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


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.


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.)


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

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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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