GREEN: How to Develop a Sustainability Plan

Column by K.J. McCorry


In a previous article, "Preparing for a Sustainability Plan," the necessary steps needed to prepare to develop a sustainability plan were described. Once the stage has been set, the following steps are next in developing a sustainability plan:

Step 1: Develop a Purpose Statement

A purpose statement is a simple phrase or sentence that provides the purpose behind an organization creating sustainability. The purpose statement essentially should align with the organization's overall mission and vision, and provide context for the direction of the sustainability strategy. Chipolte's sustainability statement is "Food with Integrity" and much of the company's focus is on the sourcing of ingredients. Starbucks' statement is "Go Beyond the Cup" and has transformed the company to focus on social areas of sustainability such as fair trade products and a wide range of benefits for employees. The purpose statement doesn't preclude an organization to do initiatives in all areas but helps to create a clear focus and objective for the overall strategy.

Step 2: Determine Objectives

Once the purpose has been established, the next step is to determine clear objectives of the sustainability strategy. Determine which areas in your company are most affected by environmental concerns and where the best economic opportunities lie. The following list includes topical areas that small to medium-sized businesses can focus on with their sustainability plans. Of course, with limited resources and time, organizations can't do everything. Choose two to three areas of focus, especially the first year or two. Then, determine an appropriate goal or target for each topical area. Each year, build on those successes and focus on another two areas.

Sample Sustainability Topic Areas

Example Goals and Objectives

Energy reduction and conservation

Reduce energy by 10% each year.

Water reduction and conservation

Reduce water consumption by 15% within the next two years.

Employee alternative transportation

Provide alternative transportation  incentives to employees to reduce miles to/from work at least one day per week.

Paper reduction

Reduce paper consumption by 30% in the first year.

Waste reduction and recycling

Implement composting program to reduce landfill waste.

Purchasing and supply chain

Revise supplier guidelines to include sustainability initiatives.

Community engagement and volunteer programs

Hold one annual volunteer day for all employees to engage with local non profit.

Step 3: Brainstorm and Determine Initiatives

Once objectives have been determined, next gather key staff or a green team to brainstorm ideas on how to achieve that objective. The first year, pick a few initiatives that are easy and quick to implement to gain momentum in the company and to show success immediately. As goals and objectives become more aggressive, out of the box thinking is essential to really consider all options and approaches to achieving larger goals. Sometimes having a sustainability consultant to facilitate can help groups get out of the "norm" thinking and into a realm of possibilities. Alan AtKisson has developed a methodology called ISIS that does an excellent job of helping groups think through options and solutions for sustainability planning. Refer to his book, "The ISIS Agreement."

Once an initiative has been chosen, determine an appropriate and doable timeframe for the project to be implemented. Also take into consideration the time involved for staff to make the change and implement the initiative.

Step 4: Develop the ROI and Business Case

With any organization, it is important to develop the business case and return on investment for the sustainability plan. Creating and implementing sustainability takes time and attention and, more importantly, requires an organization to change its process and methods of conducting business. For organizations to change, they must understand the bottom line benefits.

Bob Willard's book, "The Sustainability Advantage," offers a systematic approach to create the business case. For a small fee, you can download his Excel templates that are return on investment worksheets. There are two versions available; one for small businesses and one for large businesses.

Step 5: Develop the Project Plan

Once initiatives have been selected, the written project plan can be documented. Project planning software such as Microsoft Project or Basecamp can be used, or you can be input the information into Excel. Be sure to include the following information:

  • Timeline: Set estimate timelines for completion of initiatives.
  • Task Lead: Although one initiative might be the responsibility of multiple people, it is important to assign one task lead who is ultimately accountable to follow up and track that initiative.
  • Sub-tasks: As with any project, it is important to break down the tasks into actionable items. At this stage, engage those who will implement the task to assist with determining the sub-tasks.
  • Frequency: Determine with each initiative the frequency that follow-up and updates are necessary. Some items will require more attention than others. 


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