GREEN: The Top 9 Reasons Why Sustainability Initiatives Fail

By K.J. McCorry, Sustainability Consultant and CEO of Eco-officiency- Boulder
Posted

Having a plan to sustainability increases the likelihood that organizations will be successful. However with any major initiative; issues and challenges can lead to failure.

The following are common struggles for organizations on why sustainability initiatives often fail. It is important to prepare and plan for these struggles and do your best to avoid the problems all together.

 

  1. Lack of Management Support: One of the biggest reasons initiatives fail is from lack of top management support. If the executives don’t think sustainability is important then why would the other staff? You not only need the upper level executive team support, but it is critical to have the CEO engaged also. As with any initiative, management support sets the tone for success.

 

  1. Lack of Change Considerations: Sustainability involves making changes; changes to business operations, changes to the culture, changes to the way decisions are made. It is important to recognize that these are changes that not all staff may feel comfortable with and might even avoid or sabotage. Develop some sort of strategy or plan on how to integrate the changes into the company culture. Make sure your staff is informed and engaged in the sustainability program.

 

  1. Short-term Planning: Sustainability can’t be incorporated as a short-term project. It needs to be considered an on-going program within an organization in order to build momentum with employees. There is merit to have a short term sustainability plan to ultimately get initiatives going, so long as there is the intent that embedding sustainability within the organization is a long-term strategy.

 

  1. Lack of Accountability: There needs to be someone (i.e. a sustainability officer or manager) or group (i.e. Green Team) designated within the organization to be held accountable for the company's sustainability practices. However, it is important to engage the entire company, since no one person or group can do it all. However, if there is not someone accountable to the sustainability program and goals, realistically it just won’t happen. 

 

  1. Giving Up if Failure Occurs:  There are no perfect solutions or processes when it comes to sustainability. There will be mistakes, challenges and sometimes failures with sustainability initiatives. SunChips introduced a 100% compostable chip bag in 2009 that created quite a stir with consumers because it was ‘noisy’. SunChips didn’t give up and went back to the drawing board and re-introduced another 100% compostable bag that was quieter. With any new sustainability program it is important not to expect that it will be perfect the first time.  Don’t give up! Take time to address and review the challenges to improve the processes.

 

  1. Non-Performance Related: A top motivator for most staff is their annual performance appraisal. Performance appraisals provide staff indicators of what is expected, valued and needed in an organization. If you want to have a successful sustainability program, then it is important to align sustainability goals with employee performance. Once this is integrated, employees then understand the importance and expectations surrounding sustainability within the organization.

 

  1. Lack of Internal Communication: Often sustainability initiatives reside in a few departments and don’t necessarily reach other areas of an organization. Therefore, the rest of the staff don’t understand the initiatives or perceive value in the sustainability undertaking. Take time to inform internal staff of the sustainability plan and goals of the organization. Making sure everyone in the organization knows about sustainability not only informs your staff but encourages conversation and dialogue to build momentum and buy-in to the sustainability goals. 

 

  1. Lack of Stakeholder Engagement:  Stakeholders--whether that is your customer base, suppliers, investors, or local community--provide key intelligence on sustainability trends and concerns. Find out what these stakeholders are doing in regards to sustainability and how they see your company involved. They can be instrumental in the sustainability initiatives that are chosen as well as providing crucial support during implementation.

 

  1. Time: In today’s busy world, there is never enough time for any major strategic initiative. One reason sustainability doesn’t happen in more organizations is the time competition for other priorities in the company. It is important to recognize time is a challenge and create a realistic expectation of what sustainability goals can be achieved. With time and resource restraints, there can be limits on what can be achieved in a certain timeframe.

It is important to remember that even small, green steps are better than no steps at all!