Steve Richerson

Steps to Sustainability from Upper Management to the Bottom Line

By Steve RichersonSteve Richerson

Big companies like GE, IBM, Wal-Mart, and many smaller companies like Tenant, Centiva, and Stonyfield Yogurt have recently locked their GPS coordinates on to a really intriguing destinationmarket profitability through ecological sustainability.

These companies have set their company GPS on a target that’s not just a sustainable destination for the company’s longevity, but for reaching that destination while using our planets resources wisely.

Ecological sustainability refers to the way we choose to use the Earth’s natural resources.  If we use resources in a way that doesn’t harm future generations’ ability to use those resources, that use is considered sustainable for generations to come. If we harm future generations’ ability to use those resources, it’s not sustainable. There are really excellent business reasons why these innovative companies have chosen this destination.

Why Destination: Sustainability?

  • Allows companies to cut overhead costs for everything they take, make, and waste. These savings can go directly to the bottom line.

  • Allows companies to build a successful enterprise they can be proud of. This leads to increased employee productivity, retention and attraction, which goes straight to the bottom line.

  • Allows companies to build a reputation for being a good corporate citizen. This results in loyal consumers and possibly loyal fans that can determine questions of zoning, taxes and community support.

So, what are the steps we have to take to get our GPS pointing toward sustainability?

Step 1 – Get “Buy-in” from the top. You’re going to have to make a pitch, presentation or proposal to convince upper management that sustainability is good for the bottom line of your company. Simply making the “feel good” argument that going green is the “right thing to do” won’t cut it. You need to make the business argument for it.  Make the case in dollars and cents.

Step 2 – Engage everyone on the team. Now that you know the front office has your back, it’s time to engage the team. Build a group of mid and senior management from all departments (sales, HR, facilities, retail manufacturing) that will focus on efforts to save the company money through saving resources and preventing pollution.Even members of the team that are “environmentally agnostic” (global warming skeptics, recycling is a waste of time, etc.) can understand that waste equals inefficiency. Inefficiency costs your company money. Wasted money means raises and promotions are less likely for them. They’ll understand this argument. Saving the company money through saving resources is the goal. Try to align your goals with two these two principles of sustainability and you’ll be well on your way:

  • Is it renewable?

  • Does it create pollution?

Step 3 – Get it on the company map. Get an official sustainability statement from your team on the Corporate Strategy Map. This will allow your integrated sustainability to be an aligned priority at every level of your company. You’ll get “buy-in” from everyone because it’s on the map. Employees up and down the corporate ladder want to know that sustainability is important to the company and they’ll be rewarded for spending work time on it.

Step 4 – Take, Make and Waste. Have the team focus on areas of take, make and waste. Create a list of opportunities for each of these areas. Waste is inefficiency. If you can cut down on inefficiency, you grow your bottom line and you help reduce impact on the planet. Here are a few questions that should be asked:

  • Can transportation costs be reduced by getting smaller vehicles or can they be eliminated completely?

  • Can we cut our waste removal costs by recycling?

  • Can we choose an option for shipping that uses less packaging?

  • Is it possible to innovate a completely new product that is within our core competencies but has a lesser impact on resources?

  • Can we source raw materials closer to our factories to cut down of shipping costs?

When everyone gets focused on the TMW (Take, Make and Waste areas), the result is that good ideas for profits and the planet come flowing out.

Step 5 – Measure immediately. Once you’ve found the areas to focus on, begin to measure them. If possible, integrate automated measurements of all inputs and outputs.  Even very competent managers and front line employees can get it wrong. It’s easy to over or underestimate how much energy, how many raw materials used, how much water is wasted or how much trash is being hauled away if there’s no real data on it. Collect the data right away.

Step 6 – Set goals. Now that you have the data, set your goals for sustainability. Make these goals specific, measurable and make sure they are of strategic bottom line value to your company.

Step 7 – Execute. You’ve set your goals. Now go for it.  Remember to make small steps towards this goal every day. Continue to ask yourself, “How can I make this just a tiny bit better?”

Step 8 – Share progress. Be honest with shareholders and stakeholders about the results.  The public will appreciate your honest attempts to be more sustainable (even if you’re not totally successful). Be honest about results and you’ll be better off.  They want to know you’re on the right road and will support you for that.

Step 9 – Conduct an annual review. Have the team review the improvements that were made over the year. Ideas that worked in one area may spur improvements in other areas. Keep going; there’s always room to do a little better.

Many of the world’s smartest companies are locking their GPS destination on sustainability. It’s good for people, planet and most importantly, it’s good for profit.

Steve Richerson is a nationally recognized speaker and consultant. Steve utilizes his distinct presentation style to speak on the importance of sustainability and actionable guidelines to enact eco-friendly practices in business. As a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, National Recycling Coalition and the North American Environmental Education Association, Steve is spearheading the campaign to reduce wasteful corporate procedures and promote environmentally sound business methods. To learn more about Steve’s speaking, call 256-710-7216.