You want to make the world a better place, especially when you’re at work?
That can often be a challenge – even more when your company isn’t focused on sustainability, and your colleagues don’t understand your passion for the environment.
Short-term results beat long-term vision
If you’re like us, you do of course understand why your company needs to take the environment more seriously. After all, it’s something we all have to do together.
But in reality, businesses are often still focused on their short-term results – especially during more challenging economic times.
This means that we have to raise awareness and build capabilities to reduce our environmental impact together. This is also called capacity building.
Capacity building means building up the knowledge, skills, and processes needed to contribute positively to society or the environment. It’s the holy grail in sustainability – and it can be frustrating if you keep being ignored.
Even if you’re already in a position where sustainability is your main responsibility – for example as a sustainability manager – it’s not guaranteed that you’ll have an easy time getting to results.
We asked the community about their best advice on how to build capacity inside their company – even if their colleagues “don’t care”.
Here are the 13 top tactics.
How far is your company on the Sustainability Maturity Path?
One thing we learned through your submissions is that actions really depend on how far the company is already involved in sustainability.
One way to measure this is by using a maturity model, like the PWC Sustainability Maturity Path.
There are 5 steps on this path – from simple compliance to a purpose-driven organisation.
We’ve separated the tactics into two blocks: Tips for organizations that are still in the transition to a fully sustainable organization, and companies that are already further.
Beginner tactics to build capacity in companies
If your company is in stages 0-3 of the Sustainability Maturity Path, it doesn’t always follow sustainable business practices from an internal motivation. The driver for sustainable action is mostly external: Regulations, customers, and cost efficiencies.
The management isn’t measured by environmental performance indicators yet, and sustainable programs are decentralized and scattered. There might even be full-time sustainability specialists working in the company – but if sustainability isn’t a topic that’s led by the C-suite, there is still work to be done.
These tips can be helpful to raise initial awareness and build capability even in organisations where environmental awareness is still in its infancy.
Tip #1: Coffee machine diplomacy
Marjolein Mesma from Cuberetail.nl recommends to always be outspoken about sustainability – especially in the “social” moments at the workplace. She calls this coffee machine diplomacy. So when you’re having a chat with your colleagues, bring it up. The goal: Activate a grassroots movement in your apartment, that can spread further through the company.
Tip #2: Never use the “Doomsday” scenario
When following tip #1 or any other advice, Marjolein also advises to under no circumstances approach sustainability with a negative mindset. Instead of talking about negative scenarios and “Doomsday” thinking, approach it from a positive and innovative point of view.
Tip #3: Bring it up in every decision making process
Even if your company isn’t driven by environmental metrics, you should still bring it up when decisions are being made, says Michiel Cornelissen (Kode21).
If no direct goals are available, make your colleagues aware of the potential negative implications of their decisions (“This decision will lead to more carbon emissions, do we really want to do this?”). This way, you can steer the conversation around – instead of having to decide in favor of a more sustainable alternative, they have to decide against a more unsustainable alternative. A reality check!
This is also how Tim Etherington-Judge from avallen spirits handles this:
We’ve implemented a simple strategy. At every business decision, we add the question: Is this the most sustainable decision within our budget? This has helped embed sustainability in every aspect of our company, from seed paper business cards to hiring electric cars instead of flying when traveling in Europe.Tim Etherington-Judge from avallen spirits
Tip #4: Independent action
This idea was submitted by multiple people: Incentivize your colleagues to be creative and start independent projects to raise environmental awareness. Even if it’s just a lunchtime run for environmental awareness – every time the topic is on the agenda helps.
Tip #5: Sustainability Task Force
Another suggestion from Marjolein: Build a task force and create a concrete roadmap.
“Form a task force only with the people who want to dedicate time. Differentiate between primary and secondary processes of your business. Where do you want to have impact? Energy? Use of plastic? The whole buying process?”
Marjolein Mesman, Cuberetail.nl
Tip #6: Interactive BAM sessions
“Beter, anders, minder” – Better, different, less – is another tool that Marjolein suggests. Zoom in on a specific area of your business and work in intensive sessions with small teams.
People come up with their own ideas and we separate the THEM from the ME“Marjolein Mesman, Cuberetail.nl
Tip #7: Share internal success stories
Marco van Beers (Product Manager at Vogel’s Products BV) loves to plant seeds by sharing internal success stories. The subject of sustainability is still in its infancy in the company but that doesn’t keep Marco from inspiring his colleagues with stories and trends.
Advanced tactics to build capability for sustainability
Your company already has sustainability goals? That’s no guarantee for a flawless environmental performance. With these tips, you can assure that your colleagues (and managers) will follow sustainable practices as much as possible.
Tip #1: Define Sustainability KPI for every position
This Best Practice is a must – “what you can’t measure cannot be improved”. To understand your sustainable performance, you have to define a baseline of your environmental footprint – and then define clear goals. It starts at the management level – but once everyone in your company delivers towards a clear number, you can really drive sustainable change.
Tip #2: Management KPI help make leadership accountable
This sounds like a big leap for many companies – but linking your management to the environmental performance is absolutely a step any company needs to take at some point. Many companies even link the remuneration of the board to the environmental performance! The key is to clearly define relevant KPI that can be changed over time.
Tip #3: Clear structure for sustainable activities
Frank always focuses on communicating the basic structure of the group’s sustainability approach – Green Products, Responsible Manufacturing, People & Society. This helps everyone in the company to find ways to innovate according to the overall sustainability goals – you could even call these “internal SDGs”!
Tip #4: Student assignments to bring in fresh perspectives
Sustainable innovation requires innovative, out-of-the-box thinking. At Prysmian Group, Frank leads student assignments with “a flavour of sustainability” in many departments. The goal: Bring in fresh knowledge and question existing processes. At the same time, this gives young talent a chance to shine.
Tip #5: Full transparency
Nobody is perfect. And no company is perfect, either. A helpful way to start the process of getting better is being transparent about where you’re at. Sustainability is sometimes treated like a “fluffy”, non-quantitative topic. A fact sheet can help with holding yourself accountable to your environmental performance, and measuring your progress accordingly. The next step would be a full sustainability report of your company – but this is already a bigger project. Start with a simple fact sheet (Frank uses a fact sheet for internal alignment. Prysmian Group has many reporting requirements, since they are a publicly listed company in the DJSI). Prysmian Group also publishes a corporate sustainability report, but Frank uses the factsheet to empower and engage specifically the local colleagues and customers.
Tip #6: Translate CO₂ into actionable numbers
CO₂ and other environmental indicators can be hard to understand. So why not translate them into something that everyone can compare? Our Carbon Translator is built on that idea, as is Jelle’s company Flygreen, which helps you to compare and offset the impact of flights.
The Sustainability Flywheel: A guiding process for Sustainability Maturity
Now that you have the tactics for creating awareness and building capacity – where do you start? Take a look at our Sustainability Flywheel. It all starts with measuring your baseline, and then improving efficiently. You know who to talk to. 😉