The first stage we will explore within the Program Management Cycle is Understanding Your Impact.
To actually strengthen financial performance by undertaking sustainability projects, we must first understand how sustainably the organization is currently performing and the opportunities for improvement. The quality of the data collected will be critical to developing a clear understanding. If we omit or inaccurately capture relevant information, it will diminish our ability to:
- Establish a clear picture of the organization’s current performance and impact.
- Recognize areas of weakness or opportunity.
- Eventually, identify and adopt the most beneficial projects.
Scenario Review: “If it’s not ours, why would we measure it?”
Linda was excited. She was just starting her role as the coffee company’s newly assigned sustainability manager. The company had been adopting green projects for a few years, but her main responsibility was to develop a more complete sustainability strategy. She had her first meeting with Rupinder, the CFO, to discuss a few preliminary ideas.
“I’ve looked at all the numbers,” Linda said, “but I think the biggest opportunities are related to things that aren’t actually being measured. For instance, our annual “pop the top” promotion: do we know how many extra cups we sell and throw out during that month?”
“I’m not sure on the exact number off the top of my head, but we definitely see fewer refillable mugs come into our restaurants,” Rupinder replied.
“Well, all those extra cups create more waste. What if our stores found a way to encourage people to bring their own cups? Maybe the ‘pop the top’ promotion could also include an online game with better odds, exclusively for people who brought in their own mug?”
“Interesting idea! So the promotion would actually help reduce cup use, rather than encouraging customers to leave their travel mugs at home. I’m not sure it’d be possible to implement, but I see your point. Our promotion DOES sort of implicitly encourage people to use more cups,” Rupinder added, “Changing the model might be risky, though.”
“True,” said Linda, “and I don’t think we should jump into anything without investigating the idea further and also exploring the other possibilities available. Another that comes to mind is related to the drive-through lanes.” Linda was careful to keep her tone from becoming accusatory. “I know we do a lot of business that way, but I can’t help but think that there is some way to discourage people from just idling in their cars like that – burning all that gas. Do you know if we’ve collected any data on customer gas usage?”
Rupinder said, “It’s not our gas. Why would we measure it?”
Linda added, “It may not be our gas, but it’s being used to get our products. Consumer choices are still related to our company, and they have a big impact on the environment. I don’t know for sure without having numbers, but I could imagine the drive through emissions alone would dwarf some of the other categories of impact we measure. Imagine if we could use our marketing influence to get people to drive less.”
Rupinder added, “Or eat healthier! I probably shouldn’t say it, but donuts aren’t exactly health food. I think I see what you’re getting at here: if we changed our definition of what is our impact and what isn’t, there would probably be more and bigger opportunities to consider.”
Linda agreed. “You know, there’s the key right there! We’re measuring our environmental impact, but we’re not in the business of saving the environment. We are in the business of serving food and drinks. I don’t want to just start doing sustainability projects without really understanding what our impact is as a company. I think we have an opportunity here to ask bigger questions, like, how can we influence people’s habits in ways that would both improve their health and protect the environment?”
“Do you think we can do that without sacrificing our profit?” Rupinder asked, “The shareholders want to see returns, you know.”
“Yes, I think we can,” Linda said confidently, “Saving cups would definitely save money on waste management. Maybe people feeling like they were eating healthy food at our restaurants would encourage them to visit more frequently. I don’t know all the answers, but that’s the type of thing that we need to explore.”
Understanding Your Impact is a critical step toward identifying opportunities that will make it possible for sustainability to drive success. If we look only within what is traditionally measured, we may be missing the biggest opportunities to better the world. This section will help us look for, collect, and analyze data.
With limited resources available, it isn’t practical to collect every possible piece of information, or analyze things to no end. As such, within this section, we will examine how to smartly understand your impact through the following sub-sections:
- Deciding What Data to Collect
- Planning and Collecting the Data
- Analyzing the Data
- Harbourfront Centre Case Study