Assessing and Benchmarking Your Current Operations

Assessing your current operations is critical to understand how to move forward with incorporating sustainability into your business. If you do not know where you are in terms of material use, energy use, water use, waste consumption, the receptivity of personnel in your organization to change and the receptivity of your customers to your products and services, it is difficult to set realistic sustainability goals and create metrics to track those goals.
Most importantly, setting your benchmarks early allows you to measure and track sustainability ROI. This weekend, I sat on a marketing panel at The Presidio School of Management with Dan Geiger, Jay Tompt and Jill Albeson. We were addressing the topic of certifications and marketing. As always, Dan raised a great point – the easiest way to convince people that sustainability is feasible is to show them financials. In order to create the strongest financial case for sustainability you must benchmark your organization’s performance before you implement your program.

An assessment helps identify the different systems in your organization and clarify how these systems function. For example, a few systems you may identify are purchasing, building management regulations, transportation norms, employee communication norms, external communication norms, recycling and waste norms, and energy and water usage. The assessment helps you evaluate each of these systems and determines if they are functioning optimally or if you need to change them.
When doing your assessment, keep in mind that, at a minimum, a sustainable business accomplishes the following:

  • Saves energy
  • Conserves water
  • Reduces waste
  • Minimizes travel
  • Buys sustainable products
  • Produces greener products and services
  • Builds community
  • Increases employee engagement and leadership

Take some time to consider how you would examine your organization based on the eight categories bulleted above. It is best to gather your team, just as you did for your visioning session, and agree on the sustainability indicators that your organization will use to benchmark your performance. As I mentioned in the last post, engaging your stakeholders is a key component to all phases of corporate sustainability implementation.
Benchmarking the sustainability standing of your organization, products and services through auditing not only enables you to improve business operations; it protects you against greenwashing by providing back up documentation for your marketing claims. If you are going to make claims about being a sustainable company or selling a sustainable product you must have verification to back up those claims!
Using meaningful metrics and accepted protocols as reliable measurements of an organization’s efforts is critical to the success of any sustainability program. When Green it Group engages with clients for sustainability benchmarking, we use a customized method of auditing as part of our Sustainable Growth Management ™ program. It helps our clients achieve compliance with leading environmental standards and prepare for GRI reporting, LEED EBOM certification and B Corp certification. This allows us to determine areas for increased efficiency and cost reduction and make sure the organization is “bridging the chasm” between marketing and operations.
So far in this series we’ve covered sustainability visioning and benchmarking. Two crucial steps in setting the foundation for your sustainability program! Next week we will learn how to create achievable goals that align with your vision by using the benchmarking data collected during auditing. Stay tuned.

Heather Gadonniex, LEED AP, is the co-founder of Green it Group, a sustainability strategy firm that focuses on helping organizations develop, measure, manage and market their sustainability initiatives. Ms. Gadonniex is also the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Greening Your Business, published by Alpha Books (with Trish Riley). Contact Heather at, or visit the Green it Group website.

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