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People, Planet, and Profit: Forming a Sustainability Committee at Your Workplace

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This is a guest blog by Zachary Hirschfeld, Communications Technology Coordinator for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. The Food Bank collects and distributes food through a 380+ member network in 11 counties in southwestern Pennsylvania. Daily operations occur at their award-winning LEED certified ‘green’ warehouse. In addition, Zachary is part of the organization’s very successful Sustainability Committee.

In my first article on this blog, I described the history of Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank’s commitment to sustainability through green building, energy efficiency, and waste reduction. Going forward, the Food Bank is poised to improve its efforts in a coordinated manner, thanks to an improved structure to how our organization raises and solves issues around sustainability.

This structure is our Sustainability Committee, which formed last summer and is comprised of a team of staff members interested in green issues. Since then, this team has morphed into an official committee that plans to utilize director- and executive management-level collaboration to accomplish key initiatives.

Our Sustainability Committee consists of 10 members from diverse levels of management and departments within the Food Bank, and includes a Committee chair and champion, who acts as the liaison to our chief operating officer at the executive level of management. If you’re interested in starting a similar committee at your organization, it’s necessary to understand the importance of diversification. Not only is it necessary to gain executive level buy-in, but also buy-in across the organization at each level. As such, be sure to involve representatives from a wide range of departments. Without grassroots support for sustainability initiatives, your goals will not be properly implemented nor widely accepted.

Why is a Sustainability Committee important?

Organizations benefit from a powerful presence – an individual or body of members – that drives sustainability initiatives for the benefit of the organization and community over the long term. This presence is necessary to ensure that ideas and practices concerning conservation, efficiency, reduction, and awareness are among the organization’s priorities.

A unique relationship

The growing stage of a sustainability committee is a peculiar one. Many projects the committee undertakes will be to solve problems not immediately seen as vital to the organization, or even acknowledged as problems altogether. The unique nature of sustainability projects is they proactively improve organizational health, as opposed to reactively solving widely understood problems. Organizations that acknowledge the need for preemptive action around these types of issues, and act accordingly, will bolster their financial and cultural health. It’s up to your committee to ensure these issues are understood and that appropriate actions are taken.

Overall, a sustainability committee views every facet of the organization through a lens that considers the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit. By advising key decision makers to use this lens, as well as leading by example through successful initiatives that report key reductions and efficiencies, a sustainability committee helps to guide the organization along a more sensible path. The aim is to influence the organization’s culture so that all decisions will be viewed with sustainability in mind. When that occurs, the sustainability officer, team, or committee will have achieved the ultimate success. Until then, your sustainability committee serves an important role in spearheading goals and actions that will improve the organization at present and into the future.

Photo: Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank warehouse

Posted: November 12, 2013