Toward a Practice of Evidence-Based Sustainability

It's time to embrace an evidence-based discipline for designing and executing green initiatives. The value of this extends well beyond Green ICT.

I envision evidence-based greening (EBG) to be similar to the new discipline of evidence-based medicine, in that both seek to apply solid data to making decisions about which investments/practices will have the highest impact on positive outcomes. Both also elicit reactionary responses from those uncomfortable with having established beliefs and assignments of virtue put to the test.

Here is a start on formulating a practice of evidence-based greening.

1. Understand the mission and garner enough stakeholder support to withstand the slings and arrows of those uncomfortable the the approach and/or fear its findings. Don't expect or wait for 100% stakeholder support. There is scant evidence that waiting indefinitely until everybody is on board is more effective that moving aggressively with the right alliance.

2. Establish a baseline. Figure out out how much of the undesirable substance (e.g., carbon) is being emitted, how fast it is growing, and where are the sources. The resistance often comes from the fear that this will reveal inconvenient truths about institutions, individuals, and behaviors in which a community (city, corporation, etc.) has previously assigned high virtue and/or is highly invested in economically. But, if we can't measure it, we can't manage it, so a robust baseline is critical to success.

3. Set both a long term goal and periodic milestones to get there. The long term goal is our commitment to material change; the milestones ensure focus and accountability and allow for agile tactical adjustment based on the our growing body of evidence. Both goals and milestones best have strong quantitative indicators showing absolute progress against the baseline and focus on output indicators rather than inputs ones. More about this.

4. Transparency in monitoring the indicators, analyzing the data, and reporting performance against the goal and its milestones. Publish the methodology and make the data accessible to anyone in the community who wants to tease out insights into best practices. Use external standards, even if not perfect. Don't conflate the micro into the macro. Harness the wisdom of local and global communities to accelerate progress as well as place social pressure on laggards. This can get messy at times, but will ultimately result in a stronger set of evidence-based practices and in more vigorous implementation. Vertatique not only invites individuals to review quantitative posts in advance, but includes next to each the open invitation to scrutinize our work (view on left).

5. Tell powerful stories. Not everyone is motivated by a online performance dashboard. People need stories to motivate them to take risks, reach high, and, most important, sustain themselves in the face of the inevitable social pressure to back off on true change. EBG offers the potential to create sustainable stories supporting a green future, rather than retelling unsustainable ones comfortably honoring the past. An increasing number of people really want, with mindful awareness, to live in truly green communities and work in truly green enterprises. Successful EBG is for them.

We have incorporated elements of the IS0 14063 guidelines on environmental communication, which specifically call for transparency and other EBG elements, into our practices.

More on evidence-based greening and on the role ICT professionals can play.

measurement for action

My colleagues the Associates in Process Improvement ( have tested, developed and refined an approach to improvement rooted in data and adopted by thousands of folks working to improve healthcare. Evidence-based medicine means using what is known to be effective and deploying these changes in practice. The connection with the API improvement approach: adapting specific "good ideas" to local systems, using measurements and data to guide action.

You can learn faster with useful data to guide you and to correct misconceptions ("nothing like data to ruin a good argument")....and it is increasingly easy to get sensors to talk to systems to get people to think and act more intelligently.

It's good to keep score, it's even better to use measurements to guide your actions.

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