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Getting Green Done ……

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Prior experience is a valuable commodity when ‘getting green done’ in organizations. It takes time, networks and experience to deliver your sustainability mission at times.

I was amazed as a young environmental mentee lamented her recent lack of success in a meeting with the CEO. She had bravely gone in and presented a new sustainability initiative.

He threw out most of my proposal and gave me only 30% of what I wanted!

The initiative was wrecked! She was down-heartened, she had embarrassed herself, and her enthusiasm was now at a low ebb.  The initiative had been bold, it had matched her vision for what the company could achieve. It had aligned with their new sustainability policy and could have delivered real business value.  The whole initiative reflected well on her and the career training she had received to date. 

‘Wow!’ I was thinking, ‘30% – that’s just great as a first step’

In her disappointment, I sensed the frustration that many graduates today in the sustainability field feel when entering the workplace.  They leave their universities and institutions with high expectations and dreams. They have a belief in their technical knowledge and understanding of the subject. They then run full tilt into operational realities and the chaotic bearpit that often forms corporate culture.

An initiative that was once so clear and rational can soon fall apart when challenged in the workplace!

‘Getting green done’ is not easy! Organizations just don’t act as rationally as sympathetic classmates with shared worldviews on sustainable development. ‘We must do this’ becomes quickly challenged by ‘Why must we do this?’, ‘But….’, ‘Perhaps when we have the time and money!’ or even a stonewalling ‘No!’. 

Through coaching and mentoring she started to realize that her presentation had been a success. 30% of funding is not failure but success when you are trailblazing!  After two decades in Corporate Sustainability and Environmental Risk Management, you soon learn that any step forward is a win. 

Changing Business Culture is not Easy

Sustainability managers are first and foremost business change managers. Our role is to ratchet up organizational performance, to deliver valued outcomes – and to continually progress ‘getting green done’.  There are rarely many ‘Look at Me!’ and ‘Aren’t I Great!’ moments for many operational environmental professionals. 

Personally, my greatest inner satisfaction comes from watching others adopt sustainability thinking into their work because it now makes strategic sense now them. Often initially reluctant the new way now aligns with what they believe is the business direction. At its best, it reinforces a strong organizational culture shift with a new purpose and mission.  That is where my reward lies.

We all like success with the recognition of high performance by our peers. However, when your leadership is enacted through the personal changes in the behaviors of others – don’t be surprised if it is overlooked.  Remember that people rarely own up to changing their past opinions. 

It was clear that her CEO had been supportive and had given her a chance. He had listened but had not been 100% convinced enough to give her the whole budget.  She had first to deliver on a preliminary package that he could assess further before giving her any further funding. His support had been gained but limited – a clear pragmatic leadership decision.

Value Your Sustainability Mentor

Getting green done is not easy! We all need mentors in our sustainability business crusade. Colleagues who can guide us through organizational minefields. Sage advice that can suggest alternative ways forward or supporters who can help pick us up when we are downhearted.  It took time to show my mentee that her disappointment was unjustified and had in fact been a win.  She had set her heart on 100% success, her CEO in supporting her had granted 30%.

So, now we have started work on ensuring that she successfully delivers on the 30% she has been entrusted with.  Soon we will be working out what her strategy needs to to win the remaining 70%. What colleagues she needs to win over in advance, what problems she asks others for advice and guidance on to gain the next 30%, and the 30% after that, and the 30% after that ……until she wins over the CEO and gets his full backing for her vision. 

Getting Green Done – Take Home Message

Don’t expect 100% success overnight, building a sustainability foundation within an organizational culture involves a slow but continuous ratcheting up of performance over time.  It is a marathon, not a sprint and that ultimately success is in…just Getting Green Done!

Note: I have happily borrowed the phrase ‘Getting Green Done’ from the book of the same name by Auden Schendler, Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company. It is a useful read for sustainability professionals entering any work sector.

Leading Green helps organizations from the FTSE 500 to community non-profits and family-run SME’s address sustainability and leadership development issues.

At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability & leadership in business consulting encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths and goals.  Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy.


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