How do I start a sustainability community in my organization?
In my family we have a favorite scene from the movie “Finding Nemo”. It is the one where a bunch of fish have executed an elaborate plan to escape an aquarium and make it to the ocean. This scene shows them bobbing up and down in the bay, all enclosed in their individual plastic bags, and one of them says “now what?”. Sometimes sustainability work in the tech sector can feel a bit like that, you know the goal, you have a mission, and yet you are isolated in a plastic bag not sure how to proceed. That is where this blog post comes in! This post will outline some tips and tricks on how to get a sustainability community started in your organization, no matter if it is a company, non-profit organization or an interest group on some technical subject.
Step 1 – What is already happening?
The first step is simple, have a look around and see what is already happening in your organization. Is there already a conversation ongoing? Maybe you already have sustainability goals? Is anyone executing on said goals? By doing an inventory of what is already happening it is easier to find potential synergy effects and allies. If there are already people with a sustainability interest or who are pushing these questions in your org, great! Make sure to band together, if possible, or ask each other for feedback, I think that is a great way to improve one’s ideas.
Step 2 – Find your goal
The next step is to identify your goal. What are you trying to accomplish? Examples of this can be anything from forming a virtual-team that can produce sustainability goals, to starting a recycling campaign.
I’d like to think that there are three main steps towards being an organization that actively works with sustainability or towards a sustainability goal.
- Awareness building is the very first step, and since you are reading this blog, I will assume you are primarily interested in the sustainability impact and opportunities of software. Without awareness it is hard to start a conversation about the next steps, simply because your audience might not have the vocabulary to understand it.
- Skill building
- Skill building is the second step. How can you build the muscles and the brain power needed to tackle sustainability problems head on? This step is unlocking the ‘HOW’ to sustainability work. By giving your community the skills to get the job done, you are enabling more people to contribute! It may feel fun for a while to be the lone wolf ahead of the pack but when the whole organization is empowered to pull in the same direction, you will get to your goal faster.
- Lastly, executing! When your organization has awareness and the skills to make an impact it is time to put it all into action.
In Step 1, you likely identified where your organization is in regard to the three phases. Step 2 is about finding an appropriate goal based on your current position. In order to set yourself up for success, I recommend setting a SMART goal. SMART is an acronym that (usually) stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Some examples of Microsoft’s (SMART) sustainability goals are:
- Microsoft will be a carbon negative company by 2030
- Microsoft will protect more land than we use by 2025
- Zero waste for Microsoft’s direct operations, products and packaging by 2030
- Microsoft will replenish more water than it consumes by 2030
Step 3 – Plan
Now that you have a SMART goal it is time to break it down into actionable chunks. Try and relate it to the three phases above even if your goal is in the “executing” phase.
The awareness phase is a bit special and you have to consider how deep you want to go. Do you want to build awareness around the climate crisis and sustainability in general or would you rather focus on the direct sustainability impact and opportunity of software? Some examples of activities in the awareness phase can be:
- Starting a newsletter
- Setting up a weekly discussion forum
- Starting a recycling project
Some examples of activities for the skill building phase can be:
- Hosting a talk about Sustainable Software Engineering practices
- Watching the Microsoft Learn module on SSE – https.//aka.ms/sse/learn
- Having a sustainability Hackathon, such as Hack the Climate.
The awareness and skill building will be ongoing activities as this is still an emerging topic and there are constantly new things to learn, but don’t let that stop you from diving into the execution phase!
Step 4 – Full steam ahead!
Okay, so you have your goals, your plans, and your allies. Time to start executing! My most important feedback here is to think about what a sustainable pace (pun intended) is. We are doing sustainability work for the long haul, so setting a goal that you will share in a weekly newsletter packed with the latest sustainability news might be fun at start. However, consider if this is something you can do week in and week out for a longer period. If your organization is starting from zero, doing anything at all is going to have a substantial impact! Start small and expand over time.
Our very own Sandra Pallier (who is the designer for this blog) has a great talk from TEDx on how to create space for climate conversations at work. I highly recommend checking it out as a part of step 2 – finding your goal.
If you want to join a broader community of tech workers to discuss and learn about climate change, consider joining ClimateAction.Tech! There you can engage with other’s and continue the momentum.
If you are a Microsoft employee, consider joining the Worldwide Sustainability Community (WWSC) and starting a local chapter if there isn’t one already.