The Most Common Sustainability Program Challenges

Sustainability programs are not something an organization simply decides to implement without investment. It takes a serious commitment of people’s time and corporate capital, presenting common sustainability program challenges.

But when that investment is made wisely, the return will outweigh the initial costs made. For example, reports by the non-profit CDP found that for the S&P 500 companies, those that had sustainability built into their core strategy financially outperformed those that failed to show such leadership.

Hence, sustainability makes business sense. Yet, this doesn’t take away from the challenge of launching your sustainability program, and its maintenance.

For this Green Business Bureau article, we asked our members to define the common challenges they’d faced to become more sustainable. We present these challenges below, to outline the solutions that will help you successfully implement an effective sustainability program for your business.

Sustainability challenge #1: Knowing where to start

You want to become a more sustainable business and launch a sustainability program to achieve this aim. But where do you start?

How do you prioritize tasks and initiatives?

How much should you take accountability for?

What tasks should you assign to your employees?

What outside resources should you use?

These are the common questions executives and managers often face. Fortunately, there are tons of online resources that can help, including guides on how to get started (with green tips, and sustainability plans). For instance, check out the following resources created by the Green Business Bureau:

  1. Green Certification Checklist
  2. Sustainability Program Checklist

Use these resources, along with the following tips to get started and implement your sustainability program:

  • Take the time to create a quick green mission statement for your business. For more information on how you can do this, read How to Create the Perfect Green Mission Statement.
  • Put together a green team if you’re not a sole proprietor.
  • Kick things off using green initiatives that are low-effort but will give high returns. An example would be the introduction of recycling facilities into the workplace or switching to LED lightbulbs.

The Green Business Bureau is another resource designed to help you achieve your sustainability goals. Once signed up, you can use the Green Business Bureau’s EcoPlanner and EcoAssessment to find green initiatives ordered by level, cost, and impact. Think of the GBB software as your sustainability guide presenting green initiatives you can progressively work through. Start with “low hanging fruit” initiatives that will have a big positive impact first, and then gradually take on more green actions to achieve your sustainability goals.

Sustainability challenge #2: Finding the right people

Your employees drive your company’s sustainability cause. That is, you’ll want to embed sustainability into your company’s culture and build a workforce that’s committed to being green. You need to think about this during any hiring and onboarding process, think: Are candidates passionate about sustainable development?

As American cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead once said:

​​Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead, GoodReads

To learn more about how you can create a green culture, read: Green Culture Guide: How to Build a Workforce Committed to Sustainability.

It’s most likely that you already have employees who want to dedicate their time to help your company become greener. These are the people to include in your organization’s green team.

A green team is a group of like-minded employees who’ll focus on two main areas of responsibility: Operations and culture. Operations are all about developing strategies to change policies and processes that protect the environment and improve business efficiency. Culture looks at employee participation and engagement to drive sustainable results. This would mean developing educational resources and training to back green developments.

For more information on how to create an effective green team, read: 10 Best Ways to Build and Manage a Green Team or Sustainability Committee.

Sustainability challenge #3: Lack of time

Effectively executing your sustainability plan will demand an investment of time, from yourself and your employees.

To overcome this challenge, you’d need to ask the big question: How do you minimize the time needed to achieve your goals without compromising on quality and being thorough?

Hiring part-time consultants is an effective way of getting more work done. Also, consider using online resources to automate repetitive tasks, coordinate your team, and manage your workload. And of course, there are online sustainability learning systems designed to drive in-house green change easily and quickly.

As said by Bill Zujewski, Chief Marketing Officer at the Green Business Bureau, your employees will be willing to help as it’s highly likely they’ll want to support your purpose-driven agenda. As with purpose comes greater engagement, productivity, and hence more work is done in the time available.

If you’re strapped for time, implement easy, low effort green initiatives first. Ones that don’t demand a high investment of time but will give results to deliver your green aims.

Sustainability challenge #4: Lack of money

There are real investment costs associated with making positive environmental changes for any organization. Investment costs come in the form of people, content, training, operational changes, and changes to product design and engineering. With this in mind, try to avoid spending money on expensive consulting or unproven solutions and technology.

Some investments cannot be avoided and are worth the initial expense. For example, alternative energy projects – such as solar – will have a large upfront cost but give a strong long-term return. For instance, according to market data published by EnergySage, installed solar panels can cut business energy expenses by 89%. Other initiatives such as replacing lights using energy-efficient LED bulbs will use two-thirds less energy than standard incandescent bulbs. Also, think about fitting timers and motion sensors to your lights so they switch on and off automatically.

Using consultants as you initially role your sustainability program out may be helpful to hit the ground running. Yet, consulting can be expensive. You can minimize these costs by using online sustainability management and learning solutions. Such solutions will deliver training and educate your team, meaning you won’t need to use expensive consultants to deliver your sustainability program. Once more, some online sustainability management resources – such as the Green Business Bureau – will provide the appropriate green certification that reflects your green achievements and commitment.

Sustainability challenge #5: Greenwashing

Greenwashing is a marketing term used to describe messages that exaggerate the sustainability achievements of a business, making an organization appear greener than it is in reality. This is clearly something any business would want to avoid. As the saying goes, if you’re going to talk the talk, you need to walk the walk and actually implement effective sustainable solutions.

If you’re unsure about how to market your green achievements, look for 3rd party certification to verify your efforts. You’ll need to find a trusted source whose seal will give the verification you need.

You can then use your green seal to communicate your green achievements transparently and accurately to stakeholders. Also, showcase your green challenges as much as your achievements. This is something the outdoor clothing brand Patagonia did in their “everything but the teeth campaign, (video embedded below). You can see how Patagonia effectively communicates their sustainability successes plus challenges (to manufacture jacket zippers using waste materials).

Embrace the challenge to build a better business for a greener world

Becoming a sustainable business is not a quick-fix solution. Sustainability has it challenges. It requires an investment of both time and resources. But with the right people, solutions, strategy, and tactics, these investments are minimized and the business return is maximized.

Green and good business go hand in hand. Plus, the journey to becoming sustainable can be both exciting and fulfilling. Engage with your employees and let them drive the cause.

Protecting the planet and fighting climate change is not just the responsibility of individual consumers, it’s the responsibility of businesses. Working together, a single organization can make a big difference. You can help create a greener, more sustainable, and socially responsible business world. Let’s do it together.

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