Beau Daane is the Director of Sustainability at Harvard Maintenance – a founding member of the Cleaning Coalition of America. Beau is interviewed below about conceptualizing, developing and implementing a sustainability program, and the positive impact it can have on the business, community and world at-large. 

What would you say to smaller and mid-size companies or facility managers that do not have a sustainability program and are thinking of creating one?

Think globally, act locally. Sustainability can be thought about as operating your business in a way that advances all three P’s: People, Planet and Prosperity. For business leaders that are weighing the cost-benefit of developing a sustainability program, they should recognize the business opportunity of being a sustainability leader. For perspective, over 80% of global consumers believe that businesses must work to address societal issues and over 70% of customers would consider switching brands if a different brand of similar quality supported a good cause. Additionally, advancing a sustainability strategy is a great way to attract and retain talent. Sustainability is just simply good business, the right and the smart thing to do.

For those companies that do not have a sustainability plan in place, what is the first step that should be taken to chart a path toward reducing carbon emissions?

First and foremost, it is critical that companies evaluate their current state (“the baseline”) before setting specific carbon emissions, energy, waste/recycling, water, diversity and inclusion, and community engagement goals. After all, “what gets measured gets managed,” and only then can businesses effectively plan targeted and efficient interventions.

Once a company understands where improvements can be made, the next step is to make meaningful modifications. For example, one simple step may be to place additional recycling bins (with the proper lids) and instructional signage (and in person trainings) in areas of a facility that lack recycling participation. Or, if a review of cleaning products reveals that a large percentage of a facility’s cleaning products do not have an environmentally preferred label, work to replace those products with environmentally friendly products. Harvard recommends looking for cleaning products with “Green Seal,” “EPA Safer Choice,” or “EcoLogo / UL” third-party certifications.

Gradual and meaningful modifications like these can have a snowball effect, leading to more concrete progress.

What are some good reporting frameworks that companies can use to ensure they are meeting their ESG goals?

Best practices for reporting to stakeholders on ESG / sustainability starts with determining the topics that matter most to internal and external stakeholders. A process called “materiality” (issue prioritization) is the best practice to determine these ESG/sustainability topics. Materiality process involves benchmarking how competitors talk about these topics, impact mapping to define high-level parameters / topics that matter, and internal and external stakeholder interviews to identify the topics that matter most. Once you get to this point in the materiality process, you can plot the topics in a matrix – showing which topics are most important to internal stakeholders (on the x-axis) and which are most important to external stakeholders on the y-axis. A review of the matrix with senior leaders is recommended to ensure alignment. A sample materiality matrix is shown below:


Sample Materiality Matrix


Once you have identified the ESG/sustainability topic that matter most, you can then think about the best way to communicate to stakeholders. You need to understand the definition of each topic and how they are currently being managed. You need to set KPIs for these key topics and then determine how much data your organization is comfortable disclosing. When you get to this point, you are ready to consider a ESG/sustainability reporting framework. GRI (Global Reporting Institute), SASB, and the UN Global Compact (UNGC) are frameworks to consider. SASB is specifically focused on the ESG topics of most importance to investors (publicly traded companies), while GRI is considered more appropriate to appeal to a broader stakeholder mix. UNGC is perhaps the simplest framework to consider using. A final step to consider in your reporting is to show what UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) your organization helps to advance. It is not expected that you would advance all 17 of the UN SDGs, but a major reporting trend does including showing which 3-5 etc. you may help advance.

What are some best practices for reporting on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions?

The first thing you need to understand when calculating your annual GHG emission total is your data. What data do you collect? What data can you collect? For greenhouse gas emissions, the CDP platform is considered the best and most widely used platform for GHG disclosure. CDP helps focus investors, companies, cities and governments on “building a sustainable economy by measuring and acting on their environmental impact.” With CDP, you need to understand your Scope 1, 2 and 3 GHG emissions. Examples of each are below:

· Scope 1: These are the emissions that you directly control. An example for Harvard would be the gas used in our fleet and leased vehicles used to deliver company services. We measure this thru gas purchased.

· Scope 2: The emissions from electricity purchased on your behalf. For Harvard, this is the electricity used at our regional branch offices. We can measure this readily through the utility bills at each location.

· Scope 3: This is where it can get complicated – supply chain impact, employee commuting impact and employee business travel. At Harvard, we measure the impact of employee business travel through our travel partner Concur. For the impact of employee commuting, we make some assumptions (i.e. that most employees in New York take the train to work, while most elsewhere drive 20 miles round trip) – we understand that these are broad assumptions, but you have to place the boundary somewhere to calculate an estimated impact. The supply chain impact is perhaps the most complicated element of our Scope 3 emissions because it requires you to think comprehensively about (in our case) the manufacturing, packaging, and transportation of cleaning products. We are lucky to have strong supplier partners who provide us this information annually.

While calculating your GHG may seem like a heavy lift, don’t be intimidated – just take each element piece by piece and focus on quality data. You can build each year as you gain confidence with the process and also get more information from key stakeholders (i.e. supply chain partners, etc.). There are also many consultants who can help you with the process.

Reaching sustainability goals will require engagement from every employee at a company. How can business leaders earn the support of staff to reach key sustainability milestones?

To institute an effective sustainability plan, there must be buy-in across the organization. In order to earn this participation or engagement, business leaders must create an environment where each employee feels like they can participate and contribute to the success of the business and are valued for their expertise, experience, and unique perspectives. One way to do this is to find out how your employees personally engage with sustainability (both at home and at work) through a survey. Employees may connect with sustainability in many different ways – from volunteering with a local charity, to growing some of their own food, to taking the bus or train to work, to recycling and composting at home, etc. The key is to understand how your employees connect with sustainability topics, then to link that passion to an area of the business.

Beyond the workplace, it is also important for businesses to demonstrate their commitment to the community. Whether tied to Earth Day, Thank Your Cleaner Day, or a holiday ‘season of thanks,’ companies might consider donating to local charities, and volunteering at shelters, food banks and other organizations. Efforts like these bring home the triple bottom line of sustainability: advancing People, Planet and Prosperity.