Selling sustainability internally   Leave a comment

The outlook for the global economy is taking a hammering in the media and job cuts are being announced amongst some sectors of the Australian economy.  In our experience, environmental and social responsibility definitely remains on the radars of many businesses, large, small and the ones in between. However, after picking the low-hanging fruits, the work becomes much more challenging.

Given economic concerns and the current high value of the Australian dollar (especially amongst manufacturers and anybody competing with imports or exporting goods and services), it’s likely sustainability goals have slipped down a few rungs on the ladder of importance for many business leaders, beyond minimum compliance requirements.

So, how do you go about getting a new company sustainability initiative heard in the places that matters? How do you “sell” sustainability internally?

Human beings will never be swayed by science alone. If you want to champion sustainability within your organisation, underestimating the human factor in facilitating genuine change is a critical mistake. While knowing the science is important, and having a good understanding of the financials and ROI is essential (especially in this economic climate), you must also master the art of sales to persuade others.

Whether you’re trying to convince the boss of approving a green idea, or are trying to rally your fellow employees around a conservation initiative or devising a green marketing campaign to develop a new market for your green product and win new customers, here’s some tips for selling your green strategy.

1. Understand how change works

Human beings are subjective creatures. To sell them on sustainability, you must meet them where they are and cater to what they care about. While the secretary might be supportive of your grand plan to green the organisation, the CEO and CFO/accountant are the ones that need to be convinced the ideas are going to add value to the bottom line, beyond the warm and fuzzy feeling of doing something good for the environment and society. Understanding and designing a convincing business case is essential to get a look in with the people who make the key decisions in your place of work.

Begin with answering the real questions: What are you really proposing? What are the tangible benefits and opportunities? How exactly will the plan work? Who is going to make the plan work? What sort of capital expenditures will be required and what are the returns on investment? Has anyone else done this before with success? If so, how did it work for them?

2. Inspire your audience

Change and uncertainty are scary ideas for many people. You’ve managed to convince the boss your initiative is worthy of implementing, however the rest of the organisation might not be so keen. They need to be convinced with an effective education campaign and ongoing communications to help the green roots sprout in your company culture.

Use internal communications methods such as email and newsletters, or access the dizzying array of social media channels, to share messages about sustainability goals and initiatives. If facts are intertwined with personal experience, people will hopefully be more engaged.

Invite knowledgeable people to come in to the business to deliver an information seminar and share key learnings, or start up an internal discussion group to thrash out ideas and best pathways.

3. Emphasize practice, not theory

Sustainability is actually common sense stuff. It’s about not being wasteful with our natural resources and taking broader social considerations into account. It’s not some esoteric pursuit of the intellectual elite. Reducing waste reduces costs. Designing better products, services and business models will create new market opportunities, engage communities, develop a better working environment and generate revenue.

Explore creative and fun practical ways to spread awareness in order to build a foundation for more strategic sustainability efforts. Each organisation has key people of influence – convince them your green ideas are sound and worth supporting and hopefully the rest will follow. Start up a competition and recognise and reward people for their efforts as you build momentum towards achieving the established goals. Ongoing monitoring of performance and providing feedback – good and bad – is important.

4. Consensus building

Without building consensus, your great green idea may stall. People support that which they help to create. Invite key staff members from each department to join a “green team” or get the organisation’s key people of influence engaged to take the company in a new direction.

6. Be bold!

Sitting on the fence merely guarantees that your competition will beat you to the punch in the growing green economy. Many stakeholders – customers, clients, suppliers, investors, employees – are demanding it. Rest assured, if you learn how to sell people on your green idea, you’ll make your company more competitive, innovative, a better place to work AND help create a better world at the same time. As the saying goes, “do you want to be part of the problem, or part of the solution?”

Shane Gladigau

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