Taking Sustainability from Aspiration to Operation

Carol Singer Neuvelt

To succeed in the ‘Age of Sustainability,’ environmental managers need more than technical competency: They need to take a more holistic approach to problem solving, create new systems, inspire others to change and communicate better with the outside world. This week we’re off to our Sustainability Conference at Genentech in Palo Alto, Calif., to discuss each of the skills you’ll need to practice sustainability in the business world.

One of the biggest barriers companies often face in tackling sustainability is how they define what it means to their business. This week we’ll discuss how integrative business thinking can break down the notion of internal silos, generate new solutions and promote greater ownership of the challenge. This shift in perspective can be the difference between a system in which you add a scrubber to the end pipe to one in which you eliminate the need for the scrubber altogether.

Eventually the solutions that come from this new analysis, though, need to be translated into formal processes. How do you define the parameters of a sustainability program? How do you measure energy consumption across your supply chain? How do you evaluate your success? We’ll talk about these questions and look at case studies of how environmental managers have developed programs around sustainability that make sense for the kind of businesses they represent.

And since all this activity increasingly involves individuals from other departments, the environmental manager has evolved from the person who says, ‘You’ve got to change this,’ into the ambassador of environmental stewardship. We will focus on communication strategies for inspiring cultural change within an organization and identify techniques for sharing metrics without ‘greenwashing’ the results.

Every time I attend one of our meetings, I learn that real change happens incrementally, within a formalized framework. For those of you who can’t take part in the discussion in California, what steps have you taken to lead your company forward? What skills are you using today to make sustainability a reality within your business?

About Carol Singer Neuvelt

Carol Singer Neuvelt is Executive Director of NAEM. Her long-term perspective and insights into corporate EHS and sustainability best practices also have been featured in a variety of publications, including The Chicago Tribune, the Bureau of National Affairs, Environmental Leader, the National Safety Council’s Safety+Health magazine and Sustainable Life Media. She is the former Deputy Director for the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Public Liaison, where she managed the agency’s interaction with external stakeholders. Follow her on Twitter at @carol_neuvelt.

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4 Comments
  1. Mark Katchen

    April 26, 2010

    Very good piece, Carol – I like the work you’re doing in sustainability.

  2. Stephen Evanoff

    April 29, 2010

    Carol:

    I’ll be curious to see what further insights you gained from the NAEM sustainability conference just concluded.

    I think that the biggest challenge for EHS managers who aspire to take a lead role in sustainability is making the mental shift from relying on compliance with regulations as an easy justification for resources, priority and management support, to making a compelling business case for action in a business environment where you are competing with every other aspect of the business for scarce resources. The dynamics are fundamentally different and will test our mettle as managers.

  3. Stephen Evanoff

    April 30, 2010

    Carol:

    I’ll be curious to see what further insights you gained from the NAEM sustainability conference just concluded.

    I think that the biggest challenge for EHS managers who aspire to take a lead role in sustainability is making the mental shift from relying on compliance with regulations as an easy justification for resources, priority and management support, to making a compelling business case for action in a business culture where you are competing with every other element of the business for scarce resources. The dynamics are fundamentally different and will test our mettle as managers.

  4. Phil Coy

    May 8, 2010

    There are tremendous synergies between lean principles and sustainability. EPA recommends lean tools such as value stream mapping and focused “kaizen” events as ways to actually “do” sustainability. The challenge however is to cross the chasm between EHS and business operations management. But the opportunity that lean thinking brings is to engage employees at every level, to focus on and eliminate waste, and to continuously improve.

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