Four Deceptive Sustainability Myths

Sustainability is an important journey for all businesses to embark on yet many leaders are hesitant to begin, in part due to lack of clarity on how to start, but also because of different sustainability “myths” they’ve heard over the years. There are a number of assumptions, false beliefs or tidbits of misinformation that we’ve heard from leaders about the cost, design and value of a sustainability program over the years. We’ve helped “bust” these misconceptions with data, case studies and industry expertise.

It’s critical that corporate leaders and executives understand what sustainable business practices and programs really deliver and how to get them started. Corporate-level visibility and emissions and energy savings goals are the most important factors of success for sustainable energy management programs. When leaders have the correct information in front of them, that’s when programs become a business priority and they see their best results.

With that, we’ve outlined four of the most common and deceptive sustainability myths in business, and the truth that should help facility managers “bust” them the next time one of them rears its ugly head.

Myth #1: We can’t afford a full sustainability program – the costs are too high.
One of the most common misconceptions is that sustainability programs are expensive to implement, and that if you aren’t a large corporation, they aren’t worth the cost or financial investment. However, this is a narrow view of sustainability programs that misses the savings and new revenue opportunities that come with them.

Let’s start with the costs to implement a sustainable energy management program. Leaders often assume they have to hire a large firm or a team of professionals to implement and run it, and that’s not a financial option for them. In actuality, the majority of businesses don’t need a full team to make an impact – they can operate a successful program with one dedicated professional. A sustainability manager is capable of working with facilities managers and other staff to determine what system and operational changes can be made, how to best implement them and what the return on investment will be. Opening this position within your organization has a lower startup investment than many expect, and in turn, your internal sustainability expert will consistently help you save money through visibility of energy and emissions reduction and other projects.

The other side of this myth is that sustainability programs don’t have a high enough return on investment to justify their cost. In fact, these programs drive financial returns that otherwise wouldn’t happen. Think about energy costs across your facilities and what a 20% reduction, for example, means for monthly, yearly, and long-term savings. Then consider the broader positive impacts on your organization. The NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business created a model that shows the various ways in which sustainable programs improve, drive and deliver various business outcomes, which create real financial results in both the short and long term. Lastly, look into the tax breaks and credits you can receive for specific actions in the areas your business operates.

While many leaders are concerned about the expenses of green programs, the real matter at hand is what income your business is missing out on without an established sustainability strategy.

Myth #2: We don’t need a long-term sustainability program – a short-term project will be enough.
Leaders often erroneously believe that sustainability programs are simply one-time projects developed to meet a specific outcome, and that once an energy or emissions reduction goal is met, no more investments are necessary. However, this is a very limiting view of what sustainability programs can accomplish over time.

Every program can certainly begin with a specific goal in mind – for example, wanting to move to 50% renewable energy use with solar panels. But this shouldn’t be the first and last time you think about how to make your business more sustainable.

One thing every business must consider are the growing pressures on companies to match their words with actions. Consumers and citizens are watching whether companies are truly committed to sustainability and will speak out if they feel they aren’t honoring that commitment. At the same time, more regulatory bodies are leaning on businesses to start taking action now and develop long term plans. Companies that prove their current and future dedication to sustainability with public plans, progress and a committed team behind them will be in the public’s good graces.

Additionally, in terms of internal engagement, many organizations start their sustainability journeys with a project and quickly identify other ways to go green. Once you’ve started adopting renewable energy and begin seeing its benefits, what will it take to get to 100%? And along the way, how can you reduce your energy use across the board – lighting, plumbing, HVAC, IT, waste management and more?

There are endless possibilities for reducing energy and many clever, innovative ways to do so. With 30% of energy wasted in commercial buildings, installing motion detection sensors, for example, can help ensure energy isn’t wasted in empty rooms. Any percentage of improved energy use or resources saved is a win for your organization and the environment. In that case, why look at sustainability as a project, when an ongoing project can constantly identify and achieve improvement? The goal is continuous optimization, not one and done.

Myth #3: It’s too risky to go green – it’s a political issue.
It can’t be denied that in some circles, climate change, environmental activism and the urgent need for sustainable infrastructure are debated topics. However, if this is stopping your organization from going green, you’re missing the forest for the trees.

Sustainability is a business issue because it is wildly popular with the general population. Last year, The Economist found that between 2016 and 2020, Americans’ environmental concerns about the loss of animal and plant species rose by almost 10%, and consumer searches for sustainable products increased by 450%. Climate change is a top concern for Gen Zs and millennials, with about 3 in 4 agreeing that we are at a tipping point to positively impact the future but the vast majority believing that governments and corporations aren’t doing enough to get us there. As the youngest generation of workers, they are influencing the direction companies take in their sustainability initiatives – businesses that aren’t preparing for that may face hiring issues in the near future.

With younger generations throwing their support behind sustainably minded businesses, future-minded organizations are taking action now to ensure they’re at the forefront of positive climate impact. The risk is not in implementing sustainability programs, but in delaying them. The private sector is already heading there, with large corporations making climate pledges and pressure from investors and government alike ensuring they will get there.

And on a final note, the benefits of sustainability are decidedly nonpartisan, even if the politics may not always be. Everyone in a building, its surrounding community, and the planet benefits from less carbon emissions in their environment and a more efficient power grid.

Myth #4: Now’s not the right time to start a program – it’s best to wait until the economy improves.
Finally, leaders are concerned that in times of economic stress, it’s best not to start a new program until the economy is in a better place. This is a completely understandable position, to which we respond: this is the best time to make a smart fiscal decision! With all the facts outlined above, sustainability programs can be presented as a way to intelligently save money and create revenue in both the short- and long-term.

There are immediate savings in facilities operations, and more in the future as energy use is optimized. There are more people willing to work for and with your business when you take a stand on sustainability. Businesses that don’t work on their sustainability now will be left behind in the near future – especially if scope 3 reporting becomes law in 2023.

When you think about it this way, then there’s no reason to wait to save money. As the saying goes: the best time to start was yesterday; the second-best time is today.

Mathieu Houle is Vice President of Customer Experience at Distech Controls. He has more than 25 years of experience in the field of building management. He worked as a systems integrator for about ten years and also held the positions of Project Manager, Product Manager, as well as EMEA Product Support Director, Global Product Manager before being named VP, Customer Experience in April 2018. Now based again in Montreal, he also worked on the Distech Controls SAS team in Lyon, France from 2012 to 2017.

Nate Nilles is Vice President of Customer Experience at Atrius® and Vice President of Services for the Intelligent Spaces Group at Acuity Brands, leading customer onboarding and professional services for Acuity’s software and technology solutions. Before this role, Nate has held several executive positions within Acuity across Business Development, Sales, Operations and Customer Success. Prior to joining Acuity, Nate was the President of Obvius, a Leviton Manufacturing company, focused on IoT solutions for buildings and managed National Accounts for Veris, a division of Schneider Electric focused on energy and environmental sensors.

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