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Sustainability Programs Can Go Wrong

(Article originally featured in the July 2016 issue of PetAge Magazine. Pet Age Magazine is a Platinum Media Sponsor. )

In the last five years, the pet industry has seen an incredible rise in the number of companies who promote eco-friendly products. In the hard goods category, the primary trend is to source recycled PET (plastic bottles) for stu ng, and cut and sew products such as toys or beds. In the consumables category, there has been a dramatic rise in sourcing sustainable ingredients. And on the social side of sustainability, a charitable giving program could be considered a “need-to-have” strategy to enter the market.

While this trend provides in-demand alternative products for consumers, many companies aren’t integrating sustainability into their business in a strategic fashion. When the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC) surveyed the industry in 2015, only 30 percent of companies reported to have a formal sustainability program that they measure and improve regularly. Only 11 percent rated their program as very effective.

At PSC, our job is to take whatever sustainability program a business may have in place and work with that company to make it more effective. One of the common “sustainability gone-wrong” obstacles that we frequently encounter is a team of employees who can no longer sustain or make progress on their goal to be good corporate citizens.

Coupled with the common occurrence of green-team fatigue, we also find that many companies have a laundry list of projects they have been working on that no one knows about. When less than half of internal employees know about responsible business practices underway at a company, this likely means that an even smaller percentage of the company’s leadership team is aware, thereby leaving most if not all customers and consumers in the dark.

The results of these incremental and disconnected programs is that many companies lose momentum and are left with the remains of what were once good ideas but are now dilapidated initiatives that employees feel burdened by. What is worse is that some employees are left clinging on to these good ideas but they struggle to get the nancial or team member support that they crave to feel valued at the workplace.

So how does a company make its sustainability program more effective? How can a company take whatever odds and ends they have been working on and develop a more integrated and cohesive strategy that will continue to engage employees, customers, and investors?

Integrated sustainability can be understood as a way of being for a company rather than an add-on program. When you integrate sustainability, the success of your business is tied to the success of your sustainability goals. Here are some key strategies for an integrated sustainability program.
• Sustainability goals are tied to business objectives
• All employees, including the leadership team, have incorporated sustainability goals into their work performance metrics and they report on them just like any other goal
• Quantifiable metrics are set and monitored regularly, and strategies pivot when additional solutions become available

It has been very well documented at this point that companies with integrated sustainability programs see a variety of benefits. Some of these bene ts can easily be translated into business terms, while others are harder to quantify and, in some ways, trying to quantify them makes them feel less authentic.

For example, integrated sustainability strategies lead to more engaged employees. Companies with engaged employees frequently see a huge reduction in injuries on the job. According to a 2016 study by Gallup, this injury rate is as much as 70 percent lower! In 2016, Liberty Mutual reported that just missed workdays from workplace injuries cost U.S. businesses 62 billion dollars a year.

However, thinking about employee injuries in economic terms is also a little detached and doesn’t capture the emotional and mental benefits that come from providing an enjoyable place to work where employees feel valued and cared for.

If you are an executive of a company and you feel really good about your contribution to your employees, you are probably more likely to play a stronger leadership role within the company and provide a strong vision for the employees to strive toward. is in turn will encourage more innovation and ensure that your company is a leader in the market. All of this once again leads to higher pro tability and we have arrived at the same conclusion: An integrated sustainability program drives business success.

Additional bene ts from integrated sustainability programs include:
• Increased employee productivity, retention, and attraction of top talent
• Increased innovation
• Higher efficiency leading to a decrease in costly resources like energy
• Lower supply chain risk
• Increased brand loyalty
• Higher long-term profitability

At PSC, we facilitate the integration of strategic business-driven sustainability. We know that every company has a different DNA and our solutions are customized to meet such needs. You can find case studies of our strategic work featuring member company Planet Dog and “I and love and you” at You can also access our toolkit where you will find additional resources to help you understand the business case for integrating sustainability into your business, educational modules to get your team up to speed and implementation tools to drive progress.

Caitlyn Bolton is the executive director of the Pet Industry Sustainability Coalition. One of her roles is to coordinate sustainability improvement projects with PISC members and their strategic partners.