Program Set Up

C. Measurement Capacity

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With an understanding of Leadership and Change Management capacity, we will shift focus to the final capacity involved in the setup of a highly effective sustainability program:  Measurement Capacity

The ability to adopt sustainability projects that actually enhance performance hinges on the quality of the data available. Too commonly, organizations develop a sustainability program and adopt projects with a relatively limited capacity for measuring their current performance or the impact of changes made.

Weak measurement capacity can result in a variety of issues including, but not limited to:

  • Missing potential project opportunities.
  • Poorly prioritizing sustainability projects, diminishing the benefits returned.
  • An inability to soundly defend the program’s sincerity or investments.
  • Lacking the ability to substantiate the level of progress made and/or benefits realized.

In short, limited measurement capacity diminishes a program’s potential.

Scenario Review: Which Program Focus is Best?

School A, B, and C each have sustainability programs.  School A decides to change its lights and adopt a lunch waste composting program.  School B decides to focus on inspiring student engagement: They educate students on the impact of how they travel to and from school and how their meal choices affect the planet.  School C decides to rent out its facilities in the evenings to community organizations looking for space.

So – which school made the best choices?  Which school did the most good? Suppose another school were wishing to adopt a program.  Whose model should they follow?

School A has the benefits of the saved cost of electricity and probably the reduced waste disposal costs, since they don’t have to pay to take away the lunch compost.

School B perhaps makes an impact on how students make choices now AND in the future.  Behaviour change now, during the school year, is certainly good, but is likely to be only a small fraction of the benefit of inspiring individuals to make better choices over a lifetime.

What of School C?  How would opening their facilities for community groups to rent help anything?  Well, economically, it would generate new revenue with little additional cost as the space is already heated, cooled and staffed with caretakers off hours.  Socially, it may actually encourage other organizations to exist and thrive, knowing there is access to low-cost space.  Environmentally, consider that increasing the number of hours a building is used may actually reduce the need for other buildings to be built in the first place, eliminating the impact associated with the construction and ongoing operation of a new facility.

So which was best?  From the information here, it’s difficult to say.  We know nothing of the context, nor of the schools’ organizational values.  We don’t seem to have any data that’s really comparable by which to measure costs and benefits.  And that’s precisely our point.  Without a method for measuring various impacts that can be consistently applied, it is difficult to give a thoughtful recommendation to School D.

The main thing is that we must have systems and capacity for first identifying, then measuring, and finally comparing the broad range of benefits and costs that projects generate.

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The reality is that the pursuit of sustainability is still a relatively new phenomenon and the best measurement systems, processes and techniques are not yet well known. This section is dedicated to examining what is involved in building the capacity needed to measure sustainability proficiently.

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