The Sustainability Buzz

Sustainability Symposium Highlights Importance of Quality Metrics

Sustainability metricsWhat do Greenworks Philadelphia, the North Penn School District, Sustainable Camden County, Xerox, the Healthy Schools Campaign, the Barnes Foundation, Sealed Air, the City of Easton and the Philadelphia Zoo all have in common?  For one thing, they all were presenters at last week’s third annual PA/NJ Sustainability Symposium.  More than 800 regional sustainability advocates met on the Temple University campus at this event sponsored by the Delaware Valley Green Building Council (DVGBC).   The broad selection of track sessions offered an opportunity to learn what the developing trends and practical successes of sustainability are throughout the region’s economy.

These organizations also share the perspective that creating and communicating quality metrics is an important component of successful sustainability projects.  Regardless of whether the organization represented government, business, education or the non-profit community, each presenter defined the success of their endeavors through the use of carefully-chosen metrics that quantified the impact of their efforts.

Not surprisingly, the City of Philadelphia has faced the largest challenge in defining and communicating metrics based on the sheer size of the Greenworks project to re-create Philadelphia as “the greenest city in the country.”   They chose fifteen target metrics in five areas – energy, environment, equity, economy and engagement – representing 167 separate initiatives.  Now halfway through their implementation timeline, Greenworks has compiled significant year-over-year data that tracks their success.  Interestingly, this ability to analyze results on an on-going basis has led them to add 28 new initiatives and delete 12, based on the evolving sustainability climate.  For Philadelphia, the identification of quality metrics and rigorous tracking enhance the city’s ability to report to citizens the value returned for tax money invested as well as maintain citizen interest and engagement.

The North Penn School District has just been named a 2013 Energy Star Partner by the U.S. EPA. The district has been involved with the Energy Star program since 2008, using the EPA’s Energy Star program and Portfolio Manager as a management strategy for reducing energy consumption and promoting a conservation ethic among their students, faculty and staff.  The strategy uses on-going performance measurement and whole-building improvement to deliver results.  In the case of North Penn, that means energy savings of 37% over their baseline year of 2008 resulting in $1.1 million utility cost reduction, or the equivalent of 21 first-year teachers’ salaries.  Of equal importance has been the involvement of students in performing energy audits, analyzing data and launching education and awareness programs.  As Tom Schneider, Manager of Energy and Operational Efficiency for the district, reported, half the success of the program depends on behavioral changes, above and beyond the mechanical improvements.  The ability to quantify savings and engage students in “moving the needle” is critical to the district’s continued success.

The case of the Barnes Foundation, as explained by Bill McDowell, Project Executive, is interesting in a different way.  The Barnes recently completed a new LEED Platinum museum building for their priceless art collection.  However, sustainability considerations came later in the development process.  So although the state-of-the-art building was constructed with the necessary equipment to provide significant data to monitor and enhance building performance, the Barnes Foundation has not developed a plan to turn that data into performance metrics and communicate them with the museum’s users. The depth of interest by the public in the sustainable aspects of the building, separate and apart from the art collection, has surprised the Barnes’ leadership.  Mr. McDowell explained that the Foundation is now analyzing possibilities for the creation and dissemination of museum metrics to engage their audience in ways that move beyond the art to include the entire museum campus.

Anne Cutler and Catherine Reeves of Xerox Corporation identified the same drivers as the Barnes Foundation for developing metrics to realize goals – customers and investors demand it.  Both Dan Daggett of Sealed Air and Dennis Wilson of Saint-Gobain stressed the importance of determining what is material to an organization.  Materiality assessments require analyzing data to identify the relative significance of proposed improvements in the production stream.  Setting incorrect metrics for materiality can lead to expensive errors and wasted resources.    Mr. Daggett cautioned, “Measurement is a crucial step before action.”

All of these diverse organizations have identified the crucial nature of quality metrics to measure progress against goals.  For some, metrics are focused internally, improving organizational performance.  For some, they are directed to external stakeholders – customers, citizens, investors.  At the heart of it all is the concept of accountability.  Is the organization using its resources in the most productive, appropriate manner and is the value of organization being judged based on accurate measurements of progress?

iSpring, through its Green Performance Strategies services, can help organizations develop strategic goals and define the appropriate metrics to support them.  You can learn more about what we do here.

© 2008-2018 iSpring Associates - Site designed, built and maintained by iSpring Associates.