Environmental Management could be a simple thing in terms of concepts however, implementing it is a different beast.
During my MBA I worked part-time at the Department for Families and Communities (DFC) in Adelaide, Australia creating a ‘data management system’ to support the Greening program. Overtime I have moved into other roles in Greening. From April of this year I have moved into a full time role there.
The first thing we (my manager and myself) created was a “greening plan” which showed the business case for greening activities. It was designed to serve two purposes. One, why greening is important for DFC and two, how our role is useful for the organization (survival!).
This was important because strangely, even though the South Australian Government is working towards a Climate Change and Sustainability plan for the state; it has moved away from what I consider a good plan to improve the environmental performance of the government’s operations.
The Greening of Government Operations (GoGo) program created many years ago provided the right framework to operationalize the sustainability issues for government operations. It covers the entire gamut of sustainability including; energy, water, waste, human resource development, procurement, green buildings, etc.
Since this much helpful framework and its focus has been abandoned; there was a need to convince the DFC management on the usefulness of Greening initiatives. Interestingly, this opportunity provided us with a chance to think creatively about our role in the organization and what is possible in Greening DFC.
This meant that we needed to move away from a mandated role in Greening with its specific roles and activities to a new ‘business model’ where we provide something valuable for DFC.
Our focus now is on two things. One, integrate sustainability into the strategic planning of DFC and two, create a strong business case for institutionalizing Sustainability across the 6000 employee, 300 buildings+ organization.
This is not an easy task in any measure because it is a combination of large scale behaviour change, new ideas and projects, managing funding, strategic planning and improving actual environmental performance.
As I have been trying to understand this I came across a great program development in America called the Harvard Green Campus Initiative (HGCI). HGCI is a campus wide sustainability services unit developed by Leith Sharp from Australia. Sharp previously developed the environmental management program at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
The HGCI website describes their program as a “A Mission Driven, Business Based Model for Campus Sustainability”:
Environmental sustainability is a moving target that requires a rapid and wide reaching escalation in the pace of organizational change across every university. At its heart, the challenge posed by the environmental imperative is an organizational change challenge…The limits of time, money, politics and complexity must be thoroughly understood and skillfully worked with. This is why it is essential have a service organization within the university that can provide the kind of services that the Harvard Green Campus Initiative has developed.
There are two learnings. One, the time taken to implement this program and and two, the creation of a ‘business model’ service driven initiative which is accessed by individual schools in Harvard to reap the financial benefits offered by the program. Sharp explains the growth of the program in the latest newsletter. This program has now become the leading beacon for all campuses which want to develop their own Green Campus program.
I see that there is a great deal of commonality between her Green campus program and what we are doing at DFC. Of course; they are light years ahead in their thinking and implementation. However, this means that we have a set of principles, ideas and programs which can be learned from to implement our plan at DFC. [There is even a course based on HGCI’s learnings]
The new role for the Greening DFC team will be a business model driven “service provider” to help improve the environmental performance of DFC.
My understanding of the potential of environmental management has grown over the years and now I see how this can become a part of a organization’s strategic objectives.
This echoes with what I have been writing on this weblog on integrating sustainability into the business strategy of an organization.
The best part is that a large part of the learning in the MBA will be actually useful in implementing the program in DFC.
As Leith Sharp suggests:
the “Sustainability Coordinator” needs to be, more than anything else, a “Business Developer.” That is, if the typical sustainability coordinator were running the programs directly, it would bury that person in a set of repeating tasks, leaving them no time to build capacity and continue the development and growth of sustainability services. The individual needs to be a generalist and cannot spend too much time on any one implementation project.
Instead, the early position should be a business development position, this person has to have some expertise in every single area in order to understand the training requirements, and to convince people that campus greening initiatives are not only economically viable, but that there is potential to save millions and millions of dollars over the life of the fund. That person’s main responsibility needs to be capacity building so that the whole institution can learn to be more sustainable and can be self-organizing in its transformation.
These are exciting times and I will continue to blog my experiences.