While green and sustainable initiatives haven’t traditionally been a high priority for business technology decision makers, the growing urgency of climate change continues to place scrutiny on large resource users. In today’s hyper competitive marketplace, your customers, employees, partners, and possibly regulators are demanding more transparency in company operations and products.

In reaction to this trend, many organizations have already started to embrace sustainable initiatives as an opportunity to showcase creativity, technological achievement, as well as their brand’s commitment to the environment and broader community. In order to investigate this trend, my colleague and principal analyst Jim Nail and I set out to better understand the technology, processes and marketing strategy behind corporate sustainability initiatives.

The resulting report “Bolster Your Brand With A Greener Technology Ecosystem” outlines the buisness case and technology roadmap for sustainable initatives, intended to help your organization achieve and communicate operational excellence, while simultaneously providing further differentiation for your brand and organization.

The unexpected appendix

The original research project was designed to understand the position and influence of the I&O professional as well as the needs of the marketing organization. However, as a consequence of this effort I learned a lot about designing, building and executing a corporate wide sustainability strategy. While the report focuses on I&O and opportunities for collaboration with marketing, I wanted to share a broader overview of these findings.


1. Build the business case

To make the case to invest in sustainable practices, instigators will need to be able to account for and justify the inherent productivity impact fundamental to any operational and procedural change, as well as the capital investment in net new tools. While each organization is its own snowflake, across the board sustainability initiatives can help to:

■  Reduce costs. Savings will come from improved efficiencies in hardware, space, power and cooling usage, while reducing energy bills, prolonging equipment refreshes and additions, and extending the capacity of your facilities.

■  Mitigate risk. This includes preparing for future legislation and regulations around energy usage, diversifying your supply chain and assets, not to mention sustainable initiatives go hand in hand with process optimization, thus reducing the risk of operational failure.

■  Grow revenue. According to the 2013 CDP S&P 500 Climate Change Report, “companies that have made the environment and sustainability central to their businesses strategies are seeing higher profits while also better positioning themselves for an uncertain future.” 

■  Create a competitive draw for employees. In addition to choosier customers, employees are also holding their employers to higher standards, choosing to work for organizations in which they can take pride.

■  Increase shareholder value. All of these factors together will impact business and shareholder value – better cost management, proactive risk mitigation, new revenue opportunities and a happy workforce.


2. Secure budget

Unless your business has embraced sustainability as a core directive within your company and product strategy, many of these projects might be stalled by financial limitations, especially given the difficulty of calculating return on investment.

■  Start with efficiency and optimization projects to free opex. Initiatives like consolidation, virtualization, and automation will increase efficiency in people, processes and technology. Bottom line: increasing efficiency will help your organization do more with less, and free up funds previously dedicated to MOOSE to spend on more innovative projects.

■  Investigate available government credits for energy reduction. For example, tax deductions are available for commercial buildings that are constructed or refurbished to meet the latest ASHRAE Standards around energy and water efficiency.

■  Some utilities will pay YOU for energy reduction at peak usage. Utilities participating in demand response programs will pay large energy consumers to reduce electricity usage when the grid is stressed or there is a shortage of supply.

■  Apply for green bonds. Depending on the initiative, you may qualify for a green bond. In 2012, $3 billion green bonds were sold, and in the first 6 months of 2014, that number increased to $20 billion.


3. Set goals and strategy

For those who are beginning from scratch, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is a great place to start as they have already developed sustainability reporting guidelines that are used today by many organizations globally. Whether your goals are around energy reduction in operations, supply chain, or increasing community engagement and service, it’s important to:

■  Set goals that are achievable. Whether you are setting goals for next year, or the next 10 years, it can be easy to get carried away with the possibilities. While far reaching aspirations are great for inspiration, in practice sustainability leaders need to be able to set goals that are reasonable within the circumstances.

■  Be able to track and measure progress. Now that you’ve sold the value of this initiative to your leaders and investors, you will need to be able provide regular progress reports. The task starts with measuring your baseline – current energy usage, carbon emissions, ewaste, water usage, etc across your people, processes and technology – to compare against available benchmarks like the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS). While this initial task can be daunting on its own, not to mention ongoing measurement, consider investing in tools, like data center infrastructure management (DCIM) or energy management tools that, once implemented, will be able to automate much of this work.

■  Demonstrate success in accessible metrics. Think about your audience – executive team, employees, partners, or consumers? Your average consumer might not be able to contextualize an energy usage reduction of 100 kW per year, but saying that you reduced your CO2 emissions from 7.8 gallons of gasoline might make more sense.


4. Engage and encourage stakeholder participation

In order to successfully implement sustainable practices throughout your organization, you need to establish an effective umbrella project team, governance model and engagement strategy for leaders, employees, and partners. And at the end of the day, the success of this will not only depend on the enthusiasm of your stakeholders, but also active participation across the organization.

■  Define roles and responsibilities. To lead sustainability initiatives, many organizations have appointed a chief sustainability officer (CSO), and/or have created ad-hoc teams from many departments to plan and orchestrate these projects.

■  Involve your stakeholder community. While inspiration and guidance can come from the examples of peers and organizations like The Green Grid and GreenTouch, achieving a consensus for prioritization can be difficult. To help guide this exercise, investigate the priorities and expectation of your stakeholder community – employees, investors, shareholders, partners, and customers. 

■  Create incentives for participation. Many of these initiatives will require significant changes to employee behavior, from commuting habits, paper usage to composting food waste. Without defined goals and incentives, employee participation will be difficult to instigate and sustain.

■  Leverage engagement tools and platforms. While incentives will help to encourage participation, the end goal should be to drive fundamental changes throughout individual behavior and not just in the work place. To facilitate this transition, some organizations have leveraged social platforms to create communities where individuals can share their achievements and get inspired from their peers. And it never hurts to add an level of competition from interdepartmental challenges to gamification.