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Marketing and Comms
Your 2020 Sustainability Goals:
How's That Going, By the Way?

As of the writing of this article, the year 2020 is a mere 450 days away. Can you believe that? 450 days!

For the sustainability community, 2020 is a particularly important date: 2020 Sustainability Goals have become highly fashionable; unless you have been living under a rock, you are familiar with phrases such as “20 percent reduction [insert carbon, energy, waste, water, etc] by 2020.”

According to the website Pivot Goals, within the Fortune 250* there are 330 energy, climate or greenhouse gas (GHG) goals with 2020 as the target date. I can attest firsthand to helping dozens of non-Fortune 250 companies create 2020 goals. A quick Google search showed over 15 million search results for the term “2020 Sustainability Goal.”

In my role at WAP Sustainability, one of my main tasks is helping organizations measure GHG emissions and make progress towards stated targets. To say I am a GHG emissions geek would be an understatement. To put it in context, I received the Distinguished Alumni Award this year from the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute (GHGMI).

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My experience in this area tells me: Most organizations are going to fall short of their 2020 goals.

Most organizations have not purposely done enough to reduce their footprints by one-fifth. Many have grown, shrunk, pivoted, merged and sold; the baselines established pre-2010 have changed, sometimes radically, and sometimes that change is still unknown. Mechanically and technically speaking, most organizations have significant uncertainty and data gaps in their calculations that make progress toward their 2020 targets hard to even measure.

Measurement aside, how organizations are going to talk about their 2020 goals come 2020 is going make for a case study in and of itself.

  1. Lie and say the goal was accomplished using some creative accounting.
  2. Deflect by using something such as Science-Based Targets to redirect from 2020 goals by claiming more context, maturity, better climate perspective, etc.
  3. Extend the goal by pushing the target to 2040, but now at a much higher level — such as 40 percent by 2040.
  4. Credibly state that the goal was achieved.

So, with 450 days to go, what can you do to make sure you know what to do come 2020?

If you are in sustainability leadership …

Make sure that your carbon-accounting processes to measure your GHG emissions are done correctly. I see many organizations that have been doing the same incorrect emissions calculations for nearly a decade. Sometimes I see that calculations only reflect a portion of the business, and major scope 1 and scope 2 emissions sources are simply left out. These details have to be buttoned up before making public statements about goal performance.

Additionally, I would seriously consider having your 2019 inventory looked at by a professional. Make sure the protocol has been followed, make sure the appropriate emission sources are included, and that the inventory and its outputs are ready for communications. Ask yourself if this inventory would hold up to verification or assurance. Time is on your side now, but you only have 450 days.

If you are a sustainability marketer or communicator …

Start the credibility conversation today. It will be a dark day when the goal deadline has arrived and your organization is reluctant to communicate the results due to concerns over credibility. The implications of misleading investors, shareholders or customers with overstated sustainability performance come 2020 will be a real thing.

As a sustainability communicator, getting ahead of the credibility conversation by validating your emissions calculations and performance now is critically important. I see too many organizations that have never questioned the way their data is created, or was created way back when. I hear so much “we use XYZ software,” “we have been doing this for ten years,” “we don’t need any processes and procedures for this.” I also hear, “we had no idea we were so far off,” “why would my predecessor do it that way” and “we have been publishing this data wrong for so many years.”

My recommendation: Spend a little money and have your data reviewed. Your organization’s financials get audited for a reason; that same reason applies for these calculations. You have 450 days to make it right.

If you are a facility manager or specific topic sustainability leader …

Ensuring the accuracy of your organization’s total GHG emissions inventory is a large lift in and of itself, but the micro-aspect of emissions performance is equally important. If you happen to be one of the organizations that actually hit its 20 percent by 2020 target, the most important element of communicating that success is to be able to explain how those reductions actually happened.

Detailing how emissions reductions happened is part of the way to build credibility in communicating this massive accomplishment. As facility managers or topic leaders on sustainability, you are the front line for explaining which projects saved how much energy/waste/water/carbon at what ROI, over what period of time. While some will argue these details should be left in minutia, I would argue these details help write the story and build credibility. Additionally, CDP does a great job of helping organizations set context for their reductions.

Starting now, prepare a list of accomplishments, performance of projects, ROIs, pictures, charts and beyond to share with communicators and sustainability leadership. In 450 days, this level of data is going to be important.

If you are an NGO or advocacy group …

As The Beatles famously stated, sometimes we get by with a little help from our friends. As an NGO or advocacy froup, you play a huge role in helping organizations drive towards their stated goals by

holding organizations accountable: Ask about performance. Ask how the goals were accomplished. Ask why goals were not achieved. Help sustainability leaders hold their organizations accountable. With 450 days until 2020, it’s never too early to start advocating for organizations to hit their stated goals.

At the end of the day, we all want to have success in driving organizations towards more sustainable performance. Sometimes stated goals and aspirations outpace the technical and mechanical rigor of calculating, reporting and managing emission performance. With some small changes, most organizations can spend the next 450 days making sure their 2020 Sustainability Goals are not forgotten.

*According to Pivot Goals, 385 companies have been evaluated, including the Fortune 250 past and present.