(41) Sustainability

 Buy Green Power

Finding Your Place in the Global Urban Movement to Fight Climate Change


Buy green power

No discussion of buying greener would be complete without considering the source of your power. Many utilities are now offering ‘green power’ options. When considered collectively the impacts of the power-generating industry are not trivial. According to the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA), the US electric power industry produced 1.1 billion pounds of toxic emissions in 1998, or 15 per cent of all US toxic emissions. In addition to toxicity concerns, many electricity sources produce greenhouse gas emissions, which have potentially adverse impacts on the global climate. In 1994, for example, 36 per cent of US carbon dioxide emissions were attributed to the utility industry against 30 per cent for transportation, 23 per cent for industrial facilities, 7 per cent for residential households and 4 per cent for commercial operations.

This does not have to be an all-or-nothing decision. You can decide to increase the percentage of your energy that comes from renewable sources by, for example, 10 per cent a year. Use energy efficiency measures to offset the additional cost. Since the fuel cost for renewables (eg wind and solar) is both stable and free, you may be able to set up long-term green power contracts that sidestep the volatile prices for fossil fuels, coming out ahead in the long run.

Create incentives and checklists for making more sustainable choices

Most of the strategies discussed above require someone to stop and think about what they are buying. And in this busy world, only a small proportion of people will be passionate enough to make the effort without some assistance and nudging. Such was the case at Norm Thompson, a catalogue retailer. The owners were passionate about sustainability and had trained practically everyone in the company. Having won over their employees they set their sights on transforming the catalogue industry by convincing their competitors to use 10 per cent recycled content paper (currently most catalogues are printed on 100 per cent virgin-fibre paper).

Despite all the hoopla and executive support, the buyers who sourced products for the catalogues had a difficult time understanding how to make better choices for product materials and, consequently, were struggling to make progress towards sustainable merchandise. Faced with this problem, corporate sustainability manager Derek Smith did

two things. First, he produced a simple scoring system for the buyers to use when evaluating the products they were considering. And second, the company tied 10 per cent of the buyers’ commission to improving their score over time. Even this small percentage was enough to capture the attention of the buyers.

You can use checkmarks or give the items scores. If certain characteristics are more important to you than others, you can give a multiplier or weighting to each characteristic.

Work with disadvantaged businesses and people as an economic development strategy The social side of sustainability often gets lost since the environmental side is easier to address. Purchasing agreements, though, offer opportunities to also address social considerations. Stop to ask the question, ‘How can we maximize the benefits to both ourselves and society?’

Ben & Jerry’s has long been recognized for its interest in socially responsible business practices. When they needed an additional source of brownies for their ice-cream, they signed a contract with the Greystone Bakery in Yonkers, New York, a non-profit organization that hires and trains people who are hard to employ, and uses its profits to house the homeless.

Non-profit organizations can also expand their positive impacts by designing their services for maximum impact. The Prison Pet Partnership Program takes dogs from shelters and gives them to women prison inmates to train the dogs as service animals. The dogs’ lives are spared, and the prisoners are taught skills in grooming and dog training. The dogs provide low-cost services for people with a host of different disabilities, and society benefits because the recidivism of the prisoners involved in the programme is significantly less than the average. The charity could have made different decisions that would have resulted in fewer benefits: they might have used pure-bred dogs from breeders, not used inmates to train them or only prepared the dogs to be good house pets. The decisions you make about vendors, suppliers and contractors can make a difference, big or small, to the well-being of our society. It’s your choice.

Life cycle assessment and life cycle costing

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a process of examining the impacts of a product over its entire lifetime: where do the raw materials come from? How are they transported? How is the product manufactured? How is the product transported and sold to a customer? How does the customer use the product? What happens at the end of its useful life? LCA quantifies the environmental impacts at each step in this life cycle and can be used to select products that have the lowest negative environmental and social impacts.

As a purchaser, you can request life cycle assessment data from your vendors. However, because LCA results depend entirely on the assumptions upon which they are based, it’s important to assess whether the assumptions used are unbiased and fit your situation. ISO standards require an external review of LCAs to mitigate this problem.

Related to LCA is life cycle costing (LCC), examining the costs (as opposed to the environmental impacts) over the life cycle of a product, from research and development and manufacturing to maintenance and disposal. Similar to activity-based costing, LCC helps you get a clearer picture of the true costs of several product options – it often becomes clear that the cheapest first cost is often not the cheapest in the long term. LCC allows you to take into account such factors as the longevity of the product, associated safety precautions and disposal costs.

For example, vinyl flooring is usually one of the cheapest first-cost flooring options. However, many other flooring options last longer, avoiding additional replacement and installation costs. So over the lifetime of the floor, vinyl is often not the best choice. LCC can help you determine the best overall return between options in capital projects. For example, most of the cost of a building is in its operation, not its construction, so LCC can help you determine which environmental features pencil out over the long term, even if they add up-front costs. Once you factor in training, safety equipment, hazardous waste permits and disposal costs, a product you thought was the most cost-effective might turn out not to be.


LCA for Mere Mortals by Rita Schenck, published by the Institute for Environmental Research and Education, BEES is software that helps you select more sustainable building supplies, www.epa.gov/oppt/epp/tools/bees.htm. and


Eco-indicator 99 is an LCA impact assessment method developed with the need for a practical eco-design tool in mind, www.pre.nl/eco-indicator99/default.htm

ISO 14040, www.iso.org.

US EPA website for LCA, www.epa.gov/ordntrnt/ORD/NRMRL/std/sab/lca/index.html



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(40) Sustainability

 5 things you should know about sustainability

What Is Sustainability and Why Is It Important?


Model appropriate behaviours

 Certainly, HR should model sustainable behaviour by implementing the suggestions in on services and office operations. You should also set the tone for work/life balance. The HR department is also well placed to organise and participate in community projects. Apply environmentally preferable purchasing guidelines when you purchase products and services. When you arrange meetings, use a green caterer who offers locally grown, seasonal produce, buffet-style meals that reduce packaging, and reusable flatware and glasses.

Use your influence and your contacts across the organisation to align actions with words. Encourage your legal staff to print contracts on both sides and to allow electronic signatures. Encourage purchasing to implement environmentally preferable purchasing policies and work with facilities to improve the comfort of and air quality in the building.

Measure the benefits

Learn how all the various parts of the business affect human health, employee satisfaction and productivity. Did you know that green cleaning products can reduce absenteeism related to asthma and another lung- and skin-related sensitivities? Did you know that daylighting and other green building practices can improve productivity? Have you thought about how sustainability can bring meaning to work and help you attract and retain employees? So talk to your facilities manager about the cleaning arrangements and get involved if there is a remodel planned. Work with top management to maximise the benefits of their sustainability initiative so that it inspires both applicants and employees.

You can help make the business case for sustainability by measuring your own improvements and also helping others gather quantitative and qualitative data.

The following list should help you see opportunities:

• Measure productivity before and after a remodel in which green building techniques are used.

• Track absenteeism before and after the cleaning staff switch to green cleaning products. Compute both the labour costs and the avoided medical costs.

• Ask job applicants if they are familiar with your sustainability initiative and see how many say they approached you because of your commitment to it. Track the percentages over time to show top management the trend line.

• Compare your retention rates with similar organisations that have not adopted sustainability. Compute the cost savings by factoring in the cost of advertising for, screening, hiring and training new employees.

Purchasing: How to Determine What to Buy and How to Work with Suppliers

Over the last decade, purchasing has transformed from an administrative function to a strategic one. It’s no longer enough to get the product on time and at the cheapest possible price. Now purchasing has become integral to managing waste, protecting product claims and managing the entire supply chain. Just-in-time manufacturing requires more intimate relationships with a smaller number of suppliers. Customer requirements are driving the need to know what is in the product. Public and shareholder expectations drive buyers to investigate the labour and human rights practices of their vendors. So purchasing today is key to efficiency, competitiveness and image. This chapter explores how these drivers relate to sustainability in more depth.


The purchasing corollary to the old adage ‘what goes up must come down’ is ‘what comes in must go out’, meaning either as product or waste. One study of ‘material throughput’ in US manufacturing discovered that only 6 per cent of the inputs ended up in the product!1 We are purchasing huge quantities of stuff that doesn’t get translated into sales. And much of what’s left must be paid for again, in tipping fees or emissions permits. Getting control over your purchasing choices can not only reduce your environmental and social impacts, it can also save you costs relating to material input and output.

Companies increasingly have to substantiate environmental claims about their products. Many governments and companies are issuing environmentally preferable purchasing policies, in some situations publishing grey lists and black lists of chemicals they want to see less of or have phased out entirely. This requires you to know what is in the sub-assemblies, components and additives that go into your product. In 2001, just in time for the holiday season, The Netherlands banned Sony Play stations because the cables contained too much cadmium, causing a media uproar and earning Sony a hefty fine. Through surveys and other methods, purchasing agents must understand what is in the products they buy.

Several years ago, Nike was surprised to discover that the public held them responsible for the labour practices of their suppliers. Nike doesn’t manufacture anything; they use suppliers, mostly in Asia, to manufacture their shoes and clothing. After stories about worker abuses and low wages hit the papers, Nike’s image took a dive. If the public makes no distinction between the practices of a company and those of its major suppliers, then it is prudent to know all you can about the social, ethical and environmental practices of your vendors.

Just-in-time manufacturing has led to sole-sourcing or reducing the number of suppliers. With this comes a level of risk. What happens if your only supplier of a key component has a significant problem – their plant blows up, the department of environmental quality shuts them down or one of their critical raw materials is suddenly classified as a hazardous material? Instantly your entire supply chain can be disrupted. To manage that risk, many purchasing departments require suppliers to have an environmental management system or to be ISO 14000 certified.

The world is so interconnected; one mishap can lead to a host of problems. For example, when a fire destroyed Philip’s semiconductor plant in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the supply of radio frequency chips used in cell phones was cut off to both Nokia and Ericsson. While the fire was caused by lightning, not human error, it demonstrates the importance of having strong supply chain management systems. When the fire prevented Philips from shipping their product, the resulting shortage devastated Ericsson as they did not have supplier redundancy built into their system. Nokia, on the other hand, met its production targets and took market share away from Ericsson, who ended up by missing their production targets and posting a US$1.7 billion loss in their handset division that year.

Determining whether product A is more sustainable than product B can be a daunting task, much more complicated than it would first seem. Yet purchasing departments are now being asked to make these assessments. Often they turn to product certification schemes (Green Seal, Energy Star, Food Alliance, Forest Stewardship Council, etc.), which are audited by a third party. However, this is only a partial solution as there are often competing certification schemes making different claims for the same product. Purchasing must then assess whether certification A is better than certification B!

Some organisations have used purchasing as a way to move an industry toward sustainability. A number of clothing manufacturers, under the umbrella of Business for Social Responsibility, tackle sweatshops and other international labour issues. Nike and Patagonia have joined forces with others to create a reliable market for organic cotton (since a quarter of the world’s insecticides are used on this crop).

As you can see, purchasing is not just paper-pushing any more. So what are the strategies progressive purchasing departments are using to help their organisations become more sustainable?

We’ve organised the most common strategies into two loose categories:

1 purchasing practices – the systems, policies, and procedures that support sustainability; and

2 purchasing projects – typical ad hoc tasks that are undertaken to solve a particular problem.

Purchasing practices

Purchasing practices include those policies, procedures and systems that support or encourage sustainable choices. This section looks at some of the more common best practices.

Adopt sustainable or environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP) policies. Many organisations, especially governmental agencies, are establishing EPP guidelines. Forty-seven US states have some form of buy-recycled policies, and many local and state agencies go far beyond this.3 The city of San Francisco, for example, has just become the

first city in the US to enact a law that requires all city purchases to take public health and

environmental stewardship into consideration. The law affects everything from toilet paper to computers and covers the $600 million per year the city spends on products. These policies send important market signals, rewarding those with more sustainable products and services while hanging a carrot out for those who don’t. As the name implies, most EPP policies focus only on environmental attributes (often including human health), leaving out the socio-economic elements that are equally important to sustainability; but at least they are a start. You can incorporate socio-economic elements into a sustainable purchasing policy by adding other criteria such as labour practices, diversity and community contributions.

Depending on the culture of the organisation, these EPP programmes may take the form of formal policies and guidelines or simply accepted the practice. Don’t reinvent the wheel; many of them are available on the internet, so borrow freely.

You can also use eco-labels as a proxy for doing all your own investigation.  Note that choosing to use these certifications may disadvantage small businesses, so you may want to provide a way to offset this.


The Center for a New American Dream’s website includes a host of examples, www.newdream.org.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has created environmentally preferable guidelines for computers; go to www.epa.gov/oppt/epp/electronics.htm.

The Forum for the Future in the UK makes available for free download the booklet ‘Buying a Better World’ and also the Sustainable Procurement Toolkit, Embed EPP or sustainable choices into online systems

In a decentralised purchasing environment, one of the most effective ways to encourage people to choose EPP products is to make them easiest to find and procure. When someone searches for notepads, for example, the ones made from recycled content should show up first. Make chlorine-free copy paper pop up first on your online purchasing system. If an employee needs a less sustainable product, make them dig for it.

TriMet, the transit authority for the Portland, Oregon metropolitan region, worked with Office Depot to further develop internal green purchases. They examined their top 20 purchases (this included file folders, paper, post-it pads, pens, pencils, pads, etc.) and then worked with both Office Depot and Boise Cascade to identify recycled options to make them the first items employees see when they go online to make purchases. As environmental engineer Kevin Considine explains, ‘Their product lines are limited to what I would call more conventional choices – no options for 100 per cent post-consumer chlorine-free kenaf paper or anything like that.’ He acknowledges that the greener options have cost them more at times, but says that these prices are coming down because of the increasing green market they are helping to create. ‘It was relatively easy [to set this up] and more options are being added to their product line each year that meets performance needs and is at least a greener option.’

Embed sustainability language into RFPs and contracts

Sustainability brings together strange bedfellows at times. We once had someone approach us to bid with them on a wastewater treatment job. We admitted to knowing nothing about wastewater treatment. No matter; they wanted us on the team anyway because we understood sustainability and the request for proposal (RFP) made mention of it. In the process of writing the proposal, we were able to impart a lot about sustainability.

(Mercifully, we didn’t get the job.)

Never underestimate the power of including mention of sustainability or related terms in an RFP. It definitely gets attention and it helps to pre-empt the nay-sayers who claim that

customers aren’t asking for sustainability. You don’t even need to rate it particularly highly on your evaluation criteria. But doing so will stimulate creative thinking and innovative proposals. Similarly, write sustainability language into your contracts. Cleaning contractors can be asked to use Green Seal or equivalent products. Require your landscaping firm to use integrated pest management with synthetic pesticides used only as a last resort. Building contractors can be expected to recycle or reuse 90 per cent or more of construction debris. Professional service firms can publish reports on chlorine-free, 30+ per cent post-consumer recycled paper and bind reports without plastic covers or vinyl binders. Arm-twist your lawyers into printing contracts double-sided. Maybe use existing eco-labels, third-party certification schemes and standards as additional criteria.

Writing contract language is another place where you’ll want to leverage what others have done. Use the resources below to fast-forward your process. Also, check out the appropriate third-party certification programmes.


EPA’s environmentally preferable purchasing contracts database, www.epa.gov/oppt/epp/database.htm

Government websites, especially King County, Washington and Santa Monica, California;

Massachusetts and Minnesota.

The Unified Green Cleaning Alliance website has standards for sustainable cleaning products, www.ugca.org

Use service contracts to align the interests of your vendors with your own Sometimes the solution is to change the incentives in a contract so that the vendor’s interests are aligned with yours. Often this takes the form of service contracts that convert products into services. Instead of buying paint, you purchase the service of painting widgets. Now the vendor doesn’t want to sell you the maximum amount of this toxic product but instead benefits from reducing the product’s use and reducing its toxicity.

These service contracts are used most commonly for chemicals and resource management issues. For example, Portland State University’s waste hauler used to be paid for each tonne of garbage that was hauled away, creating a negative incentive for recycling. The more that was recycled, the less waste they could haul away and get paid for. As a result, the hauler did not have any reason to help Portland State reduce waste or increase recycling. So the university set out to craft new contract language whereby both parties shared in the benefits of increasing the recycling rate by compensating the hauler for helping to reduce waste and process recyclables. ‘It’s great,’ says Michele Crim, their sustainability coordinator, ‘Now they are setting up site visits for our recycling coordinators to show them an effective collection process from beginning to end.’

Implement a supply chain environmental management system Supply chains have become increasingly critical to business, requiring collaboration across organisations. Outsourcing, just-in-time manufacturing and cradle-to-grave legal risks all imply that you must manage beyond the walls of your own operation.

The most common approaches to greening the supply chain are summarised in the table below:

Ben Packard, director of environmental affairs at Starbucks, emphasises: It’s a mistake to isolate ‘greening the supply chain’ as something completely different. It should be presented and received as one of many customer expectations (in addition to price, performance, quality, etc.). If you treat it as a new and separate conversation, it may look more difficult than it needs to be. Given the natural tendency to resist change, there is no need to make this any larger than it needs to be as long as you are able to get the performance improvements you are after. To figure out which of these options you should pursue at any one time requires some upfront planning. That’s where a supply chain environmental management (SCEM) system can be helpful. As with any management system, you need a way to set policy and priorities, plan, monitor the implementation and review the results.


Hitchcock, Darcy (2001) Greening the Supply Chain. One of the booklets in the Sustainability Series.

National Environmental Education and Training Foundation (2001) Going Green …

Upstream: The Promise of Supplier Environmental Management. Washington, DC: The National Environmental Education and Training Foundation.

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(39) Sustainability

 What is sustainability?

Sustainability Trends for 2017


Consult on the implementation

Many of the mistakes organisations make implementing sustainability are predictable change management blunders. This is hardly surprising given that most of the people implementing sustainability have no change management training. HR professionals can be critical partners in crafting a successful implementation plan to fit their particular organisation’s circumstances. They understand the importance of involvement; they know how to respond to resistance; they are familiar with reframing techniques to enrol stakeholders; they are in control of many of the communication and educational systems, and they often coach managers in their own performance.

For example, the new executive director of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon was passionate about sustainability but recognised that in her organisation, top-down directives were rarely as long-lived as bottom-up ones. So she hired us to help her develop an implementation strategy. We formed a steering committee of employees and managers whose job it was to study sustainability, catalyse a few pilot projects and, by the end of the year, recommend whether the organisation should adopt sustainability as one of its strategic goals. The steering committee developed two broad improvement goals: zero waste and climate change. A task force was formed to work on each issue and they reported their results back to the steering committee. They made reports to all-staff meetings about reducing their solid waste by 40 per cent and encouraging alternative transportation. The steering committee also set up informal lunchtime sessions where people could learn about sustainability. By the end of the year, everyone at the museum was familiar to some extent with sustainability and the steering committee gave the executive director the enthusiastic go-ahead she had hoped would come.

A second role that the HR department can play is to help individual departments map out and improve their processes. Many environmental impact analyses, especially those associated with environmental management systems, are based on a process diagram. Many HR professionals, either through their experience with organisational development or the quality management fields, are well prepared to do this.


Doppelt, Bob (2003) Leading Change toward Sustainability. Sheffield, UK: Greenleaf Publishing.

Eisler, Riane (2007) The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating Caring Economics. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Natrass, Brian and Mary Altomare (2002) Dancing with the Tiger: Learning Sustainability Step by Natural Step. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers. Provides an overview of the popular Natural Step framework with case studies from North America.

MonsterTRAK, in alliance with ecoAmerica, a non-profit environmental group, started GreenCareers. The site lists positions in companies that reduce their impact on the environment, making it easier for students to connect with businesses that support their environmental goals.

Align human resource systems

Human resource systems have a powerful influence on employee behaviour, so it’s important to ensure that your systems are supporting the behaviour that you want. Companies that touted teamwork and collaboration, for example, soon discovered that their individually focused performance appraisal and reward system undermined the collaboration they were trying to instil. If you don’t watch for these types of mismatches you can undermine your own implementation efforts.

Orientation. Many organisations run a blanket training programme when they begin a sustainability effort but then forget about employee turnover. Including sustainability in your new employee orientation will ensure that you don’t lose ground.

Selection and job descriptions. Eventually, sustainability becomes embedded in the jobs people do. This should be reflected in job descriptions and selection criteria. Chevron made an understanding of environmental issues a selection criterion for their CEOs.

You will also want to reach out to disadvantaged populations. While this may already be part of a strong diversity programme that you pursue other reasons, sustainability strengthens the case for engaging with this segment of society. In the US at least, sustainability still is predominately an upper-middle-class white phenomenon. As you hire people from disadvantaged or minority communities, you not only extend the concepts of sustainability to new populations, you learn more about what is important to those communities, helping you to reframe sustainability in terms that will resonate with them.

Training. Embed sustainability into your training programmes. In particular, include it in supervisory and management training, but you can also include sustainability-related examples in many other classes. Make sure all employees get some basic-level understanding of sustainability concepts and, over time, provide more in-depth training in

specialised topics as they are needed. Remember that training doesn’t just happen in classrooms. Find ways to embed sustainability into regular staff meetings and other corporate communication vehicles.

Training doesn’t always have to be job-related. Wal-Mart, for example, has been providing sustainability training to its employees and encouraging them to adopt personal sustainability projects. The programme is voluntary, but many employees are participating.

The goals include eating healthier foods, using environmentally friendly materials in their homes, and volunteering for related causes. Many organisations have found that discussion

courses are also an effective way to engage employees. Helping employees integrate their personal values into daily life at work and at home can be a powerful motivator. Reviews and rewards. Align your pay and reward systems with your sustainability policies. Often, linking a minor portion of pay to sustainability is enough to get action. Norm Thompson, a catalogue retailer, wanted their buyers to use sustainability as part of their decision-making process when they chose products for their catalogue. But just telling them this was not enough to change behaviour because their pay system didn’t reward them for the extra work. So HR told them that 10 percent of their pay would be based on improving the sustainability quotient of their purchases.

This got their attention! Instantly, the buyers wanted to know how they could tell if one product was greener than another. This led to the creation of an elaborate scoring system and associated toolkit. Certainly, you will also want to ensure that you are paying a fair, living wage. Deciding what constitutes a living wage can be a knotty problem, however. Rejuvenation, a small period lighting manufacturer in Portland, Oregon, struggled with how to determine a living wage and how to fund paying it in a world of global competition. They found a regional research study on what constituted ‘fair pay’ but learned that what is adequate for a single adult living alone is different from that for a dual-income couple or parents with three children. This led them to learn more about their employees’ households. They used this information to determine a fair wage and then did what they could afford to provide that for their entry-level employees. Part of their strategy is to accelerate pay increases for the lowest grade positions faster than higher grades to close the gap.

Most organisations link their performance review systems to pay, so find ways to embed sustainability there as well. This can take some effort since the goals are often linked to job tasks. One of the barriers associated with implementing sustainability is that people can’t imagine what they should do differently. The solid waste division of the Washington Department of Ecology found that many people said ‘I just follow the regulations’ while others had no problem envisioning how to incorporate sustainability into their everyday work life.

To solve this problem, we helped them develop a process for guiding employees so they could integrate sustainability into their jobs. The department already had Job Alike Groups (JAGs) that were composed of people from across the state who did the same job. We designed a process similar to ‘backcasting’ where the JAGs examined their work process, identified their impacts, defined the sustainable future state and then worked backwards to identify what they would have to do differently in ten years, five years and one year as well as things they could change now. We trained people to facilitate these JAG meetings. The management JAG went through a slightly different process to determine how to support these efforts. This included a process linked to their performance review system. Employees were expected to bring ideas about how to change their work practices to the performance review discussion so that these new practices could be reflected in individual performance plans.

Reward programmes. Award/reward programmes and contests can be risky because the psychological effects of rewards on human behaviour are quite complex. (We recommend Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn for more on this.) Sometimes it’s just a matter of making sure there is something in it for the employee. Luper Brothers is an auto repair shop in Lewiston, Idaho. In the office, Luper Brothers’ employees recycle aluminium, cardboard, plastics, scrap iron and polystyrene. They realised that nagging wasn’t the best way to get employees to recycle. Instead, they developed an incentive programme that enabled employees, on their own time, to recover the more valuable metals and metal parts (copper, aluminium, bearings) from waste components and earn extra income by selling them.

One of the most famous and effective reward programmes was run by Dow Chemical Company back in the 1980s to improve environmental performance. While the example is dated, there is a lot to learn from their success. In 1982, their Louisiana Division created a contest to find energy-saving projects with a high return on investment. In that first year, there were 27 winners, requiring capital investments of $1.7 million and an average return on investment (ROI) of 173 per cent. What was most surprising, violating the commonly held assumptions about diminishing returns, was that each year the employees found better and better projects yielding better ROIs. Many of these projects involved process improvements such that the productivity gains started to exceed the energy and environmental benefits. After ten years the programme was generating ideas that on average returned 300 percent! What was going on? Why didn’t they quickly exhaust the low-hanging fruit? We believe the employees got increasingly sophisticated in their ability to identify improvement opportunities.

Transportation-reduction programmes. Many HR departments operate programmes to reduce commuting impacts. These range from subsidising bus passes and coordinating car pools to encouraging telework. For service organisations, transportation may be a major source of environmental impact. For example, at SERA Architects in Portland, Oregon, their backcasting process revealed that commuting and travel were by far their biggest impacts, bigger by a factor of two over any other activity. At the time they began investigating travel issues, they were issuing each employee with the cash equivalent of a monthly bus pass.

Employees could do what they wanted with the cash, so drivers were using it for parking expenses. The firm didn’t feel that the policy really sent a strong enough message. When they crunched the numbers they discovered that 33 per cent of their staff were commuting alone in cars and that the travel subsidy the firm paid out to them came to enough to give every employee an extra two days’ paid holiday. SERA decide to revoke the payment to single occupancy commuters and gave every employee the extra two paid days of holiday. Now they ask each employee to submit a quarterly travel report. If an employee can demonstrate that he used alternative transportation to get to work at least 80 percent of the time, he is paid a quarterly bonus equal to the cost of a three-month bus pass.

Governmental agencies have also been able to justify significant incentives to encourage alternative commuting. Clark County, Washington is a suburban and rural community outside Portland, Oregon. Clark County recently adopted a sustainability policy and is embarking on several initiatives including significant incentives to encourage alternative commuting. In addition to providing employees fully subsidised bus passes and car-pool parking, Clark County offers two hours’ vacation bonus for any employee who takes at least 12 round trips via alternative transportation in a month. While some people argue that could represent a loss of work time, Pete DuBois, Sustainability Coordinator, argues that people tend to compress their work into the time available. ‘Think about the week before you go on vacation. Somehow, you get more done that week to compensate.’ The vacation bonus is available only for car-pooling, transit, walking and cycling and can be viewed as time back for sacrifices made waiting to catch the bus, meet up with your carpool partner or travelling by bike or on foot. Through a grant from Washington State Department of Transport, Clark County also offers employees the Commute Alternative to Shift Habits (CASH) which offers cash rewards to employees committing to trying a new alternative commute. Not known for transit-friendly development, Clark County is taking the lead on its commute trip reduction programme.

Reinsurance company Swiss Re is so concerned about climate change that they provide incentives for employees to reduce their personal carbon footprint at work and at home in their COYou2 Reduce and Gain programme. Until 2011, they will rebate half the cost of such measures as purchasing a hybrid car, installing solar panels or taking public transportation.

In the US you can set up a pre-tax Transportation Savings Account (similar to a health savings account) that allows employees to pay for alternative transportation expenses (eg bus passes) with pre-tax earnings. Japanese automaker Mazda is paying employees 1500 yen (about US$12.50) a month to walk to work to improve their health and help the environment. Employees must live at least two kilometres away from work and commute by foot at least 15 days a month to qualify. Yamaha has a similar programme. These programmes may pay for themselves in reduced health plan costs. Historically employers have felt that employee commuting was not their business. But take a bit of time to compute the cost of providing employee parking. What is the cost of that asphalted land? What is the cost of obesity and related health problems to your health plan when you make it easy for employees to limit their exercise.

Portland State University, sited in downtown Portland, Oregon, realised they couldn’t possibly increase their student population as their strategic plan directed if all employees needed a parking space. So they did a number of things to encourage alternative transportation. Parking lots are inconveniently located whereas public transit stops are close to the front doors. Monthly parking passes show the annual cost of parking on the receipt to emphasise the true cost of driving. The university also provides ‘Flexcar’ benefits so that professors and employees can rent a car on an hourly basis when a car really is the best way to get around.

It’s not just commuting. HR can reduce the need for business travel through technology. With sophisticated technologies like Cisco’s TelePresence (which provides a realistic meeting environment) and Second Life (which provides an unreal experience!) travelling will become less necessary. Windshield time and jet lag are productivity busters. Collaborate with your information technology department to identify and train people on

the best tools available. Then build in incentives to reduce transportation. Progressive Investment Management, a socially responsible investment manager, actually charges their employees for the climate impacts of their transportation choices. Employees track both business trips and commuting, and a fee to purchase carbon offsets is deducted from their annual bonus. Work/life balance support systems. With both parents working these days, it’s unrealistic to expect people to leave their home lives at the door. Helping employees juggle their commitments can pay off in employee retention. SAS at their Carey, NC headquarters, has on-site day care and highchairs in the cafeteria so kids can eat with their parents. Employees can take unlimited sick days and they work seven-hour days. SAS is often in the top ten of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list and has a turnover rate of only 4 percent compared with 20 percent in industry. Since it can cost the equivalent of up to 18 months’ salary to bring a new person up to speed, the investments are well worth it.


In the US, a good source of information about living-wage jobs and also green jobs is the Political Economy Research Institute, part of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, www.peri.umass.edu/

Eisler, Riane (2007) The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating Caring Economics. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Investments and retirement funds.

In many organisations, the retirement benefits are part of HR responsibility. Screening investments on social responsibility criteria can send important signals to the marketplace. The huge California public employees’ pension programme, CalPERS, has been a leader in this practice.


For training materials, see the following resources:

Galea, Chris (ed.) (2005) Teaching Business Sustainability: Volume 1 – From Theory to Practice. Sheffield, UK: Greenleaf Publishing. Also see Volume 2 – Cases, Simulations and Experiential Approaches, published in 2007.

In the US, see the Northwest Earth Institute for discussion courses which can help employees get in touch with their values and learn about ecological principles, www.nwei.org.

Hitchcock, Darcy (2001) Making Sense of Sustainability: An Employee Guide. Portland, OR: AXIS Performance Advisors, Inc. This is a short primer for employees that includes a couple of simple exercises. It covers the triple bottom line and The Natural Step system conditions.

Hitchcock, Darcy (2008) The Dragonfly’s Question. Self-published at this time. This is a novella and discussion guide for business and community groups to learn about sustainability concepts and principles. Contact Darcy Hitchcock for more information: '); document.write(addy72570); document.write('<\/a>'); //-->\n This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .





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(38) Sustainability

Human Resource Instruction and Sustainability

Human Resources for Sustainability

Human resources and sustainable development

When sustainability meets human resources


Human Resources: How to Support the Change Process and Bolster Employee Commitment

While at first sight, it may not seem to be the case, human resource professionals are actually in a good position to influence the sustainability of an organization. When taken together, the practices and strategies we are addressing in these texts amount to an organizational change initiative, not unlike those from the last few decades, particularly Total Quality Management, process improvement, customer satisfaction and participative management. However, human resource (HR) professionals have been slow to pursue sustainability, in large part because they don’t understand how much they have to offer.

We can identify with this problem. We too come from an organizational development background and when we encountered the concept of sustainability as a business issue in Harvard Business Review in the mid-1990s, we had an epiphany: by showing our clients how to be more productive, in many cases we had also shown them how to deplete the world’s resources better, faster, cheaper. This was not the legacy we had in mind! We also experienced a crisis of confidence. There was no going back to the blissful state of ignorance but yet we couldn’t see the path forward. What did we know about sustainability? Weren't we biologists or chemical engineers? What did we have to offer? What we’ve discovered on our journey is that implementing sustainability is a lot like implementing any other corporate change initiative. As an internal consultant, you need to get up to speed on certain concepts and terms, but the most troublesome issues most organizations face are not technical ones (do we use this chemical or that?) but concern organizational change: how does sustainability fit with our corporate strategy? Where should we begin our efforts? Who needs to be involved and how can we engage them? What framing is going to be most helpful? What structures do we need in place to manage the effort? At what point do we ‘go public’ with our efforts, internally and externally?

It’s ironic that while we tiptoed into this field, we have never felt more valued for the contribution we bring. Technical people, including scientists and engineers, the same ones who roll their eyes when you try to engage them in a team-building exercise, have practically begged for our help. As one engineer put it, ‘To do this work, you have to bring together a good cross-section of people, all of whom have their own opinions. Pretty soon, someone gets angry and then I don’t know what to do.’ Many human resource professionals have excellent facilitation and conflict management skills, exactly the skills that others in the sustainability field lack.


Increasingly, sustainability is becoming an important recruitment and retention strategy:

• Youth: MonsterTRAK.com, a career website for students and entry-level employees found that 92 percent would be more inclined to work for a company that is environmentally responsible. 80 percent of young professionals wanted a job that directly improved the environment.

• Canadian workers: In a similar study in Canada, Monster.ca found that 78 percent of employees surveyed would gladly quit their jobs for a more environmentally friendly employer. In the same poll, 81 percent were less than impressed with their current employer’s performance in that regard.

• US workers: An Adecco USA survey of employees in the US found that 36 percent would be more inclined to work for a green company, 59 percent think their company should be more environmentally friendly (a desire that is more pronounced with women and young adults), and 68 percent of adults think companies’ actions don’t always match their green hype.

Of course, improved social conditions in the workplace also help with retention: on-site day care, flexible work schedules, and incentives to bike to work are examples of programs HR can implement to contribute to the sustainability effort.

Don’t underestimate the power of giving people a meaningful mission. We remember talking to an employee at a lumber mill who used to dodge questions about where he worked. After his employer adopted sustainability, he became proud to tell people about his work. Many executives have found that sustainability motivates people in a way that no other organizational change program has. Programmes like total quality, Lean, Six Sigma and self-directed work teams focused on making the organization better.

Sustainability is about making the world better. It gives people a way to address their latent concerns (about climate change, toxics, poverty, etc.). These seem like overwhelming problems and many retreats into denial or learned helplessness. The psychic toll of this often goes unacknowledged but it is significant. When you give people permission to use their job as a catalyst for positive, transformative change, many end up with a passionate calling, not just a career.

Be sure to talk to your facilities people as well because green building practices have

been found to improve productivity. Based on a study of 12 retrofits of federal buildings

in the US, these remodel resulted in a 29 percent boost in employee satisfaction while

also reducing water and energy use as well as greenhouse gasses.

Human resources are often the department which provides organizational development advice about how to launch and sustain new initiatives.

As we consulted with organizations, we found many organizations making unnecessary implementation mistakes that will be familiar to anyone with an organizational development background:

Spray-and-pray training. A manufacturer of wood products trained all their employees in The Natural Step framework and then sat back, waiting for miracles to happen. Of course,

many people forgot what they were taught since there was no planned way to use the knowledge immediately. Few ideas were suggested until the organization put into place a more structured way to involve staff.

The big black hole. Another company trained all employees on sustainability and asked employees to share ideas about actions the organization could take. These ideas were collected but there was no process to assess them, act on them or give feedback to employees about them. So for about two years, the ideas disappeared into the black hole, leaving employees wondering just how serious the organization was.

A rose by any other name. An organization based in ‘Ecotopia’ (Oregon) found out the hard way that their employees on the east coast of the US didn’t have the same connotations for such terms as ‘environmentalist’. Rather than building excitement with

their training, they were deepening the resistance to the concept.

If you don’t know where you’re going ... A boss in a property development firm got the sustainability bug and hired someone to lead the effort. However, the top management team had never had a conversation about how sustainability fitted into their business strategy. At this point in time, they have got through two sustainability coordinators, both of whom left in frustration.

Unrequited expectations. The owner of a construction firm got his employees too excited about sustainability. Employees started leaving because they felt the company wasn’t changing fast enough.

You should recognize these change management mistakes. They are generic problems. Had these organizations involved an HR professional in their plans, they might have avoided these unnecessary complications.

So don’t be intimidated if you don’t yet know the difference between PVC and PBTs. It doesn’t matter. Your skills are critical to carrying out sustainability. It’s your job to be the generalist, the change consultant, the process designer, the meeting facilitator. These are all things you know how to do. For the technical sustainability topics you don’t already have under your belt, take a class, read a book or hire a sustainability expert as a shadow consultant. You’ll pick it up quickly.

Sustainability is at its core an issue requiring organizational change and cultural change.

Edgar Shein, the author of Leadership and Organizational Culture, identifies five primary mechanisms that affect culture:

1. What leaders pay attention to, measure and reward?

2. How leaders react to critical incidents;

3. What leaders deliberately role-model;

4. Criteria for allocating rewards and status; and

5. Criteria for selecting, recruiting, promoting and firing.

Note how many of these mechanisms are the responsibility of human resources, either overtly through HR systems or through management training and coaching. So HR is key to making sustainability ‘stick’.


We see the role of the human resources director and department falling into the following categories:

• Introduce the concept to top executives. If your senior managers are not yet well versed in sustainability, assess when the time is right and then find the best way to introduce the topic.

• Consult on the implementation. Help put in place a plan that has a high probability of success.

• Align human resource systems. Incorporate sustainability into your HR systems (eg orientation/training, hiring, reviews, pay, benefits) to reinforce the organization’s efforts.

• Model appropriate behaviors. Assess your own impacts and make changes to your meeting management, paper processing, and other tasks.

• Measure the benefits. Enhance your existing measurement systems to track the return on your sustainability initiatives.

Introduce the concept to top executives

Because the HR department often includes an organizational development function and may facilitate strategic and operational sessions with top management, HR professionals are often in a good position to introduce new trends to senior management. Unfortunately, few in HR are well versed in sustainability. Remember, you don’t have to be the expert.  Your role may be as simple as pointing out articles about sustainability as a trend and inviting management to explore this as one of many interesting global trends that could affect their business.

Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

• Route a reprint of a sustainability-related article from a respected management publication (eg Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan Management Review or Business Week).

• At a management meeting, show a video related to sustainability (eg ‘The Next Industrial Revolution’) and use it as a discussion starter.

• In preparation for a strategic planning session, suggest to management that sustainability should be one of a handful of emerging trends they should examine.

• Bring in executives from other respected organizations to talk about why they have adopted sustainability as a strategic issue and how they use it to improve their performance.


Here are some of our favorite articles to introduce executives to sustainability:

Senge, Peter M., Benyamin B. Lichtenstein, Katrin Kaeufer, Hilary Bradbury and John S.

Carroll (2007) ‘Collaborating for Systemic Change’, MIT Sloan Management Review, Winter,Vol 48, No 2, pp44–53.

Senge, Peter and Goran Carstedt (2001) ‘Innovating our Way to the Next Industrial Revolution’, MIT Sloan Management Review, Winter. This article provides a good explanation of why sustainability is going to be the real ‘new economy’ (versus the dot-com version of the not-so-new economy). This would be an excellent summary to give to executives unfamiliar with the issue as it includes most of the basic concepts (eg natural capitalism), quotes from big-name executives, differentiates eco-efficiencies from sustainability, and recounts some good profitability stories.

Hall, Jeremy and Harrie Vrendenburg (2003) ‘The Challenges of Innovating for Sustainable Development’, MIT Sloan Management Review, Fall. This article helps to explain why sustainability can be viewed as cutting both ways. ‘From a company’s perspective, innovation can be a primary source of the sustained competitive advantage as well as a significant source of risk, competitive disruption, and failure ... The additional interacting pressures from social and environmental concerns make SDI [sustainable development initiatives] more complex than conventional market-driven innovation.’ Monsanto’s GMO debacle is given as an example. The article also explains how Suncor and Transalta have managed that risk successfully.

‘Global Sustainability and Creative Destruction of Industries’, MIT Sloan Management Review, Fall 1999. This article does a good job of distinguishing green strategies from sustainability ones. For example, green strategies focus on incremental improvement in existing products, processes, suppliers and customers, while sustainability involves focusing on emerging technologies, markets, partners and customers - a list which suggests more emphasis on discontinuous creative destruction/restructuring of industries. It also segments the global market into three parts: consumer economy (1 billion people), emerging markets (2 billion people) and survival economy (3 billion people). Depending on which market you’re in, you should be asking different questions and focusing on different results.

The ‘Millennium Ecosystem Assessment’ study, performed for the UN by scientists from all over the world, summarizes the main issues. The 31-page overview report ‘Living Beyond our Means: Natural Assets and Human Well-Being’ nicely covers the global challenges we face, www.millenniumassessment.org/en/index.aspx.


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(37) Sustainability

 Waste Management and Recycling

Waste Management World 

Wate Management


Operate the building efficiently

The design of a building will clearly dictate the range of performance you can expect. However, everyday decisions can have a huge impact as well. Some are within your purview as a facilities manager, but you will need to become a behaviour modification expert as well.


It would be funny if it weren’t so common: most buildings simply don’t function as intended. Parts of the building may be hot while others are cold. The electronic controls may not be set properly. Building commissioning is the process of checking, usually with a third party, if the building is functioning the way it was designed. Aster Publishing in Eugene, Oregon saved more than $40,000 on its annual electricity bill in part by correcting an improper economizer operation and disabled HVAC controls. These services may not be free, but they often pay for themselves in the first year.

Energy management

Probably the biggest operations and maintenance (O&M) cost a facility manager watches is energy. Certain factors are largely within your control: flushing the building with cool evening air to reduce the air conditioning (AC) load the next day; bringing parts of the building on over time so you don’t create as much of a spike in energy demand; etc.

The big headache is usually the occupants: whining about being too hot or too cold, twiddling the thermostat, sneaking space heaters under their desks, leaving lights and computers on, etc. There are actions that you can take which will have some success. For example, Tufts University in Massachusetts estimated that if all students turned off their computers for six hours at night, they could save 572 tons of carbon equivalents and $87,000. Comparing current energy use in your buildings with past records can also uncover unnecessary use. But in reality, this will be the hardest part of the job.

Find creative ways to educate and inform occupants about the impacts of their decisions. TriMet, the transit authority for Portland, Oregon’s metropolitan region, employed at least one elegant tactic – they posted the electricity bill in the lifts. No entreaties. No guilt tripping. Just information. And their energy use dropped by 20 per cent in the next month!

When doing remodels, set up better measurement systems. For example, SERA Architects in Portland, Oregon installed a separate electrical metering system when they remodelled their offices so that each would pay its own energy bills. They immediately switched to green power (at a nominal annual cost of $800 for 9000 square feet) and further divided their metering to separately track lighting, mechanical systems and plug loads. This separate metering enables them to target improvements and monitor energy use.


DSIRE is a comprehensive listing of energy-related incentives in every US state, www.dsireusa.org

.Manage waste

The first step in managing waste is to change your thinking. It’s not waste, it’s a resource.

This new mindset has allowed a number of organizations to achieve the goal of zero waste to landfill. Just imagine no dumpsters/skips!

Interface has eliminated over US$165 million in waste. They have learned how to make new carpet from old carpet, reducing their need for oil. They also have a factory powered in part by solar energy.

Xerox has saved more than US$2 billion since 1990 and diverted the equivalent of 2 million printers and copiers from the landfill. With their remanufacturing system, they take back old copiers and disassemble them. Parts that pass rigorous testing then get put in new products.

Hewlett-Packard in Roseville, California reduced its waste by 95 per cent and saved $870,564 in 1998. One action that contributed to this was switching from pallets to reusable slip-sheets to transport product.

 In 2000 Epson in Portland, Oregon reduced its waste to landfill to zero and saved $300,000. One of the strategies they used to achieve this was to buy a compactor to compress foam packaging, which was passed on as input to another manufacturer.

Excess ink is shipped off as pigment for paints. The final 10 per cent that can’t be reused or recycled is sent to a facility to be burned for electricity.

From the above examples, certain appropriate strategies become clear. Do a waste audit to see what is being thrown away. Even better, do a purchasing audit to see what you are buying - for your major purchases, consider their necessity, sourcing, recyclability and longevity. Find markets for whatever ‘residual resource’ (normally referred to as waste) you can’t prevent through purchasing practices or process changes. Many communities have a waste exchange website that helps connect potential users of various waste streams.


GrassRoots Recycling Network website, www.grrn.org

Check with your local college or municipality to see if they offer low-cost waste assessments.

Provide green cleaning and landscaping services

Many facilities contract out their cleaning and landscaping services. Whether you do the

work yourself or contract it out, seek out greener, more benign options. Many traditional cleaning products are loaded with hazardous chemicals and artificial fragrances. These often cause skin irritation and/or respiratory problems for cleaning staff and represent a significant spill risk. Such fragrances can also increase sick days for employees who have respiratory problems such as asthma. Much of this risk is truly unnecessary. There are effective green cleaning products to serve almost every cleaning need. Instead of using a strong caustic product on every surface, decide when and where the ‘big guns’ really need to be used. Most of the same points can be made for landscaping chemicals. If you use native plants appropriate to their location, the need for chemicals drops considerably. If you have any lawn, lower your standards and allow some ‘weeds’ to interrupt the monotonous carpet of green. Spray and fertilize only when needed, using the most benign product that will do the job. Switch back to raking instead of using noisy, polluting leaf blowers. Replace gasoline- or diesel-powered machines with ones using cleaner fuels such as biodiesel, compressed natural gas, hydrogen or electricity (if it is sourced from renewable).

In both cases, periodically do a chemical inventory, tallying what you use and rating the products by hazard. Make every effort to eliminate those products that pose the most threat to environmental or human health. Material safety data sheets can help you with these decisions.

When we have done chemical inventories for clients, we find that initiating the inventory often leads to other business benefits. People clean out their shelves of old, unused product so they don’t have to count it in the inventory. We often discover that the same organization buys different products from different vendors to serve the same purpose; when they combine purchases, they often get a significant quantity discount. To make the process of doing a chemical inventory easy, require your vendors to provide you with your usage information.


Green Seal has a certification system for cleaning products, www.greenseal.org

Green/Blue is working on several projects related to chemicals, packaging and design for the environment issues, www.greenblue.org

Dolphin Software has a neat database that compares chemicals for a certain function by both cost and toxicity so you can easily find alternatives that would meet your needs that both cost less and are less toxic. Go to www.dolphinsafesource.com/ and look for the Green Product

Selector under Products and Services.

King County, WA has done an analysis of a number of commonly used landscape products, rating them on a scale from high concern to low, www.govlink.org

Manage transportation issues

Add up the amount of land - both parking and access roads - that you have devoted to the car. How much more would that property is worth if it were a building site? This is your missed opportunity cost. Now figure out what it cost to build those parking areas and associated swales, landscaping and sewer lines. Add these two numbers and divide by the number of parking spaces. The purpose of this math’s problem is to make the point: there really is no such thing as free parking.

Portland State University calculated that they could not accommodate the expected growth in student numbers if they maintained the same student to parking ratio. Their existing 30 per cent public transport use – a level that would be the envy of many institutions – would have to be radically improved. As previously mentioned, they placed what parking they did provide further away from campus than the transit stops. They charge for parking and indicate the annual total on the monthly bills to shock people into the recognition of what it costs to own and operate a car; some of the parking revenue is used to subsidize bus passes and bike facilities. They provide a ‘Flexcar’ (a shared vehicle that can be rented by the hour) for people who do not have parking spaces. All this contributes to managing costs and reducing climate impact.

When it comes to transportation, the Field of Dreams movie refrain ‘if you build it [near bus stops], they will come [via public transportation]’ doesn’t work without carrots and sticks. So charge at least what it costs you for parking. If you can, subsidize bus passes and help people find alternative ways to get to work. Reserve the best parking spots for car pools. Instead of validating customer parking, consider giving drivers a free bus ticket instead. Of course, some people will still need to drive. So Quantec LLC, a small 35-person firm in Portland, Oregon, offers its employees a $9000 incentive to purchase a hybrid Toyota Prius ($150 per month over 60 months). They also buy bicycles for people who prefer to commute that way. In addition to reducing greenhouse gases and air pollution, Quantec found these are effective programmes to recruit and retain good talent.

Because of the potential for cost savings and the relative size of the impacts, many organizations begin their sustainability efforts with a focus on their facilities. While you will find the biggest opportunities when you are first building or selecting a new facility, there are still many measures you can take with an existing structure. Where you are a tenant and don’t control many aspects of the management of the facility (eg you don’t have a separate electric meter or any influence over cleaning practices), consider your leverage with your landlord or opportunities to unite with other tenants to make requests for different services.


The Westside Transportation Alliance advocates balanced transportation choices, http://www.wta-tma.org/

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, www.epa.gov/otaq


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(36) Sustainability


 What is green building? (video)

What is a Green Building?


Facilities: How to Save Energy and Water, Improve Productivity and Reduce Waste

Buildings, their construction and operation, are usually a significant cost for any organization. They both displace habitat and affect transportation and land use patterns. They also consume a large percentage of our energy and produce much of our waste. Consider that US buildings, which represent about half of the nation’s wealth, consume 70 per cent of the nation’s electricity, generate 30 per cent of waste, and are responsible for more global warming than any other nation’s economy except China. In contrast, green buildings – with more natural light, better air quality and greater comfort – typically also contribute to improved occupant health, comfort and productivity. A more complete accounting of these costs and benefits demonstrates that green buildings are generally cost effective today, with average financial benefits exceeding additional costs by a factor of ten to one.’

According to the Climate Protection Manual for Cities, schools in the US spend over $6 billion on energy each year, more than they spend on computers and books combined! In the typical school, about a third of that energy is wasted. Thus facilities managers have a tremendous opportunity to make their organizations more sustainable while also saving money. Because buildings last for decades if not centuries, their choices have long-term consequences for the building owners and occupants and the community at large.


Facilities managers often find it hard to believe that they are not already doing all they can. However, sustainability often uncovers new opportunities. Facilities managers need to guard against the following common mistakes:

Being pound foolish. Often facilities will choose the cheapest first-cost option. But this can end up costing more in the long run. For example, vinyl flooring is typically cheaper than linoleum. However, linoleum usually lasts about four times as long. If materials represent about half the cost of a flooring job, the cost of the vinyl should be multiplied by eight to give a true comparison. Looking at the life cycle costs can make the more expensive product seem cheaper!

Wasting energy. When building designers apply a sustainability lens to the creation of a building, they invariably identify efficiencies not previously revealed. A green building is designed with an integrated team approach with a focus on optimizing trade-offs. For example, the building orientation, insulation and glazing may substantially reduce the size of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system required, saving both capital and operating costs. Similarly, laying the piping out first to minimize angles and maximize diameter can radically reduce the costs associated with pumping compressed air or water.

Making people sick. Indoor air quality is often six to seven times worse than outside, sometimes resulting in sick building syndrome. Carpets, vinyl flooring and plywood cabinets and work surfaces may ‘off-gas’ chemicals into the air. Toxic and fragranced cleaning products may also contribute to allergies and illness. Toxic mould, caused by inadequate ventilation, has forced the closure of many buildings.

Paying twice. Waste can be defined as something you paid for that you pay again to get rid of. Portland State University in Oregon discovered during a waste audit that they were disposing of 1400 paper cups a day. They bought them and then had to pay to dispose of them. Sometimes the waste is not as obvious: a refrigerator near an oven, a return air vent near a heating vent. The executives in one office building were so intolerant to fluctuations in temperature that they set the thermostat for such a narrow range that air conditioning and heating alternated on and off all day.


To help you identify opportunities for eliminating the waste in your building, we’ve organized this section around the functions a facilities manager typically performs:

• Constructing/remodeling a high-performance building;

• Operating the building;

• Managing waste;

• Providing green cleaning and landscaping services; and

• Managing transportation issues.

Construct/remodel a high-performance building

It still comes as a surprise to many that so-called ‘green building’ practices do not necessarily increase building costs. Furthermore, buildings so constructed typically save 30 per cent or more on energy and related operating expenses. For owner-occupied buildings, green building practices are now a no-brainer. In many markets, it also makes sense for developers to use green building practices even if they intend to lease or sell the structure – tenants and buyers are often willing to pay somewhat more for the improved amenities and there is good evidence that such properties lease faster than their equivalent conventional competitors.

Green building (or high-performance building) is an emerging field, driven largely by the success of the US Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) scoring system. This system has now been adopted by Australia, Canada, Brazil, India, Mexico and Taiwan. LEED provides a laundry list of things you can do, each with points assigned. A building or remodeling project can be certified at several levels (certified, silver, gold and platinum) based on the number of points the building is able to earn. The intention of the World Green Building Council and its affiliates is to keep pushing building practices toward sustainability as new methods and technologies become available.

The California Department of Finance commissioned a study by the Capital E group and Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory to determine whether green building practices paid off.

After studying 100 buildings across the country and other studies, they concluded that the financial benefits of green design are between $50 and $70 per square foot in a LEED building, over ten times the additional cost associated with building green.

Deconstruction and recycling

Building is wasteful, especially if you’re remodeling or redeveloping existing structures. Construction waste represents a significant portion of municipal landfills. Now there are services that deconstruct rather than demolish buildings. This might not satisfy the same destructive urges, but it makes a lot of sense. As does recycling and reusing many materials. In a major renovation, the contractors at the Natural Capital Center in Portland, Oregon reportedly recycled and reused 97 per cent of the materials. In a recent study financed by the Environmental Protection Agency, four house deconstruction projects by RE Store, a non-profit retailer of used building supplies in Seattle, Washington, achieved recycle or reuse rates of 70 to 97 per cent


For some examples of green building and an understanding of why it is important, see McDonough, William and Michael Braungart (2001) ‘The Next Industrial Revolution’ (video), Stevenson, MD: Earthome Productions, https://vimeo.com/20372160

Here are several green building standards and tools:

LEED: World Green Building Council, www.worldgbc.org , www.usgbc.org

BREEAM: BRE Environmental Assessment Method, www.breeam.org

BEES: Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability is a software tool for selecting environmentally preferable building materials, www.bfrl.nist.gov.

Day lighting

In principle, day lighting simply involves letting natural light into a building. In practice, it is more complicated, for you want visibility, not glare, and in most commercial buildings, you want light but not heat. Day lighting’s most obvious benefit is energy savings – you don’t need to turn on the lights. But that is often the least of its benefits. In an organizational setting, the highest cost associated with a building is not the building itself but the people in it. With that in mind, minor increases in capital costs to incorporate certain green features can at times provide a healthy return on investment. ‘The biggest benefit of day lighting is the impact it has on the people in the space. If it weren’t for people, we wouldn’t be designing interior environments. Your highest overhead walks into the office on two legs every day.

The cost of loss of productivity is incredible to a corporation,’ says Stefan Graf, principal at Illuminart, based in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Assume the cost to employ a worker is roughly $75,000 per year. If that employee works in approximately 150 square feet of space that originally cost around $15,000 to build, a 20 per cent productivity uptick on a $75,000-per-year worker pays back the entire cost of building construction in the first year ($15,000). ‘These productivity benefits are just huge,’ emphasizes Loveland, ‘and we know that they’re most directly correlated to daylight.’

A 20 per cent increase is not unrealistic. Based on the best research available from Carnegie Mellon University and others, day lighting appears to improve productivity and reduce absenteeism by up to that level. There are benefits beyond the workplace as well. Day lighting improves learning in schools, increases sales in retail environments and helps the elderly in retirement homes sleep better and live longer. In hospitals, people recover faster when they have access to daylight.

Of course, you will still need some lighting systems, but you can choose the most efficient fixtures and use daylight and motion sensors to limit their use. Lighting retrofits can often pay for themselves in just a couple years. Make sure lights can be turned on in sections of the building so that, for example, the entire building doesn’t have to be lit when the janitors are in one area.

Site selection

Where you place the building and what direction you point it can be important factors as well. In most cases, you want to choose a site that can easily be accessed by a variety of transportation modes – public transport, bike and car. This makes alternative transportation a viable option. Portland State University intentionally situated its parking farther away than the transit stop so that people who take the light rail or bus only have to walk one-third as far to reach their destination as drivers do. Industrial ecology involves co-locating properties that make use of one another’s waste products. The most widely cited example is Kalundborg, Denmark where waste heat, biomass, water and other resources are exchanged among synergistic operations. This kind of relationship is easier to achieve when planning new sites, but at least consider who your neighbors are and investigate whether they might be dumping something you need. The orientation of your building can have energy and lighting impacts as well. Combining a sun-facing orientation with an engineered overhang enables you to take best advantage of sunlight and heat. Exterior glazing helps you efficiently manage light and heat. It is also wise to have at least part of your roof facing sunward so that you are positioned to make use of photovoltaic technology when it becomes feasible or so that you can easily add solar thermal systems to preheat water for boilers or hot water heaters.

Material selection

Obviously, buildings use a tremendous amount of the world’s resources. So it is critical to minimize the impact of construction or remodels for the benefit of both the natural world and the building’s users. You can buy low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint,

recycled and recyclable carpet and certified sustainable timber, often at prices competitive with traditional products. You can further avoid unnecessary materials by, for example, leaving rafters or piping exposed or by coloring a concrete floor instead of covering it with underlay and carpet.

In the building shell, give preference to materials with lower embodied energy (the amount of energy necessary to make them) where possible. For example, wood (which you would want to source from certified or well-managed forests) has a relatively frugal embodied energy of 639 kWh/ton. Brick has 4 times as much, concrete 5 times, glass 14 times and steel 24 times.

Consider also how best to use the materials. Deschutes Brewery, a microbrewery in central Oregon, for example, put the insulation on the outside of their concrete building. This put the thermal mass inside the building. At night, they flush in the cool night air, which is then absorbed into the concrete walls and slowly released during the day. Because of their climate, they only need to use refrigeration to keep their cases of beer cold for two months a year.


‘Creating a High Performance Workspace G/Rated Tenant Improvement Guide’ by the City of Portland Office of Sustainable Development. There is a chapter on finishes and furnishings.

LEED Green Building Rating System for New Construction and Major Renovations. Architecture 2030 is a challenge for architects to make buildings climate neutral by 2050. Yudelson, Jerry (2008) The Green Building Revolution. Washington, DC: Island Press. OpenEco is a new global on-line community that provides free, easy-to-use tools to help participants assess, track, and compare energy performance, share proven best practices to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and encourage sustainable innovation, www.openeco.org.

The RETScreen International Clean Energy Decision Support Centre offers software decision-making tools that reduce the cost of pre-feasibility studies. English homepage: www.retscreen.net/ang/home.php.

Mechanical systems

With good design, you may be able to radically reduce or eliminate your HVAC system. The Eastgate office complex in Harare, Zimbabwe requires no air conditioning and almost no heating, despite the fact that the weather oscillates between 35 and 104°F. The architects took a lesson from termites to maintain a comfortable climate inside the building. Termites in Africa build tall, complex structures that must be kept at a narrow temperature range to grow food. They use underground tunnels to draw in cool air from the earth and open and close their ‘windows’ to create air flow and manage the temperature. Similarly, the Eastgate complex is actually two buildings linked by bridges across a shady, glass-roofed atrium open to the air. Fans suck fresh air in from the atrium; blow it upstairs through hollow spaces under the floors and from there into each office through skinting board (baseboard) vents. As the air rises and warms, it is drawn out through ceiling vents. Finally, it exits through 48 round brick chimneys.

To save energy, plan any system that requires piping carefully. The amount of energy needed to move something through a pipe increases geometrically as the pipe diameter shrinks. Bends in the piping also increase energy requirements. Lay out water pipes, compressed air pipes and the like in as straight a line as possible with the largest pipe size feasible. Then consider variable speed drives that can adjust the fan or pumping speed as needed. At the Collins Company mill in Klamath Falls, Oregon, they installed a backpressure steam turbine generator to utilize wasted energy in their compressed air system, providing almost half the power needed to run the plant. They figure the annual savings to be around $250,000.

Construction waste

Construction waste is clogging our landfills. But carpet, concrete, studs, steel, plasterboard and other building materials can often be reused or recycled. Setting up the Natural Capital Center in Portland, Oregon involved turning an old warehouse into office space. They were able to reuse or recycle 97 per cent of their construction debris. So before you begin any construction or remodeling project, set stretch goals for the diversion of waste.


Morton, Steven (2002) ‘Business Case for Green Design: Sustainable Design is More than Good Intentions; It’s a Way of Reaching Business Goals’, www.facilitiesnet.com

Yale produces its Journal of Industrial Ecology, which is published by the MIT Press, www.mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=4&tid=32

Graedel, T. E. and B. R. Allenby (1995) Industrial Ecology. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Allenby, B. R. (1999) Industrial Ecology – Policy Framework and Implementation. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.  www.healthybuilding.net  provides information on health impacts.

The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance has a useful website, www.BetterBricks.com

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Sustainability: Developing a personal ethic

Why Sustainability Is Now the Key Driver of Innovation


Sustainability by Organizational Function

Senior Management:

How to Lead the Sustainability Effort

Devise an implementation strategy and enlist support

 After developing a business case for pursuing sustainability and identifying terms and frameworks, the next step is to develop an implementation strategy. Where are you going to start your efforts? Who needs to be involved? What do the executives need to do to demonstrate their support? The importance of this step cannot be overemphasized. In our experience, many of the mistakes organizations make regarding sustainability are not technical mistakes but mistakes in change to management:

• A catalogue retailer trained all employees on sustainability before having any systems in place to harness the ideas and energy that the training generated. They ended up with hundreds of employee suggestions languishing for over a year until they hired someone to head up the sustainability effort.

• A timber company also trained employees and then expected improvements to happen spontaneously. They soon discovered they needed a set of teams to provide structure and focus and a process to evaluate the ideas that were generated.

• A consultant associated with The Natural Step framework became so enamoured with the back casting process that he was adamant about approaching all clients with this approach. He discovered the number of organizations willing to jump into sustainability ‘whole hog’ was quite limited.

• One company tried to apply the same exhaustive environmental management system that was used in their manufacturing group in their retail outlet, getting hopelessly bogged down in terminology and technique.

• A governmental agency decided to use a voluntary green team to spearhead their sustainability efforts. The team didn’t have enough clout or the right members to be effective.

These are just a few of the organizational change mistakes we have witnessed, all examples of making the implementation of sustainability unnecessarily difficult. The following advice should help you avoid these and other problems.

Pick the best entry point

In many situations, organizations are better off starting their sustainability effort quietly, tucking it into something already in existence. This lets you gain some experience and avoid the eye-rolling usually associated with new organizational ‘programmes’ or ‘initiatives’. The analysis of your threats and opportunities should imply likely places to begin. Find a place where those intersect with existing efforts you have planned:

• Are you planning any capital improvements (new/remodeled buildings or product lines)? The catalogue retailer, Norm Thompson, began their sustainability effort when they were constructing a new office building. Since buildings last for decades, the impacts of design decisions go on for years. After achieving their goals of making it as green as possible, they moved on to the next phase of their sustainability plan.

• Are you designing a new product, service or programme? Philips Microelectronics chooses a ‘flagship’ product within a product group and applies design for environment principles. Since most of the impacts of products are determined in design, this is a high-leverage opportunity.

• Where are your largest expenses and environmental impacts? Herman Miller ships their furniture in their own trucks. They discovered that by adding an aerodynamic scoop on to their truck cabs, the fuel savings paid for the upgrades in several months, reducing their climate impacts.

• Where is the ‘low-hanging fruit’, something you can pick off easily to show progress and save money? Many organizations find that energy/lighting upgrades and packaging changes can yield significant benefits with little effort.

• Do you have an existing process that could be tweaked to make it relate to sustainability (eg environmentally preferable purchasing policies or an environmental management system)? The Oregon Department of Administrative services used their purchasing power to reward those with more sustainable products and services.

• Do you have a waste stream that has potential to go somewhere other than the landfill? At the Klamath Falls, Oregon plant of wood products manufacturer Collins Companies, an employee wondered if the sawdust couldn’t be put back into the product instead of burned for energy or hauled off. This single idea saved the company over a million dollars and actually improved the quality of their product.

• Is there a nuisance (to employees, customers or the community) that you could solve and thus generate future support for your work? A number of different property management firms have found that by changing to green cleaning products, they eliminated janitor complaints about skin irritation and allergic reactions.

Set up the best structure

Given your chosen entry point, you may need one or more of several common structures:

Sustainability coordinators or directors. Many organizations find it helpful to assign someone the responsibility for leading the sustainability effort. Ideally this person should report to top management. It can be impressive how much one person can make happen. Two women at Multnomah County, in Portland, Oregon have jump-started everything from eco-roofs to a global warming action plan to a food policy council. It is often wise, however, to make these positions long term but temporary, sending the message to managers that soon they will need to take over these functions.

Steering committees. Often the management team isn’t yet ready to manage the sustainability effort. In these situations, a steering committee can provide supervision, coordination and leadership. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) successfully used a steering committee for a year to increase front-line participation in and commitment to the effort.

 Task forces. Steering committees, managers and/or sustainability coordinators often spawn task forces to work on specific projects: researching the best certification schemes, setting up environmentally preferable purchasing policies, redesigning the production process, etc. At OMSI the steering committee set up a zero waste team and a climate team to attack two of their largest environmental impacts.

Standing teams. In some situations, having standing teams that focus on certain elements

of the organization can be useful. Collins Companies, for example, created an input–output diagram of their operation and then assigned teams to each of the inputs and outputs: an energy team, a raw materials team, a waste team, etc. When you set up any type of team, think long and hard about what you expect of it. We use a ‘pre-launch’ process of working through the why, who, what, when, where and how questions and, to really work, the process takes several hours. But taking the time up front saves many hours of team time and associated frustration. If you are clear enough about the boundaries, you should be able to give the team authority to make decisions.

Demonstrate support

Executives often think that all they need to do is tell people they support a new initiative and their work is done. In fact not only must they communicate the message regularly and repeatedly, they must align their actions. At the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the task force wanted to encourage employees to use alternative transportation for commuting. So when we talked to the executive director, we asked her to ride her bike to work and then parade around the office in her bike helmet until she was sure at least a dozen people had seen her.

You must ‘walk the talk’.

What you say is only effective to the degree that your actions support your words. So here are some effective ways to demonstrate support:

• Take symbolic action. Do something no one thinks you would do to demonstrate your commitment. This may be as simple as redesignating your hallowed parking spot for car-poolers or as big as dropping an environmentally or socially questionable product line.

• Do at least as much as you expect others to do. This may involve cycling to work, using teleconferences to avoid business travel, taking the most fuel-efficient fleet car, volunteering in the community, etc.

• Ask people about sustainability and what they have done to work towards it. Follow up on task forces. Ask for regular face-to-face reports from sustainability coordinators, steering committees and task forces.

• Promote people (perhaps the sustainability coordinator) in part because of their efforts on sustainability-related projects.

• Make it easy for employees to be more sustainable at work and at home. The Washington Park Zoo, in Portland, Oregon, for example, lets employees add difficult-to-recycle items like batteries to the organizations recycle bins. Quantec, a small consulting firm in Portland, Oregon, gives its 35 employees an incentive to buy Toyota Priuses; they have found this a powerful employee retention strategy since the bonus is paid out over several years. Portland State University lets employees and professors use the car-share programme for free during working hours to encourage alternative transportation.

• Bring in people from outside to show off what your employees have done. Give the teams visibility at important business functions.

• Put your money and your time where your mouth is. Join and attend appropriate professional associations. Send people to sustainability conferences and training. Expect people to work on sustainability tasks during working hours.

• Change your business systems to incorporate sustainability.


James, Jennifer (1997) Thinking in the Future Tense. New York: Simon & Schuster. This book includes wonderful questions to guide your assessment of your own culture.

Align business systems

Business systems are a powerful indicator of organizational priorities but they often hold back the organizational change effort, sending mixed signals.

Below are some suggestions for how to incorporate sustainability into common business systems:

Strategic planning. Make sustainability one of the key trends you consider.

Operational planning. Expect every department to set at least one sustainability goal.

Budgeting. When sustainability-related projects can prove a return, let the department keep a portion of the return in their budget to use as they see fit.

Performance appraisals and compensation. Make sustainability a key part of executive and other employee reviews.

Orientation and training. Embed sustainability into employee orientation and management training.

Environmental management systems. If you have an EMS, incorporate sustainability into policy statements and the criteria for setting priorities.

Many executives yearn for the days when all they had to do was make a profit and not break any laws. But those days are gone. Stakeholders (including investors, customers, suppliers, special interest groups and community members) are increasingly making their voices heard. Even Wal-Mart, which used to focus only on keeping prices cheap, is realizing the need to incorporate social responsibility and sustainability into its culture. They have realized that activists have been targeting retailers, not offshore manufacturers. ‘We thought we could sit in Bentonville [Arkansas],’ said Lee Scott, their CEO, ‘take care of customers, take care of associates – and the world would leave us alone. It doesn’t work that way anymore.’ Recently Wal-Mart announced sweeping and specific environmental goals to reduce energy consumption in its outlets and trucks, and reduce packaging. They also plan to push these initiatives upstream to their suppliers. Wal-Mart now recognizes the need to take responsibility for the social and environmental impacts of their entire supply chain. CEO Lee Scott again:

There will be a day of reckoning for retailers. If somebody wakes up and finds out that children that are down the river from that factory where you save three cents a foot in the cost of garden hose are developing cancers at a significant rate so that the American public can save three cents a foot, those things won’t be tolerated, and they shouldn’t be tolerated.

One specific action they are taking is to begin buying organic cotton to remove many tons of pesticides from use. As already mentioned, shareholder resolutions are increasing and the scope of their concerns continues to increase. The Carbon Disclosure Project, representing institutional investors’ worth over $31 trillion, is forcing companies to report risks associated with climate change. In the last couple of years, shareholder resolutions related to toxic chemicals, according to the Investor Environmental Health Network, were responsible for over $34 billion in assets.

Environmental and social justice lawsuits are increasing as well and are not just a problem in the litigious US. Environmentalists in Australia sued to challenge a proposed mine and courts in the European Union are sharpening their pencils on climate issues. Environmental groups and other special interest groups can make their voices heard in uncomfortable ways if you don’t involve them and listen to their concerns. Fortunately, many of these groups, even the most fringe ones, are now open to collaborating to find solutions In the aftermath of Enron, Worldcom, Tyco, Parmalat and other bad actors, there is an obvious need for transparency, accuracy and ethics. Just the hint of ethical breaches has already brought a number of companies down. In the US, the Sarbanes–Oxley Bill has at least made it clear ‘where the buck stops’. It increases the responsibility of corporations to be transparent. But you will need to do much more. Stakeholder involvement has progressed further in the UK and Europe than in the US.


ISO 26000 is a new standard for corporate social responsibility and stakeholder involvement. This effort is linked to the Global Reporting Initiative, which is creating standards for sustainability reporting. AA1000 is a standard for ethics and stakeholder engagement, www.accountability.org.uk.

For checklists on stakeholder audits, see Wheeler, David and Maria Sillanpaa (1997) The

Stakeholder Corporation: The Body Shop Blueprint for Maximizing Stakeholder Value. London: Pitman Publishing.

Hemmati, Minu (2002) Multi-Stakeholder Processes for Governance and Sustainability.

London: Earthscan.

Paine, Lynn S. (2003) Value Shift: Why Companies Must Merge Social and Financial Imperatives to Achieve Superior Performance. New York: McGraw Hill.

Innovest is an environmental rating company, www.innovestgroup.com, rating large, publicly held companies based on their environmental performance and then selling this research to money managers, banks, insurance companies, industry and consultants. Many of the ratings apply to products and services that people use (eg petroleum, foods, retailers and banks). They have also published retail reports, which can be found at www.socialfunds.com  under the section ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, www.iccr.org, provides a focus for corporate responsibility issues and campaigns.

Sustainability reports

With regard to transparency, one obvious option is to publish a sustainability report. This should cover all your major impacts and expose your warts as well as your successes. The Global Reporting Initiative is an international standard for sustainability reporting and in 2006 more than one-third of the Standard and Poors 100 used them. Go to the CorporateRegister.com to find sustainability and corporate social responsibility reports.

Partner with NGOs

Many organizations are finding it enormously helpful to use environmental or other nongovernmental organizations as partners to help them improve their own performance.


The Global Reporting Initiative is attempting to develop international standards for sustainability reporting, www.globalreporting.org

If you’re trying to convince your organization to publish an environmental or sustainability report, this article might help you make the case: ‘10 Reasons Why: The Surprising Truths about the Business Value of Sustainability Reporting’, Green at Work Magazine, July/August 2001, p36. Estes, Ralph (1996) Tyranny of the Bottom Line: Why Corp.

These NGOs can act as a proxy for certain stakeholder groups and can also provide technical assistance For example, Norm Thompson, a catalogue retailer in the Pacific northwest, decided one of the best things they could do for the environment would be to shift the entire catalogue industry to using recycled content paper. Shockingly, most catalogues still use 100 per cent virgin paper, based on concerns about appearance. Norm Thompson’s management figured they could switch their entire catalogues to 100 per cent recycled but they’d just represent a tiny blip on the environment’s fluttering electrocardiogram. If they could instead convince the entire industry to shift to only 10 per cent recycled content, they could make a much bigger impact. In order to do this, they had to prove that 10 per cent recycled paper catalogues sold merchandise just as well as ones on virgin paper. Also they had to bring pressure on the paper manufacturers to offer the recycled content paper at the same price. To pull off this feat, they partnered the Alliance for Environmental Innovation, affiliated with Environmental Defense.

Other organizations have worked with the World Wildlife Fund, the National Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, even Greenpeace, which formerly had earned a reputation for confrontational rather than collaborative approaches. Starbucks worked with Conservation International. Ben Packard, director of environmental affairs, cautions:

It’s critical that your interests and those of the NGO overlap because the organizations can be so different. It’s not enough for them to be a great organization addressing an important issue. The issue [that the two of you are going to work on] must be centrally relevant to both you and the NGO. For example, we worked with Conservation International on shade-grown coffee where they were trying to protect biodiversity and local economies and we could provide a market for their product.

Chiquita Banana now partner with Rainforest Alliance. They spent $20 million in the first

decade of their efforts to clean up their act but saved $100 million in operating costs. Farm productivity is up 27 per cent and the cost per box of bananas is down 12 per cent. They’ve cut use of pesticides, eliminating some insecticides altogether. They manage waste and keep it out of local rivers. Employee morale is up and executives claim that the change in worker attitude alone was worth the effort.


Business for Social Responsibility has advice and papers on partnering NGOs. See for example BSR Update, March/April 1999

Stakeholder engagement activities

There are a number of different ways that you can engage stakeholders in discussion and exploration: community meetings, public hearings, private interviews, by-invitation roundtable discussions, etc. We recommend that you find a number of ways to engage them. One gutsy example is US office equipment manufacturer Pitney Bowes’ long-standing practice of holding annual worker stakeholders meetings. ‘Stockholders meetings are usually tame compared with the annual jobholders meetings,’ they report. Held in auditoriums near their main sites, the meetings give every employee a chance to ask management questions or air personal gripes. Senior officers sit on the stage while groups of up to 500 attend. They also hand out prizes – $50 Savings Bonds – for the best questions.

Stakeholder audits

Some organizations, The Body Shop among them, do formal stakeholder audits. In The Stakeholder Corporation: The Body Shop Blueprint for Maximizing Stakeholder Value, the authors identifies different classifications of stakeholders:

• Primary social stakeholders: local communities, suppliers and business partners, customers, investors, employees and managers;

• Secondary social stakeholders: government and civil society, social and third world pressure groups, media and commentators, trade groups and competitors;

• Secondary non-social stakeholders: environmental pressure groups, animal welfare pressure groups, etc.; and

• Primary non-social stakeholders: the natural environment, non-human species, future generations.

Sustainability is an important strategic trend. Your organization may be able to delay significant financial commitments associated with sustainability. There is no need to install uncompetitive equipment, for example. However, you do not want to delay the learning process. Just as with the quality revolution, where it took years to understand what quality meant, how to measure it, what customers expected, etc., so each organization must answer similar questions regarding sustainability. The more you and your employees understand about sustainability, the more sophisticated you will all become in identifying threats and opportunities. You may choose not to be first to market but don’t be last to begin this journey.

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(34) Sustainability

Sustainability easily explained

What is sustainability?


Sustainability by Organizational Function

Senior Management:

How to Lead the Sustainability Effort

Social entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurs are ones that use the marketplace to solve gnarly social problems. Often, they uncover innovative ideas. Consider the One Laptop per Child programme that emerged from MIT where they designed a laptop costing about $200 that is so robust it can be dropped in a tub of water, and it probably has better Wi-Fi reception than yours. It is not just compassion that leads companies in this direction. It finally occurred to some that if they only focused on serving the developed world, they forfeited five-sixths of the world’s potential customers. C. K. Prahalad’s book, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, chronicles a number of different companies that are making a healthy profit serving the very poor, people who earn less than $2 per day.

It may appear unseemly to make a profit off the poor. And this market is certainly ripe for abuse. But consider this. Poor people often pay much higher prices for the things we take for granted. Cooking with kerosene may cost much more to boil a kettle of water than your electric stove. If they need a little credit, they may pay interest rates of 10 per cent per week or day from the local loan sharks! When you can harness the profit motive and the financial capital of business to meet social needs, you no longer have to limit your efforts to donations. Think about how much money you spend every year in commerce: buying food, electricity, restaurant meals, clothes, air tickets, mortgage payments, etc. Now add up your annual charitable donations. If you’re like most people, 98-99 per cent goes to commerce, not charity. What if we could put a significant portion of that 99 per cent to work on the world’s problems?

In 2007, Darcy visited the Aravind Eye Clinic in Madurai, India, which was described in The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. It was founded by Doctor Venkataswamy (affectionately known as Dr V for obvious reasons), a retired physician nearly crippled with arthritis. He wanted to eliminate unnecessary blindness, which in India is not just a huge inconvenience; it’s a death sentence. The life expectancy after going blind is about two or three years.

He built this clinic as he could earn funds. Two-thirds of the people pay little or nothing for their service, but those who pay and those who don’t get the same doctors, the same quality of care. The only difference is the comfort of the facilities. You could be a billionaire and walk into the free clinic and get served, as long as you’re willing to sit on the waiting room floor (a common practice in India) instead of in a chair.

Dr V was inspired by the success of Coke and McDonalds. If Coca-Cola can convince Indians to buy the sweet drink, perhaps similar methods could convince people to come in for surgery. If McDonald’s can take people with low levels of education from anywhere in the world and produce a consistent quality, perhaps strong systems could enable Aravind to operate on thousands of people.

The Aravind Eye Clinic is now the largest in the world. They have sophisticated real-time systems to monitor their performance. The quality of care is so good that the UK sends patients to them. Surgical interns from prestigious US medical schools go there to perfect their technique. Aravind designed their own intraocular lens for cataract surgery because the lenses they had to import cost $200, completely unaffordable for their patients. The model they make costs about $5 each and they are now exporting it. They send technicians into the villages to do eye examinations and provide transportation, food and lodging for those who need more advanced care. They discovered that people were much more likely to wear glasses if the patients didn’t have to return to pick them up, so they make glasses and contact lenses on site. If you need something really unusual, they will FedEx your glasses to your village, no matter how remote. And they didn’t just stop there; they have shown others in many developing countries how to reproduce their results.

Tight funding was seen as a powerful catalyst for innovation. As Dr V’s nephew, one of the surgeons told us, ‘Innovation happens when you have scarcity. We too will become inefficient like the US, where we can just throw money at the problem. It’s inevitable. Eventually we will get there.’ Rather than direct all of Madison Avenue’s wily marketing acumen on developed nations, where we already have so much stuff it’s caused ‘Affluenza’, why not instead direct the power of the marketplace to solve enduring inequities? The incredible interest in Kiva.org, where people lend small sums to entrepreneurs around the world, indicates that there is an untapped desire to help others in our society.


Bornstein, David (2007) How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas. New York: Oxford University Press.

Christensen, Clayton M., Ruggles Baumann and Thomas Sadtler (2006) ‘Disruptive Innovation for Social Change’ Harvard Business Review, December, Vol 84, No 12, p 94-101.

Hollender, Jeffrey (2004) What Matters Most: How a Small Group of Pioneers Is Teaching Social Responsibility to Big Business, and Why Big Business Is Listening. New York: Basic Books.

Paine, Lynn Sharp (2003) Value Shift: Why Companies Must Merge Social and Financial Imperatives to Achieve Superior Performance. New York: McGraw Hill. Prahalad, C. K. (2005) The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits. Wharton School Publishing.

Shore, Bill (1999) The Cathedral Within. New York: Random House.

Yunus, Mohammad (2003) Banker to the Poor. Public Affairs. This is a poorly written book, proving that a Nobel Peace Prize doesn’t make you a writer, but it explains how the micro lending industry was created and gives insights about the relationship between women’s rights, poverty and social justice.


• Ashoka.

• Columbia University’s Research Initiative on Social Entrepreneurship.

• Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs,.

• Social Venture Network


The problem with most strategic planning methods is they rely on projecting existing trends into the future. But not all change is continuous: a new technology or a disaster, for example, can completely change the rules of the game. So rather than just forecasting from an existing point in time, it can be instructive to do ‘backcasting’ from a desired future.

The Natural Step has taken the concept of backcasting and given it traction. The Natural Step framework provides a simple, four-rule description of a sustainable society. The rules (referred to as ‘system conditions’; see the more complete description later in this chapter) were created and vetted by a wide range of scientists. They deal mostly with environmental issues, requirements that nature places on us based on the laws of thermodynamics. The four rules can be used to describe the ‘endgame’, what we all must be able to do if we want a sustainable world. Executives go through a visioning process to image how their organization might operate in that sustainable state and then work backwards to figure out how to get there. One of the advantages of backcasting is that it helps people get beyond current limitations. It often unveils entirely new directions and provides clear guidance for current decisions. It can help organizations avoid investing in dead-end technologies and instead show them how to invest in platforms for future ones.


Cook, David (2004). The Natural Step: Towards a Sustainable Society. Bristol, UK: Green Books. This is the best, clearest overview of The Natural Step framework for a general business audience that we’ve found in print.

See the TNS e-learning course from TNS-Canada. The course can be found at www.naturalstep.ca/elearning/.

Wheeler, David and Maria Sillanpaa (1997) The Stakeholder Corporation: The Body Shop  Blueprint for Maximizing Stakeholder Value. London: Pitman Publishing.

Elkington, John (1998) Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line. Stony Creek, CT: New Society Publishers.

The first of a two-volume series entitled ‘From Words to Action: The Stakeholder Engagement Manual’, published by the Stakeholder Research Associates in partnership with the UN Environment Programme and AccountAbility, Practitioners’ Perspectives on

Stakeholder Engagement examines the trends, processes, key success factors and challenges of stakeholder engagement based on the first-hand experiences of practitioners on the front lines.

Choose terms and frameworks

Assessing sustainability-related threats, opportunities and constraints should provide executives with a clearer focus. What sustainability issues are most pertinent to their organization? How urgent are the threats? Where are the most intriguing opportunities? How do their primary stakeholders feel about sustainability? Answers to these questions provide a basis for selecting terms and frameworks.

Alternative terms

It matters what you call something. As George Lakoff, author of Moral Politics, points out, the choice of terms can invite or diffuse objections. Who wouldn’t want ‘tax relief ’ or ‘healthy forests’ or ‘clear skies’? We are not advocating spin-doctoring, but why not choose terms which invite people in instead of scaring them away?

For years, ‘sustainability’ was often too much of a liability. Many people didn’t know what it meant or it seemed too vague, abstract or academic. Those days are largely gone; sustainability is now an accepted term, showing up in the Wall Street Journal without the need for explanation. There are some purists who think sustainability implies maintaining a status quo instead of restoring what has already been degraded. And like many popular terms, it has been co-opted (to mean ‘sustaining my business’). But for many, this is still going to be the preferred term. There may be some audiences where finding an alternative term is still wise. We raised this issue in consultations with a client in Alaska. Alaska has had a highly extractive economy and ‘environmentalists’ are often viewed as obstacles rather than advocates. Since for many people, ‘sustainability’ equals ‘environmentalism’, it became important for this client to find an alternative term. We settled on ‘sustainable economic renewal’, keeping the term ‘sustainability’ embedded but linking it to economic development. Be open to ‘bridging terms’, phrases that bridge the gap between where people are now and ultimate sustainability. Manufacturers, for example, may not like the term ‘sustainability’, but ‘zero waste’ may seem a logical next step to ‘zero defects’ and ‘waste reduction’ programmes they may already have. ‘Sustainable communities’ may bring to mind bearded hippies, but ‘smart growth’ sounds, well, smart.

In some situations, it makes most sense to adopt one issue under the sustainability banner. For example, the two largest reinsurance companies in the world, Munich Re and Swiss Re, have both adopted climate change as their focus. Certain industries may lend themselves to focusing on a particular practice, for example the construction industry talking in terms of ‘high-performance buildings’ or chemists focusing on ‘green chemistry’. In some situations, the framework you choose - CERES (Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies), The Natural Step framework or the Ecological

Footprint, for example can provide the overarching term for your effort. Sometimes organizations develop their own terms, such as the Collins Company referring to their Journey to Sustainability programme to emphasize it is a process as much as a destination. If you choose not to use the term ‘sustainability’, here are a few suggestions for alternatives:

• Zero waste;

• Green building or high-performance buildings;

• Green chemistry;

• Community health;

• Social responsibility;

• Triple bottom line;

• Three-Es (economy, environment and social equity). Since ‘equity’ tends to leave out many other social-related issues, some replace ‘social equity’ with ‘community’ or ‘social’;

• Resource efficiency or radical resource efficiency;

• Risk management;

• Product certification;

• Product stewardship;

• Stakeholder management;

• Smart growth; and

• Quality plus (enlarging the definition of quality to include the environment and other stakeholders).


A number of different frameworks or methods have been developed to explain sustainability. Depending on the work you do, some will seem more relevant or useful than others. You may choose to combine a couple, The Natural Step framework and zero waste, for example. Consider the pros and cons of several before selecting the language that will work best in your organization.

The usefulness of a framework is often best understood by analogy. Imagine you want to start a supermarket. Into your head pops a mental model that would, in its main characteristics, be shared by most people; a framework, organized by produce, dairy, frozen foods, canned goods, breakfast foods, etc. This framework makes it easy to know what you will need and see what you may have forgotten (perhaps a pet food aisle). Because this concept is so widely shared, it makes it easy for customers to find what they need and employees to know where to place things on the shelf. Everyone accepts that the grapefruit are in the produce section and not the breakfast aisle, even though most grapefruit are consumed at breakfast. This same framework is reflected not only in the layout of the supermarket but also the organizational structure (produce manager, butcher, baker, etc.), the computer system and vendor relationships. Now, instead of building a supermarket, imagine you want to build a sustainability programme. What comes to mind? Wouldn’t it be great if we had a shared mental model of what should be contained in such a programme, a framework that made it clear how to organize the effort?

There are a number of sustainability frameworks currently in use. None is perfect, but some are more appropriate for some situations than others. (See Appendix A for a list of common ones in use.) You will want to choose a framework or set of frameworks that will:

• Ensure you are working on a complete set of issues, not forgetting anything important;

• Be easy to understand and remember, will resonate with your employees and stakeholders;

• Imply clear end-points, letting you know when you have reached a sustainable state; and

• Provide or imply a process for moving forward.

To meet all these criteria, you may need to blend different frameworks. Frameworks exist in a hierarchy – some provide overarching principles of sustainability, describing what sustainability is; others are more related to specific methods or tools and as such are more prescriptive. You should be able to google any of the terms to find more information.

In the building industry, for example, some use The Natural Step framework to inform their use of LEED, a green building scoring system. Some of our clients have adopted the triple bottom line (social, economic and environmental), which gives equal weight to the three elements, and then embedded The Natural Step system conditions into those three elements. Some in manufacturing and government have embedded either The Natural Step or triple bottom line into an existing environmental management system. Ideally, the framework or frameworks you choose will be echoed in a sustainability policy, metrics, decision tools and your sustainability report.


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