Corporate sustainability can be an advantage if effectively implemented

Some companies may believe that “going green” is a waste of time and money.

More companies, however, are beginning to address their environmental impacts, which can result in a wide range of benefits.

Smart Business spoke with Jacqui Flaherty-Ricchiuti, CEO of Keep Akron Beautiful and facilitator of the Summit of Sustainability, to learn more about how companies can get the most out of their sustainability efforts.

What’s important for companies to consider when planning a sustainability program?

Executives should be aware of the energy costs, water usage and waste consumption of their businesses, and so should their employees.

Employee green teams can be a company’s best resource. The people in these groups are motivated and excited to be a part of doing something good for both their livelihood and the environment.

It can also be a talent acquisition and retention tool.

As more millennials enter the workforce, they are seeking companies with strong social and environmental ethics.

In today’s candidate-driven hiring market, a corporate commitment to sustainability can be a positive differentiator that helps attract and retain top talent, which mitigates the costs of turnover, hiring and on-boarding.

How do analytics play into sustainability?

Everything must be measured, monitored and measured again.

Take the Greenprint for Akron, for example. The city would never have known how effective its programs were without measuring, just as it would never have known how on track it was with meeting its goals, and wouldn’t have been able to promote that goals were exceeded.

Using marketing to promote green efforts without the ability to prove an initiative’s effectiveness, in fact, is greenwashing — hype without substance.

Companies need numbers to justify the time or money invested in their sustainability practices. Without such data, companies may find that their efforts and programs are not as wise and effective as they had hoped.

What avoidable mistakes do companies make with a sustainability program?

The most common mistake companies make is stopping when it seems like resources have run out or when a company doesn’t know where to turn.

If this happens, it’s important to network with other companies or green organizations to learn about their best practices and look for educational resources in the community.

There are opportunities to share sustainable best practices and ideas freely and energetically with like-minded companies.

If your company has experienced challenges or reached stopping points, don’t give up. There are people in the community who are willing to help.

What common misunderstandings may stop a company from “going green”?

Many executives mistakenly think that a sustainability program requires a large financial commitment. There are many low- and no-cost actions companies can undertake to reduce or diminish their waste streams and reduce their energy expenditures.

The savings can be used to further their long-term sustainability plan and goals.

On the flip side, management must also understand that sometimes sustainability projects will show no traditional ROI.

With this in mind, it can be beneficial to bundle higher return projects with those that take longer, particularly if this can be done without having a significant impact to the rate of return.

That’s why it is important to consider, measure and convey all benefits and values the proposed project will have on aspects such as carbon emissions, workplace morale, risk and public image.

Though some companies might not believe it, there is a lot of measurable value to sustainability programs that affect the triple bottom line: people, planet and prosperity.

These measurements and incentives can be as simple or challenging as an organization wants it to be.

It is extremely important to understand the relevance of corporate social responsibility to both employees and customers today, as this is a value you simply cannot ignore. That and the fact that to realize any benefit at all you have to start. ●

Insights Sustainability is brought to you by the Summit of Sustainability