Tracking and measurement of a sustainability engagement program can be challenging and is fairly common for organizations to struggle with this. Creating a process for continual reflection, evaluation, learning and improvement could greatly increase the effectiveness of your sustainability engagement program. From a measurement standpoint, we aim to create a monitoring framework that is measurable by identifying related outputs, outcomes and determining specific indicators.  This quantitative data is useful for reporting and building the immediate business case for the program, but qualitative information to accompany the metrics is also important and can greatly improve programming and build a different story to support the business case over time.

Using a more holistic approach to measurement allows us to stay mindful that we are not getting bogged down in just collecting numbers.In order to stay away from the usual discussion regarding tracking metrics,  while it is important, I’m going to talk more about some of the considerations and logistics of creating a tracking framework that contributes greatly to program success. We will take a look at other important considerations including, support, collaboration, effectiveness, as well as, communication & dialogue.

Tracking also provides a significant opportunity to connect programming with organizational context, goals, program objectives and priorities. It’s helpful to bring the entire process into perspective by looking at the “bigger picture”. Ideally an effective tracking structure supports and links the engagement strategy with a strong, logical framework that would, for example, allow an employee to see a clear link between their daily actions and outcomes presented in a company sustainability report.

For further discussion on strategy, see the previous post on Creating a Strategy For Engaging Employees in Sustainability.

How could a tracking system be enhanced to ensure greater success?

While providing tangible progresses and benefits are what we are all looking for, it’s important to take a step back and clarify your tracking and evaluation framework from a more holistic perspective. We need to stay mindful that we are not getting bogged down in just collecting numbers. The following are some qualitative considerations to collecting data.

Effectiveness

While collecting data, we need to also capture whether or not programming is both useful and functional. When we are recording numbers of initiatives, we need to recognize that the data do not reflect whether they are relevant or successful. For example, if we collect numbers of locations with recycling stations, we also need to ask are they being used. Or, if locations are not participating in certain areas, we need to look at their relevance within the program by asking. This is also a great way to identify best practice examples by identifying what has worked, what hasn’t worked and what lessons have been learned. 

Support

I believe linking tracking systems with avenues for regular support, check-in and follow-up is an effective way to create better understanding of and success with the overall engagement program. This can help identify in a timely way when teams or individuals are struggling or need support.  For example, on top of collecting data we can ask offices/locations if they need any support on existing projects or do they need support to start out any new projects? This is also a great opportunity for local dialogue and to identify local champions.

Involving other in the measurement process is an excellent opportunity to collaborate with other departments, program leads in other sustainability related areas.

Creating dialogue and opportunities to collaborate with internal partners is key.

Communication & Dialogue

Whenever possible in an engagement program, always aim to create avenues for dialogue and communication. This could be between teams and management, between employees in an office, between offices, between corporate departments and offices, between departments; you get the idea. How could tracking be an opportunity for communication? Having tangible and timely data that reports on progress provides a useful and concrete foundation for local, regional or corporate discussion on organizational sustainability. Think through how this could be best used to support and enhance programming.

Collaboration

When looking for ways for the engagement program to assist your organization in integrating sustainability into operations, look no further. This is an excellent opportunity to collaborate with other departments, program leads in other sustainability related areas. For example, who is coordinating the sustainability report? Walk them through your framework outline and discuss all of the possibilities that would assist in sustainability reporting. Also express your interest in creating a framework that would allow employees to see direct connections between their daily actions and what they read in the sustainability report. How could you both work together to make it more relatable to employees?

Also how could this be an opportunity to utilize existing networks? Does your organization have health and safety representatives in each location? Could they also be a sustainability contact or could they assist in appointing on in their office? Is health and safety already collecting data for their own tracking purposes? How are they tracking it, what could you learn from them?   Is there another related program you could join forces with to track and monitor? Think through your own context and whom you could approach to partner with or learn from.

How are we measuring progress?

The first question that comes to my mind when considering tracking and measurement is how are we defining success? What would success look like for your sustainability engagement program? If we are not sure exactly where we are going how will we know when we get there? How will we measure our progress?

Measurement and Feedback

Once you have mapped out what success for your program would like, you will need to determine appropriate program milestones, metrics, outputs and outcomes. As I mentioned earlier we will not be delving too much into this for this post, but we could highlight some questions. What are some metrics that you are tracking within your organization that you could share? Are some programming areas harder to track than others? What do you struggle with? What have you had success with? I think this would be a great conversation to have during our networking discussion.

No matter what metrics your organization uses, you need to establish a baseline.   We cannot measure progress if we do not know where we started from. Also you will need to decide how often you will schedule your tracking and monitoring. There can be varying levels of this. For example, you could have quarterly updates on progress that feeds into a once a year larger evaluation. I definitely recommend setting up some sort of ongoing feedback avenue that allows timely and potentially anonymous comments where individuals or offices may express their concerns at any time without having to wait for a formal process.

With tracking and evaluation comes reporting. The information is not only useful for the sustainability report, which will likely only highlight a fraction of the information you’ve collected. Pulling together your own useful report with the results of the monitoring and evaluation results will go a long way in helping other understand the overall program, including leadership, regional and local managers, local teams and individuals participating in the program. Make it available online and promote it’s release to increase it’s readership.

Possible Frameworks

Harvard's green office rating system

Harvard’s Green Office Rating System

Office Rating Systems – These can be a useful tool to use as framework for tracking and measurement. This type of framework provides a strategic, clear, consistent and effective avenue to implement your engagement strategy locally. For further discussion on office rating systems, see a previous post on Integrating Sustainability Employee Engagement into Operations.

Key multipliers – Since the foundation of sustainability is rooted in local context, a coordination platform is required for creating relevance, while meaningfully supporting and empowering local efforts.  Building a network of regional “key multipliers” into the implementation structure provides regional contacts, communication, and tracking and support for local office teams or committees.  This includes a regional representative who regularly communicates, follows up with and supports a set number of local offices. The regional representatives then regularly report to the program coordinator on progress.

Tools

Mind map it – Pulling together a comprehensive tracking and monitoring system can be a bit complex. I find it helpful to use mind maps to visualize the framework. Coggle is a free and easy online mind-mapping tool that I use often. You are able to drag and drop pictures, as well as, share and collaborate with others.

Online Data Collection Tools – If you do not have your own departmental data collection team, there are useful resources out there. My personal favorite is Surveymonkey, which provides a free or low cost (depending on your needs) platform for data entry and analysis. It is a very useful tool.

Software – I often get asked about this. This could very well be a useful and viable option for your organization. I have had many software tracking companies approach me with their products over the years. Two things were a “no go” for me.   1. The cost. They were basically cost prohibitive at, for example, a whopping $50,000 purchase price followed by thousands of dollars per year in operating costs. 2. I wanted to promote more dialogue within the organization and I felt taking this kind of approach would make all conversations virtual, not that organizing virtual conversations is a bad thing, but in the context of tracking and monitoring I wanted there to be real, regular conversations.

Creating your own system

When looking to construct your own tracking system, I highly recommend using a mind map technique (see above) to think through your possibilities. Once you have this rough picture in your mind, you can thoroughly brainstorm each aspect and how you could measure success in this area. It can also be helpful to look for examples from other organizations and best practice case studies. Use these as inspiration and pick and choose what pieces would work for you and adapt them to your own context.

The bottom line, as always, is that sustainability is rooted in local context and there is no one path or one way to do something. Involve others, get dialogue going and be creative. Become your own sustainability case study.

Let’s start a discussion!

Share your experiences with us!  We would love to hear them!  What has worked?  What lessons have you learned?  What are you biggest challenges?  What about this blog post was most useful for you?  If you have any questions or comments use the comments section below.  If you would like to get in touch with me, please feel free to email at Wendy Firlotte .

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