Get Going: Early Lessons for Going Green Before Internal & External Audiences

“Going green” is such a loaded phrase that it deserves some brief clarification. “Going green” is not a scientific phrase; it is vague enough to be deceptive. Decisions concerning the environment always involve trade-offs and unintended consequences. With the choices available in today’s economy, zero environmental impact simply is not possible.

With that said, can a company align itself with a trajectory that minimizes the harm that an organization’s operations have on the environment? If executives take the following lessons into consideration, the answer is “yes.”

1. Commitment from leadership goes a long way. There is no question that the success of any program will eventually demand the involvement of the majority of your people, and that an organization’s desire to go green will ultimately require dedicated resources. The change process is easier to manage when people can focus on these efforts as part of their job, as opposed to extra work. Consider creating a VP-level position dedicated to CSR.

2. Walk the walk internally before talking the talk externally. The willingness to honestly evaluate and alter your practices before aggressively communicating externally will ultimately build greater credibility and combat skepticism from both inside and outside your organization, especially at a time when many are understandably wary of green claims.

3. Program your learning. Conducting an environmental impact assessment from scratch is not a simple task, even for an experienced consultant. In fact, many companies choose to borrow the expertise and assurance of someone outside their organization. It is certainly possible, however, to develop the in-house knowledge necessary to coordinate these efforts. There is a wealth of online resources available for general learning, as well as tangible measurement tools.

4. Invest the time and energy up front for measurement. Measurement is critical: It allows you to understand and prioritize your areas of impact, establishes the mechanisms and metrics for tracking future progress and gives necessary credibility to your efforts. It is worth the substantial time and energy necessary to perform your first baseline inventory and create internal pathways for exchanging the necessary data. Expect the first inventory process to be the most time-consuming; you will be meeting with and collecting information from across your entire organization. Through this process, you will develop an indispensable understanding of your organization’s structure and responsibilities, as well as the aspects of your operations that you can control and influence. You may, however, find yourself hounding various departments for data. Document these discussions and inefficiencies with an eye toward improving your data collection process the next time around. Remember: The initial measurement is an implicit pledge to set goals and monitor your progress in the future.

5. Report what you measure. If you are going to invest the time and energy to obtain a baseline footprint, you should make this information known to your stakeholders—internal and external. There are various reporting standards, metrics and formats, but the Global Reporting Initiative framework has become the de facto guideline for CSR reporting. When publishing this report, be sure to carefully consider your audience(s) when deciding what language, medium and presentation style to use.

Remember: This may be the first time many of your stakeholders read an environmental report.

6. Identify and follow through on low-hanging fruit. While every organization’s environmental impact will look slightly different, most office-based businesses share a typical footprint. Office energy consumption will probably account for the largest slice of your carbon emissions, followed by commuter transit, business travel and paper usage. Unfortunately, the larger the impact, the more difficult it typically is to reduce—either due to long-accepted behavior or because of lack of control. Strategize to tackle these important challenges over the long haul; in the meantime, identify the easiest symbolic changes and follow through on them early.

7. Publicize your early wins to build energy for initiatives that will require more active employee participation. After beginning your formal communication efforts, internal stakeholders will be anticipating action. Some employees may be motivated to get involved simply by the organizational commitment to report, but the majority will likely stay on the sidelines early on. Recruit and involve the energized few as soon as possible; you will need their leadership and support if you hope to gain mainstream acceptance. Enlist them to help accomplish quick wins, and communicate them to the rest of the organization. These wins will gradually demonstrate commitment and improve companywide receptiveness to future initiatives.

8. Prioritize your reduction strategy according to areas of impact. Quick wins are good for morale but usually not that meaningful to your planetary bottom line. If you hope to make tangible reductions, you will need to use your baseline footprint to set attainable goals and strategize to meet them. Be prepared to engage the necessary external stakeholders, such as building management, local transit authorities and business networks. Internally, expect resources to quickly become an issue as it becomes clear that results will require long-term solutions and support.

This article was written by Beth Bengston (VP, CSR) and Jonathan Feinstein (Associate, CSR) of imc2. It appears in the recently released PR News Going Green Guidebook. For more information, visit