Five “Keys” to Unlock a Successful Sustainability Program - Key 2: Integrate Sustainability into Day-to-Day Operations
From a Vision to a Culture (building an internal constituency)
For sustainability to be integrated into a business model, it must be compatible not just on the theoretical level, but also practically on a day-to-day basis. Asking people to engage in behavior that is seen as incompatible with their regular duties is a recipe for failure. For this reason, the human resources department is a key partner when building the program. Incentives and rewards must be aligned with the desired actions and outcomes in sustainability, just as they are for other more traditional business objectives.
Identify and build on “quick hit” benefits
Sustainability programs are not just long range efforts. In fact, they can facilitate and provide short term benefits. There are tax advantages that can be realized associated with in-kind contributions. There are often local, state and national tax incentives for targeted programs; such as environmental mitigation or programs that assist the elderly, the infirm or infants.
Another benefit is in the area of risk management. In addition to its moral obligation to do everything in its power to keep its employees safe, a company also reduces costs associated with insurance premiums and lawsuits (in the event of an accident). A reputation for safety will also encourage more safety conscious applicants. The result is a company culture of safety, watching out for the well-being of others and refusing to cut corners on safety programs. That, in turn results in safer working conditions and practices.
The Value of Partnerships – Building Credibility
Social marketing and co-branding opportunities allow for a company to take advantage of an established philanthropic organization’s credibility. In exchange, the company helps that organization fulfill its mission. Partnerships such as these require negotiation and active management, but the investment is often worth the effort.
Values-based Companies are Winning the War for Talent
Net Impact’s Talent Report: What Workers Want in 2012 shows that, even with unemployment a concern across the country, employees want more from work than just a paycheck. Two-thirds of graduating university students surveyed said that making a difference through their next job is a priority, and 45 percent of students said that they would even take a pay cut to be able to have a position where they could make a difference. That trend continues into the workplace, with those who say they can make an impact while on the job reporting greater satisfaction (49 percent) than those who can’t (26 percent).
Clearly, having a commitment to sustainability can be advantageous for recruitment as well as retention efforts by making the company a preferred employer. Including the sustainability program efforts in recruitment materials helps attract those who would fit with the culture, and encourages likeminded individuals to apply.
Sustainability programs are naturally more associated with long-term thinking and results. The benefits include such valuable (but hard to quantify) elements such as corporate reputation and image. A positive image can have an impact on reducing barriers to entry and growth in a market and encourages customers.
Perhaps recognizing the power of sustainability to build not only the external brand but the internal culture as well, a strong majority of the MBA students (78 percent) surveyed by NetImpact think that sustainability should be integrated into the MBA core curriculum.
In the next installment: Key 3: Employee Engagement and Empowerment From a Vision to a Culture (building an internal constituency)
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John Friedman, an award-winning communications professional and recognized sustainability expert with more than 20 years of experience, is co-founder and vice chair of the board for the Sustainable Business Network of Washington (SBNOW).
Friedman has served as both an external and internal sustainability leader, helping companies, ranging from small companies to leading global enterprises, turn their values into successful business models by integrating their environmental, social, and economic aspirations into their cultures and business practices.
His insights on sustainability issues and strategy are a regular feature on Huffington Post.
Friedman authored the e-publication The New PR which outlines how companies must modify the way they communicate to meet stakeholders' changing expectations through five proven keys for developing programs that replace "spin" with transparency and unlock the full potential of a sustainability program to build reputational capital. Friedman is currently working on a new book Your Backyard Is My Front Yard.