Getting Off To A Great Start With Your Sustainability Program

You’ve committed to making your business more sustainable. Kudos and congrats! So how do you make sure the sustainability program gets off to a great start? Our Green Business Bureau members often say having a strong green team or sustainability committee is the key to success. Each organization’s team or teams may look and feel a little different, but they all have a champion, goals, ways to track accountability and they meet regularly. The first meeting, the kick-off, is key. It establishes the goals and sets the tone. This article will share 12 tips for that all important sustainability program kick-off.

12 Tips On Launching A Sustainability Program

Once you’ve defined your sustainability vision and selected your team, it’s time to schedule that first meeting. The meeting needs to go well. It needs to have an agenda, goals, and a framework in mind to manage the program. The team needs to be energized, engaged, and be part of the process of defining the program and priorities. This is the time to get serious about sustainability and change the culture if needed. Here are some tips for that first meeting.

1. Bring Energy and Excitement

Being a member of a company’s Green Team should be fun, filled with energy and excitement for all members. A team leader that keeps things light-hearted and fun will help keep team members enjoying the project and charged with motivation. Making environmental changes are serious issues but you are more likely to get the entire office involved when the typical business rules are a bit relaxed. This can be done with unique programs or office events like this Recycling engagement article or this list of Recycling oriented events. Allowing this light hearted green culture to become a part of the office culture will have a multitude of positive benefits. Check out this GBB blog article for Employee Engagement and Green Culture tips.

2. Have A Kick-Off Meeting Agenda

Each Green Team member is giving their time, energy and dedication to the team. The leader of the team can show respect by making meetings flow and stay within the designated time, filled with important topics and next steps. Coming to each meeting prepared with an agenda will ensure that time is used efficiently and effectively. Consider these agenda items:

  • Introductions: this can be introductions of the team members for a first meeting, or introductions of the meeting/topic for established teams.
  • Expectations: simple reminders such as videos turned on for video meetings and reminders that all voices/ideas are equally important to the growth of the team.
  • Appreciation: simple gestures of appreciation go a long way. The team lead can simply thank the entire team for their hard work at the beginning of the call or mention individual wins/activities of each team member. This can occur at the beginning or end of the call.
  • Reinforcing why the team exists: review the team mission, goals or topics currently working on.
  • Initiative focus: reviewing what initiatives the team is working on and how it is moving along. If the initiative is finished, discuss one or two new ones to work on for the following month. Be sure to collect the opinions and ideas of the entire team before making the decision.
  • Celebrate Accomplishments: you can find ideas on how to do so in the article Celebrate and Communicate Your Accomplishments: Executive Guide To Becoming A Sustainable Business – Step 9
  • Next steps: before the call ends, review what was discussed and each team member’s next step/activity.

3. Choose the Right Sustainability Framework or Certification to Support Your Sustainability Program

Choosing a green certification program that works for your organization and goals is important to providing a framework for setting and tracking goals and accomplishments. Making sure to find one that the team will be able to work with.  To be successful, the certification needs to be appropriate. That keeps it fun and attainable! There are several certifications to choose from including B-Corp, LEED, ISO 14001, BREEAM and Green Business Bureau. Here’s a certification option comparison. Most small and medium-sized companies around the globe are utilizing a local certification or the Green Business Bureau (GBB) certification. GBB’s certification is online, self-paced and easy to use. It includes a library of initiatives, eco-plans, guides and tips.

Once the certification of choice has been chosen, educate the Green Team(s) on the certification and why this one was chosen to utilize. Explain the benefits of the certification, how to use it. If the Green Business Bureau was chosen, use the GBB EcoPlanner to identify your target initiatives and the GBB EcoAsessment to mark down the initiatives you’ve already completed as a company.  The interface is very user friendly. If there are questions or need of support the company has a Member Success Program ready to offer hands on support whenever needed.

4. “Sustainable Business” Brainstorming Session

During each scheduled team meeting, set aside time for each member to share their own ideas on the agenda items. This may include the beginning of the program where goals and vision are being created or later steps where team members are actively working on initiatives to tackle. Giving each individual this voice will show that each team member is valued equally, give ownership and buy in. This will in turn help keep the excitement going and the membership sustainable.

5. Make It Personal

If you’re the team lead or executive sponsor, be passionate, rally the team and explain to the team why they should join the cause and how they will make a difference. No matter if the Green Team is just in the “creation stage” or has been established for some time, keeping members engaged and even bringing on new members will keep the ideas flowing. A few simple ideas to connect are:

  • Tell a personal story when presenting information about the team. Making sure it aligns with why the speaker joined or has the continued passion for the project.
  • Project ownership: team members have the option to choose initiatives to work on geared towards their interests (within the team goals and budget).
  • Share successes: incorporating strong data or pictures will help drive this.
  • Choose a “green team” name that will be recognized by the organization.

6. Gain Support From All Stakeholders

Successful sustainability and greening efforts require executive leadership and expert guidance. Across the board, successfully greening companies cite two key factors in driving their success: Executive leadership and utilizing a sound business case framework. According to a recent MIT Innovation Report, companies with C-level executives driving their sustainability efforts are far more likely to profitably implement their efforts, and companies utilizing a clear implementation framework that starts with a business case are three times more likely to report success than those that don’t. 

A certification program like the Green Business Bureau is a great way to engage the executive team and ensure commitment to the process. In a final report of an eight-year study of how corporations address sustainability from MIT Sloan Management Review, researchers found that 90% of executives see sustainability as important, but only 60% of companies have a sustainability strategy and have taken real action beyond a few stand-alone initiatives. Again, use the GBB EcoScorecard to hold your team and company accountable.

7. Share Sustainability Program Goals

It is important to ensure that employees not only understand the concept of sustainability and the green culture that the company is trying to achieve but also why the company is focused on it and how they intend to achieve it. The more clear the message the more aligned the employee will feel to the company mission and engage. One way to share what the green team is trying to achieve is by creating goals. This can be done by mapping out smaller, reachable goals for 3 months out. Then one or two larger obtainable goals for year one. Put larger, more costly or time consuming goals for 5 years.  These written goals will not only show employees what is trying to be achieved, but help keep the Green Teams motivated and on track.

8. Create and Share Sustainability Program Mission and Vision 

Coming up with a sustainability mission statement for your company is often a group exercise facilitated via a brainstorming session. The goal is to capture the essence of your company’s values and sustainability objectives which may entail many dimensions, but try to keep it focused on a few top priorities and core themes. In the end, your mission statement should be:

  • Clear – void of industry jargon and nebulous terms; state specific actions and goals
  • Concise – simple and to the point; short enough to remember and paraphrase
  • Useful – helps explain priorities; rallies employees to do the things aligned with your corporate and green mission statement

There is no one formula for the perfect mission statement, but a green mission statement often includes three parts:

  • Why – Why is sustainability important to us?  What do we believe?
  • Goal – What is our end goal?  What will we do? What do we want to accomplish?
  • Success Criteria – How is success measured? What does our future company look like?

For a more detailed step by step guide and examples check out the blog Sustainability Statements: How To Write One That Resonates with Employees and Customers.

Once the green mission statement has been completed and approved by the organization, share this out both internally with employees and externally with customers. This can be done via social media and/or creating a location on the company website that highlights the green certification.

9. Create a Diverse Green Team and/or Sustainability Committee

Creating a green culture that truly engages employees requires not only leadership from management but passionate individuals from various levels, departments and  within the organization. This provides:

  • Confirmation of a greater movement happening within the organization and will encourage participation greatly due to the established group. 
  • Allowing people to self-select is a great way of empowering your employees! Many people will welcome the opportunity to do something that they are interested in and that aligns with their values.
  • The program can help people gain experience around sustainability, project management, collaboration and leadership.
  • Take a look at this article on Green Culture for additional ideas.

10. Create A Green and Collaborative Culture

A green team and sustainability committee create a common purpose and collaborative spirit. It encourages a sense of open communication and collaboration across all levels and departments. When barriers like this are broken down and a sympathetic outlet for observations is established, those employees that interact and observe the processes or operations almost daily can create valuable insight into improving the company.  Take a look at this example of how Toyota used this concept of frontline suggestions to promote employee engagement and improve operations. This same concept can be applied to all areas of the business, including providing valuable suggestions and open discussion with the Green Team(s) that include: 

  • Everyone on the same playing field no matter their day to day title
  • Everyone’s ideas/voice is heard
  • Monthly newsletter showcasing activities
    • First one shares about each team member
    • Team members write articles for the newsletter

11. Celebrate and Share Team Successes

Even if you don’t have the big budget to make large leaps in sustainability or an entire department dedicated to sustainability, selecting even just one green initiative is the start of your journey and you should be proud!

Sharing your progress and green achievements is another great marketing opportunity to boost employee morale, engage with stakeholders and get the recognition you deserve. Consider holding a company event to celebrate and engage with staff. And don’t forget to share your achievements across social media and in your newsletters. Perhaps offer a limited-time special offer to customers to show your appreciation for supporting your green journey.

A few low cost ideas to showcase the teams are:

  • Create and give out team t-shirts with the teams logo or names on them: can be worn when hosting special environmental events. Showing team members and or the community that this person is a part of the company Green Team.
  • Yearly awards can be made or purchased locally (there are many “green” options out there): for team leads, individual teams (if more than one) and/or team members.

12. Schedule Cadence Meetings to Keep Momentum Going

You’ll want to establish a regular schedule of meetings after your first green team kick off call/meeting as it will provide members a reliable cadence to expect and plan to. Whether broken down monthly or quarterly, you can highlight your year end and year beginning meetings to highlight members, achievements and events but also to look forward to the coming years plan and set of goals. 

Think of including the entire company in these events by opening up your green team meetings to anyone who wants to attend OR use internal communication platforms to be send out to articles, activities employees can engage in at home, podcasts/documentary ideas around climate change (find our top 20 ideas here) or success the team is having. This will help engage everyone and keep the certification at top of mind.

A Great Sustainability Program Start With A Great Kick-Off Meeting

Designating ownership to certain sustainability or department champions and their subcommittees can ensure that nothing falls through the cracks. Asking for volunteers who want to be part of your sustainability mission is key. Ares such as recycling, re-use, plastic avoidance, or community outreach can capture the individual’s specific sustainability passion. 

Most importantly though do not forget to keep things light hearted and fun. These are serious issues but you are more likely to get the entire office involved when the typical business rules are a bit relaxed. Allowing this light hearted green culture to become a part of the office culture will have a multitude of positive benefits. Check out this GBB blog article for Employee Engagement and Green Culture tips. Good luck with your kick-off and your program. Let’s create a green business world.

About the Author

Maggie Okponobi

Maggie’s career started in the education sector as a teacher before committing to the Peace Corps and educational development in The Gambia, where she helped establish an Early Childhood Education school that now is serving 265 students in counting. After returning to the U.S., Maggie worked as Funding Coordination Manager at School Specialty, a company that provides necessary educational supplies for schools, and helped transform the company into a successful sustainable organization. Now Maggie runs her own consulting firm to promote “sustainable steps to a better future” and educate organizations on the benefits and savings possible through adoption of green technology. With Maggie’s diverse experience in education, environmental science, and program management, plus exceptional interpersonal skills, she seeks to form lasting relationships with Key Opinion Leaders to make plans into a reality.

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