Why waiting to Act could save your sustainability planningTo cap off the week, we're recommending an article written by Jennifer Woofter, published on Environmental Leader. The timing is perfect, as it fits nicely with our latest topic of discussion, Planning for Sustainability Success in 2013, posted on this blog yesterday. Both articles discuss the importance and essential elements of sustainability planning.

    Here are a few highlights from Woofter's article, titled "Why You Should Wait to Act on Sustainability". As our post yesterday suggested, if you're really aiming for success next year the key is to start planning now. Woofter echoes this point by stating you should wait to act - which means investing more time in the planning stage.

    To illustrate, Woofter applies the Observe - Orient - Decide - Act (OODA) model to sustainability programs. The first three stages of the model all focus on careful planning before you jump into action, the intent being that when you do act it gets you valuable results.

    When you're in the sustainability planning stages Woofter lists the following questions to ask yourself: 

    "What are the big issues driving our sustainability impacts? What are the global, regional, and industry trends that impact our operations and our supply chains? What are customers asking for and how are those requests changing? Where do we stand now with regard to carbon emissions, water use, stakeholder engagement, transparency, human rights, and product responsibility? Do we know where we have good data, and where we are making assumptions?"

    What's great about these questions, which Woofter encapsulates as the Observe step, is that they are data focused, which is something we at ERA Environmental firmly believe in. By identifying where you're making assumptions, you can identify those data weak-spots that are usually a strong indicator that you're failing to properly manage some aspect of your operations. For example, if you can't identify the chemicals contained in the products your vendors give you, how can you successfully plan for reducing your air emissions?

    Orient is all about processing that data and positioning your business for success. It means getting key stakeholders and decision makers on board with your observations. Woofter also underscores that you need to remember who the target audience of your sustainability programs are: your regulators? Your shareholders? Your target market? Is it to save money? Will you be working with your PR team or sales team to communicate your sustainability efforts, or is this strictly an internal project?

    Woofter's version of the Decide step for sustainability asks this set of questions: 

    "Choose a focus area and get started. Remember, sustainability is too big to tackle at once, and trying to do it all means you won’t make big progress on anything. It makes more sense to dive into a specific area (like establishing good data management systems, or revamping a production process, or going all-out on paper reduction in the office) and do it well, then build on that momentum to tackle the next thing."

    Those questions echo some common themes that we talk to our cleints about, namely that there's nothing wrong with tapping into easy or short-term sustainability projects in order build up some momentum (the sustainability snowball effect) and earn access to greater resources, and that one of the best sustainability projects anyone can undertake is to upgrade your environmental data management system

    Finally, and only once the first three stages of the planning process have been completed, is it time to Act. Woofter rightly suggests that part of action is assessment and readjustment. What is working and what isn't? It's a bit like the ISO 14001 Plan-Do-Check-Act approach. Action isn't the end goal, it's a step in the continuous improvement cycle.

    Check out the article here.


    Subscribe to our blog

    This blog was co-authored by: 



    Alex Chamberlain
    Post by Alex Chamberlain
    December 14, 2012
    Alex Chamberlain is a writer for ERA Environmental Management Solutions.