Setting Meaningful Corporate Sustainability Goals

Posted by Tim Greiner on Monday, February 27 2012

Fellows:

Tim Greiner

One of the questions that came up on our webinar (see WEBINAR: Greening Stonyfield Farm, broadcast Febrary 17, 2012) was how to set corporate sustainability goals - be they energy, greenhouse gas, waste, product sustainability or packaging? How do we ensure the goals are stretch goals? Who should set the goals? What time frame should the goals cover?

There is no single answer to these questions because companies going into a planning/goal setting process are all in different places. But if it's the first time the business has been really asked to establish sustainability goals, I find what works best is to ask the various teams you've created to set two types of goals - a visionary long-term goal and a one-year goal. Assuming you've given the teams benchmarking data on customers' needs and competitor programs, and they have at least a basic understanding of sustainability, these two goal categories work really well.

By creating visionary goals, it helps team members expand their thinking, push the envelope of possibilities, and get excited about the possibilities. The Stonyfield packaging group's visionary goal was 100% sustainable packaging in 10 years. The one-year goals are likely to be quite conservative in nature - e.g., improve product to packaging ratio by 3%, or reduce energy use by 3% normalized to production. But by setting and holding the teams accountable to these goals in the first year, you accomplish several things. First, you get the teams started on concrete actions. Second, the teams learn quite a bit about how they might more aggressive and longer term future goals in this process.

So if you've done your job well, when you repeat the goal setting process after the first year, you can ask the teams to set another one-year goal. And you might get more small goals here. But you can also ask the teams to set longer-term, more aggressive five-year goals. Providing the teams with benchmarking information on the goals your competitors and customers are using can also be helpful at this point in the process.

Remember though, goals are only meaningful if you've effectively found a way to make the folks who own the goal accountable. So make sure you've lined up senior management support for the process at the onset!

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