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Five Ways to Boost Your Community’s Sustainability Commitment

Catherine Sheehy, head of Advisory Solutions for UL's Environment and Sustainability division, helps customers bring innovative operating models to the market. She offers her thoughts on how to achieve sustainability success for your organization.

May 31, 2019

Addressing the global challenges outlined in the United Nations (U.N.) Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) can feel overwhelming, especially if you live in a city faced with rapid growth. But, all is not lost as many organizations are charting a new path toward a greener future. Sustainability success starts with your mind you really need to think about sustainability and integrate it into your strategy.

In my role as head of Advisory Solutions with UL's Environment and Sustainability division, I’ve helped customers bring innovative operating models to the market. Here are five ways to help boost your sustainability commitment for the benefit of your community.

1. Prioritize your focus by understanding stakeholder needs

Time and resources are limited, whether you're a business, individual or a growing city. Because resources are precious, you want to understand what's important to your stakeholders. To do that, engage community members to help you decide where to focus your attention. Listen to their stories, then look for where their pain points intersect with your capabilities. Once you understand their needs, it becomes apparent where to spend your time and energy.

2. Engage stakeholders to improve activation

When BASF, a chemical facility in Huntsville, Alabama, wanted to decrease its waste footprint, the company engaged employees from all over the plant to help. The BASF team identified strategic places for reuse; they also helped communicate the project’s importance and monitored each department's initiative. External stakeholders also proved useful, especially as the facility looked for more ways to reduce, reuse and recycle. The facility looked to vendors such as their waste company and UL to help them find alternatives throughout their journey. Now, organizations contact them for advice.

3. Expand your definition of partnership

Partners can come from anywhere government, nonprofit organizations, businesses, even schools. Consider Cultivate, a northern Indiana food rescue nonprofit that linked up with an elementary school in Elkhart, Indiana, to help feed children in need. Rather than throwing unused food away, the elementary cafeteria sends its leftovers to Cultivate, where staff and volunteers assemble and package the food into recyclable containers. Each meal is frozen to help maintain freshness and then sent home in backpacks that double as freezers. 

4. Network, network, network

Making the right connection doesn’t have to be a big expense, but it does mean you have to be open to opportunity. In the above example, the connection between Cultivate and the elementary school started with the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce. The chamber invited local nonprofits to work with the chamber’s leadership academy. During one meeting, the seeds of a local partnership were born. On a larger scale, events such as the Pritzker Forum on Global Cities gather participants worldwide to improve the efficacy of urban networks. These connections can transcend distance to allow for global collaboration and inspiration.

5. Make it easy for people to do their part

Not only does Disney place trash cans 30 feet part to help keep their theme parks clean, but they’ve also installed specially patented Automated Vacuum Assisted Collection systems with access points all over the park. These access points suck the collected trash through “utilidors,” which whisks the refuse to a central dumping place where it is processed and recycled. In the case of BASF, the company placed more than 50 recycling stations all over the plant. They strategically placed each station based on where waste was generated to reflect their belief that it had to be easy or people wouldn’t do it.

Sustainability is about long-term thinking and about positioning yourself for long-term success. I hope you’ll integrate these ideas into your sustainability strategy to help advance not only the U.N. SDG goals but your community as well.

About the author

Catherine Sheehy is the head of Advisory Solutions for UL's Environment and Sustainability division. She and her team manage a range of projects covering zero waste and circularity, greener product frameworks, and carbon optimization strategies.

Sheehy was a key author of the UL 880 Standard for Sustainability for Manufacturing Companies, which addresses key enterprise-level sustainable supply chain issues.