Sustainability 101

Where Are You On The Sustainability Maturation Curve?

Photo credit: Jennifer Niklas
Photo credit: Jennifer Niklas

This post is from Great Forest consultant Jennifer Niklas, adapted from a piece she initially put together for the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University, where she worked on sustainability initiatives for dozens of campus facilities and campus offshoots in the Phoenix area.

When sustainability was still just an emerging area of interest, we grappled over the proper working definition. But now that we are passed that phase in most work groups worldwide, managers have the opportunity to explore their own unique work group and gauge where they are at along the sustainability maturation curve with its three phases of compliance, integration and finally, transformation.

The initial step of assessing where your team is at is crucial if the talents of your company’s sustainability officer or external sustainability consultants are going to be of any service in taking your team to the next level.

Compliance is the first and most rudimentary step an organization can take in the right direction towards a sustainable work place. It involves everything from site management, to operational procedures and involves an appropriate mix of incentives and disincentives to motivate the critical mass into compliance with the new vision. Basically, it’s adhering to social and environmental codes of conduct. Eg: Installing a recycling program at the office.

Integration occurs when the majority of your team or work group effectively embed newly adopted practices into their day-to-day business operations. Social and ecological concerns are taken into account each day and by everyone so the result is cost savings, an improved work environment and a growing reputation with the community. Integration cannot usually occur unless employees at all levels feel ownership over their sustainability program. Eg:  Actively working to improve sustainability such as achieving items on this green office sustainability checklist.

Finally we have Transformation. When a business or company crosses this magical threshold, you know. You feel it when you walk through their doors, when you lightly converse with their personnel. It is something in the air and not surprisingly, embedded into their environment.

Companies and organizations that were polled by the Society for Human Resource Management found that the top five positive outcomes reported were :

  • Improved employee morale
  • More efficient business processes
  • Stronger public image
  • Increased employee loyalty
  • Increased brand recognition
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