Beginning the Green Business Journey

by Felipe Zarate on September 23, 2010
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Going green is at the top of business agendas. Businesses of all sizes are making sustainability and environmental performance a default topic in board rooms, operation teams, supply chains, and communication channels, to name a few. For large corporations, the green agenda is maturing rapidly, with the Fortune 1000 companies all benchmarking each other’s sustainability metrics and communicating their green efforts to external and internal stakeholders. Equally important, small businesses have a significant role to play, and they’re increasingly looking for avenues to launch and implement a green business program. The challenges for small businesses are unique in terms of the resources — human, operational, financial — to qualify and quantify their green goals, metrics, and achievements.

As advisors to businesses of all sizes on topics of sustainability, our focus is supporting companies along the sustainability journey, from inception to completion to on-going monitoring. In our experience, each green roadmap is as unique as the business that requires it, yet there is a common framework of 5 key steps to its success:

  1. Consensus and Resource Commitment: To begin, a consensus among all key stakeholders must exist to be able to kick-off a green business program. This essentially signals that the value of green initiatives has been recognized and the opportunity to save resources — namely money and materials — through the adoption of sustainable business practices has been made a priority. With consensus comes resource commitment, sometimes as a Green Team and other times as a single point of ownership.
  2. Scope Definition and Baseline Creation: Next, the extent of the green program must be determined for short, medium, and long-term expectations. This creates boundaries and defines the starting point of the program, e.g. energy conservation, water awareness, office eco-performance, green supply chain. The scope of the program will be as extensive as the business desires. Within this step, a baseline is created for all initiatives to be tracked, monitored and reported. Two examples of typical baselines would be: office consumption data (for eco-friendliness programs) and energy data (for energy efficiency programs).
  3. Green Program Design: In this step, the business develops an approach to start moving towards its green goals, usually in the form of an action plan. More elaborate plans are broken into functions (purchasing, facilities management, communications…) and simpler plans resemble an action list. Two key aspects of this step are (i) the need for training and raised awareness across the firm as to the existence, importance, and commitment to the green program, and (ii) the need to establish a clear internal and external communication plan to begin informing all audiences of the firm’s efforts, achievements, reductions, and savings derived from the green program.
  4. Green Program Implementation: This is where the real-world and bottom-line impacts of the program begin to happen. The implementation of the program starts to show its fruits; from modest courses of action yielding significant cost-efficiencies, to multi-phased business process transformations that lower a business unit’s carbon footprint. Current environmental performance is compared to the baseline as created in step 2, and progress is reported to stakeholders.
  5. Monitoring and Continuous Improvement: Finally, and in order to begin once again the green program’s life-cycle, the business needs to establish an approach to monitoring its progress. Superposing the actual results to the plan’s expectations offers a gap assessment and produces feedback for continual improvement. The nature of continuous improvement is such that new opportunities are always discovered, and subpar initiatives are redesigned for success.
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