By Andrea Newell

Every day, more organizations are recognizing the impact sustainability practices can have on their business and are implementing sustainable initiatives. However, sustainability can’t exist in silo, it should be integrated into all aspects of organization. To be authentic and effective, sustainability must be measured, then goals set, documented and shared. As companies try to meet their stated goals, they should track their progress and report on their successes and shortcomings. Without transparency, sustainability efforts ring hollow.

Sustainability initiatives can increase employee retention and satisfaction, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, streamline business processes, save money, enrich the community and benefit the bottom line.

In honor of Earth Day, here are 10 ways that business leaders can leverage their influence to make a difference.

  • Energy conservation. Simple actions like changing light bulbs, turning off lights at night (or installing motion sensors to automatically turn off lights when no one is in the room), and turning down the thermostat by a degree or two can make a big difference. Comedy Central’s VP of Sustainability, Kelleigh Dulany, turned their energy conservation initiative into a periodic friendly competition between building floors. The winning floor gets a small reward (pizza party or similar) and bragging rights. Timberland replaced the spotlights in nearly all of their North American stores with LED spotlights that consumer 80 percent less energy. This resulted in savings of approximately $170,000 in 2010 and reducing carbon emissions by more than 15 percent.
  • Recycle. Recycling has headlined several company efforts. Lowe’s has expanded its recycling program to accept plastic pots, batteries and CFLs from customers. GM reported that in 2010, it recycled 92 percent of all waste generated in their manufacturing plants around the world. The car giant also earned $20,000 per month from cardboard recycling alone. Starbucks and Stonyfield are actually paying for some of the costs of their recycling efforts in order to help struggling municipalities with budget cuts that might endanger recycling programs.
  • Conserve paper. Many companies are already conserving paper by printing less, but it is still a simple, effective way to reduce supply orders, conserve budgets, and produce less waste. Microsoft committed to using only 100 percent recycled paper at their headquarters, while in 2010, Allstate reduced its paper use by 41 percent, saving $750,000.
  • Water. According to Chris Hedemann, Account Manager, CDP Water Disclosure Project, businesses are just starting to realize the water risk to their processes and profits, even though 57 percent of 190 respondents reported a significant water-related risk to their business. Ceres senior manager, Brooke Barton, told Bloomberg that “most companies act as if the water they have today will be there tomorrow. Water is something that should be keeping CEOs up at night.” The CDP Water Disclosure 2011 report showed that H&M took a financial hit when floods decimated the cotton crop, resulting in higher material prices. Cisco implemented a new process that eliminated a water-intensive wash stage during manufacturing, estimated to save the company more than $1 million per year, with no impact on product quality.
  • Employee engagement. Initiatives can only be effective if everyone participates. Sustainability has to matter to everyone in the organization in order to be adopted, to be accepted, and to become second nature. Intel, National Grid and Xcel Energy tie employee compensation to sustainability results.
  • Leadership diversity. Studies show that businesses benefit from diverse leadership, and sustainability thrives on inclusion. Sustainability leaders PwC and Campbell’s have well-established, effective diversity and leadership programs.
  • Commute/travel alternatives. Doing business near a public transportation hub or in a bike-friendly location helps employees take alternative transportation to work. Using teleconference tools rather than in-person meetings can also reduce emissions. HP offers incentives for employees to bike to work and provides personal energy kits to help employees make better personal sustainability choices. Excessive air travel was blamed when Timberland failed to meet their emissions targets in 2011.
  • LEED building renovations. For businesses with many facilities, renovating and retrofitting these locations according to US Green Building Council LEED requirements can result in huge savings. Timberland follows LEED standards when it builds new stores or renovates existing buildings. Intel also adheres to LEED standards on its campuses.
  • Volunteerism. Employee volunteerism does more than serve the community, it’s beneficial to the employee and the company. Realized Worth’s Chris Jarvis reported that 87 percent of employees who volunteered with their companies reported having a better perception of their employer, and 82 percent felt more committed to their company.
  • Remote work arrangements. Seth Godin is positive that corporate America’s cubicle days are numbered and we’ll all be working from home soon. If that were the case, office building real estate, one of the largest carbon emission culprits, would dwindle, fewer cars on the road would mean a smaller carbon footprint and less time in traffic would mean more time for work and more time for home life.


Andrea Newell is an editor at TriplePundit/Sustainable Industries and contributor to EcoSalon. Follow her @anewell3p.