How to Communicate Sustainability Initiatives

January 22, 2019

Corporate interest in sustainability initiatives is here to stay. No longer viewed as a trendy talking point, the value of incorporating green solutions is recognized across every area of business, in every industry.

Facility managers are expected to bring innovative, sustainable solutions to their property owners, occupants or other decision makers — many of which require financial investment.

To increase the likelihood that such solutions are implemented, effective storytelling comes into play. Receiving buy-in from decision-makers, facility occupants and the community requires different talking points, communication mediums and success-sharing strategies.

Sustainability-focused conversations have increased tenfold in the last year. Despite its relevance, there are still roadblocks to incorporating new, environmentally friendly business practices at the facility level.

In those discussions, there are two consistent concerns: cost of implementation and impact on building occupants and end-users.

Cost of Implementing Sustainable Solutions

By nature, innovative ideas are sporadic and timing often conflicts with budget season.

Preparation for a conversation with the person who makes the decisions — whether that’s the building owner, facility manager, or someone else — requires collecting the investment total, a timeline to be investment neutral and the financial return on investment (ROI) of the solution.

Proposing a new solution is easiest when there are both a carbon footprint and financial ROIs.

For large workplace-experience companies, the ROI is often presented in a case study. Particularly with significant investments, showing the success at a similar facility or campus eases the concern of the client and reinforces the supplier’s position as the expert. While clients desire to be innovative and cutting edge, they can’t always afford the risk of being first.

Impact on the Facility Occupant

The reality is, doing the sustainable thing can sometimes be inconvenient for the building occupant.

For example, say a large, Class A office space facility manager was looking for cost savings across its facility services portfolio. Implementing centralized trash and recycling throughout the workspace was proposed, ultimately removing waste receptacles at the desk.

This solution provided $750,000 in labor savings annually, which appealed to the manager. It also complemented the company’s sustainability position. Removing waste cans from the immediate workspace promotes more thoughtful use of resources and increases correct sorting of recycling from landfill waste.

The downside: Centralized trash is inconvenient.

Tenants who are used to having their personal office trash removed daily are now asked to sort, carry and discard recyclable and landfill items appropriately.

Strategic Communication Plan Solution

One solution is to include a strategic communication plan in the cost savings proposal that rolled out in advance of the operational change. By doing this, the manager can position the facility’s sustainable initiative as one more way it’s working towards their corporate social responsibility goals.

Engaging the person responsible for communicating initiatives to building tenants with sustainability storytelling ties the value of each employee’s individual impact on the company’s environmental commitments. This creates a sense of ownership and pride that overshadows any inconvenience.

The key takeaway – communicate in advance.

The Community

Operationally insignificant practices can be powerful opportunities to engage the community surrounding a campus and position a company as a sustainable leader in their market.

For example, pest removal is a basic practice in facility services. ‘Safe relocation of poisonous snakes to surrounding marshland’ is a new way of describing the same service — and one of the initiatives that led to a large oil & gas company recently receiving Wildlife Conservation Certification.

When a traditional service is executed in a way that benefits wildlife, native plants and/or reduces utility usage, facilities have an opportunity to share this story with community organizations and invite local community members to learn about their sustainable practices.

Community members, like employees, can become grass-roots public relations spokespeople when they are engaged in the storytelling.

Sharing Results Through Storytelling

Each stakeholder has a different ‘measurable,’ or interest, along with a preferred communication medium.

As the financial decision-makers, building managers and owners expect the fiscal impact to be communicated at predetermined intervals when on track – and earlier if initiatives are not trending as expected. These reviews are best completed in person.

The building occupant receives corporate communications frequently and may forget about the green initiative they read the previous day. Visually communicating initiative success in community spaces (think: x-banners or posters) will keep conversation around the initiative positive and maintain engagement.

Communicating with local media and inviting members of the press and the community to see sustainability practices in action is a live Corporate Social Responsibility Report. After inviting them in, keep visitors updated through social media platforms, website updates and progress reports to local media.

The end goal of strategic sustainability storytelling and results-reporting means taking better care of the people who work in these facilities, positively impacting the communities in which the company operates and actively creating environmentally friendly solutions that better our planet.

Preparing communication for each audience will ensure successful implementation of new initiatives.

This article was written by Julia Jordan, Director of Sustainability for Compass Group North America, and originally appeared in BUILDINGS.