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Taking a Stance on Sustainability: Start Internally


By Scott Tew

As COP21 approaches, countries continue to debate policies that foster a sustainable future. Should companies wait to align their climate targets with international goals? Or, should they take a stance now to drastically reduce their impact on the environment? Where is the path to becoming more sustainable, and how can organizations keep their employees motivated to meet their goals?

It’s important to remember that a broad issue such as sustainability requires commitment and participation from all stakeholders. It’s simply not an issue that any organization acting alone can solve. No matter how powerful a governing system is in any country, policies alone will not create substantial change.

For example, take the issue of increasing energy efficiency in big buildings, which are the largest energy consumers in the world. The floor space and sheer number of these buildings are constantly increasing to meet population growth. So, it’s no surprise that 30 percent of energy in buildings is used inefficiently or unnecessarily, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Solving this problem takes a multi-pronged approach. Industry associations are embracing environmental change by proactively taking a stance to reduce their impact and force their peers to keep pace.

Many business leaders are also taking this approach and inspiring their colleagues and employees to commit to energy-efficiency practices. Similar to climate commitments made by Unilever, Dow and Bank of America, companies can develop a commitment to improve sustainability within their own organization instead of waiting on a magic recipe from government policies.

This type of all-inclusive action will help create change, such as making big buildings and cities more efficient, and it’s important for organizations to understand their role in this dynamic. Companies need to move beyond nominal, local sustainability efforts and embed sustainability into the global company culture to create meaningful change. Here are some suggestions on how to make internal progress.

Benchmark your organization

Take a deep look across your organization’s industry and peers – from associations to customers and suppliers – to gain perspective and benchmark your company’s current efforts. Once you identify key areas for improvement and how these can add value to your business and align with your goals, the next priority is to embrace sustainability within the company culture and get your employees more engaged.

Inspire employees

Now that you understand areas for action within your company, it is critical to spur greater awareness and momentum within your company, as well as the local community. To achieve this, you must secure executive leadership support and create sustainability ambassadors

This will be the moment when your organization truly begins to “walk the talk.” Employees trust their respective business leaders and peers; they'll listen to their words and, more importantly, watch their actions. I recommend that you provide engagement avenues for employees to help them begin to incorporate sustainable thinking into their everyday work lives. A multi-faceted approach that provides ways for employees to learn more, participate in local projects, or share their own “green” passions -- from minimizing resource use to planting trees -- will inspire employees to incorporate sustainable thinking into their lives. It will also provide the best outcome for your company.

There is no doubt that there are obstacles around motivating employees and increasing internal engagement. However, these challenges can certainly be met. Instead of making employees feel like training is another mandatory task, make sustainability relevant to employees’ day-to-day lives by tying sustainability initiatives to their personal lives and encouraging them to incorporate sustainable thinking into their home environment. An employee that understands the impact of recycling or adding LED lighting is more likely to bring these actions back to the workplace. By forming a personal connection to sustainable thinking, employees will be more eager to get involved in sustainable actions within your company. Offering opportunities for sustainable education can only help broaden the impact of these actions.

In addition, empower employees with a learning program that leaves them inspired and recognized by the broader industry. Training programs should be positioned as a voluntary learning opportunity with flexible scheduling, so employees who find value in extending their skill-set can be trained at convenient times. Rewarding individuals and recognizing achievements is important and should be a key part of your sustainability framework. It is also critical to provide a repeatable framework for successful programs (simple tools, templates and guides), which can be implemented, measured and rewarded consistently across the enterprise.

Long-term actions

Once internal momentum is established, the opportunity to make a real impact externally through adjusting the product portfolio follows -- which in turn increases energy-efficiency practices among the partners and customer organizations that are using these products. Exceeding customer expectations is the big driver for lasting change for cities, the energy grid and the environment.

While many companies are in the defensive mode and looking to extend their product lines, this does not help push the bottom line to reduce greenhouse gases or improve energy efficiency. Long-term planning and commitment from the top down is the recipe for success and has a direct impact on our society. Leaders need to understand that to be taken seriously in the energy-efficiency conversation. They need to not only enter the conversation, but also be highly engaged to further initiatives. Energy-efficiency tactics require action now and can be the most effective way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions internationally.

While energy efficiency is a global issue and no one company or institution has all the answers, organizations should act as a convener to help identify a lower global-warming potential roadmap for areas without viable alternatives. The only route to transformation is pursuing an all-inclusive approach, involving action by government, business, civil society, research institutions and academia -- and the public at large. Multiple paths may be taken, but the key is to take action now.

Image credit: Flickr/four12

W. Scott Tew is the founder and leader of the Center for Energy Efficiency & Sustainability at Ingersoll Rand (CEES), which supports all of the company’s strategic brands – Club Car, Ingersoll Rand, Trane and Thermo King – and is responsible for forward-looking sustainability initiatives. Since the CEES was formed in 2010, Ingersoll Rand has successfully exceeded its long-term goals in energy use and waste reduction, while embedding sustainability in all parts of the product development process. Tew's recent efforts have led to the development of world-class initiatives including the creation of a green product portfolio (EcoWise), personalized employee engagement programs, and unique research on unmet needs in the green space. Tew manages all sustainability-related public transparency, advocacy, reporting and goal setting initiatives for the company. Ingersoll Rand has garnered recognition for these successful sustainability practices in Andy Savitz’ book The Triple Bottom Line, among others.

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