01 Nov. 2017 | Comments (0) Share Follow @Conferenceboard
In a recent survey, Bain & Company found that just 2% of companies are successful in achieving their sustainability goals. While this can be disheartening, it doesn’t have to be this way.
The company I lead, Ingersoll Rand, is a 146-year-old organization that over the past few years integrated sustainability and business strategy to anticipate and address major global trends, most prominently climate change. Our Climate Commitment is one way we help solve the unsustainable demand for energy resources and its impact on the environment.
As a company, we understood that our legacy extends beyond just the next few years—as we lead long-term value creation and positive societal impact within our industries, we build a legacy for the next century and beyond.
However, like many of the companies surveyed by Bain, we were unsure how to connect our strategic vision around sustainability with meaningful operational changes. But I think it’s fair to say that we are part of the 2% that have succeeded. What lessons can we share? We learned how to embed sustainability into our organization by empowering our people, making sustainability personal, and aggregating and recognizing results.
Rely on your people
The best opportunities for improving the environmental impact of an organization come from the people who are closest to the day-to-day mechanics, and shortcomings, of existing procedures. They are often the first to recognize and raise up areas of improvement, and it’s important that leadership is ready to listen.
Too often, however, the employees who are best positioned to influence change do not understand how they can contribute or may not view sustainability as a business imperative. Leadership must ensure these team members feel empowered and understand their role in helping the company achieve its long-term sustainability goals.
Our Thermo King manufacturing facility in Galway, Ireland, for example, is one of our first zero waste to landfill facilities. The on-the-ground team played a critical role in identifying waste streams and alternative approaches to either recycle or reuse these materials. Our volunteer Galway Green Team took the site’s mission a step further when they uncovered an opportunity to save water. Capitalizing on the area’s abundant rainfall, the team installed a rainwater harvesting system. The captured water is reused and has resulted in upwards of 50,000 liters of water saved each month. Now, our Galway team leads the way in sharing their story, and their roadmap to zero waste, with our other facilities.
Make it personal
According to a recent Gallup survey, only 32% of U.S. employees say they are enthusiastic about, and committed to, their work, and worldwide only 13% of employees say they are engaged. Compare this to Ingersoll Rand, where our employee engagement scores rank top decile among all companies. I feel certain our public commitment to sustainability is a big driver of this engagement—92% of our people believe energy efficiency and sustainability are critical to our future business success, and we are giving them the encouragement and capabilities to help us achieve this long-term vision.
Companies with a strong sustainability program and culture attract and retain better talent who desire a sense of purpose and contribution to a greater good. To connect your team’s work to the global good, consider aligning your company goals to something bigger.
In 2016, the United Nations adopted 17 goals—commonly known as the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs)—as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Recognizing the global impact of the SDGs and the personal commitment of our employees, we moved quickly to align our already established 2020 Sustainability Goals to the SDGs to illustrate how our efforts fit within a larger context for positive change. Today we align with 11 out of the 17 SDGs, including zero hunger, gender equality, clean water, affordable and clean energy, sustainable cities and communities, and climate action. Our network of global Green Teams took this to heart and made considerable strides in 2016 by diverting 2.4 million pounds of waste from landfills and saving more than 2.2 million gallons of water.
Track, measure and recognize
Team members want to understand that meeting sustainability goals doesn’t just help the company—it helps customers, communities and the world. One option is a third-party validated system that tracks all of the actions taken against sustainability goals, allowing a company to see progress at the local and global levels.
In partnership with thinkstep, we created a series of proprietary product greenhouse gas calculators to track our product-related emissions, including emissions generated from electricity. Through the web-based calculators, we are able to distribute the responsibility of data collection across our internal teams, analyze data and report results in a consistent, transparent and credible manner. Moreover, by sharing these results with external partners and customers, we’re able to provide further insight into the efficiency of our products which can help inform them as they set goals of their own.
While tracking metrics to show local and global improvement is an important element, don’t forget to recognize the employees who make success possible. Whether through enterprise-wide recognition or team-based awards programs, taking time to appreciate the dedication of your teammates will go a long way in continued engagement and commitment to the company and its purpose.
Move to action
While relying on your people, making your goals personal, and measuring and recognizing progress are crucial to success, you should first do one thing: be bold. Jumpstarting a sustainability journey with a series of aggressive targets will give employees a point of pride to rally behind. Some goals can look far into the future and may not have a definitive roadmap, but your people’s excitement, creativity and innovation will shape your path to success. It was by thinking bigger and acting bolder that we developed and launched our Global Climate Commitment in 2014. Since the launch, our employees have united around the commitment and stretched themselves to help us meet and exceed our goals.
There is hope in succeeding on our sustainability journey—and it’s more important than ever. With bold strategy in place, you can move quickly to engage employees, make it real and begin to track, measure and recognize success. And together, we can grow the number of companies who succeed on this journey, and contribute to a better world.
This blog first appeared on Harvard Business Review on 10/27/17.
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