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How Well Did You Perform? Can You Prove It?

It’s the beginning of now the second (2nd) quarter of 2017 and many of you are analyzing the data, right? Many organizational leaders have already or soon will, sit down with their teams and measure projections against actual achievements. You will evaluate the goals you’ve set against the ones accomplished and make the necessary adjustments for this new quarter. So, my question is, “how did your sustainability efforts fare?” What metrics do you use and are they appropriate not only for measuring your sustainability efforts but for your organization as a whole?

Today we’re going to review the what, why, and how to maximize analytics in our organizations, especially sustainability efforts. What is analytics? To simplify its meaning, it is data that is collected, organized, analyzed, and reported to the leader as evidence of the performance of an organization. It is through this evidence-based data that leaders learn where the organization actually is currently, whether it is reaching its targets or missing them and then determines what changes need to occur to keep moving the organization forward. The data is influential in assisting the leader to make informed decisions. One of the challenges, however, is getting good data that is consistent, relevant, and current. Faulty data leads to faulty decisions. Unmeasured data that is randomly collected by inconsistent means is dangerous and costly. This is the primary reason why many leaders steer clear from using analytics. Without a strategy for how it is to be used, it is a pain to maintain. Another challenge with analytics is knowing how to use it. It’s possible to actually have good data, but without knowing how to interpret it, it’s useless or should I say used less, and it's ineffective in helping the leader make good decisions. Therefore, the evidence-based decision-making model can be perceived as cumbersome and difficult to garner reliable data and to use in an efficient manner.

OK, so we briefly looked at “the what” and “the why” of analytics, now let’s look at “the how.” How can we begin to eliminate the intimidating approach to using analytics and decide on a few steps that lead to the implementation of these processes? It’s natural for humans to resist change and instead make decisions based on intuition which doesn’t require as much effort as making decisions based on data and analysis. However, decision-makers need to be educated on the use of analytics and evidence-based decision-making and learn the benefits associated with it. There are classes on this subject, so if you desire an in-depth understanding of how to use analytics and establish metrics, I encourage you to investigate this subject further. For now, let’s look at 3 ways we can add or enhance how we are using analytics to maximize our sustainability efforts.

1.) Let’s remember that any sustainability initiative must align with your company’s existing business strategy.

2.) Contingent on your organizational goals and core values, you want to identify 2-3 Key Performance Indicators (KPI); these are also known as Sustainability Performance Indicators (SPI) or Environmental Performance Indicators (EPI). These performance indicators should be linked to your goals. Without going into “overwhelm,” KPIs are often associated with the Balanced Scorecard approach which has both lagging and leading indicators.[1] Lagging metrics help you measure things in the past such as energy usage over the past 3 – 6 months; leading metrics helps you predict things in the future such as using the energy usage of the past as a baseline to predict the future. Both metrics should be used as a KPI.[2]

3.) Consider using 3 KPIs per quarter or even 5 -6 per year. These are learning tools to inform you where you stand and what changes need to be made. Keeping these easy such as waste reduction or energy reduction; green purchasing; community involvement; staff and employee awareness of sustainability, are realistic goals that can be assigned a % and given an internal index of 1-5 (1 = great, 2 = good, 3 = fair, 4 = needs improvement, and 5 = not good) and again these are to be aligned with existing company goals such as reduce operational spending by 10%.

A correlation between sustainable practices and analytics can be assessed through identifying and answering four questions:

1.) What should be sustained?

2.) For whom?

3.) For how long? and

4.) At what cost?[3]

I will do another blog on analytical tools such as environmental life cycle impact assessments (LCIA) and cost-benefit analysis, which are excellent sustainability tools used to inform decision-makers of the type of policies to develop and implement that satisfy investors, and stakeholders as well as improve day-to-day operations in an organization.

As we move into the 2nd quarter of 2017, let's decide to accomplish more. As we learn and analyze the behaviors of ourselves, our staff, our customers/clients, and our supply chain, we will learn how to better manage our operations and maximize our ability to perform at greater levels through analytics. This is a long-term process that will net long-term gains. It’s worth the investment.

Please give me some feedback. What are your thoughts? How do you use analytics?

Feel free to contact me at: Join Live 4 Change, LLC's email list and receive the latest sustainability newsletter, TBL³.

[1] Fogel, D. S. (2016). Strategic Sustainability A Natural Environmental Lens on Organizations and Management. New York and London, NY: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

[2] Hitchcock, D. E., Willard, M. L., & AtKisson, A. (2008). The step-by-step guide to sustainability planning: How to create and implement sustainability plans in any business or organization. London: Earthscan.

[3] Stahl, C., & Bridges, T. S. (2013). 'Fully baked' sustainability using decision analytic principles and ecosystem services. Integrated Environmental Assessment & Management, 9(4), 551-553. doi:10.1002/ieam.1470

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