By Derek Eisel, Director of Sales, Scope5
Let’s pretend for a moment that you work for a company where your boss is not a yoga-practicing vegetarian who insists on composting and spends her weekends tending to her bee hives.
Let’s say instead your boss drives her SUV for hours every day commuting to a stressful job where she’s held accountable for delivering financial results in a rapidly changing market and you fear that even muttering the word sustainability is likely to obliterate your career hopes forever.
How do you pitch a business case for sustainability to the SUV-driving boss versus the yoga boss?
Guess what… it’s the same business case.
I was lucky enough to pitch and then develop an environmental program for five years in a company where the executives had more in common with the SUV boss than my bleeding-green tendencies desired. This forced me to speak about the environment in language that made sense for my business and back up the initiatives with clear data.
While it may seem easier to surround ourselves with like-minded people, most of us are not in that situation. More importantly, if you find yourself as the passionate person in an organization where people are not talking about sustainability, you have that much more opportunity to stand out and to make change happen.
Here are a few ways to make a business case for sustainability that will resonate with hippies and Ayn Rand enthusiasts alike.
1. Blame it on Your Customers and Shareholders
You: “Uh oh. I got a question from Zippy Jet Packs asking about our carbon footprint.”
Your boss: “Our carbon whatprint? Who at Zippy’s asking? Why do they care? How do we respond?”
Find out if customers are asking environmental questions. Look for specific examples from larger customers. Often these questions show up on RFPs if you work in a B2B company or on social media channels for business-to-consumer companies. Find the people in your organization who lead the sales effort and/or care about or are financially motivated by winning new customers and retaining customers. This may be your sales organization or your account management group.
I kept lists of which customers were asking what questions. After reviewing this information with our sales organization, they asked me to train them on the basics about our environmental program and what customers were asking.
Sales quickly saw our work with the environment as a way to differentiate ourselves from our competitors.
If you’re in a publically traded organization, you’re probably getting requests from the Carbon Disclosure Project [CDP] to report your environmental data. Companies that perform well environmentally have been known to outperform financially. Some investors also look for greener companies to invest in. If your company values its brand, there is a business case for quantifying your environmental impact and reporting it to your stakeholders.
2. Pass the Buck to Service Providers
Now that your customers are asking you what you’re doing, it’s only natural to turn around and ask the people in your supply chain what they’re doing.
Do you have a paper vendor? What kinds of recycled paper do they offer? How are they partnering with customers to reduce paper use? What kinds of metrics/tools can they offer: free software for the printers to see who’s printing how much? Do you have a formal service provider strategy where your company reviews provider performance along with quality and cost criteria?
Consider adding some environmental criteria to your service provider scorecards as a tie-breaker to select providers who are more environmentally friendly if they match up on cost and quality. You can keep this as simple as asking the service providers what they’re doing. By engaging your service providers, you broaden your impact beyond the walls of your company with the added benefit of zero cost for your organization. Down the road, the service provider will thank you for guiding them onto this road.
3. Keep Track of Costs and Other Sustainability Data
If you’re responding to customer requests and/or asking service providers to do something, soon you will start collecting data and anecdotal evidence.
For example, if a customer asks for your CO2 footprint, you’ll need to track energy and fuel (at a minimum). Keeping track of this environmental data allows you to calculate your footprint and track your energy and fuel costs. Having this information enables you to report to CDP and generate CSR reports, which enhance your company’s brand.
Identify sustainability data that translates the discussion into business terms: the number of customers asking environmental questions, metric tons of CO2, the number of employee volunteer hours, cost of tracking environmental data, cost savings from energy projects, etc. Choose metrics that speak to your organization in terms of brand, revenue, cost and employee turnover. Your boss manages a portfolio of financial assets. By managing sustainability data you demonstrate that you speak her language, that you too manage a portfolio of assets (financial, environmental and social).
This sets you up with a budget that never existed. Cost savings alone can create a budget where none existed by funneling dollars saved on energy initiatives into other green programs. Save money on energy by turning off the lights every evening? You now have funds for a lighting redesign.
4. Grow Champions All Over Your Company
No business case will last if it relies on the heroic efforts of one individual. Once you’ve made the case, look for people to help keep the initiatives going. Some people may gravitate toward you because they’re passionate about the environment, others might see your initiatives as professional development.
Be creative in engaging others. The more people you involve – provided you align sustainability with the business case and back it up with firsthand data – the more impact you’re likely to see across your company as they amplify the results.
Do this right and you just might be surprised that the people you thought didn’t care actually do.
About the Author:
Derek Eisel co-founded and led the environment program at Expeditors, a Fortune 500 global logistics company headquartered in Seattle, for five years. He recently left Expeditors to join Scope5, where he is now selling the software he used at Expeditors. Follow him on Twitter @DerekEisel or contact him at derek@Scope5.com.