Sustainability, The Journey Forward
Hello everyoneÖ..Iím baaack. As I promised or threatened, depending on whether or not you were a fan of my earlier columns in this space, I am writing my first guest column. For the sake of the new readers, I used to write a monthly column for this website, writing first about green/vegetative roofs, then on a broad sustainable level as it related to rooftops.
Last summer I undertook a new role for my company, Tremco, responsible for implementing our sustainable initiative, company-wide. With these new responsibilities, I felt I could no longer write a monthly column, telling Linda and Aramis (illustrious founders of greenroofs.com) that I would be withdrawing as a monthly contributing editor. Linda, in a moment of losing her senses, asked me to stay on as a guest editor, contributing articles when I could about sustainability from this more expansive scope. Because she is so insistent and before she came to her senses, I agreed to this request, hence this article. So, if you like the article, itís mine and if you donít, it's Lindaís fault. See Linda, I told you might be sorry about your offer.
Well then, what have I been up to and why should you care? Hopefully, you will care because you are a dedicated person in your area of expertise and care or are curious about sustainability at some additional level. I hope that what I have to share will help you in your daily journey. What I have been up to is all about taking a journey, one that is designed to last ten years. In the process we will enhance where we have been and transform ourselves into something we aspire to be, a WORLD-CLASS Sustainable Company, that just happens to make its living in the world of the built environment.
As I have started this process, Iíve already met some great people along the way, faced challenges, had a few defeats, and savored small victories. I am learning some things along the way that if I can share them with you, hopefully will help you in your journey. So, I promise to keep the advertising for my company to a minimum and just use this platform as a way to share the lessons Iíve learned with you. Fair enough? OK, then letís begin!
First, what is sustainability? Itís referred to as many things, hereís a few.
Pretty much, they all mean the same things and are trying to communicate the same idea, sustainability is more than about environmental considerations, it must include a social and economic aspect. Where we hit a sweet spot, there true balanced sustainability exists. To further understand the concept we must also look from these three pillars to a widely used and/or accepted definition.
A common definition used by many is this one developed by the Brundtland Commission in their report:
Slide used with permission of
Tremco Roofing and Building Maintenance.
Ok. If we need to think about all three legs of this ďsustainability stool,Ē then the next question is what to do with this as it relates to ourselves and our companies. Iíve seen many around the country struggling with this most basic question. The first struggle is getting one's head around the idea that itís as much about people as it is environmental. In fact, Iíve found most people donít equate the idea of people with sustainability, focusing mostly or strictly on environmental issues.
Second, the idea of being profitable or prosperous also being a part of the idea is somehow counter-intuitive for many. I think that is because many of us have grown up with seeing the aggressive stance of previous versions of various environmental groups, facing off against corporations. We have grown up with the idea that being environmentally aware and prosperity driven are exclusive ideas, when in fact this can be far from the truth. Notice I said can be, not always is. One can be driven for profits at all costs and the environmental considerations can suffer, while others have found that a revolution of their thinking about the environment and how their business interfaces with it can prove to be very profitable, making them quite prosperous.
As we struggle to understand, we are faced with what to do about this new knowledge. How do I balance everything I do in my business every day with the idea I must consider the three parts of sustainability and think not only about my needs today, but make sure I do not impede the ability of future generations to do what they need to do.
Letís personalize that a bit more, who are these ďfuture generations?Ē That would be your children, your grandchildren, your great grandchildren. Today, would you turn out the lights, take away the water in your house, make your kids breathe polluted air, make your young children work in sweat shops, or take away the ability for them to be prosperous enough to pay the bills, all so you could enjoy it only for yourself? Most would not.
If true, then why would we do it to them in the future? Donít think we would if we could see the future like we can see the present. We must find this balance, so we can enjoy the fruits of our labor today and ensure our future generations have the same choice.
All right, letís accept for the sake of getting on with this article that you agree we should think about all three aspects of sustainability and future generations, now what? The first questions would be, where do we/I want to go? What is our vision of changing from where we are to where we want to go?
Next question, where am I now? Following question, how do I get from where I am now to where I want to go? Then the usual other questions, right? What resources will I need? Can we do this by ourselves or do we need help? What if we fail? What changes will I have to make? AND there it is, the word that causes us all to cringeÖ
Change! The monster that lurks in every business, home and person, we hate to change. Now out comes all our biases, all designed to attack the real monster, the change monster. Iíve read and re-read a great book entitled ďthe Change MonsterĒ by Jeanie Daniel Duck; it has been a great help to me as I navigate our company changes and think youíll find it enlightening as well.
We started our journey in late 2009, forming vision, goals and action plans; by late summer of 2010 we started the implementation process. Remember, it is a long journey not a sprint. Fairly quickly I found what was described in Ms. Duckís book, that organizational change always involves personal change.
When you are faced with changing people, they all donít want to change. Some embrace it quickly and are enthusiastic, some hang back to see how this is going to play out, and some resist passively, some actively.
If you are going to embrace sustainability, expect the same. We embraced the idea that given our scale of change we would need outside help, so we engaged outside help, and this has proven to be worth the investment. Consider this carefully.
Probably the most important thing you can do is make sure that whoever sits at the top of the organization is fully onboard with the idea of embarking on this journey. If you are a small business with one or two employees, that means you, if a larger corporation that means the CEO or the President.
Fortunately for us, it started right from the top with our group President and was fully embraced by our Division President - this has been huge for me personally as change has begun. There is nothing like having support from the top to make your job possible!
We are now several months down the road of this ten year journey and as I said earlier, I have experienced both victories and setbacks. Our process has been spectacular in some regards, but being the impatient person I am, I always think we can be further then we are. The successes have come in packages of all sizes from an entry level administrative person coming up with a great idea for saving paper or someone in our factories removing something from the waste stream, to more grand success like the completion of our corporate headquarters sustainable makeover. The renovationís most noteworthy sustainable features include four types of sustainable roofing systems:
~ A vegetated roof featuring local plants. Low impact lighting and a water capture system will be integrated with the roof, as will a pathway of recycled materials. Signs will describe the roofís features and provide information about the plant palette.
~ The ENERGY STARģ qualified Rock-Itô roof surfacing system, composed of white gravel set in white adhesive.
~ A white, reflective, single ply system installed beneath a rooftop photovoltaic (PV) system.
~ A thin-film rooftop PV system that will be used to generate electricity for the building. A second PV system on a white reflective roof will be installed on the South building. (If interested, you can see this @ www.tremcogreenHQ.com).
This was a great example of our leaders putting our money where our mouths are and it has become something we have become very proud of as a group of people working within our company.
Not everything is all rosy, as we find that some of our action plans for this fiscal year are harder than we thought. We have found that one string is often attached to another and you need to change something else before you can even hope to tackle the action plan you established while sitting in the comforts of your planning sessions. We have found that not everything is easily measured with our current way of doing business and while the changes required will be ultimately good for us, that ďchangeĒ thing makes everyone a bit nervous, especially when the way it has served us well in the past. We have also found that sometimes what you want to do now must wait, because the industry is not quite ready for your idea or the economics just donít make sense, yet.
Again, I remind myself and others, itís a ten year journey and not a sprint, so we need to stay within our scope for the present and work towards the bold goals we have set for ourselves over the coming decade. Donít get discouraged with small steps!
Finally, what Iíve learned so far is that many are ready! They are ready to believe that they can make a difference. They are ready to find creative ways to mesh people, plant and prosperity into what they do every day. Weíre a pretty motivated bunch overall, but this has challenged us and more than not, we are responding to the challenge. This has made my role exciting, watching what effect a true commitment by a group of people can have on their company, their industry and in part, their world.
Itís still BIG and a bit early to ďcall the electionĒ but Iím encouraged. Hang in there with me and I hope our journey will inspire you on yours. Perhaps together, we really can change the world, one step at a time!
Until I re-surface the next time for air, I remain,
Your guest editor with a view
Executive Director of Sustainability
Contact Ralph at: phone (VM) 877.510.2681 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Past Sustainable Roofing Technologies Articles
Past ASTM Task Force Updates
The opinions expressed by our Guest Feature writers and editors may not necessarily reflect the beliefs of Greenroofs.com, and are offered to our readers to simply present individual views and experiences and open a dialogue of further discussion, debate and research. Enjoy, and if you have a particular comment, please contact the author or send us an email to: email@example.com.
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