We talk to a lot of sustainability leads and it’s not unusual to hear them say that they feel isolated. As the only one advocating for conservation, the lead may feel no one else really “gets” the many ways sustainability leads to profitability. Too often, sustainability professionals are seen as separate and distinct from the primary functions of the organization, they do not have a seat at the table, and they feel isolated or that they are perceived as “policing.”
These conversations remind me of ones I had in a prior role with a large global consulting group where we helped companies integrate safety into their cultures.
Tackling Sustainability Goals as a Team
For example, “John” was a Safety Director for a large construction company. He often shared with me his concern for being the “safety police” on site. He felt a lot of his job required him to make rounds every day, checking to make sure policies and procedures were being followed, rather than being able to take time to really connect with folks. He thought most of the workers on the crews saw him as someone they had to tolerate and that staff gave “lip service” to safety compliance when he was around.
John felt isolated in his job. He appreciated the need for a change in how the company approached safety. Ultimately we helped John implement a process where everyone became engaged in keeping each other safe, rather than John being the only one accountable for safety. As we implemented these changes, it was amazing to see the difference—workers policing themselves, committed to being safe as a team, rather than complying with the safety guy.
I see so many parallels between the world of safety professionals over the last few decades and the burgeoning focus now on corporate environmental sustainability. Accordingly, I think certain transformational principles can increase the probability of success in the world of sustainability, much as they did for safety professionals:
- Being committed to environmental sustainability;
- Developing relationships as the foundation of accomplishment; and
- Engaging and enrolling others in your commitment.
These principles lead to a transformational shift in an organizational culture that is organic and comes from each individual recognizing for themselves their own commitment to environmental sustainability and connecting that to the organizations’ success.
Taking the Sustainability Journey Together
We are social beings, so deepening and widening relationships through engaging activities that create stronger teams and a sense of purpose and belonging means sustainability professionals can accomplish more with a much larger cohort on their side.
Interacting with others—sharing successes as well as challenges—reinforces that sustainability is a journey and that we are not alone on that journey. These conversations also reinforce new behaviors and promote teamwork.
Integrating these principles are as important as the technological changes companies make to lighting or HVAC systems.
Just as safety professionals saw more significant results when they focused on people rather than policies and procedures, sustainability professionals can dramatically expand their results by engaging hearts and minds as a complement to their facility upgrades.
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