Coro’s Blog: On Purpose

Your Sustainability Strategy is Set. Now What?

Published on January 29, 2016

Increasingly, a growing number of organizations put a lot of effort into designing and adopting sustainability strategies only to find themselves struggling with implementation and buy-in after the honeymoon period. Momentum stalls and people get side-tracked and lose focus, potentially diminishing the efforts of the initial stages. That’s why in my sustainability strategy practice I focus on advising and coaching clients on sustainability implementation and embedment.

Most companies on the sustainability path eventually look to embed social and environmental sustainability into everything they do, including business decisions. This phase is often a stumbling block for companies and a new undertaking for many functions and business units. For this reason I was thrilled to write a case study of BC Hydro’s approach to sustainable decision-making a few years ago. BC Hydro is BC’s energy utility, operating 31 hydroelectric facilities and three thermal generating plants across the province. I wanted to understand how the company is successfully embedding sustainability into business decisions and in turn, share their lessons with sustainability practitioners in the interests of progress for all.

BC Hydro believes that better business decisions result by looking holistically at social, environmental and economic sustainability to understand that what happens in one area has effects on others. Like other organizations, BC Hydro faces a number of challenges in its sustainability embedment efforts. These challenges include:

  • multiple objectives
  • multiple stakeholders with different values and priorities
  • overlapping regulatory oversight
  • complexity
  • risks and uncertainty of impacts

This case study tells the story of how BC Hydro’s quest for sustainability decision-making methodology resulted in the adoption of a structured decision-making approach in business case development, project design and day-to-day decisions at the power utility. Structured decision-making (SDM) is a method for creating a clear and concise summary of a problem and the possible solutions to underscore the consequences of each choice and guide a decision process towards better outcomes.

BC Hydro’s framework helps to define the problem, determine who needs to be involved in the process of developing alternatives (which also helps create a shared understanding of how people with different interests and perspectives view different options), and compare the trade-offs created by each alternative solution to the problem and, ultimately the impact and implications. This approach helped BC Hydro resolve competing solutions in managing the flow of the Puntledge River for hydroelectric generation, for example. Spending time using the SDM approach to understanding objectives and engaging stakeholders led to better solutions and a win-win outcome.

What I find particularly transferable about SDM is the problem definition step, the stakeholder process, the development of objectives and the generation of alternatives, consequences and trade-offs. These steps are generally applicable to most organizations seeking to embed sustainability in their decisions. Check out the case study to pick up ideas for sustainable decision-making at your organization.

For more on this topic see Structured Decision Making: A Practical Guide to Environmental Management Choices. The book references the BC Hydro case study in the final implementation chapter. The case study is also one of the resources profiled in the Embedding Project.

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