Understanding Corporate Sustainability

Mon, 2011-02-14 15:27

Seeing Green: Understanding The Financial, Human and Environmental Benefits of Corporate Sustainability Management.

Think fast.

What is your company’s carbon footprint? How green are your products? What did your company’s most recent Life Cycle Analysis tell you? Are you reporting with the GRI?

If you’re stumped, it’s time to brush up on your corporate sustainability knowledge and learn why greening your company, from supplier to consumer, benefits your bottom line, your employees, your customers and the planet.

Every major company – from Wal-Mart, to Coca Cola, to Ford, to Patagonia – jumped on the corporate sustainability bandwagon. Now it’s your turn.

What is Corporate Sustainability?

Increasingly, the issue of sustainability has been dragged from the oft-ignored realm of environmental activists and placed in the spotlight. Common thought now recognizes that a successful corporate strategy must consider the Three-P’s – people, planet and profit – to be effective and sustainable financially and otherwise.

To ensure that a company is accounting for the well being of its profits, its employees and its environmental impact you need corporate sustainability managers. These folks design strategic sustainability initiatives, implement environmental impact plans, develop measurement metrics, measure progress with these metrics, apply this process to the entire supply-chain affecting the company and market this progress to the world.

No small task.

From an environmental impact perspective, corporate sustainability plans take an approach often referred to as cradle-to-cradle. To operate under this concept, companies must ensure that the entire life of any given service or product, from its manufacture, to its move to market, to its use, to its demise, are operating in a continuous cycle that constantly renews and sustains itself.

Corporate sustainability management is the plan that meets this goal.

Why Should I Care?

Besides the obvious environmental benefits there are other benefits to adopting a strategic-level corporate sustainability plan, including:

  • Decreased operating costs
  • Improved employee relations
  • Improved corporate image
  • Improved customer relations
  • Decreased carbon footprint

Reduced Operating Costs: By reducing energy use, water use, material procurement and waste removal fees, a company decreases its operating costs and utility bills. And it’s great, because many of these benefits are realized by picking the ‘low-hanging’ fruit.’ These easily actionable changes include installing energy efficient light, water conscious fixtures and revamped procurement and waste management programs. Simply replacing traditional light bulbs with LEDs can save a large company as much as $500,000 annual on electric utility bills alone.

Improved Brand Image: Implementing and marketing that your company’s commitment to green is more than ‘greenwashing’ drastically improves your brand image and attracts customers. Furthermore, appropriate accounting of environmental practices (commonly carbon footprinting) increases transparency and lends more credibility to your company’s commitment. Green is here to stay and you can choose to join the green game or stand on the sidelines.

Environmental Impact: Committing to corporate sustainability practices has undeniable environment benefits. Consider the environmental implications of Wal-Mart’s sustainable supplier index. This Sustainability Index ranks suppliers based on their commit to environmental practices. Wal-Mart relies on over 100,000 global supplies. Without Wal-Mart’s business, many of these suppliers would face significant profit reductions. They are compelled to improve their own practices. By implementing this strategic change, Wal-Mart expanded the reach of its positive environmental impact.

OK You Sold Me. Is This Course Right For Me Though?

Since corporate sustainability management affects virtually every aspect of a company’s operations – from the leadership of the CEO, to the procurement practices in the warehouse, to the cleaning products the janitor uses – everyone benefits from corporate sustainability training.

Take a course if you:

  • Want to define and implement your company’s strategic-level sustainability strategy
  • You are developing a business plan for a new green product or service offering
  • You are starting a sustainable business
  • You want to better evaluate the costs and benefits of sustainability options
  • You want to educate staff, vendors and/or partners about environmental stewardship

thatThese classes are not just for senior-level management. Anyone in a company benefits. As more and more companies commit to corporate sustainability plans, they hire corporate sustainability managers. If this career move appeals to you, corporate sustainability training is mandatory.

What Will I Learn In A Corporate Sustainability Management Class?

You will review basic principles of sustainability and begin to understand the business case for sustainability. The vision behind corporate sustainability management is vast and seemingly unmanageable. Learn to break it into manageable chunks that are relevant to your company.

Follow the five key steps:
1. Set the vision
2. Staff the effort
3. Establish measurement metrics
4. Implement strategic initiatives
5. Report and Market

Corporate sustainability management requires that you set the vision for the company; but it also requires that you implement actionable changes. You learn what types of programs you company should implement to work towards widespread adoption of sustainability practices.

These programs might include:

  • Life Cycle Analysis
  • Carbon Foot-printing and Benchmarking
  • Waste Minimization
  • Water Efficiency Optimization
  • Renewable Energy Programs
  • Energy Efficiency Programs

What the heck is carbon footprinting? And how do I ever do a Life Cycle Analysis? The abovementioned terms might seem foreign right now. However, a course in corporate sustainability management teaches you about the tools to monitor energy use, water efficiency, carbon footprint and waste management.

Some tools that are available for you to use include:

  • EnergyStar Portfolio Manager (measures energy use and utilities)
  • Greenhouse Gas Protocol (measures all 6 major greenhouse gases)
  • ISO 14001 (framework for holistic management of environmental impact)
  • WaterSense (helps select water efficient products)

You also become familiar with common eco-labels that help you select environmentally-preferable products ranging from light fixtures, to water faucets, to office products, to building materials.

You will learn how to communicate your company’s vision, plan and progress to the customers, the shareholders and the media. This provides the intangible benefits like customer loyalty and brand appreciation. Accurately reporting your progress through non-biased, third party organizations like the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and AccountAbility, is an important part of increasing the transparency and credibility of your hard-earned progress. This also includes writing accurate and compelling Sustainability Annual Reports.

Wrapping It Up

All of the fancy buzzwords out there might seem like a lot of energy efficient hot air. But a class in corporate sustainability management simplifies these concepts and provides a roadmap of how to implement them. It also explains why these practices are important to your company’s bottom line and why they are more than green-washing buzz.

Get an edge on the competition now, so that when these practices become mandatory costs of doing business, your company is already ahead of the curve. Time to hit the ground running.