Forming Your Sustainability Teams

Forming Your Sustainability Teams

Many communities are now awakening to the reality that their citizens and businesses want to be part of a community that is committed to reducing climate change. Our community sustainability blog series has focused on the why, but this article shares some tips on how to get started.

Vested Team Members Care about the Community and are Committed to the People, Planet and Prosperity

As you think about the team who will help with sustainability planning, consider this question to help you narrow down the list.  You should not have to educate the invitees.   Narrow your group to a small group of trusted individuals but do not hesitate to extend outside of your inner circle.  There will be time to test your ideas out on others in the broader community. Instead, the original group of strategists should be those who are intimately familiar with the problems in your community because they have lived and breathed it for many years or are currently doing so.  Ask recent past leaders in your community, as well as your current stakeholders.  This council should consist of leaders from the administration, legislators, public health officials and educators.  All have one qualification in common, they care about the community, our connected to the community and care about its success.    Everyone must understand their roles and what service they are being asked to do to serve in this short-term. Make sure they understand this is a short-term ask and they will more likely say yes to the time commitment.

An Accountability Chart can clearly identify expectations.   A common business tool is the RACI Matrix.  Each department or stakeholder is assigned a role.  

Responsible – “the doer” assigned to do work, responsible for completing the work.
Accountable – signs off that the work is correct or complete and provides leadership over those responsible.
Consulted – Asked for advice by the team and provides valuable input
Informed – Provided with status update but their input is not necessary in this phase.  
Agree on Roles in your early kickoff meetings.

As with most projects, one person will end up with accountability for various tasks.    There are certain roles that are important to smooth coordination:  Executive Sponsor, Facilitator, Reporter, and Scheduler.  

A green strategy is no longer just the responsibility of the Sustainability Director, but it ascends to the executive ranks. As Mayor or Trustee, you may be the Executive Sponsor with the primary role of communicating needs and providing motivation.  The “CEO” must set the tone for Corporate Responsibility considering the cost and benefit of incorporating green into its development and zoning plans, raw material sourcing, building and community operations, and weigh the brown discount for not prioritizing this way. They are concerned that stakeholders will devalue their position as they critique the lack of measures taken to combat climate change.

To help shoulder the burden of this accountability, consider appointing a staff member who can be dedicated to this cause as a short-term assignment.  The Facilitator and the Reporter are appointed and may be the same person.   The Facilitator will take the Sustainability Council along this journey, and this person often holds administrative titles like Planning Director.  If budget allows, this role can be fulfilled by an expert outside consultant. They can report out work product, fact check, ensure that the group still has alignment and most importantly, bring the initial strategic planning phase to a close within the timeline suggested.  The Reporter will ensure everyone is informed and document progress. This position may be a local volunteer from the community. Your Scheduler is an administrator in your organization. Other enlisted volunteers from the residential or business community may not take a leadership role, but will be available for ample input.

Here is an example of what your RACI Matrix may look like.

Early Steps in a RACI Matrix as You Announce the Sustainability Planning Sessions

Setting up a strong team will keep you on track, assist with group cohesion and produce a better result. Good luck!

About HlpSum1: HlpSum1 is a sustainability consulting organization with a focus on supporting small communities. Joyce Mihalik, author of this post, is a sustainability advocate supporting HlpSum1’s mission to research how leading organizations are approaching sustainability, and use proven business management techniques to create achievable sustainability initiatives for small communities beginning this journey. For more information, please visit for information about sustainability alignment strategies.