Why Companies Should Merge Voluntary and Required Sustainability Projects

To merge or not to merge? That is the question facing many companies with both a mandatory reporting requirement for environmental regulations and voluntary activities focused on improving the overall sustainability of the business. Two experts made the case for merging the two efforts to an audience at a Greenbiz.com webinar this week.

Nigel Nugent, vice president for worldwide sales at Enviance made the case for melding them by explaining their similarities in a recent webcast hosted by GreenBiz.com.

Regulations are generally highly prescriptive with four to five specific components, include a statement of obligations or standards to be met, describe human actions that must be taken and then require a final report.

A volunteer sustainability project starts with a definition of the project that includes a good description of its goals, a set of actions that will help achieve those goals, a method of analyzing the results and some forum for reporting them.

"There are significant similarities," he said. "So we would achieve more in environmental reporting if it is done closely with those managing corporate compliance."

The biggest difference between the two comes when making the case to management for investment in the projects. Explaining the ROI for a voluntary sustainability project is not as simple as it is for compliance programs. "If we talk about the regulatory side … the ROI is that you will not be fined," Nugent said. "If you combine them, then you can argue that the ROI of a sustainability program is enhanced through the collaboration with the regulatory team."

Not combining the two types of work can lead to some negative impacts, according to Andrea Garner, senior technologist in sustainability at CH2M Hill. It may seem natural to separate the two because a voluntary program is aspirational by nature while a compliance program looks at the here and now. However, separating them can lead to duplicate data collection and can cause internal confusion across the organization.

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