2014 January/February Green Guru Spotlight: Making Sustainability Stick


There is something about starting a new year and making resolutions.  There’s also something about resolutions falling by the wayside! There have been many studies done on resolutions and how long they stay in place. Although a majority of New Year’s resolutions fail, studies also show that people who explicitly make resolutions are exponentially more likely to attain their goals than those who are not.  That makes sense - if you don’t set a goal, you are not very likely to achieve it! Reflecting on this made me see the parallels with sustainability and organizations, and how perhaps, organizations and individuals within organizations can make sustainability stick: Make it Prestigious and Visible, Raise the Stakes, Join Forces.


Make it Prestigious and Visible: According to motivation and need theories, human (and therefore organizational) behavior is strongly influenced by the desire for status and recognition. So, don’t just set sustainability goals, do it in a visible and prestigious way. For example, sign up for one or more specific “Commitment to Action” with the Clinton Global Initiative, or sign onto the UN Global Compact, endorsed by leading CEOs, or sign up with World Wildlife Fund for one of their partnership programs such as WWF Climate Savers. Your success will get the spotlight it deserves, and so will your lack of success, so there will be double the incentive to accomplish the stated goals!


Raise the stakes: Game concepts or “Gamification” can be an effective tool to stick with resolutions or help achieve sustainability goals.  Create a system where there is a reward for accomplishing goals and/or a tangible disincentive for not accomplishing the goals. The rewards and disincentives do not have to be financial; in fact, Gamification theory says Status, Power and Access are more powerful rewards. Beeminder and Recycle Bank are examples of financial disincentives and incentives respectively.  The Stonyfield Mission Action Plan is an example of financial plus non-financial incentive system for achieving sustainability goals. Aiming to place higher on sustainability rankings such as Newsweek Green Business Rankings or Dow Jones Sustainability Indies (DJSI) can be an effective non-financial incentive for accomplishing sustainability goals.  Aiming to score high on Climate Counts can reward your sustainability achievements with increased consumer and investor support.

Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net by franky242

Join Forces: The journey is easier when you have support from others. Engage your employees, suppliers, customers, and the community around you. For sustainability goals especially, the more you engage important stakeholders, the more likely you are to achieve them. Some examples of organizations that have effectively joined forces and collaborated  with others to achieve sustainability goals are the Outdoor Industry Association, Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan which solicited input from customers and suppliers, Patagonia Common Threads Partnership, and the Companies for Safer Chemicals Coalition.


Share your tips for making sustainability stick, by logging in and leaving comments, or email greenguru@sustainablesv.org

Green Guru: Suparna Vashisht, January/February 2014


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