How to create a sustainability action plan

A well-structured action plan will drive your sustainability project forward and ensure support from all levels of the organisation. Read on to find out the top tips for creating your plan.

By Lindsey Hall

Before you can start taking meaningful actions to make your business more environmentally and socially responsible, it’s important to have the paperwork in place so that you can be confident that the steps you take are always leading you in the right direction.

A solid plan will help you to get senior management support for your actions and will ensure that your project will continue to be supported, making sustainability a part of the culture of your company. In other words, it will help to ensure that the efforts you make towards sustainability are also sustainable!

If you don’t have the time or resources to do this yourself, don’t worry! Wherever you are in the UK, Green Steps can provide sustainability consultation and will draw up an action plan that's specifically tailored to your company’s requirements. 

A guide to creating your sustainability action plan

So what should a sustainability action plan entail, and what do you need to consider?

Get Smart

A sustainability action plan details the work that different members in your organisation will need to take in order to achieve the goals that were established in your sustainability policy. The best plans delve into the specific tasks required, with actions that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time limited

Here’s an example of how to make an action to increase recycling rates SMART:

  • Make the action specific, for example “Remove individual landfill bins at desks and replace them with recycling bins”.
  • Ensure that the results of the action are measurable. In this example, a quick walk around will be able to determine if all rubbish bins have been replaced.
  • Agree with the person that the action has been assigned to that the timescale is achievable. Consider if there will be any delays that you will need to bear in mind, for example, will you have to buy new bins? How long will they take to be delivered? Will you need to let staff know why you’re making this change in advance? How much notice will they need?
  • Refer back to your sustainability policy. Does this action help you to reduce one of your main environmental impacts? In this case, the action is definitely relevant to reducing waste tonnage.
  • Set a completion date so that the action is time limited and doesn’t drag on longer than initially agreed.

Make each action accountable!

Your programme will be most successful if each action is clearly assigned to a person (or working group) who has responsibility for its completion within the timeframe and budget.

The best way to achieve this accountability is to involve the relevant party in agreeing the timeframe and budget of the action to begin with. If they have been part of the initial decision making, it is much harder for them to shirk responsibility at a later stage!

Consider your greatest impacts

Refer back to the main environmental and social impacts that you highlighted in your sustainability policy.

Your initial priority actions should be focused on reducing these impacts and you should keep checking back to make sure that they continue to be prioritized throughout the programme.

Get ideas from staff

Before you start your action plan, it can be a great idea to ask staff for their sustainability improvement ideas. Whether you put an opinion box in staff rooms, or ask each department manager to interview their employees for suggestions, getting ideas from the shop floor will really help to secure your project’s success.

It will make staff feel more involved in the changes that need to be made, and you’ll find that many of the best ideas can come from the people who do their particular tasks on a daily basis.

Consider the costs

Whilst it’s important to focus your efforts on the actions that have the greatest environmental or social benefits, it is also important to consider the costs (both financial and time-based) involved in the actions, in order to further prioritize them. You can then work on the low hanging fruit first and build up to the actions that require a greater commitment, giving your sustainability project time to develop.

The quick wins will give encouragement to the staff members who are involved in the programme by seeing the results of their actions. They will also be valuable to win over senior management and/or shareholders who will want to see the positive impacts of their investment in the sustainability program. This will help you to get approval for initiatives that might take longer to complete, or that might require a greater financial investment.

Have a clear starting point

Before you start focusing on actions to reduce your company’s environmental and social impacts, the first actions should be to establish the baseline data. For example, in order to say that you want to reduce waste by 20%, you will need to know from where, so that you can be certain when that 20% reduction has taken place.

Initial actions may be audits of spend, procedures and consumption, etc. so that there is benchmark data to allow everyone to know where they are starting from.

Break it down

If an action on your plan is too broad, such as “Reduce waste tonnage”, then you need to take a step back and consider what smaller actions are required in order to help you to reach this outcome. In this example, create separate sub-actions for each of the departments that contribute towards the company’s waste tonnage:

  • Catering: Audit current food waste volumes over the course of 1 week
  • Operations: Get waste and recycling tonnages for previous year from waste contractor
  • Office: Put a paper recycling bin next to all photocopiers and printers
  • Marketing: Create educational posters to show what can go into each bin and with information about the benefits of recycling

What will success look like?

As you draw up each action, consider how you will measure the impact that it has, and how you will judge whether it was a success that can be marked as completed.  What metrics will you use to track the progress towards completion of each step?

A work in progress

Your action plan is a living document that will grow and evolve as your sustainability project progresses. Some actions will become higher priority than initially planned, and others will drop down the list, or come off it entirely. The important thing is to start with a positive, methodological approach and to keep the plan as clear and concise as possible so that anyone joining the project or who has a role to play in it can easily understand what is entailed. Making sure that your actions are SMART and fully accountable will keep improvements progressing at the agreed rate and will ensure that no important actions drop off due to inactivity or a lack of responsibility.

How we can help

Green Steps are experts in sustainability. Wherever you are in the UK, we can help you to get your sustainability programme off on the right foot, or to get it back on track if it isn’t going as planned. Contact us for a free consultation so that we can understand your company’s unique requirements.

We can help you manage the entire process, from creating a sustainability policy to establishing the actions to take forward, and ensuring that your targets are met.

  • sustainability action plan
  • sustainable statement
  • sustainability planning