As the CEO of Scope 5 for the past several years, I’ve been witnessing the profound changes in the sustainability landscape. We work with a combination of sustainability consultants and ‘end-users’ – those organizations that are realizing the importance of and the opportunities that result from implementing a sustainability program and acting on it.
Among the end-users we work with, there’s an interesting gradient in the nature of the sustainability programs implemented. To be clear – simply by virtue of deciding to implement a sustainability program at all, these companies are leaders. They use Scope 5 as a way to put substance behind that program and to help further guide their progress and planning.
Nonetheless, let’s take a look at the gradient we’re seeing because it informs the future of what it means to be a sustainable enterprise. At one end of the spectrum, lie organizations that are just starting to dive in. They have decided to file an annual report of some sort. Perhaps their shareholders require them to report their carbon emissions to the Carbon Disclosure Project or perhaps their competitors are reporting to the Global Reporting Initiative and they’re feeling pressure from their stakeholders.
For these organizations, gathering sustainability data (such as energy and resource use) is novel. They’re just starting to work out who in the organization has this data and how they can collect it. For these, sustainability may amount to an annual scramble. Crunch time may be the months leading up to the CDP reporting deadline or it may be the months leading up to their company’s annual report. I’ll refer to these organizations affectionately as the scramblers.
The scramble is an exercise in looking back and collecting 12 months worth of data. Once the data is collected, it’s time to generate the reports. Many of the scramblers have just made the transition from using spreadsheets to using sustainability tracking software. The annual scramble culminates with issuing ‘the report’ and those tasked with the work breathe a sigh of relief and go back to business as usual until it’s time for next year’s scramble.
At the other extreme from the scramblers, lie those organizations that are continually looking at up-to-date sustainability data and are making business decisions, throughout the year, based on this data. I’ll call them the continuous improvers. They are putting efficiency initiatives in place, innovating. They are looking forward, forecasting trends based on the data that they’ve been monitoring and the initiatives that they put in place. They are making business decisions based on the data.
Two conditions tend to drive the continuous improvers. For one, the opportunity is more valuable – they may consume significant amounts of energy or resources or they may have stakeholders who place a great deal of importance on some aspect of sustainability. In addition, they tend to have more resources than the scramblers – they may have staff dedicated to implementation of their sustainability program year around. Those organizations that don’t have the human resources in-house may hire consultants to help them be continuous improvers. Some of the consulting partners that we work with excel at this kind of support. CH2MHill in particular has been recognized repeatedly for their focus on sustainable operations. They use up-to-date data to help their client organizations identify opportunities to operate more efficiently, to continually improve their sustainability.
Of course, few organizations are at the extremes. Most lie somewhere in between scramblers and continuous improvers. Real sustainability programs tend to include aspects of both. Whether your organization’s sustainability program is focused on that annual report or is continually analyzing operational data we’re keen to help!