Wayne Bates

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Communicating Sustainability Clearly and Honestly

Posted by Wayne Bates on Sep 13, 2016 8:55:17 AM

Editor's note - Wayne E. Bates, PhD, PE, is principal engineer with Tighe & Bond in Westfield and a facilitator of the AIM Sustinability Roundtable.

Many companies are making progress toward a sustainable business model with initiatives in areas like energy conservation, supply chain, employee engagement, water conservation and community involvement. A common question asked by these organizations is “what efforts and initiatives should we be communicating? To whom should we communicate these efforts? How much information should we provide?”

InnovationSmall-3.jpgThe decision to communicate sustainability programs depends on the nature of your organization, including the type of products or services offered and the interests of stakeholders both inside and outside your organization. Once a decision has been made to communicate, the type and amount of information communicated will depend on the desired level of transparency and stakeholder demands for information.

Sustainability communications should provide insight on where the company has been, where it is, and where it is going on the issue being communicated. For example, a communication on an energy conservation success story should be told in the context of the company’s overall energy goals and how the successful implementation fits into the sustainability strategy.

Most companies with sustainability programs do a decent job of discussing obvious challenges of meeting defined goals and targets. What is often not communicated well are the issues without a solution, initiatives that may be too costly, or initiatives that may take a long time to address. If you don’t acknowledge these unsolved, unfunded, or unplanned issues, someone else may.

Furthermore, if a stakeholder identifies an issue for you and you don’t respond, it may cause a disruption to your business and/or negative press.

Just ask Subway, the fast-food sandwich chain. In 2012 a food blogger reached out to Subway to find out why they use azodicarbonamide (ADA), a bread dough conditioning additive that had been banned in Europe and Australia for health concerns. After not receiving a response from Subway, in February 2014, the blogger publicly called the food chain out for using the additive. She made the point that ADA is used as a plasticizer in commercial products like yoga mats, and encouraged the general public to sign a petition.

The story went viral, the petition received more than 50,000 signatures, and Subway received an onslaught of comments through social media. In less than 60 days, Subway announced that it was removing ADA from its bread in US stores.

Knowledgeable stakeholders know when a company is overemphasizing accomplishments and not discussing certain material issues. Carefully balancing the communication of the goals and targets for on-going initiatives with the acknowledgement of future challenges will let stakeholders know where your organization stands and provide a better understanding of what to expect in future sustainability communications.  

Come join us at the next AIM Sustainability Round Table for a discussion communicating sustainability and hear from expert panelists.

Attend the AIM Sustainability Roundtable

Topics: Management, Sustainability, AIM Sustainability Roundtable

Correct Metrics Key to Sustainability Programs

Posted by Wayne Bates on May 14, 2015 8:30:00 AM

(Editor's Note: Wayne Bates, Ph.D., Vice President at Capaccio Environmental Engineering, moderates the AIM Sustainability Roundtable.)

A successful sustainability program is directly related to a company’s ability to identify and measure the “right” performance indicators. Organizations must be able to readily identify progress toward achieving its goals and quickly respond to key indicators.

InnovationSmall-2That means identifying the appropriate sustainability trends specific to your business, as well as the metrics necessary to measure progress against the goals and objectives put in place to respond to these trends.

For example, a company that uses a “high profile chemical” in its product or processes must be acutely aware of the source of chemical, the quantities used, and its ultimate disposition (e.g., final product, by-product or emission).  Being “acutely aware” requires that systems be in place to support the collection, management, analysis and reporting of this data, which as many of us know, presents several challenges. 

Sustainability professionals are challenged with the fact that much of this information resides across diverse departments within their organization that may not have the same sense of urgency to collect or process the data. Even more challenging is that certain information, such as traceability to a source, may only be obtained from the supply chain. Some suppliers may not be in tune with your need for the information, others may not have the information, and a select few may withhold information because they have determined it is proprietary.

The good news for many companies is that some of the needed data is already being collected within the organization and may be used as a starting point to build a sustainability program and/or a sustainability report.

Available data may include utility bills (water, sewer, power), environmental reporting (Tier II, Form R, GHG) and safety metrics (lost work days, injury and illness reports).  The first step is to identify who owns the data - utility bills may be handled by accounts payable, Tier II reports by the facilities or environmental departments, and safety data by the health and safety department or human resources.

The next step is to establish a data-management system capable of collecting information in a format that is cross-functionally compatible within the organization. With an increase in cloud and web-based database solutions, some sustainability professionals are turning to commercially available software products, while others are developing custom-built applications or software suites leading to efficient management and reporting systems.

The key challenge is to obtain sufficient documentation from the data owners to support data trends and claims reported to external stakeholders.

Understanding and addressing the challenges with gathering, managing, and reporting environmental health and safety data is a major first step along an organization’s sustainability journey. Want some practical advice on data management from sustainability experts? Join us at the June 18 AIM Sustainability Roundtable where our panel will discuss the benefits that can be realized through efficient and effective data collection. 

Register for the AIM Sustainability Roundtable


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