Using Your Sustainability Strategy to Solve a “Wicked Problem”


Developing solutions to the complex challenge of building a truly sustainable economy is no easy feat. Couple that with ever changing effects of climate change on the world around us and the devastating impacts that the pandemic has had on our communities and organizations, and you’ve got a “wicked problem”.

As Will Sarni, CEO & Founder, Water Foundry, discussed in the NAEM IMPACT 20 Sustainability Conference, a wicked problem has some key characteristics:

  • Difficult to clearly define

  • Potential solutions are interdependent

  • Responsibility for developing solutions is dispersed too widely

The pandemic has acted as an accelerator on the impacts of climate change, unaddressed social justice, and economic disparity, requiring that the solutions to these challenges, these wicked problems, be cohesive and comprehensive. 

While there is no silver bullet solution, there are some underlying approaches to problem solving within organizations that were consistently highlighted by many of the presenters at the NAEM IMPACT 20 Sustainability Conference.

Broad Stakeholder Consideration

  • Understand who your stakeholders are – who cares about or has an impact on what the organization is doing and in turn, who or what does the organization have impact on.

  • Consider input from ALL stakeholders…THEN narrow down by relevance.

Materiality is Essential

  • Focus where it matters and where your organization has expertise.

  • Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) aspects are growing in significant importance to investors, but not if the ESG aspects your organization discloses aren’t the areas in which your organization can actually make an impact.

Strategic Alignment

  • Organizations can no longer meet the bare minimum requirements of their stakeholders to be granted “a license to operate”. The goal now is to understand the needs of stakeholders to the extent that the organization is granted “a license to grow”.

  • Value creation is key, and alignment across organizational goals, stakeholder expectations, and operations is how to successfully achieve this.

Using sustainability strategy to solve problems within an organization might sound familiar, and that’s no coincidence. At Capaccio Environmental Engineering, these concepts are the basis for how we approach client challenges. Having developed an award-winning Program Optimization Strategy to ensure alignment with organizational goals and having collaborated with clients to identify and implement their most impactful sustainability path forward, our clients made their businesses more resilient and agile to solve their wicked problems. 


If you would like to learn more about applying these concepts at your organization, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Cristina Mendoza, Strategic Integration Lead and Sr. Sustainability Consultant at or have a chat at 774-249-2418.