Sustainability Management: How a Project Manager is Key to Success

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Sustainability and CSR are important topics for any company at different levels. From corporate image and employee retention to even regulatory requirements, green initiatives are becoming important criteria for company, supplier, and product selection.

What challenges companies, however, is not the desire to become more sustainable. It is the implementation of green practices and establishing an efficient operating model that supports those practices. Here we will discuss the business value of implementing such practices as well as the importance of engaging a project manager to do so effectively.

Table of Contents

Competing in a Sustainable-Conscious Market

Sustainability has become more important to employees, and today it is an indicator of engagement, performance, and retention. According to the Global and Sustainability institute, 92% of the S&P 500 companies published a sustainability report in 2020, and many of these also disclose environmental risk impacts and carbon reduction targets. IEMA also conducted a poll in the UK that showed many employees would even turn down a job at a firm with a poor sustainability record.

Companies understand the importance of implementing new greener practices to ensure a successful future. Now, more than ever, they need to make sustainability and social practices part of their long-term strategy, not only to draw and retain top talent, but also to remain competitive in an uncertain economic future and to serve a wider consumer base. That is, those who care about what they buy and pay attention to a company’s environmental and social practices.

Zero emissions and Sustainability in Business Operations

On top of competing in today’s markets, the most urgent sustainability issue for companies and governments is achieving net zero carbon emissions. For some, it is a legal obligation and compliance is necessary. This requires organizations to take significant steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by implementing strategies to reduce their carbon footprint, such as investing in renewable energies, improving energy efficiency, and reducing waste.  

In addition to the zero emissions targets, there are several aspects of business operations where sustainability can be applied, including:

  • Sustainable sourcing: Businesses can source materials and products from suppliers that use sustainable practices, such as using renewable energy or reducing waste. This involves identifying and selecting suppliers who share the same values and goals related to sustainability.
  • Waste Reduction: Waste has become an important issue in terms of ecology. Incorporating recyclability/upcycling aspects of a product, from its design to delivery, is an important step for reducing waste, as well as rethinking packaging, materials and implementing recycling programs.
  • Pollution improvements: polluting industrial byproducts lead to biodiversity loss and negatively affect the local environment. Water and air pollution directly degrade the local ecosystem and can have a hazardous impact on the nearby habitants.
  • Energy Efficiency: According to the UK government, a 20% cut in energy costs represents the same bottom-line benefit as a 5% increase in sales. So, companies are already attracted to be energy efficient because there is a direct impact on their balance sheets. 
  • Day-to-day practices: These can be part of the company culture and start as initiatives of company staff. An employee engagement study by Cone Communications showed that 51% of employees indicated they would not work for a company that doesn’t have strong policies addressing social or environmental sustainability issues.

Building your business case for sustainability

Perhaps your company has already engaged in some sustainable operational activities, but management does not really believe that these efforts contribute increasing profits: they seem like “nice things we do to feel good” or “things we do to comply with government regulations”.

Shifting this paradigm is essential to further the company’s commitment to sustainable practices. Smart leaders need to give the benefit of the doubt to organizational efforts and their impact on both their people and business ecosystem. When measured properly, sustainable activities can even be used as a competitive advantage.

To successfully achieve net zero emissions and other sustainable goals, companies must set ambitious targets and have someone in charge of measuring, reporting, and implementing initiatives throughout their operations and supply chains.

Enter the Sustainability Project Manager

Often, sustainability initiatives are given to employees on top of their workload and without proper tracking and measurement. There is also no recognition or reward, and they become another burden or theoretical deliverable. This makes sustainable initiatives difficult to track, burdensome on employees, and challenging to see benefits.

That’s why organizations need a Sustainability Project Manager to monitor and report on sustainability performance. This involves tracking progress towards sustainability goals and targets, collecting data on environmental performance metrics, and analyzing this information to identify areas for improvement.

A dedicated Sustainability Project Manager initiates and coordinates initiatives, tracks KPIs, collects data for analysis, and understands the positive impact of sustainable practices across the company. They can also communicate results to stakeholders and follow up on changes or improvements to sustainability initiatives.

Four Qualities of a Sustainability Manager

The project manager is also responsible for creating sustainability reports and communicating this information to stakeholders, such as senior management, investors, and customers. By monitoring and reporting on sustainability performance, the project manager can help ensure that sustainability goals are being met and communicated accordingly. Benchmarking and measuring progress also shape the company’s future competitive positioning.

The Value of a Dedicated Project Manager

Essential to the oversight and coordination of sustainable efforts and practices, the project manager brings value to sustainability initiatives by:

  1. Developing and implementing sustainability action plans.
  2. Identifying and assessing environmental risks and opportunities with the different operational teams.
  3. Collaborating and creating workshops to set sustainability goals and targets.
  4. Identifying and monitoring KPIs as well as reporting on performance.
  5. Ensuring compliance with environmental regulations and standards.
  6. Managing budgets and resources for sustainability projects.
  7. Conducting research and analysis to inform sustainability decision-making.
  8. Developing and implementing sustainability education and training programs for employees and stakeholders.
  9. Identifying and implementing sustainable technologies and practices; accompanied by a change management process if necessary.
  10. Communicating sustainability initiatives and progress to internal and external stakeholders.

Overall, a project manager for sustainability plays a critical role in driving sustainability efforts within an organization. They ensure that sustainable practices are integrated into all aspects of business operations and report on the effectiveness and progress of such practices.

The sustainability manager is central to materializing all sustainability initiatives, as they will develop and track important progress measurements as well as their impact. Without them, it becomes almost impossible for the company to report the value of all implemented practices.

In summary, sustainable practices are not only beneficial for the environment and society, but they also make good business sense. Companies that prioritize sustainability are more likely to attract and retain customers, investors, and employees who value responsible and ethical practices.

Moreover, sustainable projects can lead to cost savings, innovation, and new business opportunities. Therefore, investing in a sustainability project manager can yield many benefits for a company, including a positive impact on profits, people and on our planet.

This article was written by Irma FUBIANI

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