5 Lessons for Building a Sustainable Culture
October 30, 2012 | Conor Brennan
On October 4th, Sustainable Waterloo Region held their first educational forum of the 2012/2013 Regional Carbon Initiative event season surrounding the business case for “Building a Sustainable Culture”. Two speakers motivated Wilfrid Laurier’s packed Paul Martin Hall full of business leaders and sustainability enthusiasts in the area. Anthea Rowe from the Network for Business Sustainability spoke about the formal and informal steps to make sustainability important to the whole organization. James Gray-Donald from Bentall-Kennedy spoke about integrating an organization’s workforce, culture and profits towards sustainable goals.
Below are the five most important lessons shared regarding this important step in achieving results in your organization. As always, more details can be found in our Green Team Guide available to RCI members on MemberLink.
- Fail early, fail often – This mantra has been used by everyone from Toyota to Apple to promote the importance of experimentation and research. As more organizations begin to incorporate sustainability into their operations while new programs and technologies are simultaneously being created, the best practices continue to be assessed. However, the most important part of experimentation is when failure occurs; mechanisms must be in place in order to learn why you failed and what you can learn from it.
- Make collaboration a priority – Sharing the knowledge gained from failure can help other organizations as well. Learning from others, either through discussion of common failures and initiatives, going to talks given by experts, or researching how competitors and companies in other industries deal with particular problems can be an effective way to strengthen your culture. Sustainable Waterloo Region events and our Living Documents (our Green Team Guide and Directory of Sustainable Initiatives) are two ways we help with collaboration.
- Understand the importance of engaged employees – Engaging employees on sustainable initiatives not only ensures the success of these initiatives but can improve profits as shown by the Harvard Business Review in 2010. They showed that a 0.1% increase in employee engagement at one of Best Buy’s stores corresponds, on average, to a $100,000 annual rise in operating income. This approach can also affect everything from reducing employee turnover to increasing customer loyalty, showing that engaging your employees makes business sense for your organization.
- Leaders must balance frustrations with optimism – The leadership of any organization must be committed to the idea of sustainability in order for a strong culture to take hold. Over time, this will benefit the organization but only if passionate leadership can motivate themselves and their employees through the struggles that come with experimentation and being on the forefront of the sustainable movement. This optimism can come from internal success or external support and sharing within the community.
- Develop a plan for your organization – Using a framework such as the wheel above (Figure 1) can be an effective way to integrate sustainability into your organization’s goals and culture. This includes ensuring the commitment of the organization to sustainability, defining the expectations of this commitment, and then creating change to the company’s policies and initiatives. Following a balanced plan that uses this framework as a guide can ensure the whole company is aware and involved in the process.