clear ownership
  • No formal structure
  • No measurable goals
  • Not cross-functional

Executive Support and Alignment

The number one hurdle many organizations face when seriously organizing a sustainability committee is executive support and alignment.  This is especially true when the group starts as an informal grassroots movement by a small group of employees that have difficulty gaining momentum and communicating their goals and activities to upper management.

Committing to sustainability should come from the very top with the CEO and executive team.  Start off the process of creating a team by speaking with management to explain the significant benefits that will be associated with a sustainability committee.  Focus on increased employee engagement and satisfaction, operational efficiency, increased collaboration between departments and the overall “good” of being a green business. If you are able to, get someone from the management department to join the team as this shows a level of seriousness and a sense of accountability. Executive membership also has the benefit of streamlining any decisions that must be made by the executive management team. It is vital to ensure that management is prepared to seriously consider and act on some of the suggestions provided by the green team because if not, this can be a serious hindrance to motivation and participation.

Team Structure and Responsibilities

Most companies should begin with a small diverse team that includes one representative per department. You want your green team to be inclusive of the various departments and levels within your organization but still productive in discussions. If a group consists of more than 12 members, then it can often make it more difficult to find consensus and develop solutions.

Having individuals from various departments ensures all areas of the business are being taken into account and it invites open collaboration of ideas and resources.

It’s also important that the initial team be composed of employees passionate about sustainability and saving the planet.  A purpose that is sincere and emotional can be a significant driving force within your green team.  Their passion and understanding drive progress, encourage participation and lead to better results.

When forming a green team, keep in mind that all members do not need to have an expertise in sustainability so long as they are motivated about learning and making a positive impact. Send out an email to employees that explains the mission of the green team and allow volunteers to self elect themselves. If you find an overabundance of employees wanting to participate, consider the formation of additional department specific green teams with their respective green team member as a liaison. This could present a fantastic opportunity to create friendly competition between departments in showing who is improving more. This would be a significant boon to the promotion of a green culture.

Encourage Project Ownership but Keep It Fun

Designating ownership to certain sustainability or department champions and their sub committee’s can ensure that nothing falls through the cracks. Asking for volunteers to focus on an area such as recycling or community outreach can capture the individuals’ specific sustainability passion. Most importantly, do not forget to keep things light hearted and fun. Sustainability performance is a serious issue but you are more likely to get the entire office involved when the typical business rules are relaxed and the process is enjoyable. Employee engagement can be accomplished through unique and inspiring programs like American Recycles Day or corporate cleanup events. Allowing this light hearted green culture to become a normal part of the work environment will have a multitude of positive benefits for your employees’ morale and overall business image. For more ideas, check out our article on Employee Engagement and Green Culture tips.

Sustainability Goals and Priorities

A logical first step once the team is established is to assess how sustainable your business is today.  While benchmarking where your company currently stands can be a challenging and complex task, it is a very valuable step in setting goals and recognizing achievements. There are multiple ways to benchmark, for example a solid waste and recycling assessment. The Green Business Bureau EcoAssessment is one easy-to-use assessment tool for benchmarking your company’s sustainability performance and validating your completed green initiatives. If you are a GBB member currently, use the EcoAssessment tool to gain an understanding of your company’s sustainability as a whole.

Our next article, Assessing Sustainability Performance: Executive Guide to Becoming a Sustainable Business – Step 3, will discuss how to do a comprehensive assessment to identify and prioritize initiatives that make the most sense for your company to tackle.

Keep Things Simple At First

It is important not to overwhelm your green team or office employees with goals that are too complex or unattainable early on. Any individuals that are on the fence regarding sustainability could be pushed over the edge in the wrong direction for good if things are too complicated or time consuming. Likewise, your green team will lose heart if their first initiatives get drudged down or require unrealistic commitments and resources right off the bat.

Be Sure to Hold Regular Meetings and Communications

After your first official green team meeting, you’ll want to establish a regular schedule of meetings as it will provide members a reliable cadence to expect and plan for. Whether broken down monthly or quarterly, you can plan your year-end and year-beginning meetings to highlight members, achievements and events as well as discuss plans and goals for the coming years. It is also advantageous to establish times for communications to be sent out to employees, for example at the beginning of each month.  Be sure to publish agendas and goals for each meeting and track action items.

Celebrate Successes and Achievements

Celebrating even minor achievements is vital to the success of your green team. No matter how minimal, each achievement is one step further to showcasing your company’s commitment to sustainability and the benefits that come from it. This also gives much deserved recognition to members and shows that their efforts are being appreciated. Whether through special recognition events or personal shout outs, make sure your green team is given the appropriate credit. Sustainability achievements are worthy of company-wide celebration so if you’ve reached a new green milestone such as achieving GBB Gold or Platinum member status, invite all employees to partake in the victory! You have earned it!

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