Corporate interest in Sustainability Initiatives is here to stay. No longer viewed as just a trendy talking point, the value of incorporating green solutions is recognized across every area of business, in every industry.
Facility Managers are expected to bring innovative, sustainable solutions to their property owners or clients – many of which require financial investment. To increase the likelihood such solutions are implemented, effective storytelling comes into play. Receiving buy-in from clients, the end user, and the community requires different talking points, communication mediums and success sharing strategies.
“Sustainability focused client conversations have increased tenfold in the last year,” says Julia Jordan, Director of Sustainability for Compass Group, the world’s largest support and food services company. Despite its relevance, there are still roadblocks to incorporating new environmentally friendly business practices at the facility level. “In those discussions, there are two consistent concerns: cost of implementation and impact on the end user.”
By nature, innovative ideas are sporadic, timing often conflicting with budget season. Preparation for conversation with the owner requires collecting the investment total, timeline to be investment neutral and the financial Return on Investment (ROI) of the solution. “Proposing a new solution is easiest when there are both a carbon footprint and financial ROIs,” says Jordan.
For large workplace-experience companies, the ROI is often presented in a case study. Particularly with significant investments, showing the success at a similar facility or campus eases the concern of the client and reinforces the supplier’s position as the expert. “While all clients desire to be innovative and cutting edge, they can’t always afford the risk of being first.”
THE END USER
The reality is, doing the sustainable thing can sometimes be the inconvenient thing for the end-user. When a large Class A office space client was looking for cost savings across its facility services portfolio, implementing centralized trash and recycling throughout the workspace was proposed, ultimately removing waste receptacles at the desk. “This solution provided $750,000 in labor savings annually, which appealed to our client. It also complemented the company’s sustainability position,” says Jordan. Removing waste cans from the immediate workspace promotes more thoughtful use of resources and increases correct sorting of recycling from landfill waste.
The downside: centralized trash is inconvenient. Tenants who are used to having their personal office trash removed daily are now asked to sort, carry, and discard recyclable and landfill items appropriately. “Our cost savings proposal was bundled with a strategic communication plan that rolled out in advance of the operational change,” says Jordan. By doing this, the supplier can position the sustainable initiative as one more way the company is working towards their corporate social responsibility goals.
Engaging the end user with sustainability storytelling ties the value of each employee’s individual impact on the company’s environmental commitments, creating a sense of ownership and pride that overshadows any inconvenience. “The key takeaway – communicate in advance.”
Operationally insignificant practices can be powerful opportunities to engage the community surrounding a campus and position a company as a sustainable leader in their market. For example, pest removal is a basic practice in facility services. ‘Safe relocation of poisonous snakes to surrounding marshland’ is a new way of describing the same service--and one of the initiatives that lead to a large Oil & Gas client recently receiving Wildlife Conservation Certification.
When a traditional service is executed in a way that benefits wildlife, native plants, and/or reduces utility usage, companies have an opportunity to share this story with community organizations and invite local community members to learn about their sustainable practices. Community members, like employees, can become grass-roots public relations spokespeople when they are engaged in the story.
Each stakeholder has a different ‘measurable,’ or interest, along with a preferred communication medium.
As the financial decision-makers, clients expect the fiscal impact to be communicated at predetermined intervals when on track, and early if initiatives are not trending as expected. These reviews are best completed in person.
The end user, or company employee, receives corporate communications frequently and may forget about the green initiative they read the previous day. Visually communicating initiative success in community spaces (think: x-banners or posters) will keep conversation around the initiative positive and maintain end-user engagement.
Communicating with local media through press releases and inviting members of the press and the community, to see sustainability practices in action is a live Corporate Social Responsibility Report. After inviting them in, keep the visitors updated through social media platforms, website updates and progress reports to local media.
The end goal of strategic sustainability storytelling and results-reporting is taking better care of the people that work in these facilities, positively impacting the communities in which the company operates and actively creating environmentally friendly solutions that better our planet. Preparing communication for each audience will ensure successful implementation of new initiatives.