May 25, 2022

5 organizational challenges you might face as a sustainability manager, and how to tackle them

Child standing at the base of a flight of upward steps

The world is changing. Sustainability is becoming more and more important. It's not just a buzzword anymore — it's a real way of life. The problem is, that even if you want to do your part to make the world a better place, it can be hard to get started, especially if you’re a sustainability manager. There are so many things you could do to improve your company’s impact on the environment, but where do you begin?

As a sustainability manager, you're not only responsible for your organization's bottom line, but also its social and environmental performance. When it comes to measuring performance, there are many challenges to tackle.

We’ve asked around and here are the five most common organizational problems you might face as a sustainability manager:

Let us dive right into these five most common organizational challenges, and how you can overcome them:

How to start talking about sustainability to your company?

As a sustainability manager, you want to make your company more sustainable, but you're not sure where to begin. How do you figure out what's important? What if you try something and it doesn't work out? How will you know if it is worth your time?

These questions must have crossed your mind while you were trying to figure out your sustainability strategy.

Generally, every company, organization, and institution has its own goals when it comes to being sustainable. For instance, you may want to cut down on your energy usage by 11% by next year, or you might be required to have a 30% reduction in emissions over the next three years.

Whatever your level of ambition, sustainability is generally a goal that can be applied to an organization as a whole – and in many cases, this involves company-wide commitments. This also gives rise to another challenge: not everyone will be on board with your sustainability initiative.

Many companies are making sustainability a priority. But, in order to be successful, sustainability can't be an isolated initiative. You need to integrate it into the fabric of your organization.

So, if you're a sustainability manager, you may be working with people who are not on board with your mission. They may be unaware, uninterested or simply not in the habit of thinking about issues like climate change or resource scarcity.

If this is the case, you need to get them on board by helping them understand why sustainability matters and how it fits into their own goals and objectives.

Start by getting them to read about sustainability issues and explaining why to incorporate sustainability into their business strategy, and fast! Once they're interested, help them explore how to integrate their new knowledge into their daily activities — for example, by identifying opportunities to reduce waste or increase recycling in their department.

How to get buy-in from senior management?

A lot of companies have sustainability departments because they're legally required to — not because they want to. Sustainability is a broad term that covers a lot of activities, and while it's important, it's not always seen as a priority by executives. This is particularly true if your company has been doing things the same way for years, or if there's no clear business case for making changes.

It's often difficult to get top-level support for sustainability initiatives because so many of them have no financial return on investment or immediate impact on performance. But there are ways around this.

You can use existing structures within the organization such as mission and vision statements — as a basis for developing new sustainability goals or objectives that can be linked back to existing targets. You can also persuade senior leaders of the value of sustainability by showing them how it aligns with their other goals and aspirations.

Explain to them why sustainability matters for their company's bottom line by showing how it can improve productivity, reduce costs and increase revenues through better customer retention and loyalty.

Share examples of how other companies have successfully implemented sustainability reporting initiatives that provide quantifiable benefits for their business (e.g., saving money on energy bills). This can help build momentum within your organization and provide insight into what types of programs have been successful before.

It is also important to communicate with all stakeholders, including employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers and other stakeholders. You can try to include sustainability in incentive programmes. You need to make sure they understand what sustainability means and why it's important to them as well as the company as a whole. This will help build trust among employees and increase engagement levels toward corporate goals. Moreover, this will also prevent decisions that promote short term gains from being made at the expense of long term sustainability.

How to measure impact?

Measurement is crucial for demonstrating long-term impact and improving efficiency over time, but how do you measure sustainability metrics?

You need to set measurable goals that can be used as benchmarks over time, such as reducing waste by 10% or increasing recycling rates by 5% annually over three years (assuming these are both realistic goals). Then track progress against those benchmarks on an ongoing basis so everyone knows what's working and what isn't. If a goal isn't working out you can adjust it accordingly.

Measuring and tracking is the only way to follow up on your time-bound goals and understand your progress. And you might ask, how often should I measure and track?

Well, the typical once-a-year is simply not enough. Measurements should be taken regularly, and goals should be tracked and reviewed quarterly, monthly, or even weekly. Tracking your impact on a higher frequency allows you to act quickly, based on insights gleaned from recent sustainability data. To accomplish this task, it is important to maintain data transparency and traceability.

Measuring and tracking your progress is an important step in kickstarting your organization’s sustainability journey as it will allow you to quantify the positive effects of your sustainability efforts in a way that is comparable to other business investments, helping you strengthen your business case for future sustainability investments.

Moreover, it’s important to set up systems for sustainability reporting so you can track progress over time and compare it with other companies in your industry sector or region. Having this data available will allow you to identify areas where improvements can be made over time, which will help you measure whether your efforts are actually having an impact on the business and its bottom line.

How to deal with the underestimation of work?

The role of a sustainability manager is challenging, whether it's in an organization or as a freelancer. The job is tough, and it's not always easy to find the right balance between your professional and personal life.

It can be hard to manage all of your responsibilities when you're working full time. Sustainability managers often have to work on weekends or late at night if they're working on a project that needs attention urgently. You may also have to travel frequently for business meetings, which takes away from family time or other important events in your life.

Apart from this, it gets a lot more challenging if there is no executive support or understanding from upper management. Many people don't understand the concept, and those who do may not appreciate its importance.

It's hard to get a budget for sustainability projects, especially if they're new. And even if you do have the budget, it's often limited and needs to be spent carefully on things that will have the biggest impact. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed by the work at hand and a lack of motivation to keep going in the right direction when progress seems slow or non-existent.

It's easy to let obligations pile up until they become unmanageable — whether that means attending meetings with stakeholders or writing reports for upper management. If you're doing more than one job as a sustainability manager (or even just more than one role), this happens even more quickly because there are so many things that need attention at once! The result is an overwhelming sense of stress and pressure because there are too many.

So, it is important to communicate with your executives and explain to them the amount of effort that actually goes into the job. Take it slow and start with the easiest things first so you can reap immediate results. Then tackle the next step and the next with the goal of showing the bottom-line impact of the work you do by measuring and translating the data into numbers with a bottom-line effect.

How to deal with ethical stress and delegation of tasks?

Being a sustainability manager in a company can be stressful. You have to make decisions and juggle multiple tasks. In addition to the standard day-to-day responsibilities associated with your job, you’re also responsible for leading your team and making sure they are on board with the company’s goals.

However, it’s not always easy to delegate tasks to others — especially if you’re new at this.

Ethical stress is a very real problem for sustainability managers, and it's often caused by the conflict between business priorities and environmental or social concerns. The most common scenario is when a company commits to reducing its carbon emissions but has no idea how to do so without spending a lot of money.

In this case, you may have to advocate for more funding for research and development or ask senior management to reconsider their goals or plans. Another option is to find ways to reduce costs through innovation and efficiency gains.

Delegating tasks is one of the most important responsibilities of a manager. The key is to teach others what they need to know, rather than just giving them a task and expecting them to do it. You can delegate tasks by teaching people how to do them and then giving them the opportunity to practice on their own first. Then, when they are ready and confident enough, give them the responsibility for that task.

In an organization with a strong culture of sustainability, there may be no need for a formal leadership structure. However, in many organizations, this is not the case. In these cases, it's important for leaders to understand how they can create change within their own departments or teams, rather than trying to drive change across the entire organization.

Aside from this, it is also important to manage a set of reporting relationships between yourself and other stakeholders who will be involved in achieving your goals (such as line managers, HR departments and IT). If all these stakeholders are reporting directly to you, then it's likely that there will be some duplication of effort and confusion over who's doing what.

A better approach is to create an effective reporting structure that allows each stakeholder group to report independently but also ensures that they're working towards similar objectives across the whole organization.


Sustainability management involves a broad spectrum of organizational challenges. If you're a sustainability manager, you may be working with people who think that sustainability isn't important because they don't realize how important it is for the future of our planet and human beings' existence on earth. People who don't understand the importance of sustainability may not respect what you do as a sustainability manager, which can make things even more difficult for you in the long run.

You might find yourself having to fight for recognition and acceptance from other departments in your organization. They might not understand why your job is important or how it fits into their day-to-day work. And sometimes they just don't want to change the way they do things.

Plus, if you're running low on time, money or resources for your sustainability efforts, it can be hard to keep going when things start falling apart around you. This is especially true if your organization has historically had little interest in sustainability work — which makes it difficult for you to convince others that these efforts are worth investing in.

The organizational challenges can be overcome by making sure that you lay the foundation for your program from the top. Once you've done so using some of the tips above, the rest will fall into place.

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t forget that you can work smarter to make a difference by investing in a sustainability management platform that can help automate the process in order to provide timely insights that are data-driven and actionable.

Here at SustainLab, we believe in accelerating change for a better business and a better planet.

We’ve created sustainability management software that helps you reduce your workload in your sustainability journey with the help of automation. The software automatically extracts the data from invoices and documents of all file types and uploads the extracted data directly into the system. There you can review and refine your data, edit and even add calculations – all while keeping the original files intact. This means better data traceability!

Contact us today to find out how our platform can help you accelerate your sustainability journey and provide you with the help you need to make a real impact value.

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Let's accelerate change for better business - better planet!

Let's accelerate change for better business - better planet!

Let's accelerate change for better business - better planet!

Let's accelerate change for better business - better planet!

SustainLab is a SaaS Sustainability Management platform that automates collection, processing and visualization of sustainability data, to help companies spend less time on data-handling and more on accelerating change.

Copyright @2020-2023 SustainLab Sweden AB.


SustainLab is a SaaS Sustainability Management platform that automates collection, processing and visualization of sustainability data, to help companies spend less time on data-handling and more on accelerating change.

Copyright @2020-2023 SustainLab Sweden AB.


SustainLab is a SaaS Sustainability Management platform that automates collection, processing and visualization of sustainability data, to help companies spend less time on data-handling and more on accelerating change.

Copyright @2020-2023 SustainLab Sweden AB.