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The Playbook for Becoming a Sustainable Business

If your company is working toward improving its sustainability performance, 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. All 10 steps below were summarized in the first article, The Executive Guide for Becoming a Sustainable Business:

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

Today’s article will cover Step 6, a blueprint for a sustainability plan.

Implement the Sustainability Plan: Time for Execution

The sixth step in your green business journey is to implement the plan you’ve created. It’s important that you launch the plan with the right people, process and technology. A sustainability program launch event is the perfect time to establish and communicate new sustainability policies and practices.

Phase 1: Create a Launch Plan – Launching a new sustainability program corporate-wide is an opportunity to engage all stakeholders – internal and external. It’s a chance to engage employees and change behavior right out of the gate. It’s a chance to partner with your customers and suppliers. The launch plan should include internal communication and external marketing sub plans.

Phase 2: Launch the Sustainability Program – To be successful, your sustainability program needs to be positioned as a high and critical priority for the company. Leaders need to be clear that your company is serious about becoming more sustainable and not doing this just to appease employees and address political pressures. A formal launch event is a great way to demonstrate this commitment and communicate the new updated purpose-driven goals of the company. Make sure the launch is a “big deal” with everyone involved, but especially with the green team and executive team.

Phase 3: Monitor and Manage Initiatives  – Your sustainability program needs to be managed with the same discipline and rigor applied to other important and strategic corporate programs. The program leader should assign tasks and owners to each planned initiative and define formal deliverables and milestones with target dates. It’s critical that the executive team holds people accountable via project management updates. Monthly cadence meetings are highly recommended.

Phase 4: Review and Adjust the Plan – Depending on the scope of your planned initiatives, you’ll want to schedule a formal review and checkpoint within a month or quarter of the program launch. Continuous improvement should be built into the program via monthly or quarterly cadence meetings.

Creating the Sustainability Program Launch Plan

There is no one sustainable business launch blueprint that applies to every company. Most should include the following sections:

  • Employee Communication Plan – Includes at a minimum an executive summary document of the program and announcement email to all employees. May also include an employee town hall meeting or internal video conference with all employees.
  • Customer Communication Plan – Includes a public description of the program and sustainability commitment of the company. May be shared via blog, social media or formal press release.
  • Partner and Supplier Communication Plan – Very similar to the customer communication plan with additions that are specific to partner expectations and requirements.
  • Public Relations Plan – Includes a public description of the program and sustainability commitment of the company shared via blog, social media or formal press release. May include meetings with press and industry analysts.
  • Brand and Marketing Plan – The marketing department should promote your commitment to sustainability in marketing material and corporate website. One option is to use a green business profile like the one provided by Green Business Bureau’s EcoProfile. Communicating your sustainability program is a chance to elevate your brand and reputation.

Launch the Sustainability Program

The launch should be scheduled well in advance and include all departments and all business functions. The program should call out what’s expected of each department.

  • Manufacturing including production, sourcing, fulfillment, distribution and logistics.
  • Facilities including buildings, cleaning and maintenance, bathrooms, food service, heating, air conditioning and landscaping.
  • Engineering including product design, materials and end-of-life management (e.g. the product’s reuse and recycling potential).
  • Finance and Accounting including applying carbon credits, minimizing paper billing and printing and remote working.
  • Customer Service including remote service and product repair that reuses old spare parts for replacements.
  • Human Resources including video conferencing interviews, hiring of employees that are purpose-driven and committed to sustainability.
  • Information Technology & Printing including your servers, data center and hosting providers.
  • Sales and Marketing including business travel, printing of marketing materials and sustainability evangelism.
  • Executive Team including establishing a company purpose, green mission statement, green culture and the right values.

Monitor and Manage Initiatives

Most sustainability programs are managed by a Sustainability Program Leader. This may be the part-time team leader of your sustainability committee or, for larger companies, this may be a full-time position: Sustainability Manager or Sustainability Director. Tasks can be managed by department or by sustainability category. Below is one way to consider organizing a large program with sub committees. Note the key metrics and questions each sub group should manage.

  • Energy team – How much energy do we use? Can we use less or adopt clean alternative energy sources?
  • Waste team – What waste do we produce and where does it come from? Is it hazardous? How can we reduce waste and prevent pollution? Can we find ways to recycle or upcycle waste materials (e.g. install recycling bins in the breakroom)?
  • Facilities team – How eco-friendly are our buildings? Are there opportunities to improve energy efficiency and upgrade lighting, insulation, heating and cooling? Are we maximizing natural light or natural airflow whenever possible?
    • Water – How much water do we use? How much do we waste? Can we conserve water with smart technology (e.g. motion sensor faucets)? Do we use plastic bottles for water?
    • FoodWhere do we source our food from? What food do we provide employees? Is it healthy and produced from sustainable sources? Can we minimize meat and offer more plant-based options? Are we composting food waste?
  • Products Team – Do our products use sustainably sourced and eco-friendly materials? How does manufacturing our products impact the environment? Is our packaging also safe for people and the planet?
    • Supply Chain – Are we using vendors and suppliers who are environmentally and socially responsible? Are we sourcing products locally or from the closest source? Are there areas to improve supply chain efficiency in terms of lowering waste and carbon emissions?
    • Transportation – What vehicles do we use for distribution and operations? Can we reduce employee business travel? If not, how can we offset our carbon emissions?
  • Employee Engagement Team
    • Community Involvement – Do we support our local communities and local farms? Do we get involved in environmental causes, events and associations? Are we evangelizing green business?
    • Employees – Do we offer employee training in sustainability? Do we have a green team? Are we creating a green culture? What’s our level of employee engagement? Do we communicate policies company-wide?

Review and Adjust Your Sustainability Plan

What gets measured gets managed. It’s that simple. That is why it’s important to create a reporting framework or dashboard to document and track goals and key performance indicators. Green Business Bureau members use the GBB EcoAssessment for this. GBB members choose from over 400 greening initiatives across 8 categories to earn GBB EcoPoints™. Individual initiatives are rated on environmental impact, implementation cost and effort, and are worth 1 to 60 EcoPoints™.  The GBB EcoProfile contains a green business profile dashboard which includes members’ certification level and overall score generated by their completed initiatives.

Summary: Having a Launch and Execution Plan Are Necessary for Success

As we’ve discussed, launching a sustainability plan and program is a major undertaking. It requires a sustainability leader to lead a cross-functional team and keep people both motivated and accountable. The implementation plan we recommend includes four major phases:

  • Creating a Launch Plan
  • Launching the Sustainability Program
  • Monitoring and Managing Initiatives
  • Reviewing and Adjusting the Plan

A strong launch plan will get you off to a great start. Be sure to have the right organizational structure, accountability, project management, tracking and measurement tools. Improving your company’s sustainability performance is a complex and ambitious undertaking, thus you need a leader who can effectively manage and implement a sustainability plan that is practical and impactful throughout your organization.

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