Speaking the language of Sustainability

apples_orangesOver and over I have the same discussion with sustainability professionals, they want to know what they can do to enhance their presentations to fully engage their listeners, to open their audience’s mind to the possibilities that exist. Many times when they have a chance to talk about what they were doing or what they were planning to do within their organization they felt as if their message and plans were falling on deaf ears. Their audience was constantly checking their blackberry’s or looking as if they wished they were in any place other than sitting in a room listening to him or her speak.

Sound familiar?

We touched on this subject briefly in Persuasive Sustainability, but now we’ll look at it from an internal perspective.

When I ask Sustainability Directors, Coordinators, and Managers what their company is focused on, they tell me they are working to be the best sustainable company in their field, to reduce their carbon footprint, or reduce their water usage. It’s usually at this point,  that I start to get an idea of what might be happening. They are talking apples and the executives are talking oranges!

They are telling me what “They” are focusing on, not what the “Company” is focusing on. They are not tuned into what the company executives are focused on, revenue improvement, share price, market share, productivity, risk management, or beating competitors to market. Their listeners are not able to see how what they were focusing on or discussing had any application to their business activities or needs.

We shouldn’t just talk in terms of sustainability or green, we should talk in terms that solve business problems. Our activities should be established as solutions to executives issues. We are solution centers, not just feel good centers! What we as sustainability professionals do adds value to the organization and can assist organizations become financially sustainable.

If you doubt this look at what sustainability is doing at Interface:

Interface’s values are our guiding principles

To be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire industrial world what sustainability is in all its dimensions: People, process, product, place and profits — by 2020 — and in doing so we will become restorative through the power of influence.

Interface will become the first name in commercial and institutional interiors worldwide through its commitment to people, process, product, place and profits. We will strive to create an organization wherein all people are accorded unconditional respect and dignity; one that allows each person to continuously learn and develop. We will focus on product (which includes service) through constant emphasis on process quality and engineering, which we will combine with careful attention to our customers’ needs so as always to deliver superior value to our customers, thereby maximizing all stakeholders’ satisfaction. We will honor the places where we do business by endeavoring to become the first name in industrial ecology, a corporation that cherishes nature and restores the environment. Interface will lead by example and validate by results, including profits, leaving the world a better place than when we began, and we will be restorative through the power of our influence in the world.

Profits are mentioned in both the Vision and the Mission.

Another thing to remember as you deal with individuals within your organization is that not everyone is the same. So, you are going to need to identify what areas are important to each sponsor or department head and make sure that you tie in your activities to their needs. Then when you get the chance to talk or present, make sure that you use accurate data that is relevant and can prove that your actions are applicable to the needs of the organization. Don’t use personal opinions. Show cause-and-effect!

And make sure that you establish a network of influencers within your organization that will work with you and on your behalf to properly position your group and it’s activities, after all, it’s called “Office Politics” for a reason.

One thought on “Speaking the language of Sustainability

  1. Really deepened my understanding of sustainability, with emphasis on “ability”. You’ve approached the subject in a very creative and diverse manner, educating your readers through examples.

    I’ll look forward to future blogs. Great work! Well done!

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