The sustainability culture shift: 8 steps for success

Perkins+Will's Jon Douglas has eight strategies that will start an organization on the path to embedding sustainability into its culture and begin the process of making deep carbon reductions.

April 08, 2016 |
Perkins+Will’s Ideas + Buildings
The sustainability culture shift: 8 steps for success

Toronto. Image courtesy Perkins+Will.

As Ontario’s new cap and trade legislation engages in public consultation, and with the recent announcement of up to $2 billion in the Canadian federal budget for “projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the environmental sustainability,” organizations are scrambling to determine their carbon emissions, and, more importantly, how they will reduce their associated impact. Under the new legislation, the emissions ceiling will be lowered over a set time period to reduce business’ footprint. Low hanging fruit measures such as lighting retrofits will likely not get an organization to the targets. Instead, organizations will need to tackle comprehensive initiatives that make deep carbon reductions. Often, these same organizations do not have the culture needed to implement a ‘comprehensive strategy’ for sustainability.

Developing and integrating sustainability practices into an organization can be a challenging task. Sustainability means shifting the way we do and think about things, therefore the implementation of sustainable strategies is really about change management. This means that the process of preparing and aligning an organization around any given sustainability change is as important as the new sustainability initiative itself.

The question that every leader needs to be asking is how do we implement and mobilize this new direction, new initiative, or cultural shift in a way that will be successful. This is where Perkins+Will comes in with leading experts, research and project experience.  We can help by identifying possible strategies from our research-driven thought leadership, and support implementation efforts with our team’s years of experience with facilitating the implementation of sustainable strategies.

Adapted from a model developed by John P. Kotter at Harvard Business School, our modified Sustainability Change Management Process ensures that the appropriate leadership, support processes, procedures, structures, and systems are in place for success.  Following these steps will start an organization on the path to embedding sustainability into its culture and begin the process of making deep carbon reductions.

  1. Urgency – Identify and discuss what opportunities can come from the Cap & Trade legislation enactment, and why the organization needs to accomplish this change now.
  2. Leadership Sponsorship – The initiative will need leadership commitment from members that have enough power to lead the change
  3. Vision + Strategy – Articulate the connections between the new sustainability directions and organizational strategy and successes.
  4. Communication – In multiple forms several times over the implementation, communicate to employees the strategy, progress, and actions related to the sustainability initiative
  5. Reinforcement – Systems and processes must evolve to support the implementation of the change and not cause obstacles and barriers that will undermine the effort
  6. Proof of Concept – Completing a test case can provide data and proof of the change success and outcomes. This pilot can be a new building, update, or program that can help launch the change initiative
  7. Measure + Spread – Track the performance of metrics to measure progress and celebrate successes and learn from challenges. Take those successes and lessons learned and spread them across the organization.
  8. Anchoring Sustainability in the Culture – Ensure that orientation is provided to new employees and leadership on the firm’s sustainability direction and why certain decisions were made.

As a firm, we are having conversations with real estate companies and facility departments in both public and private organizations to help them understand where these challenges lie and how to start the process of integrating sustainability. A prominent Southwestern Ontario university is working with us to develop campus-wide sustainability guidelines so that every project meets minimum performance metrics and controlling for carbon emission is always a priority. Toronto real estate organizations are using our experience with public consultation and engagement to connect with tenant organizations in a meaningful way, looking at energy conversation strategies that reduce carbon emissions. Our sustainability experts are providing clients with the information and analyses necessary to get their designs to net-zero, this is happening more and more with the pending legislation and new funding.

If your organization is considering adopting new sustainability initiatives, heed the eight steps to ensure the proper success. And of course, we’re always here for you if you have any questions.

About the Author: Jon Douglas is a sustainability leader for the Ontario offices of Perkins+Will, advising the architecture, interiors, and urban design disciplines, and directly engaging clients in sustainability consulting services such as green building certification, energy performance analysis, reporting to disclosures, and the development of policies, programs & educational guides.

Perkins+Will’s Ideas + Buildings | Perkins+Will

Perkins+Will is a firm of remarkable people who are driven by discovery – through their relationships, research, and design. In the simplest sense, our ideas are the precursors for all of our design work. Ideas + Buildings, Perkins+Will’s blog, features emerging thought leadership from across the firm, inviting an even greater global dialog around learning, wellness, workplace, sustainability, and everything in between. Visit the blog at:

Related Blogs

Activating the workplace
January 03, 2018 | Office Building Design | Perkins+WillMary Baker

Here's how active work stations impact how you think, perform, and feel.

November 16, 2017 | K-12 Schools | Perkins+WillJessica Figenholtz and Andrew Broderick

There are three driving issues behind this next generation: demographic change, behavioral change, and the...

Kids walking outside of a school
September 20, 2017 | K-12 Schools | Perkins+WillRachael Dumas

School structures offer a unique opportunity as they can often double as community centers and serve as she...

June 23, 2017 | Green | Perkins+WillKate Kerbel

Since its development in the 1990s, the LEED rating system has been applied to over 19.1 billion total comm...

April 20, 2017 | Architects | Perkins+WillRachel Casanova and Christine Dansereau

We have been preaching “good design matters” for a long time, demonstrating the connection between the phys...

March 31, 2017 | Urban Planning | Perkins+WillKristen Hall

For the most part what you see is streets that have been designed with the car in mind—at a large scale for...

Branding a library can take on significant importance as these spaces shift from providing more traditional services.

March 16, 2017 | Library | Perkins+WillDerek Jones

Libraries fulfill a new vision—community kitchens for experimentation with new ideas, problem solving and e...

February 22, 2017 | K-12 Schools | Perkins+WillJohn Poelker

Anderson-Livsey is a K-5 school located about 30 minutes East of Atlanta in Gwinnett County and has an enro...

February 02, 2017 | Office Building Design | Perkins+WillHakee Chang, Denise Darrin, and Lisa Weeks

An authentic culture cannot be forced, but can be encouraged and supported.

January 09, 2017 | Higher Education | Perkins+WillDavid Sheehan

These environments have less, but more efficient, personal space with more shared and amenity space, writes...

Overlay Init