As businesses move forward from the challenges of the pandemic, pursuing sustainability can help them recover in several ways, from building greater resiliency to opening up to new markets to cutting costs and waste.
Jessy Servi Ortiz, managing director of the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council, says her organization and its Green Masters program can help companies figure out that formula, all while providing tools to benchmark progress and collaborate with peers.
“We really believe we’re at that cusp with sustainability that it’s not really just ‘it’s nice to have’ anymore. It’s really becoming something that businesses need to pay attention to,” she says.
Now in its 13th year, Green Masters aims to be an idea generator and planning tool for businesses to determine actions they can take in nine categories of sustainability, including energy, water, waste, carbon and other emissions, workforce, governance, supply chain, transportation, and outreach and community.
The free program includes three tiers of recognition: Green Apprentice, Green Professional and Green Master. Companies earn designations based on points earned through a questionnaire they fill out. The top 20 percent of companies in the assessment achieve Green Master status, with 27 companies achieving the designation in 2020.
Servi Ortiz says companies value the ideas they get from the program and the chance to identify solutions and practices they may not have considered. It can help to know that other businesses are facing the same challenges they are.
Many companies look to the Green Masters application to help decide what actions may become goals for the coming year. They also take pride in the recognition they receive from achieving the Green Master designation.
Ratish Namboothiry, director of Innovation for Good and Sustainability at Kohler Co., says Green Masters provides a useful screening tool to gauge the maturity of the manufacturer’s environmental sustainability program.
“This independent external process helps to validate that we have a good program. We are honored to be a Green Master,” he says.
To succeed at the program and to make strides in sustainability efforts, Namboothiry says a company must consider its impacts and manage those accordingly. At Kohler, that includes measures that look at the company’s impact across its global operations and designing sustainability-focused products.
KI, another Green Master company, uses the program as part of its overall sustainability strategy. The Green Bay furniture maker has created sustainable practices and policies and works toward incorporating a large percentage of recycled content into its products and packaging. The company also identifies and reduces the use of chemicals of high concern and selects safer alternatives.
“The Green Masters is in line with what we’re doing and it also allows us to measure year after year how we’re doing, whether we’re improving or where we can improve,” says Robin Kunstmann, KI’s sustainability manager.
In 2011, KI set a 10-year goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent and is on track to achieve that. Not only do the company’s efforts help the manufacturer become a better environmental steward, its customers also demand them. In addition, consumers are increasingly seeking eco-friendly products, Kunstmann says.
Servi Ortiz agrees that sustainable products can help companies increase sales. “Especially for manufacturers in the product industry, they’re just seeing exponential growth in their green products,” she says.
Where to begin
Sustainability makes good business sense on a lot of levels, and there’s no downside to organizing around it, Servi Ortiz says. While few people predicted a pandemic on the level of COVID-19, most companies with sustainability focuses already had strong health and safety practices in place that helped them move quickly to add necessary measures after the pandemic began.
“Companies that pay attention to sustainability tend to have a better handle on what their major risks are and a plan in place to address those risks,” Servi Ortiz says.
A few years ago, the WSBC joined forces with WMEP Manufacturing Solutions and now operates under the umbrella of that organization. Part of the goal of the move was to increase participation among small- to medium-sized businesses.
While business pressures or being a publicly traded company has compelled many large firms to create sustainability initiatives, smaller businesses may have less time or fewer resources to devote to the issue. These businesses can create a large impact but might not realize that developing a sustainability plan is accessible to them. Environmental efforts can save money and create efficiencies for businesses of any size, Servi Ortiz says.
To get started with the Green Masters program, companies can download and review the application. The WSBC is in the process of developing an updated, more streamlined program platform for the Green Masters program and is debuting a membership model for the organization that’s aimed at providing more value to member businesses.
For businesses new to Green Masters, Servi Ortiz recommends assembling a cross-functional team of decision makers and implementers. Gathering people to discuss issues can serve as a good starting point, she says. Green Masters also offers a mentoring program that can pair a new business with a peer company.
Reducing waste is an entry point to sustainability for a lot of companies, but they can also see big cost savings on the upstream side in areas including product development and resource utilization, Servi Ortiz says.
Beyond saving money, sustainability makes companies more resilient and helps them do their part to protect the natural resources we all depend on for everything, Servi Ortiz says. It also can serve as a recruitment and retention tool for employees who want to work for a company that has a strong social conscience, showing them that the business is “walking the walk,” she says.
Ultimately, a sustainability focus helps companies assess the business from a holistic and systematic perspective and create an understanding that all systems within the business affect other parts. “When they work well together, you have a more efficient overall business,” Servi Ortiz says.
2020 New North Green Masters companies
- Mercury Marine
- Oshkosh Corp.
- Kohler Co.
- Green Bay Packaging Inc.
- Masters Gallery Foods Inc.