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    Starting small with sustainability planning is a useful tactic for first foraysYou’ve probably been told over and over again that sustainability is all about the long term, and that you may have to wait years before you see your sustainability efforts pay off. Although this school of thought is partially correct, it’s vital that you don’t overlook the importance of small sustainability projects that will create modest bursts of profitability.

    We’re talking about finding those weak points in your environmental performance that you can easily improve with just a little elbow grease (and maybe some straightforward policy changes).

    Maybe that’s something as simple as changing your old light bulbs to more energy efficient models or switching from single-sided printing to double-sided. It might even be a bit more ambitious like replacing the toilets in your office with water-saving fixtures.

    You’ll notice that none of those suggestions are what manufacturers typically think of when they start sustainability planning. They aren’t particularly glamorous, and they won’t save your company millions each year. Even though most EH&S managers want to get their hands dirty with more involved projects like switching to 100% renewable energy sources or getting ISO 14001 accreditation, those smaller, less exciting projects just might be what makes you or breaks you.

    And here’s why:

    Convince your Boss

    Although sustainability has already made some big splashes in manufacturing, some CEOs are still hesitant to invest any time or money into those big ticket sustainability plans that EH&S specialists want to sink their teeth into.

    Maybe the purse-strings have been tightened or else the value isn't properly communicated...

    But by gaining some short-term wins that produce some easy profits within just a few months you’ll have some ammunition to show that sustainability really does pay off. Sometimes that’s all you need to convince a resistant CEO to sign off on your green goals.  

    Pursuing easy wins like reduction in paper usage will give you solid data to back you up when it comes time to communicate your goals with your boss. Showing exactly how much money was saved by just printing double sided over a year will make a great case for how much long-term success and profitability you can bring to the table.

    Learn the Ropes of ROI

    Measuring the return on investment (ROI) of sustainability is already difficult enough, so you’re only setting yourself up for failure if your very first exposure to measuring sustainability ROI is a huge-scale project involving supply chains, multiple sites, air emissions, recycling, and voluntary GHG reporting.

    A small sustainability project is the best place to get your feet wet if you’re new to the whole concept, and is where you’ll learn which environmental KPIs (key performance indicators) matter the most to your business.

    Plus, having that ROI calculation refined for your needs will definitely help you make your case to executives later on.

    Make Sustainability Accessible and Engaging

    When you start with sustainability planning in small, everyday ways, it highlights how every employee can play a role in sustainability and therefore increases engagement. When sustainability planning only deals with large-scale projects and ignores the company’s basic activities, it can become an uninspiring 40,000 ft corporate policy that doesn't have any effect on the ground.

    And that’s the last thing you want: sustainability works best and has the largest return on investment when it gets integrated into your company culture and as a value shared by every employee.

    Even when you do move on to larger projects, make sure you keep sustainability part of everyday life. Integrate it into your training programs, internal messaging, and marketing campaigns.

    Tap into the Snowball Effect

    It’s no secret that it’s easier to accomplish a big goal if you break it down into smaller goals and start building some momentum. This snowball effect of success has been applied to everything from personal fitness to finance to education. Why not apply it to your own sustainability planning?

    Before you tackle a long-term sustainability goal, break it down into smaller goals that will be easier to accomplish. That way you’ll avoid the impatience and burn out that can occur when you won’t be seeing any serious return on investment (ROI) for a year or more down the road. Even if it’s just being able to check a step off your list, that feeling of accomplishment will help drive your company forward to its ultimate goal.

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    Image credit: Erutuon

    Alex Chamberlain
    Post by Alex Chamberlain
    September 17, 2012
    Alex Chamberlain is a writer for ERA Environmental Management Solutions.