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Organizational Value is the Key to Sustainability


Joseph Fearn

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Sustainability has always seemed to me like something an operation must work toward. Meaning sustainability requires actions or steps that must be invested in, or operational adaptations that require the addition of some step, or equipment, or something. For a long time, I pursued sustainability by adhering to this approach of altering my operation to achieve sustainability objectives. I am now coming to believe that sustainability is more about a dynamic atmosphere surrounding and pervading the entire organization. Actions or mindsets that promote efficient resource management promote the organizations endurance. Sustainability is not only a mechanism for affecting the organizations physical world but is also about finding ways to conserve/enhance resources.

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While improving recycling is a worthwhile program, sustainability must be thought of in a larger way.

Sustainability is all about resources 
But what are our resources? A narrow definition likely is fuel, fertilizer, water, etc. Some will say money and manpower too. Still others will consider soil, plants, and animals to be resources. All of these are resources and can be depleted irrevocably if we do not manage them wisely. Perhaps the most important aspect of creating sustainability is assigning value to any resource. If something isn’t valued, then protecting it isn’t important. So being more inclusive about what we deem a valued resource is essential. Therefore, we must consider visual appeal, customer appreciation, and ecological benefit resources. Drilling down a bit, playability, marketability and membership (enrollment) are also resources. Our sustainability efforts must rope in all these and consider the relationships between them however loose they might seem.

Perhaps the most important aspect of creating sustainability is assigning value to any resource. If something isn’t valued, then protecting it isn’t important. So being more inclusive about what we deem a valued resource is essential... 

Defining 'Resource Value'
How a particular resource is valued is essential to creating its importance, and thereby understanding how likely an organization will protect (conserve) it. An organizations’ principles play a determinant role in outlining the resources it values. What does the organization wish to sustain, and why? How does the organization wish to be viewed by its community? To further muddy the issue though, one needs metrics to determine value. Then, the metrics must be understood (appreciated) consistently throughout the organization. This is just one area where the trouble starts. Inconsistent organizational values diminish the likely success of any sustainability effort. I suggest trees are an irreplaceable and invaluable resource, but others may see them as a hindrance if development is an objective. A unifying clarification for valuing resources must occur before sustainability efforts can be successful.

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Beautiful and easily maintained, this garden is also valuable because it meets the objectives of its site and use.

Defining 'Benefit' 
It is inescapable that our operations are a transactional equation. We do something, use this resource, and we get something. There is usually a transformation that takes place through commodity exchange. I mow and get a functional playing field. I repair an irrigation break and get water savings. I plant pretty flowers and my customers express satisfaction. When there is a less clear payback, or when one values a transaction differently, then support for that particular effort decreases. Support for sustainability breaks down. Only when the entire organization views sustainability as benefiting themselves will they support sustainability. Put another way, how do I get members of my organization who are apathetic about sustainability to see my trees as a benefit for their success?

Money Talks
There are many metrics that may be used to evaluate an organization's resource consumption. Some metrics may or may not overlap with the metrics held important to a grounds operation. As a Treehugger (smile when you say that) I feel ecologic benefit and time-cost replacement are powerful metrics regarding landscape benefit. But the golf pro or admissions counselor may not see them as valuable or may even see them as counterproductive. Seeking common metrics, or at the very least respecting another’s metrics lends importance to your own. I suggest that in all instances where we attempt to place value on a resource, money is the most universal metric for determining value. 

Sustainability is about creating a project or process and then maintaining it successfully for as long as necessary to accomplish organizational goals.

It seems obvious that the units of a business that are deemed most important by that business inevitably have the largest budgets. In my experience, a grounds department is never one of these departments. But, by being frugal and efficient with available resources, a grounds department can demonstrate the ability to maximize resources which certainly enhances the organizations sustainability. By evaluating any sustainability effort  by how much it costs, or how much it saves, coupled with how it fulfills organizational goals, an organization can demonstrate to stakeholders if any effort will have cost-benefit and create payback. 

'Sustainability' Means to Sustain
Sustainability shouldn’t just be associated with environmentalism, recycling, or alternative energy sources. It is far bigger than that. Sustainability is about creating a project or process and then maintaining it successfully for as long as necessary to accomplish organizational goals. Sustainability can apply to staffing, equipment life cycle, strategic goals. In short, every aspect of your organization must be evaluated for how sustainable it is, and sustainability should be woven into all your organizations actions.

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True sustainability authentically meets the needs of the organization and its community through assessing value, benefit, and cost.

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