Lewis Carroll once wrote, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” This is true whether we are setting a goal for a family vacation or business goals for sales, cleaning effectiveness, or even sustainability.

Setting goals helps everyone, including company management and employees, know if they are headed in the right direction. Setting goals also helps our customers, prospects and other parties with an interest in the direction that your company is headed.

One of the growing discussions among sustainability professionals is how to tie incentives, bonuses and rewards to sustainability in the same way we would incentivize sales, service and other management personnel on their performance. But incentives can’t happen if your organization has not established goals, or does not have a clear plan as to where it wants to go.

Plus, setting clear goals can inspire employees and energize their efforts to help your organization succeed.

Since the real goal of sustainability is to drive environmental, social and financial improvements, success is typically dependent on our people and their ability to develop solutions. Solutions include reducing total waste while increasing recycling rates, reducing transportation impacts and increasing the purchase of greener products.

The following are some specific examples of goals to be considered:

• Increase the use of “green” cleaning products and equipment as a percentage of total purchases, which is consistent with the requirements of LEED-EBOM.

• Reduce the volume or quantity of cleaning products used in your programs without sacrificing cleaning effectiveness. Reducing consumption has huge environmental and cost saving benefits.

• Increase the number of customers using your green cleaning program, especially if your company also offers traditional cleaning services.

• Increase the total square footage using your green cleaning program, especially if your company also offers traditional cleaning services.

• Reduce the use of energy, water, supplies and other materials in your offices and warehouse (the buildings that you occupy and have control over).

• Reduce energy and water usage in your cleaning operations at your customers’ facilities.

• Increase training and the number of employees with degrees and professional certifications.

• Increase charitable donations and volunteerism.

Once goals are identified, it is extremely important to make sure that they are reasonable and achievable. Too often, well-meaning organizations set goals that are unrealistic or too difficult to achieve, which can make the goals a disincentive.

For example, setting a goal to achieve an Energy Star rating of 90 for your building, which would mean that the building performs in the 90th percentile of all buildings (top 10 percent), may be extremely difficult depending on the current performance of the building and the degree to which you have control over the building’s heating, cooling and lighting systems.

Setting goals that are clear, reasonable and achievable can help you realize overall sustainability goals, and help your business improve its profits in 2012.

Stephen Ashkin is the president of The Ashkin Group, executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, cofounder of Green Cleaning University and CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools LLC — all of which play important roles in his efforts to move the global cleaning industry from green to sustainable. He can be reached at ashkin@tradepress.com