5 Keystones of a Successful Corporate Sustainability Strategy

Shannon Scheiwiller

Environmental sustainability issues are complex and can be overwhelming, particularly during the early stages of crafting a sustainability strategy. What do successful programs have in common? In a recent interview with Indigo Teiwes, Strategic Planning Services Manager at Ecova, she was asked this question in relation to the Ecova client portfolio. Indigo answered, “Based on our strategic planning work with approximately 100 clients since 2007, we’ve found that there are 5 important triggers, or “keystones” that have a clear link to driving real benefits and achieving desired efficiencies.”ecova_emap_sm2

Keystone #1: Data
Simply put, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Functioning data tracking and reporting systems, even simple ones, are the foundation upon which all improvements and progress can be made.

Keystone #2: People
People across the company who impact sustainability activities and decisions must be engaged and trained. We have also found that visible executive engagement and leadership sets the pace and ensures environmental sustainability change agents have the backing they need to facilitate organizational change.

Keystone #3: Infrastructure
Physical and operational elements comprise the 3rd Keystone. We’ve found that the most effective sustainability plans result from organizations with broad sustainability scope including energy, water, waste, carbon, supply chain, and transportation efforts.

Initial infrastructure strategy starts with comprehensive audits, gap analysis and project identification. Projects are then prioritized based on such factors as capital investment, Return on Investment, outreach potential and other parameters. For some organizations, this could be a daunting task that may yield benefits from third party expertise.

Keystone #4: Marketing and Reporting
Communicating in a transparent way to stakeholders is essential to build credibility for the organization’s efforts. Clear and accurate reporting about the organization’s goals, practices and performance influence brand perceptions and supports risk mitigation. Examples of two companies that have communicated their corporate sustainability message well include Patagonia and Interface Global. Both organizations demonstrate transparent messaging, clear plans and goals, and communicate progress toward those goals to all internal and external stakeholders.

Keystone #5: Organizational Intelligence
The 5th Keystone guides and supports centralized monitoring of progress toward goals and effective execution. We’ve often seen how initiatives bubble up across the organization when a sustainability strategy rolls out. By centralizing efforts and intelligence, synergies are easily identified, efficiencies captured, and learning shared. Centralization helps prioritize the myriad of opportunities an organization faces, narrowing the focus onto the programs with the greatest benefits.

Regardless of your organization’s size or industry, developing a corporate sustainability strategy that’s designed for success requires incorporating the 5 keystones. We’ve seen consistently that companies who do this improved their organization’s likelihood of delivering on sustainability goals.

An example of a company that effectively incorporated the 5 Keystones into their corporate sustainability strategy and has steadily delivered on its goals is Burgerville Restaurants, an Ecova client and a regional chain in the Pacific Northwest. Burgerville maintains strong market share and customer loyalty primarily through their long history of community and sustainability engagement. Their holistic approach to sustainability planning will keep them well positioned to be a sustainability leader. Review the Burgerville case study and learn how they developed and executed their corporate sustainability strategy.

Also learn about other organizations’ sustainability strategies that we’ve helped support: Yellowstone National Parks , Jack In The Box and Dell Computers.

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