How sustainability success starts from within

Sustainability’s success relies on building a culture that starts from the bottom up and involves everyone from plant-floor workers to executives.

By Chris Vavra June 19, 2023
Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Sustainability insights

  • A strong sustainability program needs to be part of a company’s culture and it needs to be consistently applied across the board.
  • Honeywell has been involved in a sustainability program since 2004 and has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 90% and they’re still working on reducing that number.

Evan van Hook, the chief sustainability officer for Honeywell, said he speaks about sustainability topics once or twice a week.

“There’s a lot of discussion around it from a strategic perspective,” he said in his presentation “Why Sustainable Transformation Must Start From Within” at Honeywell Users Group in Orlando. “Everyone these days have sustainability targets. Having initiatives and goals is a great thing.”

The challenge, though, is maintaining it, van Hook said. He said Honeywell started its sustainability initiative in 2004, which was well before sustainability hit the mainstream. Even then, though, van Hook said they were asking a question many companies are asking when they develop a sustainability program.

“We tried to say, ‘How can we create an organization that creates sustainability? How do you take an organization and actually structure it so it creates this result over time?’”

Evan van Hook, the chief sustainability officer for Honeywell,  in his presentation “Why Sustainable Transformation Must Start From Within" at Honeywell Users Group (HUG) in Orlando. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Evan van Hook, the chief sustainability officer for Honeywell, in his presentation “Why Sustainable Transformation Must Start From Within” at Honeywell Users Group (HUG) in Orlando. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Sustainable culture, tools to measure progress

He said it starts with creating an advanced software-industrial environment with a lean manufacturing culture and not just a series of activities.

“There is an adage in Lean that says, ‘It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting,’” van Hook said. “We built sustainability into our system. Based on a lot of activities focused on improvement.”

He added that leadership’s role is important to encouraging success. It starts at the bottom with getting workers to buy in and see the incremental improvements. However, leadership needs to encourage and be involved in the process, though the role of leaders is more as cheerleaders and advisors. Leaders might not be hands-on, but they can encourage further steps after seeing the initial positive results and help encourage building on from there.

Customers play a role, as well. “Customers want lower-emitting products,” van Hook said. “About 60% of R&D is being put into environmental and social products. We make things that make our customers happy.”

Honeywell has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 90% since 2004 and have embarked in more than 6,000 sustainability projects. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Honeywell has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 90% since 2004 and have embarked in more than 6,000 sustainability projects. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

How to create measurable results in sustainability efforts

Honeywell’s two-decade journey in sustainability as part of its core operating system has helped the company make major strides, van Hook said. These achievements include:

  • 93% reduction in greenhouse gases since 2004.

  • 70% improvement in energy efficiency.

  • A safety ratio of greater than 4x than industries Honeywell operates in.

  • Around 6,300 sustainability projects enacted since 2004.

“You realize how much opportunity there is once you get going,” van Hook said. “We started with 22 million metric tons, and we’re down to 1.7 million.”

And it starts with building sustainability into the program. If sustainability is a part of the program from the beginning, companies have a much better chance of realizing success.

“If you build sustainability into your system, you can generate results wherever you want.”

Chris Vavra, web content manager, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.


Author Bio: Chris Vavra is web content manager for CFE Media and Technology.