sustainable transformationSustainable Brands Boot Camp’s eighth webinar session served as an introduction to sustainability transformation in businesses. By providing concrete examples from a case study, Bob Domenz described the practical steps and strategies needed to build a culture of sustainability in an organization, and to effectively engage employees and customers in the process.

by Naimish Upadhyay, Green Economy Post

As part of the Sustainable Brands Boot Camp webinar series, Sustainable Life Media, producers of the Sustainable Brands 10′ Conference invited branding expert and market strategist Bob Domenz to be guest speaker at its eighth session on “Transforming Your Company Through Sustainability – and Engaging Your Customers and Employees in the Process.”

Bob Domenz is the President and CEO of Avenue Marketing and Communications Inc., a brand-marketing and communications firm. He helps businesses develop sustainability strategies from the perspectives of organizational change, brand positioning and market strategy.

In this session, Domenz talked about the interrelated issues of sustainability transformation, organizational change management and stakeholder engagement. He described a case study of Clarke, an international environmental products and services firm specializing in mosquito control and aquatic services. The company began its green initiative with the singular aim of minimizing its environmental impact, but has recently adopted sustainability as a transformative and brand-building tool.

The speaker described three major phases in Clarke’s two-year long sustainability transformation that led to a positive change in its organizational culture.

1) Charting a new course

2) Re-engaging the employees

3) Reinventing the brand

Charting a New Course

Before undertaking an organizational change or implementing a new initiative, it is imperative for businesses to first gain an insight into the behaviors and perceptions of their stakeholders, primarily employees and customers. Not doing so could result in serious missteps or missed opportunities in implementing any green initiative.

In the case of Clarke, the discovery process began with a series of events designed to creatively engage the internal and external stakeholders. These included employee surveys and get-togethers, customer visits, customer panels, company facility visits, customer ride-a-longs and even customer fly-a-longs. The objective was to assess their perceptions of the Clarke brand and to learn what sustainability meant to them.

The findings were very insightful. Although employees admired the company for its strong family culture and its industry reputation, they felt their company was old and outdated, and that the presence of multiple brands and business units was creating an information silo. While the employees were found to be following green practices in their personal lives, they believed their company was not doing enough on the environmental front. Clarke customers, on the other hand, while satisfied with the company’s customer service and relations, were found to be surprisingly apathetic to sustainability issues.

Domenz believes these findings served as an effective starting point for the sustainability strategic planning process. Stakeholder input not only helps an organization set achievable sustainability goals, but also helps in developing effective strategies.

Key Point:
Look. Ask. Listen. Never Assume!

Re-engaging the Employees

The discovery process was followed by a series of strategy planning sessions with upper level managers. The aim was to test the moral commitment of the decision-makers. Domenz designated all participants as ‘Change Agents’ in these sessions. They were educated and quizzed about sustainability issues, and encouraged to envision what an ideal transformation should look like.

According to Domenz, it is important to be creative at these meetings in order to make an emotional connection with participants while talking about sensitive organizational change issues. Since individual thinking needs to change first before behavior can be changed in any organization, it is critical that these strategy sessions are a transformative experience for the participants.

Key Point: Thinking First – and then – Change Behavior.

While initially limited to the core leadership and management, the strategy sessions were later expanded to bring in the larger employee base. The events often included fun group activities that were designed to encourage self and group reflection

Discussions in these workshops led to the creation of a sustainability road-map which was prominently displayed on a billboard across the company offices in order to provide a constant visual reinforcement.

Clarke employees were engaged at numerous levels in the discovery activities and in the actual crafting of strategies. The company created an internal branding campaign called ‘Be The Change’, which served as a form of communication and rallying point for all employees. As part of this campaign, employees were motivated to understand and implement change, and were provided with various tools and techniques to monitor sustainability changes on a personal and organizational basis.

Towards the end of the planning process, a strategic vision was presented to the full employee base and suggestions were invited for specific initiatives to fulfill this sustainability vision. Over 800 specific ideas were contributed by employees, which were promptly sorted, assessed and prioritized. The outcomes of the ideas, actions taken, as well as the decision making process were then communicated back to employees by a central sustainability team.

Key Point: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Reinventing the Brand

For businesses seeking to achieve green or sustainability positioning, it is very risky to have their sustainability messages misaligned with their actions. A brand that has its actions or behavior aligned with its mission statement will be in a good position to reap the benefits of its sustainability branding. However, businesses that do not practice what they say they believe in, or proclaim inauthentic green claims, may fall victim to green-washing allegations.

Domenz provided a good framework to make sure this does not happen:

Be = Mission. Do = Actions. Say = Message.

Be. Do. Say. = Safe Position
Be. Say. Do. = Risk

The Authenticity Equation: Missions + Actions ≥ Message

Domenz explained how Clarke shifted its brand architecture to a single brand in order to correctly reflect its strategy and identity. It also developed visible proof points to prove that it is living up to its environmental claims. One example of such a visible proof point is the Eco-Tier Index that Clarke created to categorize its products, services and equipment into 3 tiers – Conventional, Advanced and Next-Gen, based on decreasing impacts on the environment respectively.

Classifying its products in this way was a very bold move by Clarke to show that it is genuine in its sustainability commitment. Although Clarke does not currently have many products in the Next-Gen category, it has publicly stated its intent to have a percentage of its products in that category within a certain time-frame.

Clarke has also developed a series of tools and techniques to internally publicize its green initiatives. These included the creation of an internal sustainability blog, tweets from top management, employee engagement events, brand book, video casts and other campaigns that serve to reinforce the organizational vision and change.

Key Point:
Share your strategy – communicate it and make it an experience.

The external launch of new initiatives was conducted several months after the launch to the employee base. It comprised of new market-facing publicity materials that conveyed a sweeping rebranding of the company, communication of proof points, enhanced sales presentations, and a new website that directly communicated its strategy and messages to its customers.

Key Point:
Make your mission and your strategy transparent in your message and your actions.

From June 7-10, 2010 get set for Sustainable Brands 2010 where The Power of And will be explored in depth and participants will be inspired, engaged and equipped to begin or continue down their own cycle of sustainable business innovation by building the discipline to continually observe, re-design, measure and communicate.  Find out more.

*Note: The Green Economy Post is a Sustainable Brands media partner.

© 2010, Naimish Upadhyay. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Naimish Upadhyay (9 Articles)

Naimish Upadhyay recently graduated with an MS degree in Environmental Science & Policy from the University of South Florida, where he focused on sustainability policies of Florida businesses and local governments. While in graduate school, he was an active member of the Emerging Green Builder’s USF chapter (http://ctr.usf.edu/egb/) as well as the Student Taskforce on Campus Sustainability at his university. Naimish previously taught college level Environmental Science and Environmental Biotechnology in India. Given his research and project experience, Naimish is eager to build a professional career in the areas of business sustainability, environmental management systems, sustainability assessment and reporting, and corporate social responsibility. Naimish looks forward to reader feedback and can be reached via email naimishupadhyay@gmail.com.