Getting Started with Sustainability

As of October 2023, nearly half of Fortune 500 companies are participating in one or more climate initiatives. Patagonia has made it clear that their mission – their entire purpose for existing – is to tackle climate change. Another of the most notable sustainable companies, Unilever, is over a decade into efforts to transform its entire global supply chain.

But, what if your company is just getting started with conversations about sustainability? Amidst all of the various sustainability missions, strategies, and pledges, how does your company determine the best approach for them?

There is a vast sea of content and frameworks that exist across the corporate sustainability space to help companies with this question. Below is just a small sampling of the many frameworks and methodologies available to those looking to get started in sustainability:

However, when I think about how a company can most effectively get started in sustainability, I don’t gravitate towards any of the specific frameworks or methodologies listed above. I think of two simple prompts. 

Prompt #1 – What does Unsustainable mean to your company? (A quick, simple definition of Corporate Sustainability: Running a business in a way that remains profitable/viable without negatively impacting people and the environment.)


Do any of these examples resonate with your business?

I created these examples utilizing Bob Willard’s “4 Quadrants of Enterprise Sustainabilityfrom the book The New Sustainability Advantage. Willard gave up an award-winning successful career in senior management at IBM to devote himself full-time to building corporate commitment to sustainability. He has a tremendous ability to help companies articulate their business case for sustainability. These 4 quadrants provide an excellent framework to help your company identify where to get started.

Prompt #2 – What are the downstream impacts that being “Unsustainable” has on your business?

These two prompts can help you better understand what getting started in corporate sustainability looks like for your organization. When surfacing these prompts with your team, don’t limit these initial discussions strictly to the leadership level. Don’t exclusively gravitate towards external key subject matter experts. There is likely a substantial level of passion that already exists within your organization on this topic. These initial questions pose a wonderful opportunity to engage your team in meaningful work. Meaningful work helps teams feel engaged and connected to a higher purpose, positively impacting team culture and employee experience. Take your time with these discussions and create opportunities for all to participate in crafting your company’s path forward in sustainability. It will pay dividends in the long run. 

Once you’ve had these conversations and understand what sustainability means to your organization, you need to consider your existing capacity to embark on this work. Do you have the personnel, resources, and knowledge within the organization to be successful? This would be a great time to conduct a readiness assessment. 

At The Gunter Group, we regularly perform readiness assessments for clients that are about to undergo an organizational transformation or major change initiative. We think about organizational readiness through our 4 service pillars: Strategy, People, Technology, and Execution. Below are questions applying these 4 service pillars that can help gauge your company’s readiness to embark on corporate sustainability:


– Strategy Development: What are your high level objectives? How aligned are these with your complete picture? 

– Strategy Governance: What will you need to put in place to ensure effective decision making? 

– Strategy Management: How will leadership enable iteration and improvement in the strategic direction over time?


– Organizational Design: What is the right level of collaboration for your strategy? What changes may be required to your organizational structure? 

– Change Management: Are there groups of people within the organization that are likely to be resistant to these changes? How will your company go about bringing them onboard from the beginning to ensure a successful change adoption?

– Leadership Coaching & Development: What critical knowledge and experience gaps exist within the leadership team? What training and coaching is needed to equip leadership to support your company’s strategy? 


– Enterprise Architecture: What technology gaps exist? Will you be in need of a software implementation or will there be a multi-year technical roadmap required to support your goals?

– Agile Practice: Large-scale change efforts that engage several facets of an organization are best executed through agile business practices. Does your company have experience with agile operating models, or is agile training needed?

– Decision Insights + Data Services: What will your sustainability strategy need from your organizational data structure and measurement capabilities? How can teams be better prepared for changing data requirements? Successfully executing against your company’s sustainability strategies will require understanding your organizational data structure and the availability of the data needed to support your goals.


– Program + Project Leadership: Change initiatives are complex. What is the scope of the project? What frameworks will be relied on to support effective planning and project leadership?

– Business + Systems Analysis: What impacts will this change effort have on existing business processes and systems? Do you have the capabilities present within your organization to analyze change impacts? 

– Operations + Process Improvement: Whether it’s waste reduction or operational inefficiencies, operational teams will be impacted by the sustainability strategy. How will they develop a clear understanding of necessary operational & process improvements and how to approach continuous improvement towards the end state?


Be prepared to pursue your sustainability strategies and goals similar to any other significant change effort. Involve your team in a cross functional, collaborative exercise, and don’t let sustainability get siloed within your organization.

At The Gunter Group, we have consultants spanning leadership levels that have experience leading successful change efforts as well as experience leading successful sustainability initiatives. Reach out to us if you’re interested in learning how TGG can support your company in getting started with corporate sustainability.


Recently, I had the opportunity to partner with a regional-sized financial institution focused on a “future of work” project. The project was centered on the organization’s plan to permanently transition to a hybrid work environment. The client had navigated 2020 and the associated pandemic-related challenges well by intently listening to their employees and customers. Operational teams were adapting quickly to new standards, technologies, and expectations. The company was confident in their people and they felt ready to be one of the first companies to make such a transition.

As I began my work with the client, it was easy to see how much leadership valued their people and how much employees valued their place of work.  Additionally, leadership also recognized the significance of the change impacts that accompanied this decision. Their highest priority was to maintain a thriving company culture. 

Many of the anticipated change impacts were universal to the employee experience. For example, all employees knew that video conferencing was simply now a part of their everyday experience. For the most part, all employees working onsite could anticipate similar changes. Sharing desks, equipment, meeting rooms, and flexible common areas would be the new normal.

However, there were also different implications company-wide depending on department, team, and role. It was widely understood that not every role would allow for flexible work arrangements. The nature of communication to certain employees that their position does not enable the same flexible work arrangements as their peers, was a critical element of the overall work effort. This process, if not properly navigated, presented a potential threat to company culture. 

We kicked off the engagement through employee surveys, focus groups, interviews, and all-employee communications. We knew that detailed data on employee experiences would be key in informing how we structure work sessions, but it was also pivotal to the expansion of our awareness and empathy as facilitators. Most importantly, all employees were invited to participate in the process, offer input, express concerns, and share what was most important to them regarding this upcoming change. For example: How important is it to employees to have the option to work from home? What resources do they need to work from home? What are their top concerns?

We formed multiple working groups comprising a balanced cross-section of the organization to ensure sufficient representation existed during these difficult conversations. The working groups collaborated over a 3-month period to co-design a hybrid work program that they believed would enable the company and its employees to succeed in this new semi-virtual workplace arena. 

The most rewarding aspect of this engagement was the privilege to be a part of a group of people defining how they wanted to show up for one another on a daily basis. It was truly delightful to observe how naturally teammates gravitated towards themes of collaboration, responsibility, and doing right by one another.

In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been surprising. After all, leadership had given up control and trusted employees of the organization to work through these difficult conversations. Naturally, the employees reciprocated by centering discussions on what was best for the company. This is not to say that some of the conversations didn’t involve contentious debate. For example: Is it an expectation that everyone’s camera is on all the time? And, if someone elects to work from the office every day, can they opt out of desk sharing and reserve their own desk?

Fortunately, the leadership team did not expect the working groups to design the perfect hybrid work experience on the first attempt. Leaders understood that the transition to a new way of working together and serving customers would be a learning journey for everyone. They emphasized the importance of embracing adaptability and a spirit of continuous improvement.

Throughout this engagement, I was reminded that high collaboration, inclusivity, and consensus building are as time intensive as they are worthwhile. The decision to allocate several team members to a change process such as this is always difficult. There is always opportunity cost for where resources could be spending time instead, but it’s an investment.

The result of this investment was an organization of employees that felt included and valued in a change process that was very important to them. The returns on this investment will be realized over the years ahead. While these returns may not be measured and calculated in direct association with the investment made, they will be nested within employee retention rates, employee satisfaction, cross-departmental collaboration, company culture, and of course the experience employees provide to customers. They learned a lot about one another, and I saw the multi-level value of doing change well.

Eric applies a systems thinking approach to problem-solving. He is highly collaborative and genuinely passionate about helping others succeed. Eric’s experience spans across multiple industries including resorts and hospitality, international non profit, sustainable business/social enterprises, and events management space. His areas of expertise are sales and marketing, sustainable business, project management, business development, business process management, and business planning and analysis. Eric holds an M.B.A in Sustainable Systems from Presidio Graduate School as well as a B.S. in Business Administration from Methodist University; he is also a Certified Scrum Master and PGA Golf Professional. Eric is an avid golfer. Outside of work, he can be found strolling the fairways of Central Oregon and Southeast Washington.


At The Gunter Group, the leadership traits and characteristics that define us are our Non-NegotiablesCollaborative, Integrity, Intellectual Curiosity, Thrives in Ambiguity, Emotional Intelligence, and Grounded Confidence. These traits and characteristics guide us every day in our interactions with clients, each other, and our community.

At the Gunter Group, we consider EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE, or “EQ,” essential for understanding and solving complex problems. In short, emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage emotions in yourself and others. For us, it’s about more than accurately reading and adapting to social cues, although this is an important part of EQ. It’s pulling from the depths of our intelligence, experience, and heart to show up fully for ourselves, each other, and our clients. It’s an approach that not only feels great but gets the best possible results.

As consultants we’re accustomed to a steep learning curve, but EQ requires serious commitment to truly master and cannot be built overnight.

While emotional intelligence is often referred to as a “soft” skill, we think of it as quite a hard one – both in terms of tangible value and difficulty to master. I recall taking an EQ assessment early in my career for a job in the hospitality industry. What I thought of as sophisticated and mature responses at the time I now think of as cringeworthy. “Where was my self-awareness?!?” I think now, after gaining much experience and insight in the years since. It certainly didn’t come easily or overnight. I’ve learned that other skills can be taught, and as consultants we’re accustomed to a steep learning curve, but EQ requires serious commitment to truly master and cannot be built overnight, hence why it is one of the most important traits we look for when growing our team.

EQ enables us to challenge the status quo and deliver success without pushing too hard or coming in like a bull in a china shop. 

As stewards of our client relationships, our consultants must demonstrate the highest degree of emotional intelligence. With this in place, we can trust them to assess and respond to situations appropriately, enlist support as needed, persevere through challenges, and moderate their own impulses, especially during times of stress. Exceptional EQ also means being aware of potential burnout, building individual resilience, and integrating work into a fulfilling and healthy life. When our consultants thrive in and out of the office, they deliver outstanding value for the long haul.

Furthermore, emotional intelligence is essential for our other five non-negotiables, enabling and amplifying our most important traits. For example:

— Self-awareness, a component of EQ, keeps the ego in check (grounded confidence).

— We can sense when someone feels unheard or steamrolled and adjust accordingly to cultivate trust within a group (collaboration).

— Connecting to our own emotions keeps us rooted in a strong moral compass (integrity).

— Giving, receiving, and integrating feedback makes continuous learning and improvement possible (intellectual curiosity).

— High EQ people are better able to maintain optimism and intrinsic motivation in the face of uncertainty and rapid change (thrives in ambiguity).

Research shows that emotional intelligence in the workplace helps establish the psychological safety proven to increase group intelligence which then drives innovation. As one of our non-negotiables, EQ enables us to challenge the status quo and deliver success without pushing too hard or coming in like a bull in a china shop. 

Finally, when we enter a new engagement, understanding perceptions is crucial. I’ve been on the other side, when your company brings in an “outsider.” It can feel like a stranger who knows nothing about you or your work telling you how to do your job. We understand a degree of skepticism or even resistance to partnering outside your organization. Our clients have tremendous ownership and expertise – they are right to be protective of their work! It’s from a place of empathy and self-awareness that we navigate the at times tricky role of “third party” to eventually become true partners and trusted advisors. With emotional intelligence as a cornerstone, we know from experience that our non-negotiables will always lead to the best possible outcome for everyone.