Ten Steps to Sustainability

Ten Steps to Sustainability

By Gabriele Crognale, PE August 3, 2012 02:52:30 pm


Sustainability, expressed as performing tasks as efficiently and as productively as possible, is as much about conservation (energy, materials, water, etc.) as it is about being resourceful – can we perform our tasks more safely, re-use discarded materials, or recycle our products?. Yet, ask any environmental or sustainability practitioner what sustainability means to them, and you may get as many different answers as the individuals you query. That’s because the term “sustainability” means different things to different people.

An architect or building designer’s response may gravitate around LEED, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) program designating the use of building materials that are both sustainable and energy-efficient. Accumulating points under the LEED rating system allows buildings that are built or renovated to receive a LEED accredited designation – silver, gold or platinum.

To a company’s chief sustainability officer, sustainability means the efforts the company is promoting to ensure its long-term viability, whether by reducing energy consumption, risk, environmental or carbon footprint, building a more competent, healthy and satisfied workforce, or ensuring a vibrant global marketplace through education and social responsibility.

Ask a facility manager responsible for their organization’s ISO 14001 environmental management system (EMS) or ISO 50001 energy management system (EnMS) what sustainability means to them, and they may respond that it’s all about minimizing the impact on the environment, keeping their employees and the local community safe, and ensuring they pass their registrar’s audit to maintain their ISO certificates for one more reporting cycle.

From my experience over the past 30 years, it’s a combination of all three and a little bit more. Here’s my 10-step program for organizations wishing to fully capture the benefits of sustainability:

  1. Put some time into formalizing your sustainability efforts. Consider using a “Green Team” with designated responsibilities for each team member and clear goals and objectives. Team organizers can use elements of ISO 14001, specifically, element 4.3.3 Objectives, targets and program(s), to set specific goals and targets to capture sustainability efforts; and 4.4.1 Resources, roles, responsibility and awareness, to define the actual role, responsibility and authorities of each green team member and communicated throughout the facility to facilitate effective environmental management of the team’s sustainability goals and objectives.
  2. Implement an “open door” policy that allows all facility associates to add their suggestions and other input related to the facility’s sustainability efforts and the Green team’s accomplishments. Make this input part of the team’s regular meeting items for discussion. Allowing regular feedback to assess the program from the ground level is a valuable feature that should not be overlooked in an emerging sustainability program, and can reap valuable rewards for the organization from a PR standpoint.
  3. Set aside some time on a regular basis to allow the Green Team to review and evaluate their efforts to date, including the input from concerned associates. Use this time to assess progress, issue bulletins or other company or facility-wide notices to report progress to associates, brainstorm ways to reinforce the concept that sustainability efforts are a company-wide endeavor, and everyone within the organization plays an integral part. Some organizations have even implemented contests and other types of award program to recognize notable sustainability milestones, including scoreboards to highlight team or individual efforts leading up to awards ceremonies. In the end, it’s all about giving back to the employees to acknowledge their notable efforts.
  4. Incorporate regular audits as part of your sustainability program. These could piggyback onto other audits – such as regulatory compliance or ISO-mandated audits – or be independent audits to assess the effectiveness of sustainability efforts. Using well-designed and planned audits can uncover shortfalls within a company’s management system or certification program that could provide the opportunity for considerable improvements, and cost or material savings. For example, during our audits, we’ve observed scenarios where OSHA-type requirements, like the donning of PPE, or adequate lock-out/tag-out, were not strictly enforced, or hazardous waste satellite accumulation areas were not very well managed. It’s clear that even with a “sheepskin” proclaiming certification to one standard or another, any organization can find improvements in their day-to-day activities, and a robust internal auditing program should be an integral part of management’s duties to minimize unnecessary waste – of resources, materials, money and more.
  5. Use the lessons learned from such examples as topics for internal Green Team discussions, or incorporate them into as lesson plans for any internal sustainability awareness training.
  6. Showcase notable sustainability efforts as vignettes to share within the organization as an internal newsletter topic, or on the company’s public website (Here’s an example by Coca-Cola). Such examples can become valuable currency for both the facility and the entire organization.
  7. For added value, organizations should reach out and network with other organizations within their industry group, or with organizations in other industries that have similar goals and aspirations. Valuable information can be gleaned that can be used to enrich an organization’s own sustainability efforts. The Sustainability Consortium fits the bill.
  8. Organizations that have large supply chains or that operate as contract manufacturers can amplify their benefits by expanding their sustainability efforts to the supply chain. Take into account the logistics associated with bringing products to market, and measure efforts to decrease the associated carbon footprints. One tool to help in assessments is the ever more popular supplier score card. This tool can be designed to ask suppliers appropriate questions about packaging, containers and shipping methods. The Sustainability Consortium is developing a Sustainability Measurement & Reporting System (SMRS), a standardized framework to effectively communicate sustainability-related information throughout the product value chain.
  9. As knowledge and awareness build, push the sustainability envelope further by evaluating additional options to reduce carbon footprint, for example, by retrofitting IT centers (or even relocating IT activity to centers in naturally cool locations to help cut down on energy consumption), substituting teleconferencing for air travel, and other, perhaps less obvious, measures.
  10. In keeping with the ISO philosophy, review items one through nine to capture additional opportunities.


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