Making the business case for sustainability

My last post talked about the importance of incorporating sustainable practices in a manufacturing setting. This post delves into the value that such practices offer a company as well as methods to track and measure the benefits of sustainable practices.

Merriam Webster defines “value” in a few different ways:

1: a fair return or equivalent in goods, services, or money for something exchanged

2: the monetary worth of something

3: relative worth, utility, or importance 

The above definition is easy enough to follow when you are purchasing consumer goods, or even luxury items, but how do you set a value for intangibles such as sustainability programs? This is the perception at most companies, that sustainability programs are “feel good” initiatives, and hence, difficult to measure. Combine this with the fact that most small to medium-sized businesses lack the know-how when it comes to integrating sustainability practices with business processes, as stated in my previous article, and it comes as no surprise that there is a general reluctance to put such programs into practice. In my experience, however, the challenge lies in tracking, measuring, and communicating the sustainability progress when demonstrating return on investment (ROI).

No consistent measures

For those companies that do practice sustainability, there is no standardized formula or data set to calculate value or impact of these programs. At least, not yet. To communicate a sustainability strategy and its benefits, you need to convince multiple stakeholders, which requires capturing information they can relate to.

Well-implemented and well-executed programs – those aligned with business objectives – strengthen the business in very concrete ways and on multiple levels. Sustainability is also emerging as an increasingly competitive issue as it enhances brand value while optimizing performance and reducing costs. For those reasons alone, it is important to capture all possible impacts when putting a value to your sustainability strategy.

At the very minimum, sustainability programs should measure themselves against the three Ps – planet (environmental), people (social), and profit (economic).

  • Planet (environmental): What is the impact on resources, such as air, water, ground, and waste emissions?
  • People (social): How has this affected corporate governance practices, motivation, incentives, health and safety, human capital development, etc.?
  • Profit (economic): Are we now more innovative, collaborative? How has this improved our purchase process?

What can you expect at the end of all this effort? If done right, a sustainability program will provide a tracked roadmap to enhance stakeholder relations, improve performance, and strengthen partnerships, ultimately leading to an improvement in overall quality of life.

Articles in this series will introduce and explore process improvements, methodologies, and best practices that manufacturers can execute in their workplace. If you like (or don’t like!) what you read here, or have topic ideas for future articles, feel free to send me a note at bertram@wmep.org.

Randy Bertram is a senior manufacturing specialist with WMEP.

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