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Making the Case for Dedicated Sustainability Staff in Jewish Non-Profits

(excerpt from draft article by Aleeza Oshry, Manager of the Sustainability Initiative for THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore)

The mission-vision-values statements of our non-profit organizations focus on the necessity to provide for the welfare and needs of those in our community. Rarely do our organizations actively focus on the need to recruit and expand the internal talent to make the organization successful. The general misperception of donors is that low overhead costs maximize the effect of their donation (Pallotta, 2012). In order to make the case for “smart giving,” we need to invest in growing our own internal strength in order to role-model best practices.

Creating a strategic plan for pursuing sustainability focused operations is not intuitive: one must seek the most suitable resources and make changes in the most efficient manner. “Even if one has the desire, it takes time. With everything else that the members of our Jewish communal leadership have to do, they often don’t have time to learn this new discipline,” explains Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, founder and director of the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network (BJEN). Addressing environmental and sustainable issues can seem overwhelming and insurmountable without knowledgeable and dedicated staff.

The benefits of employing a Sustainability Manager can have a far reaching positive impact. Sustainability management, used as the conduit for cross collaboration and communication both in and outside an organization, can address: benchmarking products used/purchased and evaluating their economic and environmental impact, educating and engaging employees to help the organization realize and achieve its sustainability goals, identifying community stakeholders and collecting their feedback about the effectiveness of initiatives, pinpointing key partners to collaborate on projects and share resources, creating sustainability metrics for evaluating and demonstrating progress and outcomes, and being innovative as new opportunities are discovered (Slafter, 2010).

The rise of executive level Sustainability positions, as tracked by analyst firm Verdantix, is directly related to operational improvement by decreasing environmental impact and business risks. Additionally, as 68% of consumers are becoming more energy and environmentally conscientious and are actively taking measures to reduce their own energy consumption, they expect that the businesses they work in and organizations they support to be doing the same. While most companies cite cost savings as the impetus for adopting more environmentally sound operations practices, 53% of the companies surveyed created sustainability best practices because it was “the right thing to do” (SustainableBusiness.com, 2011). Ultimately, these efforts are anticipated to bring about system wide savings which can be used to enhance programs and community services.

The September 2011 issue of CFO magazine states that despite a slumping economy, nearly 70% of businesses anticipate spending even more on sustainability initiatives this year. Contrary to the stereotype that people who embrace sustainability are “tree-huggers” or “die-hard” environmentalists, executives are not forgoing profits in favor of environmental initiatives; the majority report that their sustainability actions and decisions actually increased profits (O’Sullivan, 2011). Sustainability initiatives have been shown to create an influx of resources and a venue to share best management practices that improve company outcomes.

Yet according to a study published by IBM subsidiary TRIRIGA, of the 92% of organizations that have established environmental sustainability policies and goals, barely one third of these companies have bridged the “sustainability chasm” and actually achieved their sustainability objectives. The study identifies what separates the “achievers,” those companies who have successfully established environmental policies and goals, from the “planners” and “stragglers,” who have yet to do so: the ability to integrate sustainability throughout the organization. In order to successfully bridge this “sustainability chasm,” executive management must be involved and organization-wide internal teams must be used to evaluate and implement sustainability strategies. Additionally, sustainability, especially related to energy efficiency, needs to be ranked as a top priority with dedicated budgets to support the initiatives (IBM, 2011).

MITSloan Management Review identifies these successful organizations as “harvesters”, embracers of sustainable activities that directly result in operational benefits. These organizations have changed their business model to one that distinctively supports sustainability rather than attempting to impose sustainability into a pre-existing structure. A key component in this design shift is clearly articulating that the responsibility for sustainable initiatives is not marginalized to the sustainability manager alone, but rather is a collective process with support from CEOs and cross-functional senior management who all support the objectives of the sustainability plan. This collaborative approach with internal stakeholders often leads to successful collaboration and networking both inside and outside the organization (MIT, 2012).

Over time, sustainable business practices become standard best management practices. They address long-term profitability and vision by establishing procedure for routine evaluation and benchmarking to assess operations and behaviors. Through the focus of sustainability, we can implement objectives that will not just have cost saving benefits, but actually leave a positive mark on our environment. Through these added benefits, non-profit organizations have the ability to transform the way the public thinks about charity, about giving, and about how change gets made.

Being attuned towards social trends is particularly important in the non-profit world, as our organizations are lay-led, and attracting a healthy donor base is essential to continue providing services. In a customer opinion study published by The Nielson Company in 2011, 83% felt that it was important for companies to have an environmental program (MIT, 2011). Through sustainability, Jewish organizations can excite and inspire their donor base as well as identify other potential stewards through a hallmark of responsible and sustainable practices. Especially true in the non-profit sector, sources of revenue rely on generous donors and philanthropic funding. Sustainable operations have the ability to attract additional sources of funding through grants from government, local utilities and other organizations with a focus on environmental restoration and community revitalization and improvements. By acting upon and responding to sustainability issues, Jewish communal organizations can demonstrate excellence in operations, while emphasizing the Jewish values inherent in these sustainability best practices.

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