In the past few weeks, I have been asked by several individuals about setting up a sustainability program in their companies. So here’s what is probably the first in a series of lectures on the sustainability journey.

I have to say, that I am humbled by your requests, but I really must first congratulate all of you for putting in the effort of convincing your managements about the importance of a sustainability program. Believe me when I tell you that I know exactly how hard that convincing phase is. I have been there. And if it was not for your patient ears in enduring my endless rants about how tough it is to push this agenda through, I would not have made it either.

So really and sincerely now, welcome to the starting point. I cannot promise you that it is going to be easy, nor can I assure you that it will not be without its own creative forms of frustrations. But my friends, I can tell you this: It gets more and more rewarding as time goes by. Granted, time may crawl at an incredibly slow pace most of the time, yes, I am being perfectly honest here. But the rewards are there and yes, they are real. The feel good factor is really something quite unique to sustainability work, and as long as you stick by it, you will be able to actually see how working in this field can and does change the world.

And not many people can boast that.

Begin at the starting point. I know that we all have this awesome idea of utopia in our heads. I am not asking you to burn utopia. But I am saying that the starting point is not where these ideas roll out. Before we go to war, we must understand what beast is waiting for us in that cave. My advice is this: Compile a base year sustainability report.

And I am not going to try to cover up the fact that I think that the way to do this is using the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework. The current framework is 3.1. GRI 4 is on the way, but let us not get ahead of ourselves right about now. The GRI 3.1 framework structure is downloadable for free via the world wide web. Get it, read it, and start getting to know your respective companies from these lenses.

Look at all the sections, collect as many indicator protocols you can, but don’t push yourself to address everything. Trust me when I tell you that it does not pay to be kiasu at this point. The purpose of this base year report is so that you know where your company stands and how much work lies ahead of you. It is also a way to get to know key players and info sources in your company.

Let’s be honest, unless you are really really really really really lucky, chances are, your team is very small, or is comprised of only you. Believe me when I tell you that you, that being that one squeaky sustainability voice in your company is not uncommon. This is how most of us start off. This is how I started off. You need to build a network of informants. This is not easy but absolutely necessary.

Where was I, oh, a base year sustainability report. Now, since this is a base year sustainability report, you don’t even have to publish it. It is okay. Make it an internal report, but make sure you don’t lose the essence of that this is in fact, a report, a document, and should be treated as such.

A base year sustainability report will reveal the gaps in your company’s current sustainability health. You will also find things that you feel the company should have, but don’t. Easy things that the company realises that it did not have after all. These are your low hanging fruits. These are your easy targets and where your next golden nugget lies.

I wanted to end this post with the words “to be continued.” But any sustainability person would tell you just how ironic that phase is, kan?

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