Adopting a Sustainability Program

Business and industry leaders are finding Sustainability Programs are a powerful way to improve environmental performance and economic bottom line. Companies that are committed to sustainable business practices find practical and innovative ways to conserve natural resources, create more energy-efficient products, and use materials in a way that minimizes pollution.

By following these key steps, your company can be economically competitive and demonstrate long-term business sustainability practices to environmentally-conscious customers:

Step 1: Setting Up a Sustainability Team

Just like any other business program, Sustainability Programs require strategic planning. Choose members for your Sustainability Team that oversee key functions, including product design, procurement, sales, supply chain, and employee education. Identify ways to educate them on the value sustainability offers the company. Consider including regional representatives, if your company is large, as a point-of-contact for all employees in that region.

The team will be responsible for:

  • working with senior management to set immediate and long-term goals and an action plan;
  • gathering and analyzing information relevant to the action plan;
  • promoting the program to employees and educating them about how they can help;
  • providing information on how the company benefits from the program, as well as environmental benefits;
  • monitoring the progress of the action plan;
  • making improvements as needed; and,
  • reporting to senior management about the status of the action plan.

Case Study: Orbit Irrigation

Orbit Irrigation, the manufacturers of irrigation systems and watering products headquartered in Davis County, is hoping to reduce its environmental footprint by undergoing an extensive review of its business operations. As one of 100,000 global suppliers to Walmart, Orbit Irrigation stepped up its efforts to track its emissions by participating in a survey Walmart sent to them in 2009. The “Sustainable Product Index Survey” asked the company to measure their sustainability in four areas: energy and climate; natural resources; material efficiency; and people and community. “The evaluation process has been a learning experience for our 300-employee company,” said Jeannie Clement, Orbit’s vice president of Quality and Sales Support.

Environmental Benefits

Conservation of natural resources is not a new concept to Orbit, as the company adopted several environmental improvement projects in the past, such as upgrading to a closed-loop water system in its product testing room to reduce water use, employing Lean Manufacturing principles to reduce raw material use, and developing a faucet timer that assists homeowners that use hoses to control their water consumption.

Orbit is also launching a new sprinkler system, known as Eco-Lock and Blu-Lock, which is free of PVC and toxic glues. But, the process of evaluating the environmental impacts of a product throughout its lifecycle, from raw materials to end disposal, has been a challenge, noted Clement, especially when two of Orbit’s manufacturing plants are located in China and information on raw materials is not as accessible.

In response to Walmart’s Sustainable Product Index survey, Orbit is in the process of determining its greenhouse gas emissions which translates to calculating emissions from boilers, electricity use, and mobile sources, including company owned cars, employee commuting, and product transport. The company is upgrading its lighting system in addition to implementing other energy efficiency projects, after taking advantage of Rocky Mountain Power’s energy audit program. In addition, the company foots the bill for half of their employee’s alternative transportation (bus, Front Runner, and TRAX) expenses.

Other efforts include researching PVC-free packaging alternatives that can be recycled and pursuing Energy Star certification for their new light-emitting diode (LED) powered landscape lighting line, which requires less energy and has a longer lifetime, compared to conventional landscape lighting.

“The environmental improvement projects completed by Orbit are examples of what can be accomplished when a company takes a serious look at its long-term sustainability,” said Clement.

Step 2: Identify Your Company’s Environmental Impacts

Review your key business operations to identify specific environmental impacts associated with the design, raw materials, and energy inputs and releases to the environment during the manufacture, use, and disposal of a product, including transportation. Keep in mind that your company’s building and the equipment that you use also have environmental footprints.

Select an item from this product lifecycle to see related links.

Generic infrastructure flowchart. Kind of blurry.

Step 3: Engage Your Stakeholders and Employees

Try to meet with as many of your stakeholders (supply chain, customers, and investors) as possible to determine what environmental issues are important to them. Focus groups, Web or Email surveys, and open houses are easy ways to connect with your stakeholders and solicit their input. Answers to these questions can help determine your business strategies and define your sustainability program.

Consider looking to your employees to find ways to incorporate sustainability practices into product design, the supply chain, manufacturing, and the sales process. You can offer incentives to employees to bike or take alternative transportation to work or provide information on how to reduce their environmental impacts as individuals, as part of your company’s sustainability initiatives.

Step 4: Identify Opportunities for Improvement, Prioritizing Efforts, and Setting Long-term Strategies

Once you have identified your company’s key environmental issues and determined your stakeholder opinions, then you can identify opportunities for improvement and begin to prioritize your sustainability initiatives. Use your sustainability initiatives as a key driver of innovation and market advantage. Remember your sustainability program can be a key marketing strategy.

Prioritize your sustainability efforts by starting with small, manageable projects. Look for sustainable business practices that will deliver results quickly and save money, such as increasing energy efficiency and reducing waste. Don’t be accused of greenwashing, be sure you are honest about your environmental improvements.

Expand your program little by little over a period of time, such as three to five years, or even longer, depending on resources and other company goals. Try to set goals that are specific, measurable, and can be completed in a specific time period.

For example:

  • Increase purchase of cleaning products, paints, and other chemicals that are less toxic than competing products by 25% in the next contract.
  • Increase purchase of products that use less packaging by 20% in 12 months.
  • Increase purchase of recycled content products or reusable products by 25% by the next fiscal year. By purchasing recycled content products, you are helping to “close the loop” by providing markets for recovered materials.

Step 5: Initiating an Education and Awareness Effort

A key component to a sustainability program is communicating both to your employees and your customers about your efforts and results. At a minimum, your education program should include information about the goals of your sustainability program, how your company, employees, customers, and the environment benefit from developing a sustainability program, and how new products or practices will be evaluated. Also provide information on how employees will be trained to use the new product or practice and the type of mechanisms that will be used for obtaining and evaluating feedback from employees and product users. The education program should be available to existing as well as new employees.

Step 6: Launching Your Program

Post notices in key areas of your company, or send information on-line to educate staff on the new sustainability initiatives that are being adopted within your company. Provide information on any new procedures or policies being adopted during the switch to new products or materials. Use this opportunity to again include information on how your company, employees, customers, and the environment benefit from using sustainable products, and how employees and customers can provide feedback about specific products or practices. Include contact information for your Sustainability Team members.

Continue meeting with the Sustainability Team to review ongoing efforts, make adjustments as needed, and collaborate on new initiatives.

Case Study: AAA Auto Club

AAA of Northern California, Nevada, and Utah (AAA NCNU) is expanding its member services by promoting environmental stewardships through its award-winning Greenlight® initiative. Launched in 2005, Greenlight was developed in response to customers’ needs to keep informed on alternative fuels and vehicles as well as meeting its own corporate environmental objectives.

In an effort to promote more fuel-efficient transportation, AAA NCNU transitioned about 300 of its 425-vehicle fleet into gasoline hybrids in 2006. It also has about a dozen minivans that use E-85, a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. AAA fleet drivers travel approximately 4.8 million miles per year. The cars are used by insurance employees.

This switch doubled fleet fuel economy, leading to a savings of 120,112 gallons of fuel in 2008, and 93,607 gallons in 2009 (due to a fleet size decrease). As a result, greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by 1,068 metric tons in 2008, and 832 metric tons in 2009. By purchasing carbon offsets for its emissions, the auto club’s fleet is carbon neutral. “For us, the savings in dollars due to fuel economy far outweigh the additional expense of purchasing the hybrids and carbon offsets,” said AAA Fleet Manager Peter Peirce.

Members and the general public can tap into information on some of the alternatives to the gasoline-only engine, including hybrids and non-traditional fuel options, such as biodiesel and electric-fueled vehicles through the Greenlight initiative Website. AAA also offers free classes to members and the general public providing tips on how to maximize the performance and fuel economy of hybrid vehicles.

AAA of Northern California, Nevada, and Utah awards grants to organizations that share its environmental objectives. Through a long-standing partnership with the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, and awarding up to $150,000 in grants and fellowships, AAA is finding ways to promote the study of clean vehicles and fuels. “We’re so pleased to be able to offer assistance in this fast-developing and increasingly important field,” said Greenlight manager Deborah Wong.

“AAA is proud to be an educator and advocate for new vehicle technology that gives consumers more choices while protecting our environment,” said Wong. “AAA was here for the first 100 years of the automobile and it is through forward-thinking initiatives like Greenlight that we plan to be here for the next chapter.

Step 7: Celebrating Your Successes

Provide regular updates to employees and management about your sustainability program in newsletters (preferably on-line) and meetings, using the data from your tracking system. Consider equating your company’s successes in terms of the number of trees spared, energy and water saved, toxic materials eliminated, or the amount of waste diverted from the landfill by using products that use less packaging.

Resources to use for environmental “factoids” are:

Give rewards and recognition to Sustainability Team members and key members of your company when you celebrate your successes.

Design and Materials

Environmental Purchasing Guide
DEQ’s guide to environmentally preferable purchasing.

EPA’s Design for the Environment
EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) works in partnership with industry to reduce risk to people and the environment by empowering companies to select safer chemicals and technologies. DfE also allows products to carry its logo if they are protective of health and the environment.

EPA’s Sustainable Futures Initiative
Tools to help companies identify potentially risky chemicals early in the development process and reduce risk by finding safer substitutes and/or processes.

Forest Stewardship Council
The FSC logo is the internationally recognized symbol for businesses that are interested in purchasing forest products that benefit the environment.

Green Biz
Contains resources for businesses on resource efficiency, design and packaging, energy and climate, and more.


EPA’s Lean Manufacturing and the Environment
Contains a business model and proven methods to help eliminate waste.

Green Biz
Contains resources for businesses on resource efficiency, design and packaging, energy and climate, and more.

Green Suppliers Network
Helps small and medium-sized manufacturers stay competitive and profitable while reducing their impacts on the environment.


EPA Smart Ways
The SmartWay Transport Partnership is a voluntary collaboration between EPA and the freight industry designed to promote a more efficient transportation future by adopting fuel-saving strategies that increase profits and reduce emissions.

Reusable Packaging Guide
DEQ’s guide to reusable packaging.

State of Utah’s Clean Fuels Programs

Use and Disposal

The Clean Washington Center
This Website, hosted by the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, provides tools to help recyclers, reclaimers, and manufacturers develop new recycled content products and markets.

EPA’s How to Calculate your Carbon Footprint: Developing an Organization-Wide GHG Inventory for a Low Emitter
EPA’s simplified GHG Emissions Calculator provides a simplified approach for measuring GHG emissions for low emitters including office-based organizations, small businesses, and public institutions.

EPA’s WasteWise Program
The WasteWise Program provides tools and resources for reducing solid waste.

Recycling Electronics Responsibly
DEQ’s Web page on recycling electronics.

Greenhouse Gas Protocol
The Greenhouse Gas Protocol is a widely used accounting tool for government and business leaders to understand, quantify, and manage GHG emissions.

Infrastructure (Envelope: Buildings, Equipment, and Grounds)

Choose Clean Air
Provides a list of choices that individuals can make to improve air quality.

Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT)
EPEAT is a system to help purchasers select desktop and laptop computers and monitors based on their environmental attributes.

Energy’s Star Portfolio
Portfolio Manager is an interactive energy management tool that allows you to track and assess energy and water consumption across your entire portfolio of buildings in a secure online environment.

EPA’s Energy Star
Energy Star is the government-backed symbol for energy efficient products and practices, including guidelines for earning an Energy Star rating for commercial buildings.

League of American Bicyclists Bicycle Friendly America Program
The League’s Bicycle Friendly America program provides a roadmap, hands-on assistance and recognition for states, communities, universities and businesses.

Rocky Mountain Power
Becoming more energy efficient is an effective way for your business to save money.

Provides strategies for employers, commuters, non-work travelers, and mass transit users to help reduce energy use, reduce congestion, and improve air quality.

Utah Transit Authority
Provides transit schedules and carpool information.


Eleanor Divver (, Business Assistance Coordinator: (801) 536-0091

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