A Process for Gauging a Green Team's Movement Toward its Goals

EDF Climate Corps fellow | August 30, 2011

By: Sarah Meyers, 2011 EDF Climate Corps Fellow at CA Technologies, MBA Candidate at MIT Sloan School of Management

When CA Technologies asked if I would work with its burgeoning green team, I was tickled pink.  There are numerous advantages to having green teams in Corporate America, including to:

1)      Help reduce costs and the environmental impact of companies

2)      Increase employee engagement and retention

3)      Create opportunities for developing leadership skills

4)      Enhance company reputation and atmosphere

5)      Advance senior management's strategies*

The first green team meeting coincided with my first day of work.  Around an oval table, employees discussed what they cared about, what was frustrating and what they would like to do differently at their facility.  The group decided to focus on three initiatives related to recycling, e-waste and energy reduction.  Each person walked away from the table with action items, and I was tasked with focusing on metrics.

With full access to the company's utility bills and a Kill-A-Watt, I calculated all kinds of metrics: electricity consumption per day, dollars spent per kWh, lbs of waste per employee per year, energy wasted when computers were not put in sleep mode overnight, etc.   If there was a unit, I wanted to compute a number for it.  However, there was an underlying problem.  How could I use these metrics to represent the success of three green team initiatives?  For example, after green team members decided that they wanted to improve recycling in their facility, I found that by switching to a new vendor with a more robust recycling program, the company could save up to $7,700 per year.  But did this represent success of the recycling initiative, or of its potential?  I had no problems with access to data or how to analyze it, but I struggled with how to make the numbers meaningful.

By luck, I met a CA Technologies employee who was instrumental in unscrambling my challenge.  Hiren Dalal, an expert in organizational change and process re-engineering, started by rephrasing my questions:

  • How do we decide what we need to measure in order to reach our goals?
  • How do we know that compiled metrics measure movement towards our goals?
  • How do we know that we have met our goals?

I came to realize that the key was not to focus on computing numerical facts and trying to make sense of their meaning. It was to start from the other end: explicitly establish goals first. Writing high level goals allowed me to focus on the most salient issues.  Goals needed to determine the metrics, not the other way around.

After establishing goals, the next step involved focusing on yet another key question, "What would demonstrate movement towards our goals?" Posing this question served two purposes.  First, it enabled more specificity of the goals. "What do we mean by success?  a best practice? a challenge? an expense?  a benefit?"  More significantly, however, the answers to these questions suggested potential metrics!   In responding each question, I could recommend a measurable answer, and in turn this list of answers could determine the set of metrics associated with each initiative.  I tried to answer my questions imaging a perfect scenario with access to any and all information.  Afterwards, if the information was unavailable, I could consider what may represent a suitable "substitute" metric.

For example, what were the goals of the pilot Green Teams at CA Technologies?  After some discussion, it was determined that one of the goals of the Green Team was to generate "culture change."  What is culture change and what does it look like?  We agreed that culture change involved awareness, education, contribution and collaboration.  How could we know that we were affecting these things?  We could look at the participation rate, an awareness quotient, number of involved employees, hours worked by Green Team members, and document stories related to changes in behaviors (an "informal" metric).

Thus, with relative ease, a list of relevant metrics was the output of a process of questioning.


*Adapted from Net Impact Conference Call "Launching and Supporting a Green Team" on July 14, 2011

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