Embarking on any sustainability effort requires much more than deciding to recycle more often. Even a well-designed plan can fall through if tracking success is not executed well. But that’s far ahead; let’s start at the beginning.
Tracking five important key performance indicators (KPIs) is essential to establishing a good plan. Understand your inputs, outputs, the flow of these inputs and outputs, the sources of your materials, and the efficiency of your processes. Armed with this knowledge, you can develop an all-encompassing sustainability plan.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) first started tracking sustainability metrics to ensure its actions were in compliance with environmental standards. As USPS’s sustainability branch began tracking the organization’s consumption, it realized there were many areas for improvement, from greenhouse gas emissions to water use. The branch then selected focus areas and got to work.
Recorded data will provide the best measure of achievements to direct sustainability efforts. With real-time data, you can see instant consumption of various inputs (in buildings: electricity, water, and gas), so you’ll know which efforts are causing specific effects. Even if you’re not pro-sustainability, you’ll be able to track something closer to your pocket: cost savings. Many sustainable decisions also help your bottom line.
Armed with recorded data, USPS could see the results of each sustainability project. This provided quantifiable proof that the measures were both reducing impacts on the environment and operational costs. In one case, the sustainability group could actually attribute upgrades to the HVAC system – targeted at improving energy efficiency – to a 35% reduction in water consumption.
In buildings, meters and submeters are absolutely essential. At one particularly energy efficient building, the engineering team found additional areas to cut back on consumption through real-time data insights after installing submeters. If executed properly, these energy reduction efforts will result in $37,500 savings per year, about 9% of the building’s total energy costs.
After achieving the low-hanging fruit goals, further effort is needed to identify the next areas for improvement. Real-time data provides constant transparency, which provides the best insights for action. Although the next level of sustainable projects may be more difficult to manage, you’ll be able to understand the payoff with proper tracking and data to decide if your next planned move is the right move.
Physical waste had been an issue for USPS, so the sustainability group wanted to reduce waste by 50%. After targeting the easy-to-reach waste reduction efforts, the group realized it had set its goal too low. With the data of the first round of effort, which resulted in approximately 40% reduction, Day and his team decided they could achieve zero waste with the right tools and mindset. They are now working towards achieving a 90-100% reduction in waste outputs through creative recycling tactics and policy advocacy.
Achieving successful sustainability projects is not a mountainous task–it simply requires dedication, careful tracking, a good data management system, and a willingness to achieve greener operations.