Sustainability Engagement Network Discussion (SEND) Series # 8: Tracking and Measurement

By Wendy Firlotte, Employee Engagement for Sustainability Specialist

Wendy gained experience as the Sustainability Engagement Manager for a large multi-national engineeing firm with 171 offices.

Wendy gained experience as the Sustainability Engagement Manager for a large multi-national engineering firm with 171 offices.

Measurement, monitoring, evaluating and reporting sustainability engagement is essential to the effectiveness of your program.  Feedback loops and processes for continual reflection, evaluation, learning and improvement provide evidence of the program’s value, while helping participants to monitor their progress and achievements.

However,  engagement data is quantitative and qualitative and many organizations struggle with finding practical ways to measure, collect, monitor, evaluate and report it on an regular basis.

Creating a Monitoring Framework

Much has been written on choosing metrics and indicators.  In this post I’m going to stay away from discussing how to choose metrics and indicators and talk more about some of the considerations and logistics of creating a monitoring framework that really works for your program.

Quantitative or Qualitative Data?

From a measurement standpoint, we aim to create a monitoring framework that identifies related:

  • outputs
  • outcomes
  • specific indicators

Quantitative data is useful for reporting and building the immediate business case for the program; while qualitative information greatly improves programming and builds an important story to support the business case.  You need both.

Metrics Linked to Strategy

Measurement, monitoring and reporting also provides a significant opportunity to connect your program with the organizational context, goals, program objectives and priorities.  It’s helpful to look at the “bigger picture”.  An effective tracking structure supports and links the engagement strategy with a strong, logical framework that allows an employee to see a clear link between their daily actions and outcomes presented in a company sustainability report.  (For further discussion on strategy, see a previous SEND post: Session 1 – Planning and strategy)

Enhancing your Monitoring System to Ensure Greater Success

So what is our core objective here?  We are all looking for a program that provides clear evidence that it: 1) directly supports the company’s sustainability strategy, 2) makes a contribution to the bottom line and 3) makes tangible progress year over year.  You might have other objectives as well.  Perhaps productivity or employee attraction and retention are also important to you.  You need to be clear up front about the type of story you want your metrics to tell.

Therefore,  it’s important to take a step back and clarify your monitoring and evaluation framework from a more holistic perspective.  You need to stay mindful that you don’t want to get bogged down in collecting numbers  that don’t accomplish any of your stated goals.  Here we will take a look at important qualitative considerations to data collection including: support, collaboration, effectiveness, communication and dialogue.


How effective is your program?  While collecting data, we need to also capture whether or

Photo credit: TheTruthAbout...

Data may not reflect whether they are relevant or successful. For example, if we collect numbers of locations with recycling stations, we also need to ask “Are they being used?”

not your program is both useful and functional.  As we monitor initiative numbers, we need to recognize that the data may not reflect whether they are relevant or successful.  For example, if we collect numbers of locations with recycling stations, we also need to ask “Are they being used?”.  Or, if certain office or plant locations are not participating in specific parts of the program, we may need to ask “why?”.  Conversely, this is also a great way to identify best practice examples by asking “what worked”, “what didn’t work” and “what lessons have been learned”.


Bundling requests for data with other communication and support, such as check-ins and follow-ups, is an effective way to increase overall engagement in the program.  Regular check-ins can  identify when teams or individuals are struggling or need support.  For example, on top of collecting data we can ask offices/locations if they need any support on existing projects or to start new projects?  This is also a great opportunity for local dialogue and to identify local champions.

Communication & Dialogue

Tracking and monitoring systems can create avenues for dialogue and communication.  This could be between teams and management, between employees in an office, between offices, between corporate departments and offices, or between departments (you get the idea).  Progress reports with tangible and timely data can be a foundation for local, regional or corporate discussions on organizational sustainability.  What are your windows for such a dialogue?  How does your data roll up into your Sustainability Report.  It is important to be strategic about these discussions to support and enhance your program.


Tracking and monitoring provides an excellent opportunity to collaborate with other departments and program leads in other sustainability related areas. By working together you can demonstrate that your program is integral  in integrating sustainability into operations.  For example, who is coordinating the sustainability report?  Walk them through your Tracking and Monitoring Framework outline and discuss all of the possibilities that would assist in sustainability reporting.  Also express your interest in creating a framework that would allow employees to see a direct connection between their daily actions and what they read in the sustainability report.  How could you work together to make it more relatable to employees?

Also, use this framework as an opportunity to utilize existing networks?  Does your organization have health and safety, environmental health and safety or quality representatives in each location?  Could they double as a sustainability contact or could they assist in appointing one in their office?  Is health and safety already collecting data for their own tracking purposes?  How are they tracking it, what could you learn from them?   Is there another related program you could join forces with to track and monitor?  Think through your own context and whom you could approach to partner with or learn from.

How are we measuring progress? 

It is important to have the discussion - how do we define success?

It is important to have the discussion – “How do we define success?”

The first question that comes to my mind when considering tracking and measurement is: How are we defining success?  What would success look like for your sustainability engagement program?  If we are not sure exactly where we are going how will we know when we get there?  How will we measure our progress?

Measurement and Feedback

Once you have mapped out what success looks like for your program, you need to determine appropriate program milestones, metrics, outputs and outcomes.  For the purposes of this post, here are some questions you might consider:

  • What metrics do you already track?  Could they be shared?
  • Are some programming areas harder to track than others?
  • What measures do you struggle with?
  • What measures have you had success with?

I think this would be a great conversation to have during our SEND networking discussion.

No matter what metrics your organization uses, you need to establish a baseline.   We cannot measure progress if we do not know where we started.  Also, you will need to determine the frequency of data collection and monitoring.  For example, you could have quarterly updates on progress that feed into an annual evaluation.  I definitely recommend setting up some sort of ongoing feedback avenue that allows timely and potentially anonymous comments where individuals or offices may express their concerns at any time without having to wait for a formal process.

With tracking and evaluation comes reporting.  The information is not only useful for the sustainability report, which will likely only highlight a fraction of the information you’ve collected.  Pulling together your own progress report with the results of the monitoring and evaluation will go a long way in helping others understand the overall program.  Share it with your leadership team, regional and local managers, local teams and individuals participating in the program.  Make it available online and promote its release to increase its readership.

Possible Frameworks

Office Rating Systems – These can be a useful tool to use as framework for tracking and

Office rating systems at Harvard award 1 to 4 leafs based on achievement of sustainability goals.

Office rating systems at Harvard award 1 to 4 leafs based on achievement of sustainability goals.

measurement. This type of framework provides a strategic, clear, consistent and effective avenue to implement your engagement strategy locally.  For further discussion on office rating systems, see our previous SEND post: Session 4 – Internal benchmarking & office rating systems.

Key multipliers – Since the foundation of sustainability is rooted in local context, a coordination platform is required for creating relevance, while meaningfully supporting and empowering local efforts.  Building a network of regional “key multipliers” in to the implementation structure provides regional contacts, communication, and tracking and support for local office teams or committees.  This includes a regional representative who regularly communicates, follows up and supports a set number of local offices.  The regional representatives then regularly report to the program coordinator on progress.


Mind map it – Pulling together a comprehensive tracking and monitoring system can be a bit complex.  I find it helpful to use mind maps to visualize the framework.  Coggle is a free and easy online mind-mapping tool that I use often.  You are able to drag and drop pictures, as well as, share and collaborate with others.

Online Data Collection Tools – If you do not have your own departmental data collection team, there are useful resources out there.  My personal favorite is Surveymonkey, which provides a free or low cost (depending on your needs) platform for data entry and analysis.  It is a very useful tool.

Software – I often get asked about this.  This could very well be a useful and viable option for your organization.  I have had many software tracking companies approach me with their products over the years.  Two things were a “no go” for me: 1.  The cost.  They were basically cost prohibitive,  at a whopping $50,000 purchase price followed by thousands of dollars per year in operating costs.  2.  I wanted to promote more dialogue within the organization and I felt taking this kind of approach would make all conversations virtual, not that organizing virtual conversations is a bad thing, but in the context of tracking and monitoring I wanted there to be real, regular conversations.

Creating your own system

When looking to construct your own tracking system, I highly recommend using a mind map technique (see above) to think through your possibilities.  Once you have this rough picture in your mind, you can thoroughly brainstorm each aspect and how you could measure success in this area. It can also be helpful to look for examples from other organizations and best practice case studies.  Use these as inspiration and pick and choose what pieces would work for you and adapt them to your own context.

The bottom line, as always, is that sustainability is rooted in local context and there is no one path or one way to do something.  Involve others, get dialogue going and be creative.  Become your own sustainability case study.

If you have any comments, ideas, additions to share please a comment below.  This discussion series is about learning from each other.  Hearing about your experiences is valuable to everyone!  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact Wendy Firlotte or Kathryn Cooper.

Other topics already covered in the SEND discussion series may also be relevant to your situation; please take some time to read through previous posts and stay tuned for future posts and related discussions.

Session 1 – Planning and strategy

Session 2 – Addressing scope – Local vs. corporate plans

Session 3 – Communicating with frontline staff

Session 4 – Internal benchmarking & office rating systems

Session 5 – Beyond start-up – Dealing with plateaus and revitalizing programs

Session 6 – Participation – Overcoming barriers and competing priorities

Session 7 – Integrating sustainability into operations

Session 8 – Tracking and measurement (Current Post)

Session 9 – Reporting – purpose and content (November 2013)

Session 10 – Wrap-up Session

The Sustainability Engagement Network Discussion (SEND) Series is a network of Sustainability Practitioners using peer learning to accelerate employee engagement for sustainability.  If you are interested in participating in our ongoing sustainability engagement discussions, please contact Kathryn Cooper.


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About Kathryn Cooper

Kathryn Cooper is a committed sustainability practitioner and educator moving companies toward “green” profitability and sustainable competitive advantage by unlocking human creativity and technical innovation. Over the last two years she has had the privilege to work with companies like Dupont, Zerofootprint, WWF Canada, and Partners in Project Green on sustainability issues, best practices and renewable energy. Kathryn is a graduate of York University with a Master of Education specializing on Sustainability and the Environment. She holds an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier University, and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Guelph.
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