ET: The Sustainability Professional from Outer Space & How to Break Down the Silos

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Raise your hand if you are a Sustainability professional and you have never felt like you are from another planet.

You and your “green staff”

It is a very common problem for sustainability professionals, while they carve out a valuable sustainability strategy and they try to make an impact, to face significant difficulties. People tend to appraise them and value their work, still from far away, since they think of them as “romantics”. “You are doing a great job, keep working on your “green staff”. But when you try to talk to them about what sustainability means and how you should all work together to achieve relevant goals in your organization they are nowhere to be found.

Reasons why you are from outer space

There are several reasons why this happens: people tend to believe that Sustainability is not a feasible goal for an organization. Take for example, climate change. For most people it seems quite distant how their everyday work and life could – good heavens – have an impact on global warming. It is not comprehensive to them how these little everyday acts could have significant results.

Additionally, people tend to think and prioritize their own departments, functions, activities, in other words, their work. So, it is quite unlikely that they will spend time and effort to understand and work towards a goal they do not consider their own. They don’t have an incentive to do so – unless you give it to them.

It is not also uncommon for people to perceive Sustainability as a goal related to political agendas. If you do not support a political party automatically Sustainability should not be among your priorities.

The Organization’s Stance

Integrating sustainability in your strategy is crucial – as you already know. It should be a core part of your business strategy. Sure it should be part of everyone’s job; organizations should raise awareness on the topic and “contaminate” all their employees with the green virus. We read that Jerry Lynch, CSO of General Mills said: “Sustainability is a core operating imperative to be a successful food business, much like safety and quality.” Other companies state similar views, such as UPS, Owens Corning, and Dow Chemical Company. Well said, but what are you to do, the neglected still admirable sustainability professional?

What you can do

Well, for starters you should learn how to speak a foreign language. Since your coworkers don’t speak “green”, you should learn how to speak their language. Adapt the message you want to get through in the organization’s culture and philosophy. You may have to “talk money” and interpret sustainability goals in a different manner but it may get them to be interested.

If they still don’t understand what you’re talking about, you can bring very successful examples of your competitors. How your competitors’ sustainability strategy helped them to bring the desirable goals profits wise? Spoiler alert: you should read CSE’s remarkable report “Sustainability Trends in North America” which found correlations between Sustainability performance and corporate profitability. We will be hosting a Global Sustainability Practitioner Program in Atlanta on March – would be happy for you to join us.

Also, you should know you are not alone. Or you shouldn’t be alone. The most significant move you should take is find allies. Managers, directors who will support you in your goal, help you get your message through and spread the news about the importance of sustainability. You will need powerful allies in your mission, to achieve cross-functional communication, to provide training, raise interest and awareness and in the end, actually make sustainability part of everyone’s job.

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