How To Build Consensus for a Climate Change Program

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People who have read Environmental News for You over the last year plus know that I have been providing more solid financial and business reasons to develop a robust program, regardless of whether you call it a “Green”, Climate Change, or Sustainability. There are now many examples of companies that have directly improved their bottom line by implementing such a program. With the recession ending and companies looking for wise investments, why would any company still resist?

Companies, directed by people and acting like people, have cultures; really, personalities. And most are cautious, conservative. They do not want to risk spending resources on anything that they are not completely familiar with, knowledgeable about, or feel that they are in control of. This is particularly true of something that may be identified in the general culture as “liberal” or “progressive”.

How can an individual in a company break these barriers to implement and get buy-in to develop such a new program and reap the benefits? Such a program leader must demonstrate personal commitment, ability to plan, focus on emphasizing what’s good for the company as a whole, have strong communication skills for (particularly) upper management, and perhaps most of all, show enthusiasm. The green programs that succeed do so because a leader or team exhibits these traits.

  1. Personal Commitment. To build a green program, a leader must possess knowledge of the science of and show commitment to climate change and sustainability. It is virtually inevitable that someone or several in the organization will voice a strong antipathy toward climate change (as a skeptic), based on something read on the Internet or seen from a talking head on TV. The leader should steer the conversation away from the emotional, away from the politics and toward the benefits for all at the company. As a consultant, most of my clients have had at least one prominent person who thought climate change was a fraud, a waste, or worse. What I tell them is that I will not make any finding for a potential climate change action just for the sake of pleasing certain constituencies or to be “cool”. I will only present recommendations if they could result in potential bottom line gains for the company. That has usually succeeded in mollifying the people who want to defeat such a program. Of course, you have to back up what you say.
  2. Planning. Company leaders are often afraid of green initiatives because they don’t have a comfort level with green ideas. They may perceive of “green” as “pie in the sky”, rather than what it really is: grounded in science and economics. Spend time evaluating the steps needed to grow a green program (i.e., doing a GHG inventory, investing funds for energy upgrades, employee buy-in, etc.) and which may be the most difficult to succeed. Organized diagnostics exist to quantify relative difficulty. Then create a plan, budget, and timeline for the elements of your program. Share this with the upper management and meet and explain in person the steps, risks, and overall benefits. They will be more comfortable seeing such a well-organized plan and concrete path to reaching goals.
  3. Focus on What’s Good for the Company.  As discussed above, a green program will fail if company leaders believe that the program is meant mainly for aesthetic effects. All steps taken and progress shown should be focused on bottom line benefits for the company. What I have told some companies is that no one company’s GHG emission reductions (even if a “magic wand” could remove them totally) can stem the tide of the global problem of climate change. So, of course, the focus should be steps that result in direct benefits to the company, while reducing GHG emissions. Although a systematic approach with sequential steps is usually best, there may be benefits by going out of sequence and implementing some small GHG reduction projects with a quick turn-around, so company leaders can see quick, tangible progress. In my blog (, I have posted 5 simple GHG emission reduction projects that fit this bill and can show company leaders relatively quickly how “green” progress can have a beneficial effect on the company.
  4. Communication. The green program leader must share the program with people throughout the company. Of course, the CEO, CFO, and other upper management are most important. If the CEO does not feel a green program is important or his/her enthusiasm wanes, then the program will fail. But most organizations also have other spheres of influence who must be convinced this is good for them, too: plant workers, maintenance, engineers, etc. As progress is made, inform each interest group in the terms of their interest to gain wider buy-in of the program. While bottom line gains are the best (“We reduced our energy bills by X% this month compared to one year ago”), secondary gains often are also well received and reinforce the program’s value (“By switching to CFLs, we also reduced our O&M labor costs by Y% because fewer workers have to climb up to the ceiling and …”).
  5. Enthusiasm. Ultimately, enthusiasm and energy convince the most people that a program is here to stay and has the most benefits. Related to these two is inevitability. If you are seen as enthusiastic about your green program, people will get enthusiastic too or, at worst, will accept the fact that such a program at their company is inevitable, and they’ll “get with the program.” Another unifying approach is to put your company’s program in terms of a win-win-win spirit. By having a robust green program, your company is reducing energy use, reducing expenditures, reducing GHG emissions, reducing the enrichment of bad regimes overseas, strengthening the dollar, making the air cleaner, creating more jobs in the U.S., and bringing down the price of oil, the trade imbalance, and the budget deficit. Every person at your company has to feel positive about at least one aspect of this list of positives!


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This Environmental News for You is meant to provide general ideas on how to gain traction to implement a new or optimize and grow an existing climate change program in your company. CCES experts can assist you in helping to organize, perform diagnostics, and to plan for, evaluate costs and risks, obtain maximum buy-in, and assist with designing and implementing all of the elements of a green program.


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