Technical vs. Organizational Sustainability Approaches

Conventional Approaches to Sustainability

When organizations consider sustainability, the emphasis is often on environmental aspects and technical expertise. These initiatives could be to measure the carbon footprint, design a LEED certified building, implement energy efficient systems, green the manufacturing process, enhance technology for patient care or prepare sustainability reports.

I often hear from clients and people I interview that they have some great ideas for sustainability, but they have difficulty getting the initiatives and practices to become part of the fabric of the organization – where the sustainability initiatives become truly sustainable.

Whole System OD Approaches to Sustainability

The Organizational Development (OD) approach is different in that it is systemic. By that I mean that we look at the “whole system” and design ways to *co-create *a shared vision and initiatives for sustainability with involvement from internal as well as external experts and stakeholders. While this certainly includes bringing in the technical experts for the work described under “Conventional Approaches” it goes much further.

OD experts help to integrate sustainability into the strategy, practices, processes and very fabric of the organization. We find ways to engage the workforce, influence the culture, change the conversations, build relationships, break down functional silos, and spur innovation. This is about strengthening and building the organizational and leadership capacity needed to execute the initiatives systemically while also shifting the culture to achieve the shared vision.

Some organizations are doing this well. To name just a few, look at Interface (see my blog of September 15, 2009) and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceutical, and in higher education, the University of New Hampshire. In conducting research for my upcoming book I am looking for stories examples of organizations and communities that are successfully transforming to achieve their sustainability vision. Contact me to share your stories or to find out more.

Come to the IAP2 (international Association of Public Participation) *annual conference in San Diego *next week to hear me speak on September 22 using strength based methods for achieving a more sustainable future.

Note: This blog was inspired by an article “Green Organization Development” written by Bauback Yeganeh and Ante Glavas published by OD Practitioner, Vol 40 No. 2 2008.


Paul Schempp said:

The systemic approach seems logical if the initiative itself is to sustain within an organization. So often these sorts of initiatives are initiated from the top and forced down, and people on the lower ends of the corporate food chain just passively resist them until they go away. Getting all the 'stakeholders' meaningfully involved from the beginning, while obviously a daunting task, appears a necessary prerequiste to long term success. Your blog is both insightful and informative.

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