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5 Ways to Get Buy-in on Sustainability

Change is difficult in any organization. But there are steps you can take to make it easier.

  1. Make it hard to do the wrong thing.
  • You can create systems that make the wrong thing just inconvenient enough as to be discouraging.
    • I have a client who reduced the number of printers and located them in a central location. To print, an employee had to get up, use a badge to start the printing process, and then either wait for the printing to complete or come back and pick up the documents. That change alone resulted in a 40% reduction in paper use for the client.
    • A retail tactic that I've seen is a pharmacy that put ads for somewhat embarrassing products, like incontinence, on their plastic bags. Needless to say, this discouraged people from using that single-use product.
  1. Don't try to go from A-Z in one fell swoop.
  • Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) are great but if you don't work for
    • Everyone loves: "Go big or go home," but ambitious initiatives will almost assuredly lead to burnout if the project seems too big or complicated to tackle, or people can't make headway. Or worse yet, the idea will get squashed as unrealistic by upper management before it ever gets serious consideration.
    • Instead, go for incremental progress. Make a 3 or 5-year plan that entails a series of initiatives so that the whole process isn't overwhelming. And make sure to start in Year 1 with some baby steps to get some quick wins that have clear benefits. These wins will help build momentum and a tolerance for later and larger projects.
  1. Have a green team.
  • I cover this more in my free e-book, Green Teams: 5 Key Ways to Ensure the Succeed or Fail. In short, a high-performing green team is an essential component of any successful sustainability initiative.
    • Sustainability is a team sport and cannot be run from just one department. Most projects involve many sectors of a company and everyone needs to be invested in the outcome.
    • A green team can also be a terrific incubator for ideas that come from the bottom-up and an excellent way for senior leadership to convey the company's values and corporate responsibility.
  1. Know how to make the business case.
  • Let's go back to the savings implicit in Tip # 1. No matter what initiative you undertake, you should strive for multiple "win" situations. And this is not as hard as it may seem.
    • In the printer example, the company was leasing their printers which made it easier and less expensive to upgrade to newer technology. Their multiple wins came from:
  • More exercise for those choosing to print
  • Lower paper, ink, and toner costs
  • Less paper, ink, and toner used
  • Cost savings due to fewer printers to lease and subsequently less electricity to power them
  • In the plastic bag example, the win-win-win was less demand for a single-use bag, which resulted in less cost to purchase them in the first place, plus revenue from the ads!
  1. Share your company's "story" internally.
  • Keep staff informed of what is planned, how the process will unfold, and why you are doing this initiative. The CEO can highlight the importance of an initiative during a company-wide meeting. Or you can maintain an intranet page that shows upcoming plans and tracks the impacts of what you've done. As the sustainability projects progress, you should see an incremental increase in interest and buy-in from staff.
  • Conversely, invite staff to contribute their thoughts. Set up various feedback systems and make them user-friendly. Spell out the points of contact that people can reach out to. Suggestion boxes and surveys are good ways of collecting information from people who prefer to remain anonymous.

PS. I recently came across this article that explains resistance to change succinctly and humorously.