Young business people showing the concept of recycling against a white background

Some organizations have been very successful implementing sustainability initiatives in their organizations, while others have struggled. What appears to be the big differentiator – and helps keep sustainability programs on track and growing – is ownership.

“If employees and major stakeholders in an organization 'feel' they own the program, more often than not, it will succeed,” says Stephen Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group and a leading advocate for sustainability in the professional cleaning industry. “This is referred to as organizational ownership.”

Ashkin uses the word “feel” purposely. He says that organizational ownership is psychological; it relates to how members of an organization feel about something, in this case, sustainability.

To make ownership a reality, here are three ways Ashkin suggests managers can help their staff own sustainability:

Develop It. Educate the team on why sustainability is important. Make it one of the goals and purposes of the organization. Provide research material on how sustainability adds value to a company and will help it succeed. Start working with other vendors and partners that have sustainability programs in place. This creates “sustainability camaraderie.”

Sell It. To own a sustainability program, its benefits must be sold to the people in the organization. This includes reasoning, how sustainability will financially benefit the organization, as well as appeals to the heart, how sustainability improves people’s lives. One organization held workshops to sell sustainability to their staff. At the end of one session, a manager said, “We’re now seeing that what we do in our day jobs, can change [people’s] lives.”

Monitor It. If people own something, they want to know how it is doing. The only way organizations can monitor their sustainability initiatives are through the use of computer “dashboard” systems. These keep tabs on metrics such as water, fuel, energy consumption, waste, etc. Share these results with all staffers.
“In the selling process, we must keep emphasizing that sustainability programs help future-proof an organization,” adds Ashkin. “We are taking steps to make sure the organization stays strong and viable, while also protecting people and our environment.”