Although the idea of sustainability has received a great deal of media exposure in recent years, confusion exists as to what it ‘means’ to an organization. As a result, the message often gets misinterpreted and, frequently, is pigeonholed as ‘just another environmental program.’ In reality, a true sustainability plan should go beyond environmental considerations and become a key element in an organization’s strategic plan. Sustainability is a concept that can affect nearly every aspect of an organization. Each area of an operation should be analyzed to continually improve the efficiency of processes, and to eliminate wasted resources and money. By doing so, a number of potential benefits may be realized, including qualifying for financial and tax incentives; reducing operating expenses and improving profitability; minimizing the demand on public utilities; reducing environmental impact; and enhancing the organization’s image within the community. From the beginning, it is essential to understand that this journey will continue throughout the life of an organization. Change is constant, and adjustments must be made to remain on course. Nevertheless, when properly managed, the time invested in creating and maintaining a successful plan can pay significant dividends.
Consider the following
Time and again during the past year, economic challenges have forced companies to make deep, and often painful, budgetary cuts. Frequently, these cutbacks have resulted in workforce reductions. Although this is a quick way to reduce overhead, replacing those individuals with workers possessing similar training and skills may prove difficult when the economy turns around. For that reason, implementing changes to improve efficiency while lowering operating expenses can provide a greater return as well as improved organizational stability over the long term. These difficulties also reinforce the idea of reviewing and modifying corporate goals and strategies in order to pinpoint risks and take steps to minimize financial exposure. With the end of the year approaching, it is a good time to evaluate objectives and corporate direction for the coming year. An effective sustainability plan should include a systematic method to identify and overcome current obstacles, as well as maintain an awareness of issues that present future risk. The plan should contain elements of lean practices, waste reduction, process improvements, energy efficiency, worker safety, pollution prevention, financial planning and community relations, as well as a means to proactively address future barriers to success.
Developing a workable plan can be a daunting task – particularly in light of current economic conditions. Many times, cash flow problems or a lack of funding stall the implementation of money saving improvements. However, even when budgetary constraints exist, there are innovative solutions that deliver a solid return on investment. Find a resource or partner who can present a creative and effective approach to process improvements. It is important to note that radical changes are not required. Tasks can be accomplished either in stages or through more rapid implementation, whichever pace best fits the needs and finances of the organization. In all cases, each step in the process must produce a reasonable return in order to justify the investment. In short, however difficult it may be, creating a successful plan is a necessary task – and one which will lead to continual improvement through regular review and revision.
In order to implement lasting change, sustainability must become part of the culture of a business entity. It is imperative to have a sustainability team that emphasizes the importance of the program to the long-term success and survival of the organization. The team must actively ‘champion’ the cause of sustainability and waste reduction. They are the Generals, Coaches and Innovators who bear the responsibility of engaging every employee in the process. Creating a shift toward this kind of culture requires the implementation of employee driven programs, open dialogue, sharing and acknowledging of ideas, creativity, and the support of the management team.
Key considerations for sustainability should include how to do more while expending the fewest resources, as well as examining the environmental, social and economic impact of changes. Even the most efficient organization can implement additional improvements in process and efficiency to ensure that waste is minimized. In fact, waste in any form can hinder an organization’s ability to endure a crisis. Whether a business is for profit or not-for-profit, wasted resources are a financial drain. At a 5% profit margin, an additional $ 20 must be billed to offset each dollar of waste. At 2%, it is necessary to bill an additional $ 50 to offset each dollar wasted. The gap widens even farther with lower margins and not-for-profit groups. This simple calculation helps to reinforce why waste reduction makes so much sense and the tremendous impact it can have on the bottom line.
Some basic guidelines to use in creating a sustainability plan include:
1. Developing a plan that is in line with the organization’s strategic and financial goals.
2. Educating management and staff on best practices.
3. Promoting full participation from everyone in the organization. Directly or indirectly everyone in the organization will benefit by reducing waste and ensuring financial stability.
4. Encouraging employees to actively participate in identifying areas for improvement.
5. Whether the operation is simple or complex, a service provider can supply the knowledge, expertise and oversight to implement more extensive changes with the potential for a more significant return on investment. Moreover, a professional will be able to provide guidance in creating a plan that makes sense by setting the right goals and benchmarks to track progress. Seek out and engage a qualified professional.
6. Finally, don’t reinvent the wheel. A number of excellent sources exist to provide general information on how to begin making changes and improvements on the path to sustainability.
2009 has been a year of challenges and difficult lessons. Not only must businesses navigate through today’s ups and downs, but management has the responsibility of setting a course to ensure future success. This requires a well-crafted plan with goals and a road map of how to get there. In the real world, sustainability is a vital element of long-term success and survival.
Founded in 1990, Cornerstone services over 500 customers throughout North America, as well as in Japan and the EU (European Union). Our primary objective is to assist customers in achieving long-term business sustainability by ensuring regulatory compliance, reducing energy consumption, increasing operational efficiencies and adopting green business practices; thereby minimizing their environmental footprint. Using a holistic approach that looks beyond compliance, we work to uncover opportunities for improvement and assist client organizations in making proactive decisions to become more competitive. For more information about Cornerstone, please visit our website at www.corner-enviro.com, or contact Mark Miller at (317) 733-2637 (email@example.com.)