3. Reporting on the Results

3.4 Harbourfront Centre Case Study

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The following case study profiles Harbourfront Centre’s effort to report on the results as part of its sustainability program.  The document provides an honest and detailed account of all aspects of the organization’s experience.

A. The Challenge

With no budget to start with, undertaking a variety projects initially seemed a bit of a miracle.  While it was challenging finding the means to make projects feasible, it was even tougher to justify dedicating resources to what could be seen as ‘non-essential’ program functions like reporting.  Given many of the projects we had undertaken would generate cost savings, an opportunity was available to concretely verify the benefits returned; doing so would also help substantiate the reliability of the assessments that informed project selection.  It was also recognized that many of our financial supporters wanted and expected to receive verified results, not to mention this data would likely support moving various stakeholder groups like staff, through the change process.

B. Taking Action

The major steps outlined in the Reporting on the Results section of the Refocus Guidebook include:  Measuring the Impact Generated, Documenting & Sharing the Results and Leveraging the Results Achieved.  Let’s review Harbourfront Centre’s experience in attempting to carry out each of these tasks.

1. Measuring the Impact Generated

Having completed a variety of projects, our goal was to apply a similar discipline applied to developing project assessments, in order to confirm what impact was actually generated.  Our strong environmental measurement capacity proved immensely valuable.  For example, the results of buildings-related energy conservation projects were easily skewed by factors like changes in weather, increased site usage, etc.  Having the systems, tools and expertise allowed us to credibly separate the impact of the projects from other variables at play.  This of course also helped us generate more accurate measures of cost savings realized.  

A further step taken to measure economic impact, involved performing a very detailed financial reconciliation.  Budget estimates and actual results were closely compared, and because no capital was invested, any cost savings generated were immediately valuable (rather contributing to paying back capital costs).  It proved valuable to maintain an accurate running total of all financial value the sustainability program produced.

From a social standpoint we continued to engage with staff and other stakeholders. Initially,  an annual survey  allowed us to keep a pulse on what different internal stakeholder groups were thinking and experiencing.  Like our initial measures of potential social impacts, we employed a rather basic approach that was internally focused.



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Measuring the Impact Generated

The same discipline invested into collecting data is contributed to measuring impact.  Third party verification is conducted where appropriate and results are aggregated to also assess overall progress.

Measuring impact is executed carefully but with less rigour than was used to collect data for selecting projects.  Measurement is only performed in-house and provides a basic understanding of the results achieved.

Little effort is put toward measuring the impact of the projects implemented.  The data generated lacks credibility and does not provide a clear picture of what has been accomplished.

Review of Harbourfront Centre Effort:  The effort invested into measuring actual impacts was strong.  The data carefully compiled was considered accurate, well-substantiated and reliable. The biggest area for improvement here would have been to measure a wider range of sources of impact. However, given our limited resources, and as described in Understanding Your Impact, the decision to limit the scope was conscious.

2. Documenting & Sharing the Results

The data describing the impact of our projects was organized into a variety of structured reports and presented to leadership for review.  It was clear that beyond undertaking an impressive slate of projects at no cost to the organization, a range of positive economic, social and environmental impacts were being returned.  It was important for leadership to have a clear summary describing the degree to which existing organizational costs and financial risks had been reduced in combination with total value of the body of work completed.  The reports very clearly substantiated how much the program had contributed to the organization’s overall performance and they solidified the case for continuing and prioritizing program efforts looking ahead. 

A very basic summary of the results was shared with our staff through various internal channels and it was shared with the public through our website.  The effort to promote our accomplishments externally was largely subdued.  With greenwashing so prevalent and Harbourfront Centre committed to using its public programming mandate to bring new energy to the community’s relationship to sustainability (as described in the Understanding Your Impact Case Study), the organization saw little value in self-promotion.  With preserving the purity of the organization’s artistic influence in mind, publicizing progress or being strongly associated with others’ focus on a ‘greener’ brand was intentionally avoided.

Reporting expected by funders and other project partners was completed with discipline.  Clearly demonstrating success helped us establish a strong reputation as a funding recipient and project partner.



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Documenting & Sharing the Results

Extensive reports that detail the results achieved are developed that appease the interests of leadership. A public and professionally published report is developed featuring a more basic summary of results.

Reports are prepared for both internal and external audiences.  The reports produced internally do not demonstrate the full benefit sustainability has or can potentially deliver and doesn’t secure the interest of leaders concerned with performance.

Basic level reports are completed internally.  While the details summarize progress made, it is not designed to substantiate the program’s value to the organization.

Review of Harbourfront Centre Effort:  Having measured impact with great detail, the team produced highly detailed and effective reports internally that clearly and credibly substantiated the degree to which the program had enhanced the organization’s performance.  This contributed greatly to leadership’s willingness to prioritize and make sacrifices to help enable the program as a key development area.  As for areas of improvement,while our reporting for public consumption was consciously limited, the effort put forth was weak and lacking any sound strategy.  This limited any potential benefit that could have been generated by engaging and involving the community.

3. Leveraging the Results Achieved             

The overall progress made through the program’s first year was compared to the vision and objectives defined and an assessment was performed of what worked well and what didn’t throughout the process.   Projects had demonstrably contributed to the three key objectives established, and progress was made toward the program vision, so there was little to question about the overall sincerity or efficacy of the program.  Opportunities were identified to improve leadership, change management and measurement capacities.  Because in some cases building new capacity would require resources, these opportunities had to be weighed carefully as they would take from the time and budget available for adopting projects the following year.   Having completed a cycle, it became clearer what data was most important to decision making, as only some of the information collected was used and influential.  It was also apparent that, in some cases, greater accuracy or additional data points would have been very useful.  Refining the effort so as to minimize and make best use of the time invested by everyone involved was critical to continued success. 

Recognition of the results achieved was relatively quiet.  A simple gathering was held among ECO Action Team members, details of some of the completed projects  were highlighted during an organizational town hall and a reception was held in the newly transformed Harbourfront Centre Theatre to celebrate the success of the project and program overall.



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Leveraging the Results Achieved

Opportunities to improve the program are smartly identified and a plan is put in place to address most in the near future.  Contributors are well-recognized and several vehicles are used to celebrate the year’s accomplishments.

The most obvious and critical issues related to the program are identified and loose plans are put in place to address them.  Some effort is contributed toward internally recognizing what the program has accomplished.

Little focus is placed on establishing how the program can be improved.  The opportunities identified are not documented and the limited success the program has achieved is not widely promoted.

Review of Harbourfront Centre Effort:  Harbourfront Centre was quite diligent in assessing its program and identifying opportunities to improve how effectively it functioned.  Sadly, the organization’s resource constraints limited the degree to which these opportunities could be followed through upon.   While some success was celebrated, leadership lacked confidence in what the program could really achieve.  This created a sense of uneasiness related to promoting the program which in turn held back the effort placed on engaging employees not directly involved, as well as external stakeholders.   Not engaging those who were a step or more away from the program certainly eliminated potential support, contribution, and interest that could have added value to the program and organization overall.

4. Overall Results



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Overall Results

The results credibly demonstrate the program is enhancing overall performance.  The momentum drives continuous improvement and growing leadership support.  Various stakeholders are keen to get more involved.

It is clear the program delivers benefits beyond ‘doing the right thing’; albeit rather limited.  The results do not compel leadership to expand how the program is prioritized or invested in. 

The weak and poorly-documented results reinforce sustainability’s peripheral status.  Significant improvements appear out of reach and the idea of generating advocacy beyond those who are already independently passionate about sustainability seems out of reach.

Review of Harbourfront Centre Effort:  We measured project impact rigorously. We had also meticulously planned our data collection and selection process. All of this resulted in positive outcomes as well as credibility to support our claims. The reporting piece secured the support of leadership; without it, we could not have demonstrated the results. Leadership even began to consider sustainability-related factors that were not historically relevant. However, a significant setback was our lack of attention to external reports, which held back the program’s influence and institutionalization.  

C. Case in Point:  Printing and Office & Cleaning Supplies

The following story illuminates a real, exceptional and unexpected outcome that would not have been possible had we not focused on effectively reporting on the results.  Although the effort invested was imperfect, many outcomes were made possible through working towards the standards of the Refocus Sustainability Program Model, which would not have been as successful with the use of conventional approaches.

1. Background

Harbourfront Centre’s sustainability program had no specific budget dedicated to the program, and this limited our program .  This challenge was creatively overcome, but concerns remained about how this challenge would be dealt with over time with the stability of the program itself in mind.

2. The Relevance of Reporting on the Results

The process of reporting on the results was invaluable in demonstrating the difference program efforts had made. Perhaps more importantly, it helped to solidify the program’s future.

Measuring the Impact Generated:  Having meticulously documented all of the support secured, expenditures made and savings reaped, the program demonstrated a verifiable net positive financial contribution.  Special attention was paid to the operating cost savings generated, which would be perpetually reaped year over year.  In the case of energy efficiency retrofits, the savings would actually grow as the cost of energy continues to increase more quickly than revenues and other costs. 

There was originally some skepticism around the cost savings estimated being realistic.  With the program’s credibility in mind, we estimated our savings conservatively during project assessments. Carefully measuring the actual impact showed that better than expected savings were earned, which served to quickly build leadership’s confidence; especially that of the COO whose department directly benefited.   

Documenting & Sharing the Results:  Diligently reporting on the program results created a meaningful dialogue with leadership.  With data being presented in line with the interests of organizational directors, the results substantiated were fairly valued and generated lots of interest.  The results conveyed got leadership interested in and discussing how to support the continued growth of the program. 

3. Outcomes

To support ongoing program efforts, it was suggested the program-generated, perpetual cost savings earned each year be reinvested.  This type of solution was unprecedented but it was well-received because of the demonstrated success  already achieved.  A challenging roadblock was immediately presented by the COO.  The organization’s budget is constantly growing based on the growth of Harbourfront Centre’s operation as well as rising costs.  The perception was that because the operating budget would increase independent of the program’s impact, the savings realized would be eroded.  The concern presented was that all of the savings accrued would not be available because of rising costs.  

To ensure all stakeholders benefited, it was suggested that 50% of program savings realized be reinvested into the program and the other half be retained by the Operations department to offset the growing cost of operating.  This solution served the interests of the program, Operations department and organization as a whole and was overwhelmingly supported.  By undertaking more projects over time, the program grew its pool of expected annual savings.  While recognizing cost increases demanded a unique solution to reallocating savings, it was also recognized this reality was a significant risk to the organization, which works on a very tight budget.   It was agreed that supporting the program was a responsible and effective measure for preserving the organization’s financial sustainability.  The conversation about the relevance and enablement of the program had dramatically shifted.

What happened next was truly unexpected.  Recognizing it was in the department’s best interest to encourage more energy- and resource-saving projects to be undertaken, the COO suggested a deeper collaboration be established.  Operations department budget was naturally allocated to finance regular asset and capital replacements.  To support program efforts, the COO offered to help finance sustainability projects that would earn his department a cost savings.  When projects that would have otherwise been undertaken by the Operations department were proposed, the base cost would be financed by the Operations department, with only the incremental cost financed using program budget.  In this way the program created the capacity to undertake more  projects and the Operations department could justify procuring more expensive (and efficient) solutions which would have otherwise been near impossible to justify as a charity.

4. Conclusion

The combination of identifying and selecting valuable projects and soundly demonstrating the real savings they had earned made a clear mark internally.  The organization’s performance is naturally critical to leadership and so customizing the reporting performed to appease related concerns, generated meaningful engagement.  Creative solutions and compromise allowed for the interests of various stakeholders to be combined such that a shared interest was created in the supporting program success.  Demonstrating the program was meaningfully contributing to the organization’s performance, established it as a key priority.

5. Discussion Questions

  • What might be the risk of dedicating less effort to measuring results than was invested into assessing the expected impact of potential projects?
  • How might reporting be uniquely performed when presenting results to different stakeholder groups?
  • How can the process of reporting influence the future of a program?
  • What factors contributed to the COO’s decision to support cost-saving sustainability projects?
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