Looking for a Professional Credential in Sustainability?

By: April Brown
Senior Projects Manager

In 2011, the MIT Sloan Management Review’s sustainability survey of global corporate leaders found that about 70% of respondents are increasing their commitment to sustainability within their organization, a drastic growth from the 2009 version of this survey, which was only 25%. Consequently, in the last decade, a career in sustainability management has gone from virtually non-existent to ranking as “hot” on a list of in-demand professions.

From third-party sustainability consulting to salaried sustainability management staff and C-Suite executives, millennials have an ever increasing opportunity to find a job that makes an impact and aligns with their values. Furthermore, the massive growth in demand for higher education degrees in sustainability has led to corresponding growth in degrees in social and environmental business and management among most colleges and universities throughout the states – big and small, public and private.

That said, until now, there has not been a professional credential that assesses and maintains the professional expectations and competency of the sustainability practitioner.  The International Society for Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), whose mission is to empower professionals to advance sustainability in organizations and communities throughout the globe, is setting out to change that. ISSP started in 2007 and, since then, they served their mission by providing professional development in the form of webinars and a structured sustainability certificate program. Additionally, ISSP provides  a professional membership program and resources for active members. In the last few years, ISSP has been seeking input and feedback on the needs of the field through a handful of surveys of working sustainability professionals.
The results show professional certifications and credentials are what hiring managers look for in the candidate pool. Since 2010, ISSP has developed a comprehensive understanding of the core competencies and job task requirements for a sustainability practitioner. With this thorough understanding, which they have published on their website, they are now developing 2 professional credentialing exams, ISSP Sustainability Associate and ISSP Certified Sustainability Professional, which will be available to the public in November 2015.
What is a sustainability practitioner?
According to ISSP, a sustainability practitioner is a professional who spends more than 25% of his or her time planning, implementing, managing, and reporting sustainability efforts for organizations and/or communities. This includes internal and external practitioners.
While the complete details are still under development, what they do know is that the two levels will require the following, in addition to on-going professional development to maintain the credential:
  • ISSP Sustainability Associate – Individuals who are new to the field of sustainability but have sufficient education and training to pass a test on basic knowledge and understanding of key sustainability concepts. Specific eligibility requirements include:
    • Complete application form and pay application fee
    • Sign the Code of Ethics Declaration
    • Pass the ISSP-SA Certification Exam
  • ISSP Certified Sustainability Professional – Experienced sustainability practitioners who demonstrate a combination of sustainability-related work experience and formal education. The certification for the ISSP CSP will be awarded to those who pass a more comprehensive test based on ISSP’s job task analysis. Specific elegibility requirements include:
    • Complete application form and pay application fee
    • Meet the ISSP-SA requirements
    • Pass ISSP-CSP Certification Exam
    • Meet certain educational qualifications
    • Meet certain work experience qualifications
The exams will cover a comprehensive list of job tasks that are documented in a 20-page report by ISSP. In summary, an ISSP Certified Sustainability Professional should be competent in the following areas:
  1. Core Sustainability Concepts – Demonstrate a familiarity with foundational concepts of sustainability
  2. Stakeholder Engagement – Develop and maintain interpersonal relationships with key stakeholders
  3. Plan Sustainability Strategies – Lead and influence the creation of comprehensive sustainability strategies and systems
  4. Implement Sustainability Strategies – Manage the implementation of sustainability strategies and initiatives
  5. Evaluate Sustainability Efforts
  6. Adjust Plans
Each exam is a 2-hour, 100-question online exam. All candidates must begin at the Sustainability Associate level and progress to the Certified Sustainability Professional level. Specific eligibility requirements do apply. The questions will be randomly generated from a pool of 1000 questions contributed by a team of subject-matter experts. Because the exam is delivered online, candidates will know their score immediately upon completion. A candidate must earn a score of at least 80% on the certification exam to pass. As with any professional credential, there will be credentialing maintenance and professional development requirements, within a 3-year reporting period.

So you want to be a sustainable business?

By April Brown, Projects Manager

You might be asking yourself – What does a sustainable business look like? Where do I start?

The path toward organizational sustainability will look a little different for everyone. Simply speaking, a good first step is to make a plan that includes sustainability goals and activities that will support the organization becoming more sustainable overtime: it’s a journey, not a destination.

“In my opinion, there are four primary areas that you should consider when developing a sustainability investment plan: management infrastructure, eco-efficiency programs, strategic initiatives, and marketing programs,” reflects Geoffrey Barneby of the FairRidge Group. “Clearly, there is a need to address these areas somewhat sequentially; you cannot successfully market sustainability before making strategic changes, and you cannot develop strategic initiatives without already having an appropriate management infrastructure in place. There is, however, room for overlap and most mature companies manage to do all four in parallel.”

Setting measurable goals and tracking your progress is important, so it is good to identify your goals and opportunities before starting to retrofit the bathroom sink faucets. In a recent article on GreenBiz.com, a sustainability consultant shared feedback he’s received from a client that also illustrates the traction integrated sustainability is gaining. He said,

“We’ve gone through a paradigm shift on sustainable development in the last year. It’s no longer seen as an environmental thing. It’s fully integrated into the way we think and plan around economic growth.”

Sustainability efforts are, also, most successful when you elect and empower someone to spearhead your sustainability efforts and make sure your goals remain on track. This position is a 21st century invention that has created jobs in the leadership ranks of most large companies, including Fortune 500 companies and political and economic powerhouses. Depending on rank, authority and responsibility titles range from “Chief Sustainability Officer” to “Sustainability Director” to or “Sustainability Analyst.” Sustainability professionals, like any high paid professional, require a certain level of knowledge and training. While there are more and more undergraduate and graduate degrees with a focus on sustainability, there is a shortage of qualified professionals to lead and implement strategic sustainable business initiatives. To help professionals keep up with the changing demands of the sustainable future, the Institute for the Built Environment at Colorado State University has created online courses for professionals to learn and practice the skills and tools they need to lead their organization’s sustainability initiatives. The online learning platform, which is being offered by OnlinePlus at Colorado State University, is intended for busy professionals; therefore classes are designed to accommodate typical business schedules.

“By participating in this program, you will enter into this important movement toward healthy economies, cities, and work practices and learn and apply real skills from leading researchers and professionals,” said April Brown, LEED AP BD+C, GGP.

“People that work in sustainability often come at it from one angle. They may ask, ‘How do we best engage occupants for sustainability?’ or ‘How do we retrofit our facility to get the biggest bang for our buck?’,” said Jeni Cross, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology, Colorado State University and expert instructor for the Integrated Sustainability Management Certificate program. “While these are really important questions, this program focuses on the systems approach, which will teach you how to use the work in one quadrant to leverage bigger change in the other quadrants.”

To build the holistic mindset, the program is set up into 4 quadrants: people, resources, facilities, and organization.

When you have created your plan and you’ve designated someone to implement it, the next question you might ask yourself is – How? Much of the how relies on people adopting more sustainable behaviors. Much about behavior change is to be learned from social sciences. Jeni Cross, leading sociology researcher at Colorado State University, tell us about three myths of behavior change during a popular Tedx talk.

Cross explains that we all think we know how to encourage people to adopt sustainable behaviors, however, most of our encouragement actually does nothing to change anyone’s behavior. There are proven techniques for engaging behaviors of occupants and employees that support the organizational sustainability goals that should not be overlooked.

Business leaders worldwide agree that sustainability is an opportunity for growth and innovation, according to a 2013 report of CEOs’ views on creating a sustainable economy. Organizational sustainability is one of the fastest developing sectors of business in our modern world. Business is developing a heightened awareness on the importance of global issues, including social justice, climate change, energy independence, and water scarcity. Moreover, businesses are finding competitive advantage through sustainability and corporate responsibility. As an organization or business, taking sustainable strides will sincerely help you keep up with the growing market and increasing demand for transparency and responsibility. In the process, you can make a better place for your employees and a better product for your customers. Start by making a sustainability plan, then designate a knowledgeable Sustainability Coordinator to spearhead the initiatives outlined in the plan, and use tools from social science to engage your employees and building occupants and create a sustainability-minded culture to meet your sustainability goals and create lasting impact in your business.

Food Waste Decomposition Systems

By: Cassandra Kliewer | Sustainable Associate
Josie Plaut | Associate Dirtector


Food Waste

In 2010, America wasted an estimated 34 million tons of food and only about 3% of that waste was diverted from landfills. Food
digesters, which turn food waste into compost and gray water, are especially well-suited for large commercial kitchens like those found in hospitals and university campuses. Instead of putting food waste into landfills, food digesters turn waste food, into new soil and reduce the burden on municipal waste water treatment facilities.  Two waste audit studies, conducted by The Institute for The Built Environment for Rocky Mountain National Park, show that between 16-30% of the park’s waste, by weight, is food waste.

Food Digesters

Food digesters can either work with or without water. Both systems use an additive to accelerate the process of decomposition. Normally, the decomposing process would take a month, but instead the additive processes the food in 24 hours. The water-based process produces compost and gray water, which is water that is similar to the waste water from sinks and showers.  In a building that is connected to a municipal waste water treatment facility, gray water is easily treatable by the municipal waste water systems.  Gray water can also be treated on site and used for things like landscape irrigation.  Conversely, the dry system is evaporation-based and food waste is mixed with a decomposing additive. Both systems provide easy and sustainable solutions to landfill waste.
Food digesting systems produce nutrient rich material that can be used as compost to fertilize soil for landscapes. Since the dry system can digest food within 24 hours, a rapid source of compost for landscaping is readily available. If the building does not need compost, the facility can reach out to the community and provide compost for landscaping purposes elsewhere. Another benefit of having a food
digester is that it reduces the amount (and cost) of waste that would normally go to a landfill. Since food waste is composted on site with a food digester, there is also a benefit to reduced transportation cost and emissions.  In addition to saving dollars and emissions, and perhaps most importantly, wasted food is kept in the nutrient cycle to rebuild soil and is kept out of landfills where it contributes to methane gas production.

The Future of Food Waste

Various government officials have noticed the impact of food waste and are taken measures against food waste.  Massachusetts has taken measures to ban food waste from big food wasters (schools, hospitals, grocery stores, etc.) in favor of more sustainable options such as composting and using waste food as animal feed.  The ban aims to reduce landfill waste and improve soil health by prohibiting businesses from throwing-away leftovers into landfills.  Vermont and Connecticut have similar legislation in place.  The future where we universally turn leftovers into soil amendment, may be just around the corner!

Coors Field Sustainable Garden

By: Colin Day

The Institute for the Built Environment has finished its first growing season in the urban garden business. In collaboration with ARAMARK Food Services operating at Coors Field, our executive management and graduate student interns implemented the installation of the Coors Field Sustainable Garden, located at Gate A of the stadium in Denver, before the commencement of the 2013 baseball season. ARAMARK food services, an industry leader in public venue scale food service and facility maintenance, contracted IBE to assist in the creation of a pilot garden space, a first within major league sports venues. The goal was to realize the vision of on-site, sustainably produced food. The design mimics a baseball stadium with raised beds terracing upwards from the garden’s ‘infield’ to the ‘outfield’, to the ‘stands’. Ornamental flowers, followed by herbs and beneficial garden plants, followed by vegetables were on display for the ½ million fans that pass through Gate A over the course of the Rockies’ season.

The vision of ARAMARK to display and provide healthy, sustainably produced herbs and vegetables on-site as a part of their food operations is an example of a large company-wide commitment to sustainability. ARAMARK promotes sustainable practices in food purchasing, environmentally responsible consumer choices, greenhouse gas conscious building operations, energy and water conservation measures, green cleaning, greening their delivery fleet and ethically managing their waste products.

IBE facilitated design development, chose sustainable materials that would best suit the project ethos, contracted local, organic plant propagation, managed PR communication from conception to implementation and participated in the installation of the garden. During the 2013 growing season, the Coors Field Sustainable Garden provided 600 sq/ft of on-site, sustainably produced and managed vegetables, herbs, flowering ornaments, and plants that promote beneficial garden ecosystem functions to on-site chefs through the 2013 growing season. The harvest included heirloom varieties of tomatoes and peppers and a wide variety of herbs that were harvested by the IBE team and on-site kitchen staff during late August and early September of 2013.

IBE has successfully contracted to expand the scope of our involvement with ARAMARK in the 2014 growing season. This will include outreach to educational and city programs in the Denver area with an emphasis on community involvement and healthy, sustainable food choices for at-risk and under served youth communities. In order to realize these goals, our project team will pursue partnerships with programs such as and Denver Urban Gardens (DUG), as well as potential coalitions with governing bodies such as the Denver Public School System. Additionally, our crops selections will be expanded to lengthen the growing season and increase the variety of selection and nutrition within the beds.

Ultimately, IBE hopes to develop the ‘The GaRden’ as a component of ARAMARK’s Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) goals.  With outreach to other interested ARAMARK facilities with assistance from Denver ARAMARK management, the goal is an export of sets of guidelines and toolkits that assist in the establishment of sustainable gardens at other ARAMARK venues. Through the connection between relevant programs in higher education to nearby ARAMARK facilities, the potential ensuing collaboration would include regionally relevant outreach agendas.

Our experience at Coors Field in collaboration with ARAMARK corresponds with our ethos of sustainable design in the built environment, regionally relevant projects, and educational outreach that intends to spread understanding about sustainable activities and their impacts on health. IBE looks forward to breaking ground at Coors Field again during the 2014 growing season with our project partners at ARAMARK.

Key Energy Saving Tips in Facilities Management

By: April Brown

Through a recent federal government grant with the General Services Administration (GSA), the Institute for the Built Environment summarized the current state of research on effective strategies to reduce the carbon footprint, resource use, and costs of operating existing buildings. By utilizing research from academia, national laboratories, and professional associations, we have identified key low-cost opportunities in 5 high impact areas for energy conservation: plug and process load management, water efficiency, daylighting, behavior engagement, and operational efficiency. Our findings elevate the conversation in facilities management by clarifying the role of energy efficiency, occupant behavior, building maintenance staff and organizational leadership, and sustainability. Additionally, our findings prioritize high impact energy saving tips and best management practices based on return on investment data for operational sustainability in buildings. April Brown, co-author of the research for GSA, answers 4 frequently asked questions related to energy efficiency and facilities management of existing buildings based on recent studies.

1.  What if I want to improve the energy use at my office, but don’t have a lot of money or don’t have control of the major mechanical systems or building envelope.  Can I make meaningful changes on a limited budget?

Yes, actually, there several operations and maintenance activities that have significant energy savings with little upfront cost and require little control over building systems.  In fact, low cost operations and maintenance measures realize the same energy savings as equipment retrofits and cost 20 times less. The first place to start is with implementation of a few simple and straightforward building operations and maintenance best practices. It may sound unlikely that such savings can be achieved through these simple changes, but studies have shown that developing and implementing best practices has significant impact.  For example, after 4 years of operating with definitive best practices, a Spain university reduced energy costs by $676,750, annually, which had a 2.5 year return on investment. Key best practices in saving operational energy costs include the following:

  • Planning and goal setting – Develop energy management plan with energy efficiency as a key strategic goal of the organization and incorporate goals for energy efficiency into the business plan. Encourage proactive actions and keep senior management regularly informed and engaged in the progress toward achieving goals.
  • Appoint an energy manager –Designate an individual responsible for managing energy and promoting energy-efficient building operation. Often the cost savings generated by an experienced energy manager can easily cover his or her salary. Usually buildings/portfolios over 300,000 square feet would require a certified energy manager; otherwise assigning energy management tasks to a qualified staff person may be sufficient.
  •  Perform operations and maintenance assessments – Operations and maintenance assessments seek to understand why the building is operated and maintained in a certain way.  To be clear, an O&M assessment is not an energy audit, rather, the assessment evaluates the current O&M program and practices, including the management structures, policies, and user requirements that influence them. Assessments are critical to understanding where opportunities exist and what documentation is lacking. For more information on O&M assessments see Operation and Maintenance Assessments for Energy Efficient Building Operation.
  • Whole building energy accounting – Track and analyze past and current energy use, demand (electricity), and cost using a convenient and reliable methodology (e.g. ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager). Be sure to share energy accounting information with facilities staff as they are often the most involved with operating and maintaining the building, yet they know the least information on energy use. Distribute report to both senior management and facilities staff and show how you are meeting the organization’s strategic goals for energy reduction. 
  • Documentation – Buildings systems and operating plans are invaluable to properly maintaining your building.  With operating documentation, such as written sequences of operation or control strategies, provide a reference to check against when changes occur and ensure that changes in sequencing are continually documented.   These resources eliminate energy waste by providing confidence in whether the operations schedules are intended or off track.  Videos and photographs can complement written documentation.

  • Appropriate equipment scheduling – Equipment schedules should meet occupant needs but not exceed. The easiest way to waste energy is to leave equipment and lights on when they could be off. Equipment schedules are often adjusted to meet the need of a special program but not reverted back to normal operations. Therefore, continual review of scheduling eliminates waste. The payback for improved scheduling is almost immediate because of the little cost, including labor.

2.  What are key best practices for reducing plug loads in an office building?

Office equipment can make up as much as 30% of electricity consumption in an office, making this a great target for reducing wasted energy and paying closer attention to office schedules and occupancy needs. Key best practices are:

    • Procurement – Purchase ENERGY STAR equipment when it’s time to replace office equipment. Once study found that ENERGY STAR equipment resulted in 18% energy savings. When purchasing computers, prioritize laptops over the desktop computers as laptops typically use a third of the energy of desktop computers. If you still have CRT monitors, it is high time to replace those with LCD monitors, which use less than half of the power draw of CRT monitors. Additionally, adjust brightness to the dimmest setting that the ambient lighting in the room will allow or consider automatic brightness controls, which change the brightness based on the ambient light levels. Institutionalize the use of centralized printers where several workstations use one printer. Also, consider inkjet printers when possible as they use significantly less energy than other printers.

  • Power management settings – Enable aggressive power management settings before distributing equipment to staff. Low power modes include setting computers and laptops to sleep mode after 15-60 minutes of inactivity – the shorter the better. Also, educate staff on how to activate even lower power modes and why it’s important.
  • Shutoff interventions – Other plug load reduction strategies seek to shutoff plugs through load or occupant sensor plug strips (27% energy savings), schedule-based controls (40+% energy savings), and email reminders (6% energy savings). In one GSA study, schedule based plug strips were installed after enabling low power settings and reduced plug loads at workstations by an additional 26%. Payback must be evaluated as the cost of these advanced power strips can be prohibitive.

3.  What about indoor water use reduction?  Do you suggest retrofitting fixtures with dual flush toilets and automated faucets?

Well, while both are well intended, research shows that dual flush toilets and automated faucets use more water than expected from the flush and flow rate specifications. Depending on what type of fixture they are replacing, they can actually increase indoor water use.  Dual flush toilets typically use more water than projected because the flush mechanism is not aligned with user behavior, meaning the dual flush handle is designed to pull up for a low-flow flush and down for a full flush.  As we toilet users are already conditioned to push the handle down, our primary behavior decreases the efficiency of the toilets. The appropriate use of the handle can be increased through the education of building occupants; however some building owners have elected to reverse the handle design to align with user behavior.  Also, the type of building occupant must be considered; for example, if the building primarily serves visitors then education is not effective. Furthermore, dual flush fixtures never make sense in bathrooms where urinals are present, as the toilet is typically used only for the full flush in this instance. There is a great resource available, called Maximum Performance (MaP), that shows the performance specifications of many toilets available on the market, comparing performance of waste removal (grams per flush) and flow rate.  For example, many toilets flush 1,000 grams per flush with 1.28 gallons of water per flush (20% water savings compared to code). In summary, single low-flush toilets are the best at sufficiently eliminating solid waste and guaranteeing water savings.

Research also shows that automatic faucets – though hygienic – use more water than they should, due to incorrectly installed sensors, phantom uses (turning on without being triggered by an intentional hand), and always operating at full flow (instead of the variable flow of manual fixtures).  Aerators are likely a more effective, and less expensive, retrofit for reducing water consumption. If installing automatic faucets, pay careful attention to product specifications to ensure the sensor calibration is noted and accurate and the cycle time is aligned with the design intent.

4.  What are some in-house activities that we might be able to do to reduce energy consumption without needing outside contractors?

For larger, more complex buildings and/or portfolios, there are two primary operations and maintenance strategies that encompass many of the known and documented best management practices – building re-tuning and energy information systems.

Re-tuning is a comprehensive set of activities that evaluate a buildings’ energy management and control systems to ensure that schedules and controls are appropriate and operating correctly. Re-tuning seeks to identify and correct building operational problems that lead to energy waste, ensuring maximum energy efficiency and occupant comfort year after year. Essentially, re-tuning is a scaled-down version of retro-commissioning.  A key difference between re-tuning and retro-commissioning is that, once properly trained, re-tuning can be done with in-house staff, whereas retro-commissioning typically requires an outside contractor. Furthermore, because re-tuning is done in-house, building operators and owners take ownership of the faults and corrective actions, ensuring persistence with energy savings. Re-tuning and Energy Information Systems are complimentary to each other, as re-tuning relies on energy analysis to evaluate the economic impact of corrective actions.

Energy Information Systems (EIS) are advanced energy tracking software, hardware, and communication technologies used to store, analyze, and publish building energy information. EIS are not energy management and control systems (EMCS) or building automation systems (BAS), as these systems control the energy consuming systems in a building. Instead, EIS connect with the buildings’ EMCS or BAS to gather and track the energy data, then analyze the data against weather files, baselines and benchmarks and send alerts to managers. Additionally, EIS are not information dashboards, batch analysis tools, greenhouse gas footprint calculators, or environmental monitors. EIS pertain more specifically to efficient building operations by offering a proactive approach to energy management using meters and sophisticated software to read, analyze, and alert based on readings.  In essence, EIS supports real-time detection of energy waste, allowing staff to identify the cause and determine the appropriate response. EIS are a promising solution for building managers to continuously reduce energy use and costs. EIS may be too sophisticated for some building owners but the concept is scalable.  Small building owners can start small with whole building benchmarking and energy accounting. Studies show that simple benchmarking and tracking still result in energy savings, concluding that just by monitoring we notice simple opportunities for improvement. EPA analyzed the ENERGY STAR portfolio manager buildings and found that during the years 2008-2011 buildings had an average annual savings of 2.4%. The more sophisticated the accounting and tracking program, the more energy savings potential. One study found that permanent metering and continuous monitoring saved 9% in energy use.  Other studies show that buildings with sophisticated EIS save up to 25% energy costs.
Re-tuning and EIS focus on the operational efficiency of building operations.  Often operations and maintenance best management practices focus on improving maintenance procedures and equipment efficiency, however, facilities staff should equally consider how their building is wasting energy because no matter how efficiently your equipment is running, if it’s running when it doesn’t need to be you are wasting precious money and resources.

Organizational Sustainability: Searching for the Switch

By: Stephanie Barr, Research Associate and Green Schools Specialist

In a recent report from MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group[1], the number of companies implementing and profiting from sustainability initiatives has increased significantly in recent years.  Sustainability is becoming an intrinsic part of corporations – practically synonymous with innovation. 
The results from this report illustrate interesting characteristics of organizations which have seen success through sustainability initiatives and those which have not.  A few of these key characteristics included the adoption of new organizational structures, effective communication, finding bright spots, and integrating charismatic leadership.
Of the businesses profiting from successful sustainability agendas, the researchers found that they were not integrating sustainability into their pre-existing organizational structure.  Instead, they had adopted new structures, introduced new lines of communication, and established new performance metrics.  In Chip & Dan Heath‘s book, Switch, they discuss that in order “to change someone’s behavior, you have to change that person’s situation”[2].  A sustainability agenda requires a shift in behavior and cannot be successful if the organizational structure does not evolve to support it.
In Switch the authors describe people as being motivated by their brains and their emotions, using the image of a Rider (brain) trying to control an Elephant (emotion) to illustrate the difficulty in shifting behavior.  They propose however – and this is apparent in the MIT report as well – that if organizations motivate employees analytically and emotionally, change is more successful. One important analytical motivation is the communication of an intrinsic link between sustainability, innovation, and profit.  The organization must have a unified focus that sustainability is a key to business growth and innovation, and this must be monitored and reported to stakeholders.
Another key strategy used was to increase collaboration and communication across business units.  An aspect of this was the identification of “bright spots” [2].  When one department, or branch, successfully implements a new sustainability initiative their methods are evaluated and replicated across other units. This strategy of focusing on bright spots is very effective because it shifts focus from problems to solutions.  During change initiatives our first inclination is to focus on the problems, on everything that is not aligned with the vision. The work seems immense and those leading the change can quickly feel overwhelmed and discouraged.  Finding bright spots – and publicizing the heck out of their successes – provides the energy and passion which will sustain the team.
Finally, the MIT report illustrated how critical integrated, charismatic leadership was to an organization’s success in implementing and profiting from a sustainability agenda.  The researchers found that the most successful companies had strong leadership buy-in, most having established a Chief Sustainability Officer and an integrated management team to support sustainability objectives.  Coupled with a vision with an emotional hook, integrated sustainability leadership provides the direction and clarity needed for the grueling change process.
If you are interested in learning more about organizational and behavior change for sustainability, I highly recommend reading Heath’s Switch, Kotter’s Leading Change [3], and MckEnzie-Mohr’s Fostering Sustainable Behavior [4].


Creating an Upward Spiral of Value: The responsible business and sustainability

By: Josie Plaut,Associate Director

Over the past 10 years businesses has taken a notable interest in the idea of sustainability. From Fortune 500 companies to small firms and boutique operations, everybody wants to be green. Some companies and organizations, of course, are more successful than others. Shining stars like Interface Carpet, Patagonia, and Seven Generations have integrated sustainability into their core business identity – their corporate DNA. Most companies, however, struggle to fully integrate sustainability as an integral part of their business. One of the reasons for this is that green initiatives are often viewed as an add-on, optional (and often costly) measures that feel good, but are not a fundamental component of good business practice. Like lipstick on a pig…

Carol Sanford’s recent book, “The Responsible Business: Reimagining sustainability and success,” shows how sustainability is an integral part of being a good company.  She uses a star diagram to represent the path toward the quintessential top line – the ultimate measure of success.  The five components / stakeholders are Customers, Co-creators, Earth, Community and Investors.  Like tightening down the lug nuts on the wheel of your car, each of these stakeholders is addressed in a star pattern – none too fast and all are equally important.  The key is to add value beyond expectation in each of these areas, simultaneously.

  • Customers: Start by truly understanding your customers’ life – understand, maybe better than they do, their needs, wants, hopes and dreams.  Ensure the customer feels you are taking better care of them than competitors would.
  • Co-Creators:  Actively develop and engage the creativity and thinking capacity of your employees and key business partners (collectively called co-creators) to serve the customer.  Establishing and maintaining a direct connection between co-creators to the lives of your customers is essential.
  • Earth: Understand how your business is directly dependent on the earth and the services it provides.  Then cultivate a partnership with the earth that enriches and nourishes the systems that your business depends on to ensure that those resources will be available into the future.
  • Community: Become a member of your community through understanding, respecting and building on the special characteristics, strengths and needs of each place.
  • Investors: By time you have done the other four, there is an upward spiral of value creation that directly benefits the investors.  Increased customer loyalty, remarkable organizational alignment driven by shared purpose, ecological responsibility and strong community connections result in exceptional returns.

Increasingly, environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) practices are becoming metrics for investors and community members to judge the quality and character of companies.  Goldman Sach’s recently looked at 25 environmental, social and corporate governance indicators across companies in a variety of sectors and found that the ones who performed the best on the ESG indicators also provided 25% higher returns on their stocks than their competitors.  The time to make deep and meaningful shifts toward being a responsible business is now.

This isn’t just for big business, though. Small and medium size companies stand to benefit from taking a responsible business approach.  A great local example right here in Ft. Collins is New Belgium Brewery.  Heck, I don’t even like beer and I’m loyal to them as a company! Why is that? Because they have done a remarkable job of addressing the quintessential top line.  Scotch anyone?