Tips For Successful Environmental Mentoring

  1. Define your roles: From the beginning, mentors and mentees should know their roles in the mentoring relationship. For a formal one-to-one mentoring relationship, the mentor should prepare a letter of commitment outlining the roles of both parties. The letter should include specific project objectives -- so that the outcome can later be measured. Any security, legal, and liability issues that might affect the relationship between the mentor and mentee must be addressed, understood, and agreed upon by all parties.

    In most cases, the mentee must agree not to hold the mentor liable if a problem occurs. Nevertheless, mentors must be careful about the advice that they give their mentees. Additionally, a confidentiality agreement may be required if the mentee is concerned about trade secrets.
  2. Evaluate before you act: Conducting a "baseline assessment" allows the mentor to develop realistic exceptions of the first visit. Before the mentoring process starts, the mentor should contact the mentee to assess his or her knowledge of the environmental issues that are the focus of the mentoring project. This should not be seen as a test or inspection. Rather, an assessment provides the mentor with some background regarding the company, facility, staff, etc. This enables the mentor to match "skill sets" with the mentee's staff; plan for a self-directed project; and develop options for the mentee. Some mentoring programs ask potential mentees to complete a questionnaire; other programs may conduct a casual phone interview.
  3. Conduct a needs assessment: Mentees should conduct a needs assessment of their companies to identify the areas where they need the most help.
  4. Define your commitment: Both companies in a mentoring relationship -- particularly the mentor company -- must have a strong commitment to seeing the process through. Uncertainty on the part of either party may yield disappointing results.
  5. Identify what you hope to achieve: Clear, realistic goals -- that include timelines and meeting schedules – are essential to a successful mentoring initiative. The mentor and mentee should prepare a written document listing their project goals at the beginning of the project.
  6. Identify the obstacles to success: As in any business endeavor, success often relies on the anticipation of problems that will arise. Identify in advance any obstacles that would prevent the implementation of any proposed recommendations – such as limited financial resources and contractual relationships – and consider possible solutions.
  7. Maximize success by matching business skills and interests: Businesses from the same industry sector, or those that use similar processes, are more likely to have a successful mentoring relationship. Matching "skill sets" between individuals from the mentor company to those in the mentee's staff is also an effective strategy.
  8. Test your new knowledge with self-directed projects: Self-directed projects provide opportunities for the mentee company to put what it has learned in place.
  9. Be willing to try several approaches: The strength of mentoring relationships is that they allow one company to provide individualized assistance to another. This means flexibility is the key. Mentors should be willing to adapt their mentoring approaches to the needs of the mentee.
  10. Keep it simple: Mentors cannot assume that the mentee has the same level of experience, education, and understanding of environmental issues. Therefore, mentors should be able to explain complex concepts and avoid using technical jargon.
  11. Focus on practical lessons: Practical information about how to set a system in place or think about doing a specific task is more useful than abstract discussions about materials flows and industrial ecology.
  12. Understand time constraints: Both mentor and mentee must have realistic expectations regarding the time spent in the mentoring process. Talk about time commitments before you start.
  13. Eliminate preconceived notions of what the mentee needs: Mentors will be more successful if they listen to the needs of the mentee. Allow the mentee to tell you about the company’s expectations and needs.
  14. Use business language: Frame advantages in terms of cost savings, efficiency, and profits. This makes it easier for the mentee to justify potential changes – and demonstrates that environmental success can align with business success.