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Planning for Success in your 2013 Corporate Sustainability Programs

Posted by Alex Chamberlain

Alex Chamberlain is a writer for ERA Environmental Management Solutions.

Planning is essential for successful corporate sustainability programsLike many EH&S Managers, you probably have some type of big sustainability project looming on the horizon for 2013. It might even be written down somewhere as your main business New Year’s resolution. If that’s the case, ERA has some important advice for you: don’t wait until January 1 to start planning – if you want it done next year, start planning now.

Whenever we talk with environmental specialists, one of the biggest challenges we hear about is that sustainability projects take so much longer than they thought they would. That’s because there’s so much more that has to go into the planning than most people expect. For example, you need to get executive buy-in, find room in the budget, source the necessary materials, and then actually execute (and who knows how long that will take?).

Planning is Fundamental

Good planning is the foundation on which all the other preparatory steps rely; you won’t get the boss on your side without a clear picture of what you want to accomplish, and you can’t anticipate costs unless you’ve done some initial investigating into prices for materials, labor, your time, etc.

When you’re doing your initial planning, one of the best pieces of advice we could give you is to identify the end goals and use that to determine a measurable return on investment (ROI). And then dig a bit deeper to discover the related ROIs that aren’t immediately obvious. After all, there’s no point in planning and undertaking a project if it’s not providing some sort of tangible benefit to your business and the planet.

So start with the ROI in mind and work backwards: want to reduce air emissions and get your facility back in compliance? Then identify your biggest emission sources and then pinpoint which ones show room for improvement.

For example, if you plan on upgrading an old boiler to a newer and more efficient model, there will be several layers of ROI you can trace throughout the planning process. First, you’ll emit much fewer reportable air emissions, which is the primary and most obvious benefit. But you’ll also have to use less fuel, which means you’ll spend less each year. Your planning should therefore compare your current cost of fuel against the reduced projected costs.

And because you’ll have fewer reportable air emissions, you’ll have an easier time doing your air permit compliance reporting to your regulator. On top of that, you’ll save time overall during reporting season too. Those extra hours directly translate into monetary savings, since you’ll be working on more important things than number crunching. It’s all about using your money more efficiently.

No matter the scale and scope of your project, from a small change in office policy to a deep retrofit, if you let the ROI lead your planning you’ll have an easier time knowing which actions to take and the other steps in the process will be easier.

Winning Executive Buy-In

Now that you’ve laid out the ROI and the steps you’ll need to take to accomplish those goals, it’s time to talk to the people in control of the money you’ll need to make it a reality.

The most important thing to remember is that their priorities might not match up exactly with your own. Environmental specialists often run into this problem when they try to implement a new policy or program that will make their own work more efficient. The key is to relate the project back into terms the executive key decision makers understand and care about.

In most cases, this means talking about how the project will save the company money in the long run.

Any project you undertake will have an initial cost, and it will be your job to show how the monetary ROI of the project will improve your bottom line. This can be difficult when your original goal was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or to get your company involved in voluntary GRI sustainability reporting.

That’s why we can’t stress enough the importance of finding the secondary benefits to your projects in the planning phase. The executives might not care about how much a new boiler will reduce HAP emissions, but they will pay attention to the savings in fuel purchases. Even a more common event, like switching to energy efficient appliances in the staff room will need to get broken down into cost savings relating to energy usage.

Another good tactic to win executive buy in is to reach out to the marketing and Public Relations teams. Since many businesses have now integrated “green” into their PR strategies, the PR department might be able to vouch for (and perhaps quantify) the project’s less tangible ROI (like public image or consumer approval ratings).

Assessing Your Options

Now that you have a budget and the OK to go ahead with the project, it’s time to assess your options. Depending on the type of project you are undertaking, this could take on different forms. Check out these articles (or dig through our archives) to find tips on a range of corporate sustainability programs:

No matter what your Green New Year’s resolution is, starting now could be exactly what you need to beat that 2014 deadline.

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Alex Chamberlain

About the Author: Alex Chamberlain is a writer and blogger who regularly contributes to ERA Environmental Management Solutions' blog. You can find Alex on Google+LinkedIn & ERA's Environmental Compliance Blog

Topics: Sustainability, Environmental Compliance & Data Management