Vanderlande has grown from a small family business in Veghel, the Netherlands to an international market leader – now employing a team of almost 9,000 in more than 100 countries around the world. Sustainability is important to Vanderlande. This is something they regularly demonstrate to the outside world, and apply consistently internally as one of their three strategic priorities. This is important to them for a variety of reasons:
– Sustainability often stimulates smarter solutions,better and cheaper ways of doing things. Vanderlande has a collection of inspiring innovations that prove this.
– Customers and clients are increasingly demanding sustainability solutions when they make inquiries. It’s quickly becoming a business requirement. This is how it seeps through the supply chain, down to Vanderlande’s own suppliers.
– Many employees consider sustainability important. This is evident, for example, in the lively volunteer community that has formed to generate and spread sustainability best practices.
– Leaders on the board have also spoken out personally about it. They see sustainability as crucial to their own legacy, and consistently push this agenda. This inspiring interview with the recently retired CFO illustrates this, as does this wall on which board members and other colleagues share their personal resolutions.
This word has at times become a catch-all term. Vanderlande has what I consider to be a remarkably inclusive interpretation of sustainability, covering four types of activity:
- The climate crisis is urgent. Vanderlande has signed the climate pledge – a set of concrete steps to become “carbon neutral” by 2040. (So, 10 years before the date set by the Paris Climate Accord.)
- The organization, however, is also taking a broader look at pollution, depletion of natural resources, and circular economies. Vanderlande is already putting concrete steps into place to achieve a circular economy by 2040.
- This is only possible in a healthy society built on equality. Through “good business practices,” Vanderlande seeks ways to work more ethically and contribute internationally to, for example, human rights. Vanderlande seeks ways to work more ethically and contribute internationally to, for example, human rights.
- Finally, Vanderlande wants to offer a “fulfilling experience”: a fun and healthy working environment Considering, for example, working conditions, development, and diversity.
This comprehensive, systemic approach to sustainability is a powerful example for the rest of us. I have experienced that, otherwise, good intentions can quickly lead to fragmentation, fatigue, and employee overload. Here, each of these four missions has been translated into concrete, transparent goals for the short, medium, and long term. Trickling down, in turn, to concrete plans within the various departments.
Getting a grip on behavioral change
It’s no secret, of course, that goals and plans don’t always lead to action and impact, especially when it comes to sustainability. How to coax your team to change their daily behavior is a tough question. How can you make this change visible, measurable, and manageable in practice? Vanderlande uses the Prosci© methodology to do this. As do I, as an “advanced instructor.” After an earlier successful Vanderlande project on Digital Transformation, I was able to support the central Sustainability program team as Change Manager. This led me to ponder three especially interesting questions:
1. How do you keep it manageable?
One of the first things a consultant will ask is: what is your goal? “What does success look like? What will leave us feeling satisfied when we look back later? How is that visible in numbers, but also in the way you work (together) in your department day to day?” Vanderlande’s plans were ambitious and broad, from CO2 to diversity, and they had already set dozens of concrete targets (output, KPIs). It was beautifully done, but not equally understandable and accessible to every person in every department.
So I proposed we focus on a single question: “How often does sustainability play a role in daily conversations and decisions in your own team?” Once a week, or only twice a year? We can easily measure and monitor this. It’s a concrete behavior that has an important effect on the chosen KPIs. And it provides an outline for a more targeted approach. For example, we immediately exposed five pitfalls that we want to avoid, such as assuming “that must be too expensive.”
2. How do you keep it consistent?
Seven enthusiastic employees form the core of the team, contributing based their personal expertise on, for example, content, training, or communication. When I arrived, a lot of great things had already been communicated and developed. We were able to add more focus and cohesion by working from a central ADKAR blueprint. This offers an overview of how to support target groups step by step through their individual changes.
The ADKAR blueprint helps to map out existing initiatives and clarify where there are still gaps. It also clearly shows the (five) different areas of expertise in the central team, which each developed their own implementation plan:
- Sponsors: Support them in their role and build up a strong, coherent coalition of sponsors
- People Managers: Help them support the team through, e.g., events and a team toolbox
- Community: Empower leaders through, e.g., communities, challenges, and meetings
- Communication: Communicate why this is happening and progress via, e.g., videos, FAQs, and events
- Training: Use micro-learnings and games to teach new “know-how” to be put into practice
3. How do you measure and control impact?
Ultimately, it’s not about pats on the back for great events, games, toolboxes, and dashboards. We need to look beyond the number of views on a video or results after an e-learning. It’s about the effect on daily behavior: sustainability in team discussions and decision-making. We measure this periodically. However, we also use ADKAR to look at the intermediate steps to get there: is it clear why it’s needed, does it work for you personally, do you have the knowledge and opportunities you need, and will you continue to do it?
We measure that with individual surveys and in team meetings. Sometimes that’s frustrating, because we turn out to be less far along than we thought. For example, it turned out that, despite a lot of communication, only a limited number of colleagues worldwide had received and understood the messaging on why the changes were happening. But it‘s also very motivating when you see how much progress a certain group is making. And these measurements give you insight into where and how you can best support your team, too. It gives you something to hold onto.
I am no longer part of the Sustainability team. I miss the passionate sparring and collaboration – but I am confident that the team will hold on and continue to make a difference! As for me, I have now been asked to supervise other challenging initiatives within Vandervelde. To be continued!