This weekend I had the opportunity to meet other young inspiring people who want’s to make a difference in the world through the network Young Sustainability Professionals. As a part of our workshops and discussions we, of course, reflected upon how to make an impact.
In my current job and throughout my life as a coordinator, consultant and project leader in sustainability I have never really reflected upon if I have changed anything. Did I really contribute to a difference or did I not? I personally believe the answer to the question is hard to quantify since so much about sustainability has to do with norms and values. However, what I do know is that I have developed a strategy to do my work which I think can be useful for other people who wants to make a difference.
First of all, for me it’s been clear on what I want to achieve; I want other people to be educated and empowered to make better choices and to get involved. I can’t control how people change their lifestyles or if a certain project really contributes to long-term changes in a specific corporation. However, I can engage others in ways where I believe the change and the fight will go on even if I leave the business or the project.
How do you do that?
Research the business. This means to educate yourself about the circumstances of where you are regardless if it’s a business, an organisation, a municipality and so on. Questions to ask is:
What’s the purpose of the business?
What do their code of conduct, policies and strategies say?
What do they want to achieve?
Set your goals. What do you want to achieve? If you want to make something more sustainable you need to pick your goals. Preferably you’ll do this together with the leading group/project group/boss, but if you think they’re not that open to sustainability, you set the vision and you keep it for yourself.
Choose your prioritise. This should be based on three things; what creates an impact in the world (CO2 cut, better diversity etc.), what can you impact from your current position and what’s the topic that is most likely to be attractive to the business? When you get to start, you have to set a framework with likely areas to change not necessarily your most passionated issue.
Create an attractive scenario and case. Now you map their strategies with your vision and topics to identify where you want to see a change. You might not present “Hi everybody, let’s go vegan” at a restaurant, but you could say “let’s cut food waste, get the media attentions, lower our costs and collaborate with a famous chief from TV - good for the planet, for our business and it’s employees”. The shift to a more plant based menu will come with time when the rest of the company starts to get involved and understands the benefits.
Do tasks beyond your normal working tasks. What you have to realise is that if you want to create change, you will be the person doing most of the work. Changing a company from zero sustainability work to some kind of sustainability work can be done within three years. Changing a minor project from zero sustainability work to some basic can take a few weeks. Be bold and write weekly-emails and letters even if it’s beyond your mandate to do so.
Find your allies. You can’t do everything by yourself and don’t be shy to ask people what they think and see if you have similar ideas or interest to change things. Share your burden and passion outside the business and project to re-fill your energy and to stay inspired.
Be patient and repeat. Keep on talking to colleagues, leaders and other people involved about sustainability and the importance of being a conscious company. Don’t assume people are educated about climate change, don’t judge people for not being aware or engaged and keep on sharing your aspiration and energy.
Make sure the action plan is inclusive. As soon as you have the mandate or someone with a mandate gives you space to really establish a systematic sustainability group it’s all about defining sustainability in policies and guidelines, incorporate it in strategies and make sure it’s a part of the annual planning and budgeting. This is the point you want to reach. You want to create an action plan for sustainability with your colleges that translates your vision into the vision of the company.
Congratulations. You have just made an impact. If you stay you might see/hear/feel diversity next time you say hallo to a new college, you might read a report with CO2 emissions being cut or you might enjoy a vegan meal at the next conference. Or maybe your company will win the prize of the best sustainability report, effort or change makers within their industry. The sky has no limit of what you can do to create impact you just have to start! Good luck!