Sustainability Professionals: Research Shows You’re Not Alone

Sustainability Director, CSR Manager, Chief Innovation Officer, EHS Specialist, Environmental Affairs VP…  The list of titles of experts working on corporate environmental innovation goes on and on.

The good news about this diversity of positions? There’s serious growth opportunity in this sector, and companies are looking for varied skill sets to meet their needs around sustainability.

The tough news? There’s no set roadmap for companies to follow in an effort to design and implement a successful sustainability strategy. In fact, many of us working in this space are hungry for clear, concise information on how to tackle the sustainability challenge in a cost- and time-effective way.

Earlier this fall, The Environmental Defense Fund worked with KRC Research to complete in-depth interviews with 25 senior professionals working day-to-day on corporate sustainability issues at Fortune 1000 companies. We had three goals for this research: to better understand the primary issues these professionals address for their companies, to hear about the challenges they face in doing their jobs, and to learn more about how sustainability information flows within leading companies and professional networks. The results of our research are summarized in a brief PowerPoint slide deck below. Feel free to share these slides with your colleagues and networks, and use them liberally in your own presentations if you find them helpful.

In brief, our research revealed seven key takeaways:

  1. Making a business case for “green” is a must. Especially in this economy, the bottom line matters – a lot. Corporate sustainability projects must be able to show cost savings and a rapid ROI in order to be approved and widely supported within Fortune 1000 companies.
  2. Energy usage, and how to curb it through efficiencies, is a huge priority. Of all the sustainability issues out there, the top corporate priority is how best to reduce energy use, cut costs and minimize carbon footprints. 
  3. Tracking and measuring is a big challenge. Many companies are struggling with the lack of standards and definitions when it comes to measuring a carbon footprint, tracking it over time, and working systematically to reduce it. This is particularly challenging for companies with complex supply chains that span the globe.
  4. Regulatory compliance is a beast. Companies are subject to multiple levels of regulation – federal, state, county and city – as well as the regulations of other countries. Understanding and navigating this complex web of regulations is something companies need help with.
  5. Information flows are numerous and dispersed, and often informal. Most companies we spoke with lack a central resource for information on sustainability.  Sustainability professionals rely on emails, online articles, industry blogs and conferences to stay up to speed on developments in this space. Figuring out what other leading companies have done – and done well – is a challenge given the dispersed nature of this information.
  6. Following the leader makes good sense. Sustainability professionals are in search of detailed examples and case studies outlining how other companies have successfully cracked the sustainability nut. While general information about sustainability trends and practices can be useful, best practices and cautionary tales from the field are the most valuable of all. In particular, companies want to hear how their competitors have done things right so they can avoid reinventing the wheel.
  7. Partnering with others can help. Working with consultants, non-profit organizations and even reaching out to other companies can help a great deal. External expertise can bring a sound knowledge of the competitive landscape, a fresh perspective to corporate challenges, and third party validation to help companies – as well as their clients and customer s – know they are on the right track when it comes to environmental sustainability initiatives.

So what’s next? At EDF, our goal with the Innovation Exchange is to facilitate rapid, widespread adoption of environmental innovation across business. The research findings indicate that the best way to meet this goal is to provide concrete business case studies, share tools to help companies cut costs while working more sustainably, provide help navigating and understanding the regulatory landscape and act as a sounding board for companies embarking on aggressive sustainability platforms.

For help making the business case and uncovering hidden efficiencies, consider hiring a Climate Corps fellow.  Over the past two years, they’ve helped a variety of businesses uncover nearly $90 million in cost savings opportunities – projects that could also avoid over 157,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year – equivalent to taking more than 19,000 SUVs off the road.

Check this blog often to see how we’re doing on all of these fronts. We hope that you’ll share your own ideas for best practices as well.

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