Getting Sustainability Right Starts with a Strategy Jamie Feltes

May 4th, 2022


Sustainability is no longer a topic corporations can avoid. In fact, it has become integral to corporate strategy for most businesses today. But while 90% of executives think sustainability is important, only 60% of companies have a sustainability strategy.

Companies must consider many factors when developing a sustainability strategy: brand/value, energy efficiency and cost drivers, stakeholder management, risk management, purpose, consumer demands, and new business opportunities—just to name a few. If you manage even some of these functions for an organization, creating a sustainability strategy can seem overwhelming.

When drafting a sustainability strategy, practicality is of the utmost importance. A realistic plan for implementation is as important as the strategy itself. Begin with defining your organization’s sustainability objective. Then identify any potential issues and determine the human resources you need. Who are the decision-makers and workers most likely to get the job done—and how will they do it? Who will manage the project? Who will do the work and how will they go about it? How will you measure and communicate the results, both internally and or externally?

Engagement is another important element of a sustainability strategy. Is a top-down approach or grassroots campaign best for your organization? Or perhaps a committed task force? Some organizations have found a variety of approaches successful.

But resiliency is the key: it’s important to stay the course. Like many organizational strategies, sustainability initiatives require dedication, if not tenacity, to execute and achieve success.

Given today’s business challenges, leaders are overwhelmed with the thought of creating, leading and managing a sustainability strategy. But when it comes to sustainability, the worst decision is indecision. No action means lost opportunity for collecting data and learned experiences.

Start small, but at least start

If you’re still doubtful, consider the opportunity costs.

Let’s use IBM as an example. They went Green to save “Green.” From 1990 through 2020, the company conserved 9.8 million MWh of energy (avoiding 4.6 million metric tons of CO2 emissions) and saved $661 million in the process. Over decades, they have built a tremendous amount of experience by implementing over 1,400+ projects. The byproducts of these projects have helped them address a myriad of Sustainability metrics. Instances like this demonstrate how powerful taking action can be for our earth and a company.

Energy Efficiency is often at the core of sustainability initiatives for many different types of organizations. In fact, large and small organizations set numerous energy efficiency goals to mirror their business operations. Why? Operational initiatives usually offer the most opportunity to positively impact climate goals. While some industries inherently spend more (and thus can save more), all industry types have energy expenses, and the approach is unique to each industry type and company.

Regardless of the approach, studies show that energy efficiency is critical to meeting widely accepted environmental metrics. On average, commercial buildings consume 42% of the nation’s energy, and waste 30% of what they consume. Every day of delay on commercial efficiency projects means more energy wasted and more savings lost.

According to the ACEEE, companies can incorporate energy efficiency in their strategy by:

  • Setting specific energy efficiency or energy intensity targets that are consistent with broader sustainability goals, including science-based GHG targets. Company-supported efficiency targets can focus management’s attention, enable access to capital, and help overcome internal barriers;
  • Utilizing service providers to identify and pursue efficiency opportunities in buildings and plants, supplier networks, and end-use products where savings can be maximized;
  • Setting up ongoing, strategic energy management and energy-management systems to enable continuous savings;
  • Reporting on efficiency measures and communicate progress. Transparency and accountability will help keep stakeholders engaged.

Whether an organization starts with energy efficiency or other priorities, beware the “paralysis by analysis” trap. Take action now to benefit from data and experience. And try to get comfortable with the uncomfortable!

By creating a strategy that addresses the various facets of sustainability, you are creating an opportunity to save big, enjoy new revenue streams, and engage stakeholders—all while reducing your carbon footprint.

About the Author

Jamie Feltes is Account Manager l Clean Energy l VP, Key Equipment Finance