What makes a sustainability strategy truly effective?

A prominent figure in the field shares her thoughts on how organizations can drive real impact.

What makes a sustainability strategy truly effective?
Environmental responsibility is a critical issue for employers all over Canada but while some corporate strategies are making a real impact, others are falling by the wayside – here, a leading industry expert explains why some succeed and others fail.

“To be truly effective, it needs to be embedded in all parts of the business and this is the secret source of good sustainability,” says Frances Edmonds, head of sustainability at HP Canada.

The firm is credited as being the country’s most environmentally responsible IT company, helping establish the WWF Living Planet @ Work program which offers free resources to employers and employees who want to reduce their footprint and protect the planet.

“It’s easy for any program in a business to not be fully integrated but the good thing about sustainability is it’s easier to get the buy-in from employees because employees want to do it,” says Edmonds. “It’s not like you’re pushing water up a hill.”

According to Edmonds, one of the most effective ways to ensure a sustainability strategy is embedded in all parts of the organization is to reach out to employees who already have a passion for the environment.

“Sustainability is such a new profession that it doesn’t really have a standard home – it could be in operations, it could be in legal, it could be in finance, in could be in HR, it could be anywhere actually,” says Edmonds.

“That’s why a lot of places will take somebody who has a passion – regardless of where they are – then give them the education to make it happen because you need to understand the business.

“Knowing the business is key – then you can look for where those opportunities are for footprint reduction or reengineering the business to lighten the footprint.”

According to WWF, an estimated one billion business decisions are made in Canada every day but relatively few are made by leaders who actively have the environment in mind.

Edmonds says that’s one of the drivers behind HP’s Eco Advocate program.

“We recognize that many adults have never had any formal education in sustainability even though they’re in business so we took employees who had a passion but not the expertise and we trained them using our own internal experts,” she told HRM.

“We run monthly web cam sessions and we do coaching for them then we encourage them to go out and talk to customers about how to reduce footprint,” she added.

It’s a system that not only engages employees by leveraging their passion but also reduces footprint at HP and its customers’ sites as well.

“Once people have taken the training in our Eco Advocates program, some of our senior advocates can actually go out and do public speaking on our behalf so we see that as a professional development activity for them, something that gives them some visibility and its helping lower footprint,” says Edmonds.

However, the IT company doesn’t just pass its expertise on to customers – it’s also taking the knowledge back along the supply chain.

“We’re running education sessions for the employees who work in the factories in our supply chain in South East Asia,” reveals Edmonds. “We don’t own those factories and they aren’t managed by HP but they are suppliers to us so we do to educate there as well.”

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