Program Set Up

A. Leadership Capacity

Currently viewing:  Refocus Home / Guidebook / Program Set Up / A. Leadership Capacity

In order to set up a highly effective sustainability program, the first critical capacity we will examine is Leadership

A successful program demands strong leadership, both in terms of influence and expertise.  Weak leadership can limit the perceived and demonstrated benefits of addressing sustainability, preventing it from becoming a strategic priority.  The following symptoms are common to sustainability programs that lack leadership capacity:

  • Efforts are segmented and undertaken independently by different areas or departments.
  • The program advances piecemeal, producing one-off projects only when resources allow.
  • Projects are selected based on surface level benefits (e.g. cost savings, public recognition, etc.) instead of all of what is important to the organization.
  • There exists a lack of engagement, buy-in and support across the whole organization.

Scenario Review: How Many Leaders Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb?

“Let’s start by replacing our old inefficient light bulbs with new, high efficiency bulbs?”  It’s a common tactic; the “lighting retrofit” is one of the first types of projects most organizations consider undertaking because the energy savings can often quickly pay off the upfront investment. 

Suppose the organization was choosing a leader for its sustainability program.  Several people were being considered.  How would each potential leader approach the problem?

  1. The Operations Manager: “Change them out with the most cost-effective solution. Let’s analyze our options for the potential energy savings, the longer lifespan, and the reduced maintenance costs.  Of course, purchase price and installation factors into the decision too.”
  1. The Marketing Director: “Let’s install the most innovative technology available.  We’re really trying to differentiate ourselves by being green, and being ahead of the curve on this technology is exactly what we need to uphold our ‘green’ image.”
  1. The Human Resources Director: “Our PEOPLE are our most important asset, so let’s use this opportunity to improve productivity. Let’s run a few tests and see what lighting provides the best working environment.  If we can save a couple bucks on energy, that’s a bonus.”


  1. The Facilities Team Leader: “My team spends a fair bit of time turning the lights on and off around here in the morning and when people have gone home for the day. I bet we don’t even need the lights on for most of the day.  We need to invest in some motion sensor technology that will turn things on when there’s someone around.”

So which leader is best qualified for the job? 

Before we decide, let’s look at a few organization details: There is a major building renovation coming next year that might alter the office usage needs; although the plans aren’t yet complete, there’s a chance the office area will be converted into a testing laboratory.  The HVAC system was just replaced last year.  The health and safety committee wondered if the new lights would be bright enough.

Who should lead the program?

All the potential leaders have unique and valuable viewpoints, but without some structure to bring these perspectives to a common discussion, the program risks less than optimal choices.  What is needed is someone who can see the problem from the perspective of the CEO – that is, from the perspective of the whole organization.  Additionally, whoever ends up at the helm needs to be capable of seeing interconnections between seemingly unrelated ideas.  For example: 

  • The HVAC system: Because lights produce residual heat, different lights may affect necessary heating and cooling requirements for the building.
  • Building Design: They haven’t yet decided on the new window design for the renovation, and don’t know how the available natural light will change.
  • Building Use: Different light qualities are required for lab space than office space; will lab technicians be safe?  What if the facilities staff are right about not needing the lights for most of the time?  What if we could save 60% of the energy just by automating the lights?


So how many leaders DOES it take to change a light bulb?  If you’re satisfied with an incremental approach, then it probably takes just one.  But, to strengthen the bottom line, we need leadership capacity that brings many ideas together and builds innovative solutions while dealing competing interests and complicated circumstances.

Currently viewing:  Refocus Home / Guidebook / Program Set Up / A. Leadership Capacity