What is Sustainability Training?

Written By: Doug Ruhlin | Nov 20, 2015

Time to Read 5 Minutes

What is sustainability training and what does it include?

A fundamental problem with the concept of sustainability and its implementation in an organization is a failure to grasp what sustainability means, and how it impacts you and your operation. Everyone has a concept of what it means to them and the world in general, but how do you need it to resonate with you and your company?

Last week I was reading about an economist who's telling folks what to watch out for in 2016. Something bad might be around the corner. The last time we had rough patch in the economy was a few years ago, and it really disrupted the sustainability movement, at least here in the United States.

I hope these guys are wrong because we're finally getting another push from organizations wanting to go green. I'm not just saying that for business reasons, I'm saying that because I agree with the movement, and want to see more folks take a more sustainable approach to operating their business. It's better for everyone in the long run.

Invariably though, when I talk to professionals about sustainability I always hear the same thing.

How much? Do we need this? Can we just pay for something quick and easy?

Which to me always means one thing. These folks have a poor understanding of what sustainability is in the first place.

My usual recommendation is simple. Get everyone together who's going to be involved in your environmental or sustainability program, and let's do some training and soul searching beforehand on sustainability.

What is sustainability training?

What is sustainability training?

The problem is simple. If the folks involved don't get what sustainable means, everyone's wasting their time and money.

Usually, we get a small group of folks, like the environmental manager, and often the unwilling upper-management guy who's glued to his iPhone, and someone random from the facility to ensure across the board buy-in.

More often than not these guys don't have a good grasp on sustainability. Even worse, we often find this whole effort is being done to satisfy some corporate directive, which the team may not be privy to or buy into.

So we do some sustainability training.

What is sustainability and what does it mean to us?

Sustainability isn't something that can be accomplished by a few people in a room. You can’t just write a check and become sustainable. There's no simple training video to watch, or test to take.

It doesn't work like that.

It's also not environmental compliance. Having all your permits in place, and following them is what you have to do.

Sustainability is above and beyond. A few definitions are:

  • Sustainability is the ability to continue a defined behavior indefinitely.
  • Environmental sustainability is the ability to maintain the qualities that are valued in the physical environment.
  • Sustainable development is the kind of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

For most organizations, this means being able to do business tomorrow better than they are today.

Access to resources, air, water, power, healthy staff, educated employees, a facility to work in, etc.

Let me give you an example.

We recently went into a company to work with them on their sustainable supply chain management. They had been buying their raw materials based on only two criteria - price and service.

It turned out, after some evaluation, that one of their primary suppliers was a pretty bad environmental offender in their area, and were the subject of numerous significant environmental violations.

Now we didn't go any further to look at things like their safety record, their own supply chain processes, their employment practices and more, since it was pretty clear that to be sustainable, they ought to consider more conscientious suppliers.

If not, you're a partner in that other guy's transgressions in a way.

So as much as anything, it's a change in philosophy in your business.

So that means education. We have to start by building up a foundation of sustainability by training your people to see things differently and to think differently before they'll start acting differently.

And that means training.

What is sustainability training?

What does sustainability training cover?

In a basic sense, it's opening up the idea that there's more to business than just price and service, there are also things like commitment to the environment, to its inhabitants, to its finite resources, and to future generations.

Have that discussion, via training, and you can actually begin to see a change take place. Employees begin to think about themselves, the environment they enjoy, the future they want their children and grandchildren to have, etc.

And thus, the idea of sustainability creeps into the organization.

The best method of training we've seen, conduct ourselves, and recommend is simple.

It's usually bringing in someone who is an advocate, and who can talk the talk. Someone who can begin that process of change in your organization, and get people to understand that sustainability is a tangible thing, not some pie-in-the-sky dream, is your best bet.

Meaning, get someone who can talk to your staff in a method that resonates. Get someone who's going to be able to understand your industry, and the concerns your organization is going to have.

Have them cover topics like the basic understanding of what sustainability is. Have them discuss your operation, and its environmental impacts, both good and bad. They'll want to educate your staff on basic methods of moving forward, and more complicated long-term goals.

How are your competitors doing? How is your industry doing? Are there things you could be taking advantage of by becoming sustainable?

Really, like I said above, what does sustainability mean to your organization?

When that's done - when the foundation is created - then it starts to click. It becomes a whole lot easier to evaluate the facility to see where changes can be made since suddenly people are involved and motivated.

People start thinking differently, and maybe even acting differently. 

And if you're reading this now as someone in upper management, and thinking "great, training will produce an army of greenies in my business who only care about saving the environment, and don't care a hoot about my bottom line", then you're wrong.

Remember the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit? That's sustainability, and something that should be made clear through training.

Making people understand that change is good, only as long as it works for the organization is key. Ideally you'll want your training to discuss solutions that benefit society and the environment and actually help your bottom line.

Is that possible? Yes!

But first, you've got to get your organization going. You've got to get sustainability training. Without this solid foundation, your sustainability goals, whatever they are, probably aren't going to work. To learn more click here to contact us or call us at 609-693-8301.

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