Session 7 – SEND Series: Integrating Sustainability into Operations

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 engineeing firm with 171 offices.

By Wendy Firlotte, Employee Engagement for Sustainability Specialist

What do we mean by integrating sustainability?   

When a company begins implementing new sustainability programming, it is often seen as something new and perhaps separate from day to day work.  Many see it as –  one more thing that employees are expected to do in their already busy day.

Yet, the long-term organizational goal should be to deeply embedded sustainability in daily operations.  It ought to be seen as a part of everyone’s job.  This requires the underpinning of sustainability values in overall decision-making including internal operations, services and products for clients in much the same way that Interface has accomplished with its Mission Zero program illustrated in the video below.

A common employee motivation problem is that many employees, at all levels, do not understand the business and personal value of more sustainable operations.  The impacts of sustainability on the bottom line are well documented.  The financial and operational benefits from sustainability include: increased operational efficiency, productivity, employee retention and recruitment, and customer and investor preference. 

This month’s topic of integrating sustainability into operations ties together many of the SEND topics previously discussed and some new topics yet to come.   The following blog will highlight  key considerations for embedding sustainability within an organization.

Supportive Leadership

Embedding sustainability effectively into an organization’s operations requires strong corporate commitment, dedicated support and cooperation of regional and local management.  What are some ways organizations demonstrate this type of support and commitment?

Creating Culture of Sustainability and Innovation – People are more likely to think and behave in a more sustainable manner if it is encouraged throughout the organization, rather than asking employees to change one isolated behavior.  Fostering a workplace culture of sustainability demonstrates a commitment to integrating more sustainable behaviors.  By doing this we create space and attitudes for more sustainably conscious decisions, actions and innovative ideas.

Leadership Support – Leaders and managers at all levels within an organization hold key

Supportive leadership in a company is key.  As CEO of Interface, Ray Anderson led the toward Mission Zero engaging employees around the world

Supportive leadership in a company is key. As CEO of Interface, Ray Anderson led Interface toward Mission Zero engaging employees around the world. He also challenged other companies to do the same.

positions of influence.  Implementing and embedding operational sustainability requires a unique blend of top-down, bottom-up support and cooperation.  Executive leadership plays a critical role in modeling the integration of sustainability.  Senior leadership needs to  communicate and demonstrate to regional and local management that sustainability is a priority for the organization and therefore for local leaders as well.  This aids program implementation tremendously.  A significant barrier to the top-down, bottom-up engagement  can be local leadership, as they are the gatekeepers of what happens locally.

More on this topic is discussed in further detail in a previous SEND post on Participation: overcoming barriers and competing priorities.

Practical Framework

Let’s be honest, embedding organizational sustainability in not an easy or fast process.  How could organizations make the process more focused, manageable and notably smoother? One solution can be to create a relevant and practical implementation framework that provides clear direction and harnesses employee efforts.  This framework needs to be built around common goals and leverage existing resources.

It is important to ensure that employees can directly relate the sustainability strategy to their jobs.

It is important to ensure that employees can directly relate the sustainability strategy to their jobs.

A relevant strategy is directly linked to organizational vision and goals.  It creates a framework for employees to make a clear connection between their daily actions and organizational impacts.  Could your employees read your organization’s sustainability report and clearly understand how they personally contribute?

What makes a strategy effective?  Based on “employee driven” planning, the sustainability strategy maps out clear, focused and collaborative plans of sustainability priorities, methods of implementation, communications, education and engagement, tracking and monitoring,  evaluation and reporting.

No matter what shape your strategy takes, you should constantly ask: 1)How can we leverage existing efforts? and 2) How could organizational sustainability be implemented in the spirit of participation, collaboration and partnerships?

More on this topic is discussed in further detail in a previous SEND post on Planning and Strategy.

Effective Coordination

With strategy in hand, how does an organization go about effectively coordinating and managing implementation ?  What kind of coordination systems could act as the glue to hold it all together?  Below are a few implementation systems to consider.

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.

Office Rating Systems

Office rating systems are a concrete way to ensure employees understand the standard for achieving sustainability goals.  Rating criteria are mapped out and define  what does it take to be a “1 star” (starter office) office versus a “5 star” (champion office)?

More on this topic is discussed further in a previous SEND discussion on Internal benchmarking and office rating systems.

Corporate Coordination Platform

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” into 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 with and supports local offices.

Sustainability Key Performance Indicators (KPI)

Having discussed the items above; how does an organization create accountability at the

In some public institutions, sustainability activities are recognized as developmental goals in performance management programs.

In some public institutions, sustainability activities are recognized as developmental goals in performance management programs.

operations level to promote sustainability?  Often employees feel overloaded with daily tasks along with other corporate programs and responsibilities that require attention from local offices. This often translates into situations where employees who do not have a personal interest in sustainability, or feel it is not relevant to their job, do not support it or worse, actively oppose it.  In an ideal scenario, employees at every level should have sustainability related Key Performance Indicators (KPI) in their work performance agreements making sustainability an integrative part of their job responsibilities.

Engaging employees in the process

So how do we as employee engagement professionals approach the process of embedding sustainability into an organization?  The purpose of sustainability education and engagement is to provide an avenue for people to build their knowledge, skills and experience to achieve sustainability visions and goals. Employee engagement programs are the glue that holds the overall sustainability program together.

How do we increase the “stickiness” of this glue to enable integration of sustainability?  We  focus on the spirit of participation, collaboration and partnerships.  Imagine that all internal silos are torn down and that you are completely free to build meaningful partnerships that promote collaborative implementation.  Sounds pretty inspiring eh? It results in a strong interdisciplinary team of sustainability champions who have a personal stake in its success….your company’s success.  And that is where the rubber meets the road- authentic sustainability integration aligns the higher purpose of your organization with that of your employees – you couldn’t ask for a sweeter deal.

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 (Current post)

Session 8 – Tracking and measurement (October 2013)

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

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.

Posted in Sustainability Engagement Network Discussion (SEND) Series | Leave a comment

Sustaining Effective Multi-Stakeholder Collaborations

Momentum is a funny thing; when you have it – it seems like it could magically go onmomentum forever.  But in reality, it takes much insight, planning, and energy to sustain and build it.  It seems, this is true of sustaining multi-stakeholder collaborations.

“The nature of multi-stakeholder collaborations is changing,” says Nicholas Luff of the Partnership Brokers Network.  “Today’s collaborations are more relational than transactional.  In the past, we have approached relational partnerships in an informal and organic manner.  But today, we are trying to make big system shifts with these arrangements.  They need to be more rigorous planning and implementation.”

Nick knows what he is talking about.  He is an accredited multi-sector partnership broker and the panel moderator for Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR) Transformational Company Applied Summit (November 6, 2013 – Toronto).  He supports organizations through stakeholder engagement and partnership brokering in the extractives, healthcare, education and ICT sectors.

Purposeful Multi-Stakeholder Collaborations

I am keenly interested in what Nick has to say.  I am involved in a multi-stakeholder collaboration involving a City, three utilities and seven non-governmental organizations.  We are ambitiously reducing our community’s footprint well beyond any other comparable Canadian city.  And we are doing it -together.

In July, we met to form a Change Lab facilitated by Reos Partners.  Change Labs are spaces for partners to come together, learn about one another and co-create initiatives toward a common goal.  This first meeting was a glorious thing.  We came away with a renewed sense of our collaborative purpose and some of our roles in bringing it about.  We were on the same team, pulling together, it felt so energizing and inspiring.

But it is September now, and we are in the minutia of building strategies, structures and prototype programs for roll out to citizens.  Maybe I have a short attention span; but it feels like momentum is waning.   If we are going to recapture that “lovin’ feeling”, we need to know what more we should be doing.

How Multi-Stakeholder Collaborations Achieve “Lift-Off”

Nicholas Luff is Certified Partnership Broker and Panel Speaker at CBSR's 2013 Summit.

Nicholas Luff an Accredited Multi-Stakeholder Partnership Broker and Panel Speaker at CBSR’s 2013 Summit.

Luff says that organizations partner because they cannot achieve their goals by working as a single entity.  They can only achieve greater innovation, impact, scale, reform and / or sustainability by working cooperatively with others.  So, the first step is recognizing when a multi-stakeholder collaboration is necessary.  If you can effectively do it alone, you probably don’t need one.

Check – we agree we can’t do this alone.

Next is the selection of the right partnership framework.  “There is a continuum of relationships you can employ,” notes Luff.  “The framework determines the core principles, expectations, rights, and agreements for the stakeholders.”

PartnershipSpectrum

There is a continuum of the types of relationships you can employ. Transformational relationships are used to shift a complex system.

Hmmm, we are using Theory U as the backbone for our partnership.  Does this constitute a framework?  What else might Nick have in mind?

All the while, the principles of equity, transparency and mutual respect are at the center.  The Partnering Initiative identifies that these three elements unlock respect, trust and sustainability; the glue of the collaboration.

I think we have a good start in these principles, but that is my opinion.  I wonder whether our partners feel the same?

As the collaboration evolves, agreements on measures of success, communication and how to diffuse conflict are developed.

In our collaboration, this information would have been very helpful over the last month. This is something we are working on in our November Change Lab meeting – we may have needed it earlier.

Keeping Things Rolling

Brokers help to bring people together.

Brokers help to bring people together.

Luff also mentions brokering.  Who is pushing and giving a spark of energy to the initiative?  Brokers know how to tap into divergent interests, inspire and give confidence to others, and encourage good partnership behavior.  They also protect the vision and values of the partnership.

I wonder if this is something that can be done from within the partnership by, let’s say, one of the NGOs or does it need to be a neutral party?  Reos is helping us with this and the support is invaluable.

Partnerships

Partnership Frameworks help partners understand core principles, expectations, rights, and agreements for the partnership.

It is clear that multi-stakeholder collaborations are both art and science.  Frameworks,  principles, brokers, roles and responsibilities are important considerations.  Sustainable collaborations don’t just happen.  They are complex systems that involve planning and relationship building.  This is why the “Sustaining Effective Multi-Stakeholder Collaborations” session at the CBSR Summit is essential to anyone involved in or considering such an undertaking.

If we are serious about successfully shifting systems toward sustainability; then we need to equip ourselves with the tools to do this important work.  I am convinced that this is an important session that everyone involved in CSR and Sustainability should attend.  Hope to see you there.

CBSR’s Transformational Company Applied Summit

Luff and others will hold a panel and moderate facilitated discussions on “Sustaining cbsrconfEffective Multi-Stakeholder Collaborations” as part of CBSR’s 2013 Summit, November 6, 2013, Toronto.

The session will focus on:

•How and why does a company set up a multi-stakeholder partnership? What is the real value as well as the collective impact?

•How can collaboration become a driver for innovation in the face of complex sustainability and developmental issues?

•How do you best identify and select partners based on criteria that meet your organizational needs and expectations?

•What have been the challenges and unintended consequences that significantly impact the outcomes?

•What are the state-of-the-art global standards, frameworks, methodologies and other skills necessary for brokering effective collaborations & partnerships?

For more information or to register: http://cbsr.ca/2013-summit

 

Learn More

Partnership Brokers Association: http://www.partnershipbrokers.org/

The Partnering Initiative: http://thepartneringinitiative.org/

Partnering 101: http://thepartneringinitiative.org/w/resources/partnering-101/

 

Posted in Corporate Social Responsibility | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

SEND – Session 6 – Participation – overcoming barriers and competing priorities

Continue reading

Posted in Sustainability Engagement Network Discussion (SEND) Series | Leave a comment

Session 5: Beyond Start up – dealing with plateaus and revitalizing programs (SEND)

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 engineeing firm with 171 offices.

By Wendy Firlotte, Sustainability Engagement Practitioner.

Sustainability engagement programs thrive with involved and enthusiastic employees.  Enthusiasm drives inspiration, motivation, commitment and increased chances of long-term success.  Many organizations struggle with programs that over time fizzle out or plateau in terms of enthusiasm and progress.

When a program is new there is plenty of space for new ideas and creating initiatives that employees may have wanted to put in place for a while.  This initial period creates enthusiasm with the roll out of the program as numerous activities and initiatives are discussed and implemented.   Over time, Sustainability/Green Teams often feel like they are out of ideas and wonder what they could do next move forward.  With enthusiasm waning within the team and the office, what could help get offices back on track?  How do we rebuild enthusiasm?  Often a major contributor to program burnout is employees feeling a lack in meaningful involvement in the overall program, specifically the planning process.

Getting Unstuck – Revisiting the Strategy

As always, I first look to strategy as most challenges that arise with engagement programs

Sometimes our employee engagement programs get stuck.

Sometimes our employee engagement programs get stuck.

can be addressed with strategic planning.  An effective approach to creating enthusiasm is through meaningful engagement where employees are the driving force, providing a sense of ownership over the program.  How are employees involved in your organization’s program direction and focus, both locally and at the corporate level?  Is there a higher-level commitment to implement what is decided locally?

The strategic framework is a good place to highlight potential or actual weaknesses or challenges in the program with approaches to address them.  Also important is a concrete plan to monitor progress with the challenges over time and make appropriate adjustments when needed.

Strategic Approaches to Build Enthusiasm

Whether your organization has a specific challenge to address or you are not even sure where to begin, here are some key strategic approaches to build enthusiasm and ownership through employee driven initiatives:

Local Relevance: – Build a system that creates space for local offices to contribute toward common organizational goals, but allows for local autonomy and office level planning.  For example, as an organization the overarching goals are to reduce environmental impact, build on community outreach and support employee wellness.  One approach may be to ask local offices to create an office sustainability plan that addresses each of the goals, which provides both unifying direction and space for employee driven activities. This way all locations are working towards the same goals, but activities remain relevant and useful at the local level.  This concept was discussed in more detail in a previous SEND post, Addressing Scope: Local vs. Corporate Plans.

Office level Planning and Implementation:  Sustainability/Green Teams often only look within their limited group for ideas, champions and resources.  Developing a local sustainability plan by involving the entire office will open up avenues for participation, discussion, ideas, solutions, collaboration and resources.  Involve everyone in the process by providing differing approaches that appeal to peoples’ interests and time commitments.  Also take this opportunity to build on existing local activities and events, which is also a good way to build on previous success and identify local champions.  When it’s time to prioritize and decide on action plans, create space for productive discussion; for example host solution lunches, where you can bring into the fold anyone interested in a particular issue or initiative by specifically discussing solutions to a particular challenge.  More information on this subject may be found in previous posts; Planning and Strategy and Internal Benchmarking & Office Rating Systems.

Celebrating Success Keeps Things Alive.
Celebrating Success Keeps Things Alive.

Celebrate Success: Employees invest time, effort and enthusiasm into planning and implementing local initiatives.  Creating the space to recognize and celebrate success and progress is very important.  Recognizing everyone’s efforts (individuals or offices) with thanks and a job well done goes a long way in building participation and enthusiasm.

Feedback: Once a strategy is created, it’s necessary to monitor how well it’s working and if we can make any improvements.  Even though you may have a set time frame for the strategy (eg. 2 years) when you will conduct a formal evaluation, creating ongoing formal or informal feedback loops allows you to have some timely insight into how well the strategy is working. Creating sustainability engagement programs that are effective take time and you will likely have several iterations of the program before you find what really works.

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.

Next Month Participation

Next month’s SEND discussion topic is participation, where we will take a closer look at different theories, methods and activities.  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.

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 at kathryncooper@sustainabilitylearningcentre.com.

 

Posted in Sustainability Engagement Network Discussion (SEND) Series | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Are we stuck in a ‘shallow’ partnership culture?

Last week in Tim Draimin’s, webinar “Getting Started on Social Innovation”, he explained that we are stuck in a “shallow partnership culture”. This really struck a cord with me.

Let me be clear, I don’t think any of my present partnerships are shallow; but I don’t think they are deep enough either. How would you know? Here are some of the symptoms: short-term focus, silos, lack of champions, staff resistance and others. Recognize any of them?

Your partnerships maybe suffering from this often inconspicuous ailment.

The Cure to “Shallow” Partnership Syndrome

The cure? Draimin suggests we need a new way of doing things: a new mindset of innovation to reframe our challenges; new problem solving tools; new ways of collaborating and spanning boundaries and – an abundance of abundance thinking.

Getting Started On Social Innovation

Getting Started On Social Innovation click here to see the slides

 Social Innovation is the New, New Black

Want to know more? Attend the Accelerate – collaborating for sustainability conference, June 10 & 11, 2013.  I’ll be there with a Team of eight people from the Net Zero City Guelph Group (thank you Guelph Hydro for your sponsorship of the NGOs).

Social Innovation is the new, new black. If you don’t know what it is – it will be hard to use it to change the world (and I know – that’s why you’re here!)

Catalyzing Change – A Special Invitation to You

Can’t make the whole conference but plan to be in the Guelph area on June 10th –

The Conference organizers have given us a special FREE invitation for the session:  Catalyzing Change, Monday, June 10, at the River Run Centre, 12:30 – 2 pm – with Dr. Karl-Henrik Robèrt Founder, The Natural Step from Sweden and Cathy Barswick, Cooperators.

We have been given as many tickets as we want for this special session.  If you are interested in attending or have a team who might want to attend here is the link:  http://catalyzingchangeinvite.eventbrite.com/

It is FREE and open to anyone who wants to know more about collaboration and sustainability.  I have heard Dr. Robert speak and he is amazing!  To register, follow the link above.

Just tell them Kathryn sent you!

 

Posted in Sustainability Change Management, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Making Urgent, Deep Change for Sustainability – The Emergence of Social Innovation

I stand at the US customs booth in the airport on my way to Chicago using my best “sustainability” elevator speech on the Agent.  “I am going to a conference on sustainability,” I say.

“Really,” he says studying my passport more closely, “what’s sustainability?”

“Creating a flourishing world through environmental and social responsibility,” I say trying to sound business-like and earnest.

He peers at me more closely; perhaps I am one of those eco-terrorists, it sounds subversive at any rate.  He waits for me to go on.

I sigh.  “Making businesses and communities greener,” I say lightly.

“You mean,” he says warily, “like planting trees”.  I look at him knowing that it will be impossible to properly convey the importance and urgency of the sustainability movement in this short moment.

“Yes,” I say, deflated, “like planting trees.”

He hands back my passport and waves me through.  As I walk down the empty corridor a great sadness washes over me.  Just yesterday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that CO2 measurements in Hawaii surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in 3 million years. We have so far to go and so little time.  What on earth have I done to my children?

Making Profound and Lasting Change

If you are a changemaker for sustainability you are probably looking for new ways and examples of achieving urgent and lasting change.  Frances Westley, author of Getting to Maybe, notes that we are living at a point in history when the need and desire for change is profound. Our current trajectory is no longer sustainable.  We cannot ignore the compelling environmental and social challenges that vex today’s world because they will undermine us all.

She asserts that we spent the last 200 years perfecting our skills of making things and now

we spent the last 200 years perfecting our skills of making things and now  we must become equally adept at making change; deep social and environmental change.

Westley says – we spent the last 200 years perfecting our skills of making things and now we must become equally adept at making change; deep social and environmental change.

we must become equally adept at making change; deep social and environmental change.

She points to the rapid emergence of social innovation as a response to this need for proficiency.   Social innovation is an initiative, product, process or program that profoundly changes the basic routines, resource and authority flows or beliefs of any social system.  Successful social innovations have durability and broad impact. These processes are successful because they shift complex systems. (see more on the SiG Knowledge Hub)

SES08 – What is social innovation? from Social Innovation Generation on Vimeo.

Playing with Social Innovation

Chad Park, Executive Director, The Natural Step says this field is growing rapidly and having a lot of influence on policy and programs.  For instance, the concept of  “Collective Impact” has had a lot of influence on the way NGOs, foundations and governments think about their work.  In our own project, we are considering Collective Impact as a basis for working with 4 NGOs, 2 utilities and a municipality.  Other social innovation models include social finance, impact investing and transition labs.

Social innovation has inspired The Natural Step Canada to chart its new strategic course focused on enabling collaboration – specifically through the Sustainability Transition Lab program.  TNS recently released a Call for Expressions of Interest for groups who might want to use this change process.  Social Innovation is also a huge part of the TNS Accelerate: Collaborating for Sustainability Conference, June 10 & 11, 2013 in Guelph.

Learn from Thought Leaders on Social Innovation

Learn from thought leaders like Tim Drahmin at the May 16th Webinar.

Learn from thought leaders like Tim Draimin at the May 16th Webinar.

So what is a sustainability changemaker to do if you want to shift complex systems in an urgent and meaningful way?  Time is running out, no room left for false starts or ineffective processes.  We need to “lean in” to the thought leaders, learn from examples in this field and get going.

Start now by registering for the May 16th Free Webinar : The Emerging Social Innovation Field with Tim Draimin, Executive Director of Social Innovation Generation.   And then join a host of social innovators at the Accelerate: Collaborating for Sustainability Conference.

Here is what you can do to learn more:

Register for the Pre-Conference Webinar: The Emerging Social Innovation Field – Tim Draimin, Executive Director, Social Innovation Generation , May 16th, 12-1 pm (http://www.naturalstep.ca/the-emerging-social-innovation-field-webinar)

Join us at the Conference: Accelerate: Collaborating for Sustainability Conference, June 10 & 11, 2013, Guelph, ON (http://www.naturalstep.ca/accelerate-collaborating-for-sustainability-conference)

logo_accelerate_conference

 

Posted in Corporate Social Responsibility, Sustainability Change Management, Sustainability Strategy | Tagged | Leave a comment

Internal Benchmarking & Office Rating Systems – Sustainability Engagement Network Discussion (SEND) Series (4)

Wendy

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

By Wendy Firlotte, Sustainability Engagement Practitioner.

Whether your organization is just starting a sustainability employee engagement program or currently has one that is in need of some revitalization, benchmarking and office rating systems are useful tools.  This type of framework provides a strategic (always back to strategy!), clear, consistent and effective avenue to implement your engagement strategy locally.

Traditionally benchmarking refers to operational comparisons with external competitors to gauge industry performance and best practice.  Since sustainability is based in local context, comparing sustainability performance with competitors can be like comparing apples to oranges.  Under these circumstances, traditional benchmarking systems may not be entirely useful outside of gathering general information and identifying trends.

Internal benchmarking allows an organization to compare departments, locations, teams,

Harvard University uses a four leaf program for its green office program.

Harvard University uses a four leaf program for its green office program.

to identify organizational best practice examples.  These examples coupled with a focus on strategic performance improvement goals, provides a foundation to create a meaningful sustainability rating system.   Rating system frameworks provide relevant criteria to strategically address performance improvement, organizational consistency, leveraging of efforts and resources and still allow enough flexibility to encourage ownership, creativity and innovation.

Benefits:

While keeping within overarching company goals, the criteria can provide renewed direction, motivation and concrete goals for local offices and teams to achieve.  This can be a useful approach for breathing new life into programs that have reached the dreaded “plateau” phase, no matter where each office is in their sustainability journey.

Some benefits could include:

  • Increased motivation and enthusiasm
  • Fostering a culture of learning, community, innovation and creativity
  • Strong community and team atmosphere – working together and celebrating success
  • Promotes knowledge and experience sharing between locations
  • Increased opportunity for networking, support and discussion between offices and departments
  • Leverage existing initiatives
  • Creating a culture of sustainability achievement vs. obligation
  • Aligns rating criteria with organizational strategy
  • Creates greater relevance between sustainability metrics, reporting and local efforts
  • Creates an easy link to program marketing
  • Addressing barriers with time obligations – create avenues for staff to get involved in any capacity (one meeting, one project, task force member, etc.)

Criteria:

So what is trying to be achieved with this process?  Office rating systems are a way to supply offices with a strategic framework and concrete goals while allowing enough flexibility to remain relevant locally.  Based on benchmarking and your strategic goals what would you ideally like to see every office achieve?  Once this is determined it is necessary to map out the criteria; what does it take to be a “1 leaf” (starter office) office versus a “5 leaf” (champion office)?

Having a written program with checklists is essential.

Having a written program with checklists is essential.

Office rating criteria will reflect existing activities, engagement strategy, company goals as well as reporting and metrics.  Below is a list of a few generic criteria option examples:

  • Presence of a local champion or team
  • Presence of an office specific sustainability plan
  • Office is engaged in planning and solutions
  • Sustainability communication – frequency and avenue types (emails, bulletin board, operations meetings, etc.)
  • At least one initiative in # (or all) of the strategic sustainability areas of focus (ex: community investment, environmental performance, governance, employee wellness, economy (integrating sustainability in to services to clients, investors, etc.)

Steps for Participating Offices:

Once the rating system is created, what are the steps for getting offices involved? Each office should conduct an assessment based on the criteria in order to accurately understand where they are in terms of performance.  Based on their assessment, encourage offices to share the rating with everyone in their office their and also involve all employees in the planning process to improve their office rating. Ideally, each location will create a plan to achieve a higher rating and measure their performance.

One on one discussions can be an effective means of understanding program.

One on one discussions can be an effective means of understanding program.

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!

This was a fast and general overview of some ideas to consider when developing benchmarking and office rating systems.  No matter what route your program takes it is important to integrate the office-rating framework into the engagement program’s overall engagement strategy including monitoring and evaluation to ensure effectiveness.

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 at kathryncooper@sustainabilitylearningcentre.com.

Posted in Sustainability Engagement Network Discussion (SEND) Series | Leave a comment

Collaboration or Collision – facing down the barriers of sustainability transformation

Our group has a desire to “Empower citizens, connect neighbourhoods and transform community toward ‘net zero’ environmental impact.”

Our group has a desire to “Empower citizens, connect neighbourhoods and transform community toward ‘net zero’ environmental impact.”

Collaboration is complicated.  I am working with a non-governmental organization (NGO) to bring together four other non-governmental organizations, one municipal government with multiple engaged departments (energy, water, transportation, waste, wellbeing), two utilities, businesses  and neighbourhood groups to launch a city-wide conservation and environmental footprint reduction program.

The group has agreed that collaboration is critical to the success of the venture.  Unfortunately, I am starting to see a worrying development – we each have a different understanding of what “collaboration” means.  It is natural.  Each of us stands at the center of what we know to be true and possible.  We look at the solutions we can provide and say “Ah, if everyone would just do this, we could change the world together.”

Collaboration or Collision?

Unfortunately, while I am inviting you into my circle and to my solution, you would rather I joined your circle and used your solution.   In a multi-stakeholder collaboration – there are a lot of circles to stand in and a lot of solutions to use – simultaneously.  Right now, I think it looks more like a collision that a collaboration.

For many people collaboration means: “Here is my product, service or strategic approach – adopt it and we will be collaborating." Unfortunately, with a multi-stakeholder collaboration, such an approach is doomed to fail.

For many people collaboration means: “Here is my product, service or strategic approach – adopt it and we will be collaborating.” Unfortunately, with a multi-stakeholder collaboration, such an approach is doomed to fail.

Of course, we could haul out the old bag of tricks: brainstorming, strategic planning, voting with dots etc.  But last week we said these tools aren’t a good fit for complex, system-wide transformational collaborations.   Many of these processes have us forecasting the future from the past; developing visions and objectives based on what is largely possible and impossible today; and making slow, incremental change.  Just because we are well equipped and skilled with hammers doesn’t mean everything is a nail.

Avoiding Collaboration Breakdown on the Speedway of Good Intention

Chad Park, Executive Director of The Natural Step Canada, says, understanding what authentic collaboration looks like is just one of the barriers to effective collaboration.

“Even with the best of intentions and a genuine belief in the goodwill of fellow collaborators, many collaborative efforts break down because of competing stakeholder priorities and differences in organizational culture.

Many efforts lack a shared vision for the collaboration.  Yet, even when the collective value of addressing the issue is well-understood – the lack of a strong sense of the value individual participants and their organizations will gain blocks the realization of the shared vision.

These all speak to perhaps the biggest barrier – the inadequacy of typical engagement processes to handle such complexity.”

Each of these barriers is addressed in the featured topics at the upcoming conference, Accelerate: Collaborating for Sustainability” Conference in Guelph, Ontario, June 10 & 11, 2013.

One of the conference speakers, Adam Kahane, author of “Transformative Scenario Planning” and a pioneer of the “Change Lab” approach, says transformational multi-stakeholder collaborations need a “…disciplined process of thinking ahead together and then altering our future accordingly.”  He adds, “This is a profound and subtle shift on how we approach one another.”

Perhaps collective learning is the first step if we want authentic, lasting transformation.  Our group is planning to bring a team to the Accelerate conference.  In a world that needs to make many transformational system shifts, these skills will be invaluable to our group members and their organizations now and well into the future.

Here is what you can do to learn more:

Register for the Pre-Conference Webinar: The Emerging Social Innovation Field – Tim Draimin, Executive Director, Social Innovation Generation , May 16th, 12-1 pm EST (http://www.naturalstep.ca/the-emerging-social-innovation-field-webinar)

Join us at the Conference: Accelerate: Collaborating for Sustainability Conference, June 10 & 11, 2013, Guelph, ON (http://www.naturalstep.ca/accelerate-collaborating-for-sustainability-conference)

In next week’s blog we will discuss “The Emerging Social Innovation Field” and how it is leading to transformational change for sustainability.

 

Posted in Sustainability, Sustainability and Business, Sustainability Change Management, Sustainability Strategy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Making Change for Sustainability – a wicked problem?

WANTED: Sustainability Change Process – must be simple to understand and able to generate significant long-term results with minimal short-term financial investment.  Candidates must be able to motivate and inspire others to achieve collective and individual action. Resulting change should shift the entire system toward sustainability.  Only processes that disrupt normal business operations need apply.

I have a “wicked” problem.  And if you are a change maker for sustainability and corporate social responsibility, you probably have one too.   I am working with a non-

A wicked problem is a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve

A wicked problem is a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve.

governmental organization (NGO) and a group of partners, to launch a city-wide environmental footprint reduction initiative.   Smaller projects of this nature have been run before.  This time is different.  Everyone is working together.  We are in for the long haul.  The group is dedicated to long-term systems change.  Hence our need for the magical sustainability change process mentioned above.

Reaching for the Old Bag of Tricks?

Whether it’s business or municipal sustainability change,  we often reach for the tools and approaches we have used in the past.  Let’s get together and brainstorm, use an organization focused theory of change model or study it!  I have heard it said that we tend to act like “systems” when we create problems, but we act like individuals when solving them.   Cities have often tackled the “elephant” of residential conservation one bite at a time.  Utilities, municipalities, NGOs and citizen groups work together loosely, in small groups or not at all.  The result, no single initiative tips the system or is able to go the distance.

Increasingly, we see the serious, complex, systemic and interrelated nature of the problems we face demands new approaches.  The old bag of tricks alone or collectively just won’t do the job.  Moreover, we need a radical level of solution creativity and innovation.  This is something that emerges with authentic co-creation within a diverse community of change makers and by testing new ideas and concepts without fear of failure.

Theory_UThe Future of Sustainability Change

So what does this charmed sustainability change process look like?  If you have been following the work of Senge, Scharmer, Westley and others you will see a trend toward Change Labs and Design Labs.  These sustainability change processes bring together group psychology and dynamics, whole system and complexity theory, design thinking and in some cases computer visualizations and simulations.

This is where most of us zone out.  It seems complicated.  We are still looking for the magic formula.  But really this is about figuring out what question needs answering and if there’s an appetite for collaboration to answer it, working together to identify collaborative priorities, and getting down to testing and developing new ideas together.   The only magic is learning about these new processes, applying them and learning from that application.

This is why the work of The Natural Step’s Sustainability Transition Lab  and the resources provided by Social Innovation Generation’s (SiG) Knowledge Hub  are so important.   It’s also why The Natural Step’s conference:  Accelerate: Collaborating for Sustainability, June 10 & 11, 2013, in Guelph, Ontario is where you will find me in June (I hope to get a few folks from our Conservation Initiative there too!).  We need to share a common understanding of the way forward.  We need to be open to co-creating an emerging sustainable future for our communities and companies.  We need to develop a new competency as sustainability change makers.  In the words of Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”  So put away the old bag of tricks and join a new sustainability change maker movement.

Next Steps for New Sustainability Change Makers

The Emerging Social Innovation Field – Tim Draimin, Executive Director, Social Innovation Generation (Webinar), May 16th, 12-1 pm

Strategic Sustainable Development for Communities: Reports, guides and tools to help implement your sustainability plan (Free webinar), May 23, 2013, 2:00-3:00 pm

Accelerate: Collaborating for Sustainability Conference, June 10 & 11, 2013, Guelph, ON

Join over 200 leaders, social innovators, and decision makers from large and small businesses, corporations, higher education institutions, government, non-profits, social enterprises, social venture capital firms, and more in exploring how we can effectively collaborate to create a sustainable future.

Join over 200 leaders, social innovators, and decision makers from large and small businesses, corporations, higher education institutions, government, non-profits, social enterprises, social venture capital firms, and more in exploring how we can effectively collaborate to create a sustainable future.


 

Posted in Corporate Social Responsibility, Sustainability, Sustainability and Business, Sustainability Strategy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Why Sustainability Does and Doesn’t Resonate with Some People

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment