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Setting SMART Sustainability Goals to Accelerate ESG Efforts

Let’s get SMART about the way we plan out our ESG initiatives. By leveraging SMART [Specific, Measurabl(…e), Achievable, Relevant, Timely] goal setting, you can set more precise goals and, more importantly, articulate why you are trying to achieve these measures of success.


What exactly are you trying to achieve? It can be tempting to take a “check the box” approach to sustainability. However, without clear objectives and action items, it can be difficult to ensure your team can reasonably meet its goals. By defining what “success” looks like, you’ll be able to set specific goals that are actually attainable. Specific outcomes and approaches will help ensure your ESG program is efficient and purposeful.


As our favorite saying goes, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” So, make sure you select goals with quantifiable metrics to ensure you are on the road to success. Even qualitative goals can be tied to measurable key performance indicators (KPIs) to determine success. By choosing goals with measurable impacts, you’ll be able to track your progress and make adjustments as needed to ensure you hit your targets.


Is this goal something that your organization can actually attain? While setting ambitious goals will help your company push the envelope of what you can achieve, it may also create unrealistic expectations. Make sure the goal you select is reasonable for your organization. If you reach that goal ahead of schedule, you can always set a new target. For example, Salesforce achieved net-zero greenhouse gas emissions 33 years ahead of its original deadline, so the company’s sustainability team created space for even more innovative, impactful targets.


How does this goal contribute to the big picture? Moreover, how does it reflect your organization’s values or ESG programming? It’s helpful to ask yourself these questions throughout the goal-setting exercise. When setting new targets, it can be tempting to create milestones that address all aspects of ESG. However, if they do not add value and align with the larger company mission, your efforts may fall short of expectations. 

Pro-invest Group set relevant targets on ESG disclosure to align with company values and meet investor demands. By ensuring its ESG goals were relevant to larger company initiatives, the team was able to get support and the tools they needed to ensure a successful ESG effort. The takeaway here is to always assess the why to reframe your goals, and be sure to speak the language of your stakeholders.


Make sure that your goal can be attained in a reasonable time frame – and give yourself a deadline to meet this goal. Without having a timeline to deliver your program, it’s easy to delay progress and make it a back-burner task. Adding timelines to these goals will help move the project forward and maintain momentum as you strive to hit your milestones.

SMART ESG Leadership by WashREIT

Let’s assess WashREIT’s environmental stewardship: the company integrated the importance of ESG factors into larger strategic business decisions, giving the sustainability team led by Matt Praske more power to make bigger changes.

In 2018, WashREIT announced a number of SMART sustainability goals to advance the company’s environmental stewardship. One goal is to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse emissions 20% by 2025. This goal is SMART because it is:

  • Specific: This goal specifically states what WashREIT needs to achieve for this effort to be categorized as a success.
  • Measurable: The team has metrics it can track to assess progress towards achieving this goal. 
  • Attainable: The team set a realistic goal and analyzed the likelihood of success before making an announcement.
  • Relevant: This goal is in line with other efforts that the company has pursued as it works to reduce its impact on the environment.
  • Timely: The team is toward a clear deadline. Since the goal is measurable, it can be tracked to ensure the team is on track to meet its objectives in just a few years.

Establishing sustainability goals worth raving about to stakeholders may seem like a lofty goal, but by replicating this SMART approach, those milestones will soon be well within reach. 

This blog was originally published on December 28, 2018. It was updated to reflect changes to best practices in SMART ESG goals.