Seeking Truth, Not Simulation
I'm going to be a touch blunt here, so if you're averse, simply read in a gentle, whispering internal voice.
There is a certain behavior from organizations and people in the sustainability space that an offering "being interesting" or "creating goodwill" or "building brand equity" or "increasing our sustainability cred" is, in and of itself, the end goal. Perhaps this is OK in your organization. Perhaps it is part of a longer term strategy. Fair enough. But this is not typically the case, as if there was a strategy in place, one would be met with more than blank stares when asked, "So how is your program progressing toward its goals so far?"
Here's the thing about any program or offering that just kind of happily floats around in this milky-white ether of suspended animation: If they can't show progress toward whatever goals they have set (if they have set any), they will be cut. Be it a management change or a lean year, they will be cut. Chances are, if "sustainability" as defined by these types of organizations is cut, it isn't coming back.
If you see organizations displaying signs of "sustainability as PR"–large organizations with billions of dollars of revenue and $20,000 annual "sustainability" budgets–chances are they are very much functioning in this space. The program is simply floating along: not "succeeding," but not "failing"... and not yet cut.
Because we see sustainability as an opportunity to "do well while doing good," we see sustainability as presenting us with meaningful opportunities everywhere, on fronts as diverse as employee retention and new product development. Opportunities are measured.
No matter the strategy, be it a social campaign, new product development, brand building, or any other strategy related to our sustainability offering, it lands on Dollars and Minutes. Here's why: Both of those units require a live human being (i.e., customer) to give us something of value to them: their time and/or their money.
This may all seem very capitalistic/oppressive/harsh, but, in actuality, I think you may find it quite liberating. Why? Because if we are truly about sustainability, we must be about sustainable sustainability. What feeds "sustainable sustainability?" Dollars and Minutes. What shows us that our program, initiative, or offering is indeed making an impact? Dollars and Minutes.
Here are a few examples, in application:
- You are a non-profit tasked with creating an offering to reach new types of donors.
- Minutes: The time spent on your site and social sites by potential donors will directly influence the success of the program (i.e., they're aware and finding interest); potential for the offering to attract new volunteers willing to give their time to your cause.
- Dollars: % of new offering prospects which result in donation; total donations in the pipeline.
- You are implementing a new, voluntary, waste minimization program across sites of your organization.
- Minutes: The total time spent by sites engaging in the program; attendance of kickoff meetings.
- Dollars: Reduced disposal costs; reduced waste handling and labor costs; reduced shipping costs from minimized material and dunnage.
- You are releasing a new sustainability-oriented line of products.
- Minutes: The time spent by prospective customers on the offering landing page; time spent by customers requesting information and traveling further down the conversion funnel.
- Dollars: Sales of sustainability-centric product line to existing customers; sales of sustainability-centric product line to new customers; downstream sales to new customers acquired by sustainability-centric offering.
- You have been engaged by a PR firm promising one million print and online impressions in the next month for your sustainability program and new CSR... guess what you want to measure?
Revealed preference methods–testing in the real world–is the path for us to be able to get to Dollars and Minutes as quickly as possible to find truths about our offering.
Because we believe in not only sustainability, but also sustainable sustainability, we need to get to those Dollars and Minutes. Regardless of if we are talking about a speaker series on organic farming or a new sustainability-centric product, these two measures show how our offering is providing value to the organization ... and the world.
Without these two measures, we simply create offerings without customers and campaigns without audiences... and if you believe sustainability is about inaction, you're probably in the wrong field.