By Mélissa Rodrigue
Special thanks to Charles Lusthaus for his insight and encouragement.
This is the final installment of a three-part blog series by Reflect & Learn on integrating environment and sustainability in organizational practices and culture. Please let us know if there are components we have overlooked or others that we should explore in greater depth, in future posts.
The last two blogs have focused on certain key issues surrounding the integration of environmental considerations in organizations’ practices and culture. As research has revealed, organizations are hesitant to take the leap, notably due to a poor understanding of the linkages between their activities and the environment, as well as a vision that makes it easier to focus on short-term profitability than long-term, widespread benefits.
While the obstacles are numerous across the board, the good news is that not all organizations are being slow to act: many are already taking concrete action toward integrating environment into their vision and mission. The great majority of these commitments are voluntary, meaning that executives are willingly taking risks and bearing the costs of better practices. Best of all, the results are positive, which helps support the argument that each organization, just like each individual on the planet, can make a difference to our future prosperity and wellbeing.
Examples of organizations that have taken eco-friendly steps in their day-to-day operations are plentiful and varied, coming from all sectors and areas of activity. Here are five of my favourite initiatives.
- Follow the Leader: The Swiss Re Group, provider of insurance and reinsurance, has adopted systems and policies that support environmental protection and “gives preference to suppliers who have an environmental policy or a certified environmental management system” (AccountAbility & UN Global Compact, 2003, p. 22).
- Strength in Numbers: The Canadian mining company Teck uses an internal working group/community of practice to foster engagement and participation among its employees at all levels. The organization’s CEO included sustainability among his annual goals, and employees convened to discuss and develop a strategy together (Bertels, 2010, p. 14).
- Call for Change: Timberland, an organization specializing in outdoor clothing and footwear, reaches out to external stakeholders on a quarterly basis to obtain their insight on how to reinforce its corporate social responsibility strategy. These efforts foster discussion among experts in a variety of fields, which provides the organization with many different perspectives to consider. Timberland has taken this initiative a step further by leveraging the power of social media to create an online platform for discussion (Voices of Challenge), thereby expanding its audience (AccountAbility, 2012, pp. 2-3).
- Investing in the Future: The Florida Ice & Farm Company, which makes drinks ranging from beer to juices and nectars, understands that it must be careful about conserving the water resources that are fundamental to the sustainability of its activities. With this goal in mind, the organization makes significant investments in the technologies and processes it employs to make its products: in 2009, Florida Ice & Farm Co.’s Pepsi plant was named the world’s most water-efficient (World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group, 2011, p. 18).
- Back to Basics: In Sao Paolo, Brazil, the Grupo Balbo has changed the way it farms sugar cane. While sugar cane production practices have long been some of the most destructive for biodiversity (due to heavy chemical use and water pollution), the Group has adapted its techniques and moved toward organic farming, which has also increased its yields by 20%.
Of course, none of this can happen overnight. A recent study by AccountAbility and the UN Global Compact suggests that sustainability in organizations follows a growth curve: after the initial Adoption phase, an organization moves to Implementation and eventually Advancement, gradually reinforcing its commitment and action over time (2013, p. 7).
Each step in the curve slowly creates value in the organization (e.g. improved internal processes and systems, as well as external credibility and reputation) and is characterized by certain key actions (from CEO endorsement, to building awareness, to establishing formal governance structures in support of sustainability). As in any great organizational culture shift, the process is a long but worthwhile one. Baby steps help cement engagement, rather than moving too quickly and becoming discouraged at the first obstacle.
Thank you for having taken the time to read our blog series on environment. We hope that it has provided some useful information and motivated you to pursue your own research on the topic. Please let us know what you find!
AccountAbility. (2012). Insights from Corporate Responsibility Leaders, 20 p.
AccountAbility & UN Global Compact. (2013). Growing Into Your Sustainability Commitments: A Roadmap for Impact and Value Creation, 40 p.
Bertels, S. (2010). Embedding Sustainability in Organizational Culture: A How-to Guide for Executives, 20 p.
World Economic Forum & Boston Consulting Group. (2011). Redefining the Future of Growth: The New Sustainability Champions, 53 p.
Images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net, ponsulak, KROMKRATHOG and Stuart Miles.