We've Got Environmental Programs -- Why Can't We Get Results?

We've Got Environmental Programs -- Why Can't We Get Results?

We've got policies. We're got commitments. What we don't have is results -- or at least not results that are good enough. What's getting in the way?

The good news is: you're not alone. A great many companies -- successful, well-intentioned, well-managed -- find surprising gaps between intention and implementation, and consequently "leave money on the table" daily.

The bad news is: you're not alone. The problem is widespread, and is a dilemma that faces not only operating companies but also those of us who advise companies on improving performance; if they don't implement, we don't get to brag.

The reasons are many: habit, turf and incentives, bandwidth, and plain old forgetfulness, to name just a few:
  • "We've always done it this way" always gets in the way, and doesn't always represent resistance; sometimes it's just easier to do it the way we've always done it, instead of figuring out how to do it differently. So communicate potential benefits -- for each key player -- clearly enough to break the inertia, and provide whatever support, training etc they need to think through the better way.

  • Turf battles can block approvals, and, even worse, disconnect actions from results, investments from returns. One of our clients jammed on a high-ROI opportunity because one VP had to write the check, while a different VP would reap the benefits. The solution in that case: the CFO called the two VPs into his office . . . and locked the door until they figured out a way to play well together. Point of the story, whether for a corporate sustainability initiative or designing a green building: be clear who's needed, who's responsible, who pays, who benefits; engage all relevant players, as early in the process as possible, to engage all aspects of the initiative.

  • Often people are just too loaded with things to do to take on anything new, regardless of its value. This is hard one, folks, but sometimes there's no substitute for periodically re-examining ones commitments and priorities, and renegotiating them. You may only be able to renegotiate with your boss once a year or once a quarter, but you can renegotiate them with yourself daily or weekly. I discovered last year that the most powerful things I could do with my to-do-list-that-could-choke-a-horse were to (1) schedule the to-dos and the time they'd take -- to force me to confront the finitude of the work day (yes, even mine!) and (2) "name the no's" -- to specifically choose which priorities I would not do on a given day (because some -- make that many -- would not get done, and wasn't it better for me to choose which they'd be?)

  • And sometimes the best intentions just don't get systematized, and fall by the wayside. A corporate manager at one well-regarded company told me of a facility manager describing, with some pride, his installation of a state of the art energy efficient HVAC system at his factory. That's great, said Corporate Guy; and I assume to did an energy audit first, to see if you could reduce the plant's demand, so you could spec and smaller system, so you could save on CapX as well as OpX. Rats! said Facility Guy (who knew that was the right thing to do); I should have thought of that! And of course he should have, but he shouldn't have had to, because it should have been built into operating procedures, budget approvals processes, etc. Which, it turns out, is one of the ways to change habits.
We'll visit some other factors that block implementation -- and what to do about it -- in a future "Ask the Experts."

(In the meantime, consider whether (1) your goals are unreasonable enough (yes, un-reasonable; see "How High the Moon -- The Challenge of 'Sufficient' Goals"), and (2) your team truly shares an understanding of and commitment to those goals.)

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Gil Friend, systems ecologist and business strategist, is president and CEO of Natural Logic, Inc. -- offering advisory services and tools that help companies and communities prosper by embedding the laws of nature at the heart of enterprise. Sign up online to receive his monthly column via email. Read Gil's blog here.