A. Leadership Capacity

5. Developing a Program Vision

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With a Leadership Team in place, it is imperative that a clear and ambitious vision be defined to guide and direct all program efforts. Simply said, a sustainability program is not likely to be any more powerful than the vision behind it. Many times the vision defines short, broad goals that provide inspiration but may lack the direction needed for effective planning, decision making and change. By creating a long-term vision you can create strategic goals that add depth to a sustainability plan.1 

To learn more about developing an effective vision to address sustainability see pg.15 of “Planning for Sustainability: A Starter Guide” here  icon_library_16x16

The following are three key characteristics of a strong program vision worth keeping in mind:

Scope of Influence

As mentioned earlier in this section, programs are commonly launched as an extension of an existing corporate social responsibility mandate or as part of improving operational efficiency. As well, programs are often limited to a specific area rather than applying to the entire organization. A strong program vision should not be restricted to one area, priority or department. Ideally it should describe a strong commitment to sustainability that includes the organization’s core function and has relevance to the entire organization at all levels, departments, employees and stakeholders.

Alignment to Organization

A sound vision statement should not be created in a vacuum. Given the program is designed to embed sustainability into an existing organization, the vision created should be considerate of, and aligned with, the organization’s overarching vision. If the sustainability vision statement is simply in conflict with the existing organizational vision, it may be necessary to attempt to convince the powers that be to revise the existing organizational vision.

Participation in the Process

The process of developing a vision statement can sometimes be more influential than the final product itself. The conversations that lead to the adoption of a final statement will be of the utmost importance. While there is no standard or formulaic approach to defining a vision, the process should be inclusive, focused and iterative in a way that ensures the vision established resonates with and garners the support of individuals across the organization. As part of ensuring participation results in a positive contribution, it is critical that a shared understanding is established around what sustainability is and means to the organization.

Appeal to Stakeholders

Since the success of a program relies on the involvement and support of all stakeholders, it is imperative the vision created is attractive to those internal and external to the organization. A strong vision should compel individuals to lend their support and even actively contribute to its realization. It can be quite challenging to create a vision that is truly inspiring to all stakeholders. It may be valuable to consider having individual groups create more specific sub-vision statements that respect and stem from the overarching vision established.

To learn more about the importance of an effective vision and for free tools to help your organization create one click here  icon_library_16x16

Setting Program Objectives

Program objectives are the ends that an organization sets out to achieve and serve as the basis for developing plans and evaluating performance. Objectives will ideally represent real and concrete outcomes that express what would happen if the program vision were to be realized.

For objectives to be effective they should meet a number of key criteria:

  • Quantifiable: objectives that are quantifiable are stronger because they allow for progress and performance to be measured (e.g. reduce carbon emissions by 15%, increase sales by 5%, etc.).

  • Challenging:  objectives should demand effort and a stretch to achieve.

  • Attainable:  while challenging, objectives should still be realistic.

  • Clear:  objectives should be easy to communicate and understand.

  • Time Bound: where applicable, a target date should be set for objectives will be met.


1. Bob Willard discusses vision statements for sustainability programs on pg. 22 of his book The Sustainability Champions Guidebook, 2009.
2. Willard, B. (2009). The Sustainability Champion’s Guidebook: How to transform your company. Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society. Pg. 22

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