Sustainability Executives Have To Market Green Success Stories

By Greg Zimmerman, Executive Editor  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: Facility Managers Are Among The Passionate, Progressive Executives Setting The Sustainability AgendaPt. 2: Sustainability Executives Need Knowledge of Workings and Priorities of OrganizationPt. 3: This PagePt. 4: Most Sustainability Departments Have Wide-Ranging Responsibilities, Small Staff

Much like facility managers, sustainability executives have to market their green success stories. They understand that if they don't tell anyone what they're doing, no one will know.

"It's a 'what have you done for me lately?' thing," says Conley. "The trick is to show how much money you've saved. Use dashboards. Put signs in the bathroom. Show how sustainable practices benefit all in the organization."

With 70,000 people on campus, Katz says communication is critical — she says she spends much of her time doing presentations for internal audiences, as well as speaking at conferences and trade shows. Matthews, too: "I cannot accept all the interviews and speaking invitations I get," she says.

And sustainability executives are under no illusion that they get "special treatment" because they work on projects or initiatives that generally have a "feel good" story. It still has to make business sense.

This extends to justifying projects and discussing them in the language of business. Matthews says she doesn't even blink when she hears "no." "If someone disagrees it's because I haven't made the right argument yet," she says. "I don't fear 'no.' I expect 'no.' Tell me what the roadblock is and I'll get more data and reframe the argument."

"We don't have a secret pot of money lying around for sustainability projects," says Schulz. "Projects have to stand on their own business cases." And even then, in what is still a tough economy, the pitch can sometimes be difficult. So sustainability executives have to make sure they are always explaining both to their executive-level peers and to employees what they're working on.

While the challenge of winning hearts and minds certainly is real, the bigger challenge is finding the time and resources to choose projects with the greatest potential benefit to the organization. As Katz says: "This is less a people challenge and more a time and resources challenge."

Indeed, the lack of means available to sustainability executives is mentioned most frequently as the biggest challenge. "Sustainability executives have limited resources," says Weinreb. "So it's important to create value."

Where Is The Sustainability Executive?

Every organization is different in terms of where the sustainability executive resides in the organizational hierarchy. Sometimes, it's within facilities or corporate real estate. Just as often it's not.

At PNC, executive vice president of corporate real estate Gary Saulson is widely known throughout the company as the sustainability guru. He's led the corporation to 174 LEED-certified projects (the most of any company in the U.S.) and worked closely with the U.S. Green Building Council to develop its LEED Volume rating system. But Saulson recently hired a director of sustainability, as well as an energy manager, to take over some of the sustainability specifics.

"We needed to hire someone full time, because it could no longer be me," says Saulson. That sustainability director still works closely with Saulson and is "joined at the hip," with the energy manager. The sustainability manager is actually now part of a different department and has a wider range of responsibilities than Saulson ever could've taken on himself. As one example, Saulson says, the company has reduced its paper consumption by more than 15 percent in the last three years. That's something that might not have been possible if the effort was led by the corporate real estate department alone.

At UCLA, Nurit Katz, chief sustainability officer, is essentially her own department, but is housed with the facilities management team. "This is a great location for sustainability," she says, "because so much is related to operations." She's supplemented her MBA and masters in public policy with a Building Operator Certification course, because she says she now recognizes how important facility knowledge is to her success in sustainability.

At AT&T, John Schulz cut his teeth in corporate real estate, before moving into the sustainability department. He and the other seven members of his department report directly to the chief sustainability officer.

Ultimately, because every organization is different, the location in the organizational hierarchy shouldn't be of critical concern. "Where the position reports isn't as important as the fact that the position exists," says Saulson.

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  posted on 12/4/2012   Article Use Policy

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