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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 7, how to track and measure results – what Green Business Bureau calls Sustainability Performance Management.

Step 7: Sustainability Performance Management

The 7th step in your green business journey is to measure results. Like the old adage says, what gets measured gets done. You have to hold yourself accountable. To be successful, your sustainability program must have formal structure with goals and KPIs that can be measured. You need to have a framework that lets you assess how sustainable your business is so you can measure progress and report results.

Sustainability Performance Management (SPM) is what we at Green Business Bureau call this measurement framework. It’s essentially a scorecard for sustainability. The scorecard shows what initiatives you’ve completed and assigns EcoPoints based on impact to each initiative. Your EcoScore determines what level of sustainable business performance you have reached. Currently it takes 200 EcoPoints to reach the GBB Gold level and 400 EcoPoints to reach the Platinum level.

The SPM scorecard provides the following key success drivers for a sustainability program:

  • Accountability
  • Communication
  • Program Management

Without these elements, most sustainability programs flounder.

Accountability

The key to execution of any major program is accountability. Every person assigned to take some action has to be held accountable for their role and responsibility. This is only possible when you establish explicit goals and KPIs and then review the progress of those goals.

Accountability is important at the corporate level, green team level and individual level, and specific goals need to be established at each of these levels. These goals need to be captured and tracked. For GBB members, the most common goals are completing initiatives available in the GBB EcoPlanner. For example, an initiative for the current year might be “replace all lighting with energy efficient alternatives like LEDs” or “replace our fuel-powered delivery vehicles with hybrid or electric vehicles”. These chosen initiatives become the goals in your sustainability plan. Tracking whether the people or teams assigned to the initiative complete them brings accountability to the organization.

Communication

To be successful, a sustainability program must include a communication plan. This includes a launch plan, training plan, communicating goals, KPIs and periodic status and progress reports.

Just like report cards communicate a student’s performance, a sustainability scorecard can communicate a company’s sustainability performance. Instead of courses, the sustainability scorecard might list functional areas:

  • Business Practices
  • Bathroom/Breakroom
  • Office Space
  • Copy/Print
  • Outdoor/Transport
  • Community Involvement

The scorecard can show a percentage of initiatives completed, total points or overall grade. GBB uses a point system to show how many points you scored out of a max potential points total.

Program Management

A sustainability program needs to be managed like any other major initiative or project in the company. There are goals, task owners, deliverables, milestones, due dates, critical paths, status reports, etc.

At the heart of a GBB-based sustainability program is the scorecard. It becomes a key framework for creating your program structure and goals. The GBB initiatives become the major tasks for the program and the STEPS for each initiative become the sub tasks. The GBB initiative library provides you with the structure you need to create your sustainability plan and manage your program.

MEASURING SUSTAINABILITY PERFORMANCE

There are two popular ways to measure a business for sustainability performance:

A process-based assessment is much simpler and can be completed in a few hours. It gives you a view into what you’re doing right in terms of applying sustainable practices and what you’re missing in your sustainability program, policies and procedures.

A carbon footprint-based approach is more technical and more difficult to calculate given all the data that needs to be collected and scrubbed. The carbon footprint gives you an estimate of your company’s carbon emissions. The EPA provides a simple carbon calculator for a household that demonstrates the concept, but it is not very practical for a business which has many more elements that contribute emissions beyond heating, electricity and vehicles.

PROCESS-BASED SUSTAINABILITY ASSESSMENT

A process-based assessment is entirely initiative based. This type of assessment compares your policies, procedures and completed initiatives to a long list of initiatives that are possible and practical. One real world example, Green Business Bureau’s assessment, takes a points-based approach where your company receives points for each and every initiative it completes. Initiatives are organized by the business area they impact, such as operations, business practices, cafeteria, transportation, bathrooms and office space. This set of assessment questions is something your company can easily answer to measure your efforts and uncover your company’s needs and opportunities. Completing the initial GBB Assessment will produce an overall scorecard that correlates to a specific ranking; Gold or Platinum levels reflect strong sustainability performance.

CARBON FOOTPRINT-BASED SUSTAINABILITY ASSESSMENT

A carbon footprint-based approach attempts to measure your overall carbon footprint. A company’s carbon footprint is the quantity of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that were produced as a result of its operations. Carbon footprints are usually measured in terms of an annual footprint that takes into account the impact of all the company’s key activities over the course of a calendar year. For more on carbon calculators, see Step 3 of the Green Business Bureau Executive Guide for Becoming a Sustainable Business.

BUSINESS VALUE OF SUSTAINABILITY PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT

Companies that maintain a sustainability scorecard to track their performance will likely make more progress than a program that does not have a scorecard. It’s Business 101… what gets measured, gets managed and gets done. How you set up your scorecard is up to you. For GBB members, the scorecard is built into the online EcoAssessment and EcoPlanner online tools. Members track the initiatives they’ve completed against the library of over 400 initiatives to produce an EcoScore and scorecard by functional area.

Sustainability Performance Measurement Brings Accountability

As we’ve discussed, using a scorecard for measuring the results of our sustainability plan and program brings accountability to your program and makes it easier to assess your current situations and set future goals. Setting goals, identifying deliverables and assigning owners will hold people accountable.

A Sustainability Framework is Needed for Effective Program Management

Most green teams or sustainability committees need structure to manage their program and projects. This structure starts with a foundation of initiatives that are possible and desired. Assigning goals, tasks, owners and managing the progress of the initiatives becomes the structure the program needs in order to be successful.

Scorecards Provide a Way To Communicate Progress

Maintaining a scorecard engages your employees, creates a deeper understanding of sustainability and demonstrates your commitment to being a sustainable business. While measuring and tracking initiatives, you may uncover business risk that was not identified in the past. Ongoing assessment can also uncover opportunities to be more energy efficient and less wasteful. Regardless of how you fare, ongoing tracking will help you prioritize what to work on next.

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