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Sustainability goes beyond just being green

Leanne Hoagland-Smith. | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media

Leanne Hoagland-Smith. | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 8, 2012 9:58PM

Sustainability is a hot business topic and an organizational trend. Yet as in many trends, the word sometimes becomes “hijacked” by focusing on just one aspect, such as the environment, and ignoring the other critical aspects.

Years ago, when I first opened my business for people and organizational development, I created a Values Statement that included these words:

“Achieve sustainable results”

Sustainability for me has always been present because my personal philosophy is any business solution is an investment and should continue to generate positive results or what is also called a positive return on investment.

In 2011, South Shore Clean Cities in Crown Point had a ranger from Yellowstone National Park speak on sustainability. One of the examples he citied was the establishment of some solar panels for several offices located in a remote area of the park. The return on investment was projected to be minimal due to the park’s hours of late spring to early fall. Yet something very strange and exciting happened that created a 180-degree reversal to this minimal projected return on investment.

Employees, people, seeing the solar panels every day as they entered the offices started changing their behaviors. They were turning lights off to using electric power more efficiently (doing things right) and effectively (doing the right things).

For any sustainability project to be successful must go beyond the environment and requires inclusion of people and processes. This is not just about corporate social responsibility or stewardship, but also about:

• Long term growth

• System thinking

• Profitability

• Customer loyalty

If people do not have a buy-in (an attitude) from both an individual and corporate perspective, any sustainability initiative turns into the often used expression “flavor of the month” meaning pretty soon another initiative will take its place. For some already in business, sustainability is not viewed as a competitive advantage, but rather a disadvantage.

Adopting a sustainability or corporate social responsibility (CSR) program may reinforce existing negative “more” beliefs surrounding the “green movement” such as:

• More compliance

• More expensive

• More uncompetitive

• More time consuming

Then what happens is a belief of scarcity takes over within the employees creating:

• Reactive management

• Fire-fighting behaviors

• Silos or fiefdoms

Processes or systems then follow reinforcing:

• Department mentality

• Variation in quality or output

• Higher error rates

• In box or tool kit thinking

• Self-interest

• Inconsistent strategic execution

Many of these aforementioned issues or obstacles can be avoid when people, processes and the environment work together thus increasing the real green for any organization – profits. One of the better diagrams to better understand how to rethink about sustainability can be found at The Institute for Sustainability.

Next week, I will share a simple 5 Level Sustainability Implementation Model to go from the current status quo to one of true organizational transformation.

South Shore Clean Cities

The Institute for Sustainability

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