Why You Should Never Overlook Qualitative Achievements When Developing Your Sustainability Goals

By Emily Artale and Hillary Dobos

When setting goals that support sustainability initiatives we typically think that our quantitative achievements will be more compelling and more important than our qualitative achievements. Quantitative achievements can be easier to define, easier to communicate and easier to link to dollars spent or dollars saved. This makes their value stand out and makes them the preference of many “goal-setting experts”.

However, environmental and sustainability initiatives and programs are different than most traditional initiatives and programs that you might encounter in your organization. Sustainability programs are still evolving and some of these programs are still new to many public and private organizations. In some instances, we are still learning what is possible and therefore, we do not always have a legacy of projects from which to learn.

In this case, identifying and promoting your qualitative achievements may be just what you need to effectively describe the value of your program or initiative. Not only can qualitative goals and achievements provide you with the opportunity to be innovative, creative, and push the edge of what is seemingly possible, they also require less investment to track (including time and money), they can quickly illustrate the value of your program, they can be easily customizable, and they can help support quantitative goals and/or help you develop a baseline for future initiatives.  

We have identified three basic ways in which qualitative achievements bring significant value to your project:

(1)   Proving that a program or initiative was completed: Sometimes you will be starting an initiative completely from scratch, such as creating an Environmental Purchasing Policy or Recycling Program. It may take more time and money that it is worth to define quantitative goals for this new initiative, and by simply identifying the accomplishments of the program you may have enough information to show that you have met your initiative’s goals.  

(2)   You are not sure what is possible and/or your do not have a baseline of your past performance: As you work through your program try to record as much data as possible. This may include contact information, demographic and geographic information, notes from conversations, assumptions from participants, etc. At the end of the program organize this data so that you can identify patterns. As you begin to notice significant patterns, you may see that some of these topics are valuable to your program and/or constituents. And, although, these topics may not have been identified in the beginning, these repeated topics could suggest significant qualitative achievements. If you wish to demonstrate your qualitative achievements as numeric values, simply convert your qualitative achievements to a more quantitative metric by expressing your qualitative achievements as a count. Use this count to determine if your original goal was achieved. For instance: You are running a program that provides sustainability services to your community. One of your goals is to promote sustainability within your community (aka qualitative goal). However, you do not have the budget or time to define what it means to “promote sustainability”. Once your project is complete you look at notes from your conversations with participants and realize that 60% of your participants were brand new to sustainability before you came along. You can now say that your 60% of your program participants have engaged in sustainability when no opportunity existed before and you have met your goal of promoting sustainability within your community.

(3)   Revising existing initiatives or developing baseline for future programs: Using the example identified above, you can dig a little deeper and use this information to define quantitative goals for future initiatives and/or refine goals for existing initiatives.

Lastly, make sure to use your qualitative achievements as bragging rights to promote the success of your program!

To learn more or get help with your goal setting please contact us at emily.artale@lotussustainability.com or hillary@merrillgroupllc.com.


Disclaimer: The information presented above is based on the opinions and experience of the authors. The authors are not liable for any errors or omissions in this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.



Emily Artale is Principal and Owner at Lotus Engineering and Sustainability, LLC. She has been working in the industry for nearly a decade and she has a background in energy management, sustainability planning, and water quality. Emily helps teams develop action-oriented solutions that will improve efficiency and integrate sustainability into current processes. She received her undergraduate and graduate degrees in environmental engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is a Colorado native and spends most of her time outdoors with her family.

Hillary Dobos is Principal and Owner of Merrill Group, LLC. Hillary brings both expertise and creative thinking to working with clients which she draws from her experience as a consultant advising public and private clients throughout the United States, as well as the one tasked with embedding sustainability throughout a 25,000+ person organization (Colorado State Government). Hillary earned her B.A. in Art History and Economics from Bowdoin College in Maine and her MBA from the University of Colorado-Boulder. Hillary was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, where she currently enjoys life with her husband, son, and moderately trained canine, Mr. Smiles.

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