Business Growth & Strategy

Sustainability: 5 Things To Include In Your 2012 Budget

“Sustainability” can be difficult to include in annual budget planning.  If you’re lucky enough to have a full-time Sustainability Manager, s/he may have priorities for your company’s 2012 budget.  More likely, because Sustainability means so many things to so many stakeholders, s/he has probably overlooked some things.  Here are five things that should be in your 2012 Sustainability budget:

Conferences & Education:   The Sustainability field continues to evolve at a fast pace.  There are many conferences addressing different facets of Sustainability.  Conferences fulfill many needs.  If you have a line of “green” products or services, you can meet potential customers.  You can monitor competitors’ activities.  You can network with other Sustainability professionals, perhaps developing collaborative relationships.  You can see what’s not out there, and could be an opportunity for your company.    There are so many conferences, attending them could be a full-time job.  Be discriminating in what you attend, what you exhibit at.  Education is available in many forms.  Webinars are available on a variety of topics, and many are free.  Many groups offer free email lists; and are two organizations that offer insights on many topics, and occasionally offer free webinars.  Several colleges and universities offer Sustainability curricula for working professionals.  For example, the University of California at Los Angeles Extension offers a certificate program in Sustainability; some courses are offered online.   Conferences and education can keep you informed of trends, opportunities – even mistakes being made by others – and help you plan your company’s business strategy.

Communications and Reporting:   Sustainability involves considerable communication.  Internal communication is needed to enlist support, convey expectations, and gather Sustainability information.  External communications typically takes much more effort.   Your company may publish a Sustainability report (typically annually).  You probably do other Sustainability communication via product or service bulletins, website information, presentations to industry associations or other groups, social networking, or other means.    Your company may need to respond to requests from customers, investors, financial institutions, analysts, or other stakeholders.  These requests are rarely consistent with each other.   Handling these incoming requests may involve several iterations of communications with these stakeholders.    Communications about Sustainability may be “pure Sustainability” communications (as in response to a Sustainability questionnaire), or may be embedded in more general communications (the CEO’s description of the company’s performance and market position to a group of potential investors).  The same type of effort is required for all Sustainability communications:  understanding the need/ request; drafting responses; verifying accuracy of communications; evaluating communications channels; and measuring effectiveness of communications.

IT Systems & Data Management:  As Sustainability programs mature at companies, they involve more and more data.   You may collect data on waste reduction, energy efficiency projects, water use reduction efforts, supply chain monitoring programs, community outreach efforts, or any of dozens of other metrics.  IT systems and controls developed for tracking sales and inventory may not be suitable for Sustainability data.   It is important to have systems and controls to collect and assure the accuracy and reliability of this data.  Whether you are using Excel spreadsheets or using Sustainability software, it always pays to devote some resources to ensuring the quality and timely reporting of Sustainability data.

Time:   Budget some time for Sustainability – for you, other managers, and all staff.  If there is no charge code for employees’ time for Sustainability, it suggests that it’s not important.  It also doesn’t give you the opportunity to track just how much time, effort (and cost to your company) that Sustainability efforts really take.  This can be the first step in setting priorities, or developing or improving business processes to manage Sustainability.

Resources:  Even large corporations enlist support for Sustainability, often for topics where they don’t have in-house expertise.  They may also value or require independent perspectives, such as for a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventory audit, or for an audit of their Sustainability reports.  Many companies have seen the value of an external “pre-audit”, where they gain the value of independent perspectives, get suggestions for improvement – without committing to an audit report.  New issues arise where it is more cost-effective to use external resources.  Dodd-Frank includes a provision on due diligence for conflict minerals; California is considering a law requiring due diligence for suppliers who may use forced labor.  You may want some help to calibrate your company’s conformance to the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed revisions to the Green Guides.  At some time in 2012, you’ll encounter a Sustainability issue where it’s best not to go it alone.  Even if it’s a modest budget, set something aside so you can respond as quickly as possible to meet your company’s needs.


Douglas Hileman has over 30 years of experience in the Environmental and Sustainability fields, including 9 years in industry and six years at a Big 4 accounting firm.  He helps clients with strategies, reports, data / information quality, performance metrics, business processes, training, and auditing.  He develops training programs tailored to companies’ specific operations, needs, and business strategies.  He recognized a special need for companies facing increased scrutiny from many parties, and has pioneered an innovative approach to “audit readiness” to help companies achieve more value from Sustainability.  He is President of his own firm.  He teaches Sustainability in the Business program at UCLA Extension, and is active in the Institute of Internal Auditors.  He is a Professional Engineer, a Certified Professional Environmental Auditor, and a Qualified Environmental Professional.  For more information, see or his profile on LinkedIn.

Category: Business Growth & Strategy Innovation

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About the Author: Douglas Hileman

Douglas Hileman helps clients achieve value from sustainability as it applies to their business.  He helps clients with strategies, program improvements, performance metrics, business processes, training, and auditing.  He has worked for glo…

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  1. jeff McMahon

    December 30, 2011 at 11:40 pm

    Great ideas and insight.  It’s pretty clear that the days of merely “talking green” are ending, and we’re entering an era of accountability for everyone, especially the business world.  Sustainability is as much about a values statement as it is about metrics to prove your actions really do support your words.  

    This article brings to mind Interface, Inc and the recently deceased Ray Anderson.  It’s a perfect example of a CEO with great power to do harm to the environment and humankind through his business practices (and a history of doing so), choosing instead to minimize his company’s negative impact on the planet by aggressively pursuing sustainable alternatives.  He is proof that profit can be found in sustainability – along with self-respect, and pride in knowing that you’ve done your best to leave future generations an opportunity to create, grow, and thrive on this planet.     

  2. Lincoln Romain

    January 9, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Good points!  I was particularly interetsed in the IT Systems and Data Managment comments which is an issue I run into all the the time as companies go through the process of collecting sustainability data. 

  3. Bill Jordan

    January 10, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    A succinct overview that is very apropos.  Sustainability is clearly going from a topical
    concept to a quantifiable system.  The
    time is now to integrate this into my firms Quality Management System.  This info will serve as a working template for
    us to establish which Sustainability variables we can adequately measure and
    ultimately benchmark.  Great starting
    points for our organization!  Thanks!

  4. Stu Rixman

    November 27, 2012 at 5:57 am

    The management of every organization should embrace these principles. Not just companies, but also other organizations who often have a focused agenda that can divert attention from the overall objective of a self-sustaining world. The challenge comes in balancing often-competing goals to achieve results which are most beneficial to mankind and the environment.

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