Are 12 Steps Enough to Get to Sustainability?

Are 12 Steps Enough to Get to Sustainability?

At this point in time, it's reasonably safe to assume that just about every large and medium company is thinking about the environment*, even if it's just thinking about how they're not really doing anything for the environment.

But companies that are motivated to start work on improving their footprint soon face innumerable other hurdles, most prominent of which involves where to begin and how to justify the perceived added costs of any green initiatives.

Kanal Consulting, a management consulting firm based in San Francisco, today released a report outlining the steps any company can take to get on the path toward environmental sustainability. While the report, "12 Steps to Sustainability: How Every Company Can Implement Sustainability to Improve the Bottom Line and the Environment," is light on the "where to begin" question, it's a pretty solid roundup of the successes we hear about and report on all the time here at

The list, in a nutshell:

1. Integrate sustainability into the company's vision, values, or core mission statement.
2. Set goals that are specific, credible, measurable, and normalized for business changes.
3. Treat sustainability projects with the same business case requirements as other projects.
4. Let the CEO and senior executives be the key spokespeople, and demonstrate internal commitment.
5. Establish a strong governance model.
6. Ensure employee engagement.
7. Drive operational efficiencies.
8. Implement technologies and policies to reduce business travel and commuting.
9. Employ product life-cycle analysis to inform new designs.
10. Communicate internally and externally.
11. Partner with the Supply Chain.
12. Engage various stakeholders.

My take on this list is that it nails all the top points, especially in terms of building the momentum that you'll need to both keep any green initiative going as well as to make an actual impact with your projects. Almost without exception, when we hear from companies that have undertaken truly successful sustainability initiatives they say that the key elements include having executive buy-in and getting employees fired up.

Without support from the top, there's very little incentive for action; and without committed engagement from employees at every level, there's very little chance that your project will really be incorporated into the culture of your company.

Over the years, we've run any number of articles about employee engagement; among the ones that I'd put in the Must-Read column include Quynh Nguyen's look at corporate green teams, Judith Nemes' Leading From the Middle: The Power of the Green Champion, and Sarah Fister Gale's "Taking Green Initiatives to the Next Level." Don't miss a classic item, too -- literally from the first year of our online presence: Joel Makower's "Ten Keys for Educating and Engaging Employees." 

(As a side note to the employee engagement element; we were fortunate enough to have Maya Fischhoff adapt her dissertation into a one-of-a-kind feature: "Middle Management as Environmental Change Agent" looks at the hidden but critical role the mid-level employees in your company play in making or breaking environmental practices.)

In looking over Kanal's list, the other standout item is #3: Treat sustainability projects with the same business case requirements as other projects. At first blush it sounds like a sure way of hampering progress on green initiatives, but in practice it will likely end up speeding adoption of energy- and resource-efficient practices.

Just this morning, during our webcast on the "greening of the CIO" (more on which later), IBM's Steve Sams talked about the total cost of operations, and how if you see that a $15,000 one-time investment in energy efficient equipment will end up saving you $150,000 a year, every year, in energy costs, it makes it a no-brainer and instantaneously dismantles the biggest barrier to adoption.

There's plenty more I could dig into from Kanal Consulting's list of 12 steps to sustainability, but you should just check it out yourself -- it's available for download via And I'd be happy to hear your thoughts on steps that are missing from this list.

*(That could just be the view from where I'm sitting, but I figure the media discussion has gone on long enough that pretty much everyone's at least aware of this whole environmental issue we're facing...)