In the sustainability field, in contrast to other fields, it is the biggest possible compliment to no longer be needed in a discussion because your colleague in purchasing is already covering your topics. But how do you get your colleagues to not just listen to your ideas, but to consider them worth working towards?
Ideally, your colleagues would not only acknowledge sustainability topics, but run with them. That tells you that something is changing. The companies making the biggest changes are those where everybody feels responsible — from the cleaning lady to the purchasing department. But how can you work towards this?
Unlike in other areas in your life, smaller is often better for sustainability departments. What we see is that sustainability departments that have become too big tend to become islands that stop communicating with the other departments. If a department is small, it knows it needs to get the other departments on board to accomplish something. Contrary to what you may expect, a smaller department often has a bigger impact.
Learn Their Language
Sustainability professionals wanting to work with colleagues in other departments need to speak their language and understand what’s on their mind. The popularity of organizations such as True Price and the Natural Capital Coalition illustrates the importance of this. Many discussions in boardrooms evolve around the costs and benefits of investments and strategies. Sustainability experts can also express their sustainability results in a monetary value. If they do that, we often hear them say that they finally speak the same language as the boardroom. I am not necessarily advocating using monetary values to express your sustainability results, but I think the result underlines the importance of aligning your language.
Stand For More
Nobody likes to hear that we are doomed if we don’t act now or that our company’s reputation depends on getting this right. People like to get engaged in something which stands for something, preferably expressed in an engaging vision. The Cradle to Cradle philosophy is an excellent example of this. It stands for something and it motivates people to take it one step further.
Of course, visionaries — such as Cradle to Cradle co-authors Michael Braungart and William McDonough — are rare and unfortunately not present in every sustainability team. But you can challenge yourself by setting a ‘small’ vision for your company, such as trying to get everybody on board in reducing waste. You can challenge different departments to find solutions, recycling or other waste-reduction opportunities, and be surprised by the innovation and passion for sustainability your colleagues will show you.