Sunday, January 29, 2012

New Year, No Fear!

Every new year brings with it moments of self-reflection about the past year’s ups and downs and possible resolutions for the coming year.  Like many people, I tend to be highly self-critical, running down all the ‘failures’ in my head - and then trying to calm myself by remembering the ‘successes’.

It goes something like this:
I didn’t stick to a regular exercise schedule
I didn’t attain the perfect work-life balance
I didn’t start that painting I’ve been sketching for years
I barely made a dent in my bed-side tower of “must-read” books….

Luckily, despite those personal disappointments, there are many professional accomplishments to celebrate from 2011.

On an organizational level, this past year saw the formal transition from Green Roundtable, which was created to put green building on the map, to Sustainable Performance Institute – an evolution to focus on the critical role of organizations. Moving from individual impacts – project based technical assistance and individual education – to organization and portfolio wide impacts. Clearing up mass confusion about who we are – with a legacy of projects and programs over 13 years like our former role as the USGBC Affiliate and our NEXUS resource center.

Brand transitions are never easy, but this hard work has paid off and there are 6 achievements that we are very happy about celebrating as 2011 draws to a close:

SPI Evaluation Criteria created the first industry framework to measure what makes a truly “green” firm, vs. those that are guilty of “professional greenwashing”. The SPI Criteria went through a public comment period and peer review and are being implemented within 13 companies.

The SPI Certification Program awarded its first certification – and we’re proud to say that it’s to a company that embodies the values of SPI and is a shining example of excellence in professional practice: Wight & Company. We have more companies in the pipeline looking to complete certification this year.

The SPI Leadership Circle, was launched via LinkedIn, providing a multi-disciplinary peer community for those responsible for implementing sustainability initiatives within their firms. LC already has 113 members from 21 states and 6 countries. LC members participated in bi-monthly virtual meetings and we shared their stories with the larger community.

SPI Organizational Assessments & Report Card was created to help companies find out how they rank competitively and where they can improve their systems and processes to achieve higher performance and profitability on sustainability projects. The Assessments provide valuable feedback with no risk and help put companies on the path for Certification should they wish to pursue that path.

A series of “Green Firm Bootcamp” workshops were conducted around the country, hosted by AIA and USGBC Chapters. Participants focused on the process and strategies to effectively institutionalize sustainability within their organizations, discussed the barriers they face on a daily basis and learned a new framework to set goals and measure progress.

First industry-wide survey “How green is your firm?” highlighted for the first time the disappointing truth about what’s going on in the (self-selected) leaders of green building.

Not bad. I may not have yet attained the perfect work-life balance, but the year has certainly not been a waste!

Which makes me think about how much work is still to be done.

After talking for literally hundreds of hours with CEOs, COO’s, VPs, Sustainability Directors etc., and reviewing thousands of responses to our survey, I find we are much farther from our collective goals than I had hoped.

--There is still often a disparity between the spokespeople who hawk their vision of green firm and the rank-and-file who execute projects.
--There are still all too many firms that don’t value sustainability or understand why it’s important to the business of design and construction.
--There are still talented and committed people who are frustrated in their efforts to help their companies evolve and lack the professional education to be effective change agents.
--There is still a gap between LEED, 2030 and Living Building and companies’ ability to deliver.
--Most of the dialogue in the industry focuses on technology, metrics, economics and environment. Little is said about process and transformation. We may talk about IPD, integrative project delivery, or BIM, but there is little conversation about strategies for change management.

Here’s what’s not working:

Leadership is half baked: leadership is polarized (one is committed to sustainability, another “thinks it’s a dirty word”), or they are only committed to getting work without realizing that there’s an need for organizational change, or they speak publicly about sustainability but don’t communicate the same expectations internally. All result in confused, frustrated and disheartened staff.

Buy-in paralysis: those that want to get the company to commit don’t have the skills, strategies or confidence to implement a strategy to get buy-in from peers, leaders etc.

Making data matter:  It’s hard to collect and track data, and even more challenging to report and use that data to inform future decision making and learning.

Crossing boundaries: internal change is a bear—external change is a grizzly!  For green design, effective collaboration with outside partners is critical and getting partners to change is hard.

Initiatives vs. goals: there are lots of “random acts of sustainability”, but fewer well-conceived SMART goals that are driving the initiatives. Not a single person in our workshops could list their company’s SMART goals for sustainability – and these are companies recognized for being green building leaders! Either the companies don’t have clear goals, or they don’t communicate them effectively enough for folks to be able to say what they are and act on them.

LEED still a 'stretch' (no rotten tomatoes, please!): For all the good it has done, those of us in the industry for a long time don’t perceive LEED to be a “stretch,” but in every workshop I've done, I hear people still trying to “get their minds around LEED” (direct quote). In much of the industry, sustainability is still defined by LEED.  This means the focus is external only (on projects) with no connection to what the ORGANIZATION has to do to deliver consistent, high quality projects. 

The “What” and the “How”: for those companies who have gotten to a level of commitment that says ‘we will deliver LEED’, “We commit to the 2030 Challenge” or similar, there is still a disconnect between the What, or goal, and the How.  Many lack consistent methodologies to ensure quality control around project implementation to support collaborative, high performance, healthy design.

That’s the bad news. The good news is – once you understand the problem you can work on a solution!

This is where our role as an organization and the 2012 resolution comes in.  The 800 lb gorilla in the room is change management; the process of effectively addressing these challenges and removing the barriers that lead to long-term, intentional transformation. We resolve to focus in 2012 on shedding light on this issue, and helping companies understand how they can be more intentional and effective in achieving their sustainability goals.

The next article will outline a 'Roadmap for Change' to institutionalize sustainability, based on recognized tenets of change management experts.

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