Becoming a Sustainable Organization

The headlines are full of reports on organizational compliance lapses, ethical missteps, environmental cover-ups, and social disconnects with key stakeholder groups. Yet the number of public companies reporting on environmental, social, and governance metrics has increased significantly over the past several years. If companies are incorporating sustainability into their mission statements, why do they continue to have environmental, social, and governance compliance problems? There is a performance gap between organizational sustainability vision and implementation of strategy because it isn’t being fully incorporated into the culture of the organization. Why is it so difficult to create a culture of sustainability that embeds valuing natural and social capital into the daily operations of an organization? Because it requires engaging the workforce and fundamentally changing policies, processes, and people in order to drive the sustainability vision forward.

C-suite commitment is crucial, but so is cross-functional leadership support. Building a sustainable workforce requires adopting sustainability as an organizational pillar and developing programs and projects to support workforce development. Leveraging project management and human capital professionals facilitates embedding sustainability into an organization’s culture, unlocking the value creation potential of sustainable strategy on financial, social, and natural capital.

Globally, we are facing megatrends such as population growth, natural resource depletion, climate change, divergent living standards, and biodiversity destruction. The Sustainable Development Goals and the commitments made by developed and developing nations at COP21 seek to enlist the private sector in developing solutions to these challenges. On a micro level, adopting a sustainable strategy makes good business sense for leadership as sustainable organizations outperform their peers. Benefits include cost savings from minimizing resource utilization, improved risk management and brand protection, better regulatory compliance, attracting top talent, access to new markets for sustainable products and solutions, and opportunities for new partnerships to address global challenges.

Creating a sustainable organization is a journey that requires significant change in the ways in which organizations conduct their operations. In order to realize the benefits of sustainable strategy adoption, organizational leaders need resources that can plan and manage a series of organizational changes designed to create a culture that values sustainability. Embedding sustainability into the culture of an organization is a complex change management project that requires C-suite commitment, collaboration, and resource dedication. Understanding the stages of the sustainability journey and the indicators and drivers of sustainable strategy at each of the stages facilitates the process of sustainability visioning and organizational integration and adoption.

As both organizational leaders and employees gain experience and expertise with sustainability projects and programs, the barriers to becoming a sustainable organization begin to reveal themselves. Barriers come from a variety of sources including lack of C-suite support, a command and control culture and organizational structure, an incentive and reporting structure that focuses on short-term rather than long-term objectives, lack of organizational capacity and competencies, and insufficient resource allocation to name a few.

Project management practitioners can be part of the solution through incorporating sustainability goals into project plans in order to align business and sustainability goals. Engaging with both internal and external stakeholders to gather requirements and report on progress improves project outcomes and informs management on stakeholder expectations and key issues. Utilizing techniques such us life cycle assessment (LCA) and the Circular Economy shed light on opportunities to improve process both internally and along the value chain. Viewing organizational processes through an LCA lens provides insight into opportunities for resource minimization, energy savings, improved safety, improved human rights, and labor standards.

Developing a body of knowledge through a sustainability office allows for the consistent dissemination of an organization’s sustainability and business goals. Incorporating sustainability standards into the project approval process embeds sustainability into project charters and makes both business leaders and project sponsors more aware and conversant in sustainability issues. Identifying sustainability standards and integrating sustainability into reporting brings sustainability goals to the forefront of business leaders’ minds. Selecting a standard provides a means to measure impact and to develop meaningful metrics. Aligning performance incentives with targeted sustainability metrics drives employee behavior and action that supports sustainability goals.

One of the most impactful areas is creating a culture of sustainability by incorporating environmental, social, and governance requirements into all projects and programs. Improving the talent pool and engaging employees is a significant benefit of adopting sustainability. Structuring teams to promote cross-functional collaboration to develop solutions for new markets and client-driven opportunities addresses both business and sustainability goals. Engaging employees and promoting idea generation for new processes and solutions embeds sustainability into the daily lives of the workforce. In order to create a sustainable organization, sustainability must become part of an organization’s people, processes, and policies.


Please join Kristina for her upcoming free webinar on June 29 at 11:00 a.m. EST entitled “Becoming a Sustainable Organization” to learn more about best practices for bridging the gap between sustainable strategy and implementation. For more information on Kristina and her new book, Becoming a Sustainable Organization: A Project and Portfolio Management Approach, please visit the companion website at

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