What's Involved in a Sustainability Plan?

January 26, 2013
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More and more businesses are realizing the impact they can and do have on the environment. They are looking for ways to cut down on waste, decrease their carbon footprint and protect our natural resources. One way businesses can achieve these goals is to develop a sustainability plan.

Why Develop A Sustainability Plan?

Making plans make good business sense, as they show preparation for success. They help identify goals and areas of improvement, propose ideas to get there, track progress and help make wise decisions on the use of resources.

Sustainability plans bring into focus organizational goals and commitment to eco-friendly business practices. The plan can be used in budget preparations to allocate funds towards meeting sustainability goals and it can be used in year-end reports where the success of the years' efforts can be compared to the goals of the plan.

Not only do sustainability plans provide guidance to keep a business on track towards meeting their goals, they serve as public commitments to environmentally responsible management practices. Some might even argue that it is this public commitment that makes sustainability plans so important. Anyone can say they're going to be more eco-friendly, but creating a plan, setting specific goals and targets and then sharing that plan with your entire organization makes it much more likely to happen.

What is the ultimate goal of the sustainability plan? Identify areas of opportunity to implement eco-friendly business practices and provide steps on how to get there.

What To Include In A Sustainability Plan

Every sustainability plan will be different, just as every business or organization is different. Some businesses are heavy resource users and may focus their plan on reducing their use of natural resources or recycling or repurposing them. Other businesses may be small employers who want to implement a recycling program or give back to the community in some way.

No matter what your specific goals are, there are a few things every sustainability plan should include:

1. Rationale behind the plan. An explanation of what you're doing and why is critical to getting the support of your employees and sponsors. Are you doing this because it relates specifically to your business? Have your customers asked about your sustainability plan? Are you doing it to cut costs? Whatever the reasons, identify them and share them so people know what they're supporting.

2. Definition of sustainability. What does sustainability mean to you? Are you seeking LEED certifications or making a commitment to purchasing only ENERGY STAR-qualified products? Does sustainability mean decreasing your waste or are you just committing to purchasing recycled products as much as possible? There are different levels of commitment and identifying them at the outset will help your entire organization understand the plan, the goals, why certain decisions are being made and what they can do to support the plan.

3. Baseline numbers. You won't know how much you've improved, if you don't have concrete numbers to start with. For this reason, every plan should start with an assessment of your current resource consumption and waste output. This may include: water usage, trash output, transportation habits and energy use. Be sure to include as much hard data as you can find. How much trash do you generate, how many kilowatts of energy is used every month/year, etc.

4. Areas of improvement. Once you know where you stand, you can identify areas of improvement. Can you recycle things that you currently aren’t? Are there ways to reduce your electricity usage? This is your starting point for setting goals.

5. Goal-setting. What are your goals and how will you achieve them? Do you need to put more recycling bins in your facility? Can motion-activated lights be installed to decrease your energy use? This is where you can identify project leaders and assign responsibility for certain tasks.

6. Deadlines to meet goals. What do you want to accomplish and by when? Will your plan's success be evaluated annually or more frequently?

7. Evaluations and adjustments. Every plan needs to be evaluated and adjusted as needed. As goals are met, new ones can be created. If a goal proves to be too difficult, it can be revised and broken into more manageable steps. If you haven't met your goals, find out why and rework the plan as needed.

Further Resources

Two great resources to get you started are the EPA's ENERGY STAR program and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. Both programs are aimed at increasing the energy efficiency of buildings and promoting environmental responsibility. You'll find plenty of resources and advice on becoming more eco-friendly.

Don't forget to check out your local resources. Your city or town may have recycling programs you can take advantage of or offer rebates for retrofitting your business with more efficient systems.

You'll find that once you start looking for resources to help you improve your company's sustainability, you'll be exposed to more and more ideas and ways you can make a positive impact on our environment.

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