Everybody wants to know how we’re doing, are we “sustainable?”  It is a great question but the answer is not without significant challenges.  Creating practical, meaningful measures of progress is difficult.

Meaningful sustainability measures should help leaders determine how to focus their efforts to contribute to the overall goal.  Progress should be measured on a continuum from the baseline toward an overall goal, not necessarily toward a numerical absolute.  This provides employees with a direction to look. It will also give them the ability to determine for their business and for their initiatives, how best to move the company forward.  In doing this we’ve noticed several challenges of which companies must be aware.

Lack of Enterprise-Wide Initiatives – Unless company leaders call for enterprise-wide sustainability programs, employees are often at a loss of how to begin. Enterprise-wide initiatives will allow the company to signal direction, intent and commitment.  These initiatives help the company to focus on a system level, to break down silos and create a common language and approach that can be shared across the enterprise. They also allow people who do not normally work together to come together and share perspectives and ideas that ultimately will benefit the company as a whole.

Pockets of Expertise – In a large enterprise, employees who have expertise in sustainability usually reside in different parts of the company, doing work that many people do not understand well.  Gathering and leveraging these pockets of expertise and cross-functional knowledge are key to understanding meaningful measures of sustainability.  Indeed, the first measure of sustainability is to understand where you are starting from and what your company is currently doing.

Quantitative Bias – We’ve noticed a bias in our clients, a preference for quantitative measurement.  A meaningful measure should provide forward looking direction, but often teams when faced with limited knowledge, lack of common understanding, will regress to using an existing metric that is quantitative, but may not be the best measure of progress toward a future goal. The preference for using existing quantitative measures may also interfere with the development of truly useful metrics that may not have a defined process for data collection yet.   Newly formed teams may find that the creation of sustainability goals requires tracking a mixture of both quantitative and qualitative information.  This data is instrumental in facilitating discussions about progress towards goals in projects, program, strategies, and plan.  It also allows the ability to fine-tune direction and make course correcting decisions.

Establishing enterprise-wide direction, learning to work with people from different parts of the company, defining and adopting useful measures to chart progress and communicating new approaches to solving company problems are all part of the task at hand. If your company is trying to understand how best to embark on sustainability projects, programs, strategies and plans or how to improve performance, leverage your understanding of creating effective teams across large enterprises for your sustainability efforts, we can help. Contact us today to find out more.