Planning with Tomorrow in Mind: Developing a Steering Committee and Action Team on Sustainability

A sustainability committee is a group within an organization whose mission is to find solutions that make it greener and more environmentally responsible — and put these ideas into motion. The committee has to work to mobilize people to make sure the best sustainable practices are implemented throughout the organization.

Once an organization is convinced that it’s in their best interests to strive to be more environmentally friendly, creating a sustainability committee is a great next step. Typically, the team will have two elements: a steering committee, which consists of management, and an action team that implements the plan.

The Steering Committee

A steering committee is comprised of senior management as well as other key stakeholders (such as department representatives, and operations) who have the authority to make major decisions. The steering committee is responsible for maintaining project momentum, which is important especially when facing political hurdles brought on by change. They are also responsible for providing support to the action team and keeping them on track.

When building a steering committee and action team, their needs to be a coordinator who works with both teams. (In some cases, an outside individual such as a vendor, consultant, or green cleaning advocate can serve as the coordinator, but frequently these people play the role of key advisor to the coordinator.)

The primary role of the coordinator is team management and leadership.  Their specific functions include:

  1. Leadership: Coordinating the steering committee and action team.
  2. Communication: Ensuring the two groups have the information needed to make timely and informed decisions, while the management is kept aware of progress and that questions are answered quickly and accurately.
  3. Problem-Solving: Being aware of any problems that may be developing, coordinating efforts to deal with them quickly, and calling for outside assistance when required.
  4. Point of Contact: Serving as point of contact for all questions, communications, concerns, or other issues between the implementation teams, management, administration, staff and employees.

The Action Team

The action team (or green team if you prefer) includes the people who are responsible for the day-to-day activities and details involved in implementing the plan. They’re involved in everything from collecting the initial information that reviews the current situation to reviewing results and modifying procedures to achieve the desired results.

It can be difficult to choose the members of your action team. We recommend the following tips to help you come up with the best group:

  1. Include members from all aspects of your organization. This does not only include your office employees, but those who work in your plant or warehouse. Or those in the maintenance department, your contract service providers (i.e. cleaners, HVAC Company, Lawn Maintenance, Property managers, Health and Safety officers, Waste Management, Pest Management, etc.).
  2. Include employees who have expressed an interest. Those who are interested in improving the indoor air quality of your building and saving the environment should be highly motivated.
  3. Try to get those who are hesitant about the idea on board. These reluctant or skeptical folks could turn out to be the project’s biggest supporters.
  4. Invite customers or regular visitors to your facility to become members. Those with an outside perspective of your building bring a valuable perspective to your project.

Having the right members on your sustainability committee can make it easier to roll out sustainable practices across every segment of your organization. And having a sustainability coordinator who can work with the steering committee and the action team can help the groups work together.

Sustainability committees are capable of tremendous change within their organization and the greater environment, and creating a formal structure helps them make their biggest impact.