Strategic Sustainability Consulting

Strategic Sustainability Consulting

Best of the Blog for August 2016

The SSC Team August 30, 2016 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Each month, we highlight some of our more popular content on the SSC blog!

In case you missed them, here's a round-up of our most popular blog posts from this past month. These are the articles that received the most attention from our online audience. Check them out! 

  1. The Most Important Skill for Sustainability Professionals
  2. The Importance of a Personal Sustainability Project
  3. TED Talks Sustainability: How Trees Talk to Each Other
  4. Turning a Profit on Sustainability: Are Target, Ikea, and Nike just Greenwashing 2.0?
  5. Jennifer Woofter Answers: Does it Matter Where Your Sustainability Firm is Located? 

If you like an article, please consider sharing it online via your favorite social media platform. Helping us grow our audience is the #1 way you can show your support for the work that we do.

Is Vanpooling a Good Choice for Your Business?

The SSC Team August 25, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.

We’ve found that vanpooling is a great option for companies located in rural areas when employees live in many directions. It’s particularly valuable for companies with a growing headcount, because it’s relatively easy to add a new van (while adding a new bus route is a significant commitment in terms of time and money).

There's lots of good evidence that vanpooling is good for employees and good for companies. According to Enterprise RideShare:

Vanpooling drastically reduces commuting and maintenance costs by up to $800 a month* (based on AAA mileage). Also, employees who vanpool are eligible for tax incentives  (IRS Tax Code 132(f)) and local government subsidies... People who share a ride aren't subject to the daily traffic grind, which means they arrive at work happier, more relaxed and, in turn, are more productive. Also, vanpoolers are found to be more punctual than those that drive alone. So employees who vanpool are more likely to arrive to work on time.

Check out these resources for more information.

Vanpooling: A Handbook to Help You Set Up a Program at Your Company - a PDF guide from the US Department of Transportation. While the handbook is a bit old, it is a great roadmap for setting up and managing a vanpooling program.

Vanpool Benefits: Implementing Commuter Benefits - a PDF guide from the US Environmental Protection Agency's "Best Workplace for Commuters" program. While written with an American audience in mind, all companies will find it useful for considering the financial costs and benefits of a vanpooling program.

Curious about how different commuting patterns affect your company's carbon footprint? Download our free white paper, Reducing Your Organization's Carbon Footprint: Addressing Commuter-Related Emissions.  

G4 Guidelines, Meet GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards

The SSC Team August 23, 2016 Tags: , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

The Global Reporting Initiative expects to soon unveil the GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards, improving how the G4 Guidelines, adopted in 2013, are reported.

The G4 Guidelines were an improvement on the previous reporting guidelines, helping provide more context around sustainability and push toward an integrated form of reporting on financial, social, and environmental metrics.

However, over the past three years, the G4 guidelines proved complicated, daunting, and included a number of elements that were “too often misinterpreted or inconsistently applied.”

Eric Hespenheide, interim chief executive the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and chair of Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB) for GRI, recently discussed how the G4 Guidelines aren’t going away, but how the new GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards will help reduce complexity and increase standardization.

“GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards is the latest step in the evolution of the guidelines, aimed at enhancing the credibility and adoption of the standards around the world. The new modular structure will allow the standards to be kept more up-to-date and aligned with international instruments in the future. To keep pace with developments in reporting practices or regulation, the new structure will enable additional sustainability topics to be added, with greater ease,” Hespenheide said.

The G4 Guidelines – including the data required to create a GRI report – aren’t changing (“This isn’t G5,” Hespenheide said.), but the modular formatting will help companies more clearly and accurately report on material topics in a way that is comparable across industries, and will allow flexibility when adding or changing specific reporting areas as the field evolves.

Ideally, by continually improving the standards AND making the reporting tool and methodology modular and more accessible, more and more organizations will begin producing GRI reports, pushing companies more toward credible, standardized sustainability reporting.

Contact us to talk about how your company can join leading organizations in producing a sustainability report following the G4 Guidelines. o

The Importance of a Personal Sustainability Project

The SSC Team August 18, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives. 

The business world is an ever-changing entity that is constantly being fueled by new ideas and initiatives. One of the latest initiatives is no longer just “going green,” but becoming sustainable. This means that simple recycling efforts aren’t going to be enough. Individual employees at any business can take action to work toward sustainability.

Creating a green team is one way you can send a message of your need to improve up the chain-of-command. But reflect on your personal habits that you could change for sustainability. Consider taking on a ‘Personal Sustainability Project’ or PSP that could help you achieve sustainability in your office. Encourage others to do the same! The idea behind a PSP has been explored by Mr. Adam Werbach, former Sierra Club President, in order to engage Walmart workers in sustainability. His hope was “that if we could learn how to help individuals become personally sustainable, then we might also learn how to affect the two hundred million people who shop regularly at Walmart.” While you may not be working on the scale off affecting two hundred million people, your work toward sustainability may convince others in your company to take on a PSP.
Establishing your PSP means taking on a small project that is something you really believe you can do. Do not try to take on a task that seems impossible. Rather, take on something you know may be a little difficult but something that you can make a habit over time: “Instead of overhauling someone’s lifestyle, we started by finding daily or recurring practices that can express an individual’s values … What are the qualities of a PSP? It is repeatable, inspirational, sustainable, and enjoyable (RISE). At its most basic level, it is a healthy habit. People learn to spot PSPs through self-reflection or through a group session where they can talk about their routines and identify changes they would like to make.” In a business case, a PSP should be something you can achieve that not only helps you but can also help your company work on sustainability. A great example would be to ride your bicycle to work instead of driving your car. While this may not seem like a way to help your business, think of all the areas biking to work can have an influence on:
Reducing CO2 emissions (environmental)
Getting a great workout (social)
Potentially cutting health-care costs and health-club fees (economic)

Where can you start on your road to sustainability? Our white paper, “Become a Sustainability Champion: At Any Career Level has a whole section devoted to walking you through this process and outlining a clear path forward to getting started. Examples are given for employees ranging from general office associates, to middle managers, to CEOs.

Find out myriad ways that you can become a sustainability champion! Download this complimentary white paper here.

EPA and Waste Management Webinar Recap: Putting a Price Tag On Emissions Reduction

The SSC Team August 16, 2016 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Last Tuesday, GreenBiz hosted the first in a two part webinar series on the emissions impact of recycling and Sustainable Materials Management (SMM).

SMM can be generally described as active management of a product’s life cycle to reach sustainability aims.

The webinar began with an overview of the EPA’s work on SMM/LCA advocacy. Essentially, the EPA sees its role as advancing LCA and SMM as integral business practices. Because LCA and supply-chain work is so crucial to truly moving the bar on reducing emissions, it’s heartening to know that the EPA has made this a priority in their policy, oversight, and research work.

From lifecycle to the trash

After the EPA presentation, the talk shifted from life-cycle studies directly to the end of the life cycle and the work of Waste Management, the American comprehensive waste and environmental services company. Waste Management has undertaken a massive effort calculate the actual dollar cost of reducing emissions waste by method of disposal.

As a side note, the presenters did not do a great job of clearly making this transition from LCA work to emissions reduction cost calculating. But, it seems that the overall point was two-fold:

1.     Most organizations look at their carbon footprint – which is business operations – and what comes up most commonly is that the largest emissions source for most businesses is energy use. So, companies focus on energy reductions initiatives, essentially passing their product emissions - natural resources, product use, and product disposal –  onto suppliers and consumers. This needs to stop. More organization need to look up and down a product’s life cycle to really engineer, source and plan in ways that reduce the overall impact of the entire product to move the bar on sustainability.

2.     As organizations begin to engineer products with a focus on SMM, it would be helpful to know the GHG emissions resulting in end of life (i.e. GHG emissions of landfilling versus single-stream recycling) and the cost in real dollars of each of the processing methods. That’s where Waste Management stepped in.

Waste Management’s work calculating the price of reducing GHGs in the waste management industry delivers a cost per ton of GHG emissions through various waste processing techniques. (The most reduction for the lowest cost goes to – residential and commercial single-stream recycling!)

The Waste Management process, prioritization, and graphical representation on how they calculated cost/benefit is pretty fantastic. Definitely consider downloading the slides.

But questions remain.

How can organizations and policymakers work to reduce the cost of the other types of GHG emissions reduction technologies (e.g. anaerobic digesters)? Is there talk about subsidizing them? How can businesses be incentivized to use materials that can be sent into the low-emissions/low-cost single-stream recycling category and/or eliminate materials that can’t? Is there talk about banning certain materials? Are there waste processing technologies that need research funding that provide low-cost emissions reduction?  

Calculating cost and cost benefit is important from an engineering standpoint, but only if your organization is somehow incentivized or driven to engineer with the life cycle in mind. Without pressure – regulatory or otherwise- companies are still largely driven by the biggest incentive of all: producing products for the lowest actual cost and passing any environmental costs onto the planet, via the consumer.

Listen to the recap here, and log in today at 1pm Eastern for the second webcast, Setting Goals: Have We Reached the Limits of Recycling?, where presenters look at SMM through waste reduction efforts and give guidance on how to set effective waste reduction and recycling goals.

Are you ready to take a more advanced approach to understanding and reducing impact through a product life-cycle assessment? Check out our LCA overview information and contact us for a brief discussion of the benefits and challenges. 

 

4 Ways to Effectively Execute Your Sustainability Programs

The SSC Team August 11, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Execution, or the ability to meet goals and objectives, is consistently ranked as a top-3 skill that executives require of successful managers. Going through the motions to develop processes – whether that is providing regular updates or analyzing best practices of a system – are all fine and good, but if you can’t actually move the bar, it’s possible your sustainability program (or you) will get canned.

But reaching goals and milestones for a sustainability program that requires company employees to change their own workplace behavior to reach objectives is less about long hours at the office burning the midnight oil tracking data, and more about engaging in employees effectively.

Analysts at Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consultancy, looked at data gleaned from thousands of performance reviews to determine the top four behaviors that improved manager ability to execute team-based projects.

Be clear and methodical

If you’re a sustainability manager, you need to take a breath and set aside time for strategic planning. If your CEO wants meaningful sustainability results, then defining those results through strategic planning, based on how the sustainability strategy aligns with company goals is likely the best path to effectively execute a sustainability strategy.  

Don’t get distracted too early with green teams or waste reduction or the excitement of a budget for a carbon footprint. You likely need to start with a pow-wow with the C-suite on what exactly the company hopes to achieve, strategically, through the sustainability program, then perform a materiality assessment, and then develop an organized strategic plan to connect company strategy with stakeholder materiality.

The result will be a plan with a clear direction, action steps, and measurable goals – backed up by company leaders.

Set stretch goals and deadlines

By framing the activities inside of a clear strategic plan that ties to company success, everyone can see why they are being asked to change. And by setting realistic “stretch goals” and deadlines, employees see opportunity to do something possible, following a clear path.

Goal-setting is a solid motivational strategy, but don’t overdo it and stress employees out.

Give more feedback, especially more positive feedback

When managing people, or motivating them, feedback is crucial. If you want employees, on an individual level, to change their behaviors to help the company achieve its goals, then give individual employee positive feedback.

Tie employee action to positive feedback – and get personal. Thank departments for reaching milestones or goals. Celebrate participation in sustainability focused programs. And, if you are tracking departmental data and see a team not achieving the milestones set forth for, don’t send a memo.

Instead, sit down for a lunch and learn with the team and talk about the progress-to-date and their barriers to participation. Listening and positive feedback can move people to action much more effectively and quickly than emails and memos.

Resolve conflict and build team unity

Pairing individual praise and feedback for individual behavior change is doubly effective when people are also strongly tied together in teams. Successful teams “probably do all or most of the above – work assignments are clear and processes make sense, deadlines are ambitious but fair, and feedback is plentiful – but they also do something more. On these teams, it’s not just the boss motivating team members — the expectations of peer team members are powerful motivators, too.”

Managers that can build team culture around sustainability efforts – so that employees are proud to be a part of the larger organizations in part because of it’s commitment to social and environmental sustainability – will also aid in executing the sustainability strategy.

Contact us to start talking about sustainability strategy and how to go from tracking data to reaching meaningful milestones.

 

Jennifer Woofter Answers: Does it Matter Where Your Sustainability Consulting Firm is Located?

The SSC Team August 9, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

What does it take to grow a global consulting business in a medium-sized city or smaller town?

Jennifer Woofter talks about how to grow a business from anywhere, leveraging technology, time management, and your professional network in this short video presentation for Launched In Lynchburg, a web portal designed to inspire, educate and connect local entrepreneurs and professionals in Lynchburg, Virginia. 

Lynchburg is the global HQ of Strategic Sustainability Consulting.

As a seasoned entrepreneur and accomplished consultant, Jennifer shares four important pieces of advice for local consultants to compete in the global economy:

  • All roads eventually lead to Lynchburg
  • Be local, act global
  • Play to your competitive advantage
  • Know where to find talent

Do you have questions about relocating your business to a small town? Let us know in the comments! 

TED Talks Sustainability: How Trees Talk to Each Other

The SSC Team August 4, 2016 Tags: Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Nothing inspires us like a good TED talk, and here’s one of our favorites. Enjoy it!

About the Speaker: Suzanne Simard is a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia's Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences. She studies the surprising complexity in nature - the fungal networks that connect trees and facilitate underground tree communication. 

About the Talk:  Simard's research has demonstrated that symbiotic networks in our forests mimic juman neural and social networks. This groundbreaking work on symbiotic plant communication has far-reaching implications in both the forestry and agricultural industries, in particular concerning sustainable stewardship of forests and plant resistance to pathogens. 

The Secret to Getting a Green Premium

The SSC Team August 2, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives

There has been a lot of talk lately about whether or not customers are willing to pay more for green products. And just like any kind of market research, you can usually find a study to support whatever theory you're currently promoting.  

For example, in August 2013, an article from Sustainable Brands proclaimed, “50% of Global Consumers Willing to Pay More for Socially Responsible Products”. Just a few months earlier, a Harris Interactive poll said that, “78% of U.S. consumers were already buying products specifically because of their social or environmental profile”.

Not so fast. There are a number of articles that argue the opposite -- that consumers are NOT willing to pay a price premium for so-called "green" products. In September 2012, an Advertising Age article noted, “As More Marketers Go Green, Fewer Consumers Willing to Pay For It”. And perhaps most compelling, P&G's CEO flat out declared that, “consumers aren't willing to pay a green premium,” in a video hosted by the Wall Street Journal.

Why the disconnect? Turns out the devil is in the details -- it's the difference between what consumers SAY and what they really DO. Here's an excerpt from No, Consumers Will Not Pay More for Green:

“Consumers will consistently tell surveys that they are willing to pay more for socially and environmentally superior products…A major utility company, for example, surveyed rate payers asking if they would pay a small premium for ‘green electricity.’ The response was overwhelmingly ‘Yes!’ However, when the product was offered, fewer than 5% actually signed up.”

 This leaves companies in a bit of a conundrum. How do you get consumers to pony up extra money for green products? This issue is important for many reasons--innovation can be expensive, and paying better wages for laborers and higher margins for raw materials can seriously impact the profitability of a product or product line. 

So how do you do it? 

The secret might be in how you talk about the sustainability or the "green-ness" of your product or service. It's not enough to spout out key statistics or throw an eco-label on the packaging. New research suggests that it's all in the story. 

In her article, Want to Raise Prices? Tell a Better Story, Francesca Fenzi shares insight about consumer purchasing practices.  “As a business owner, you probably believe that quality is what drives consumers to buy your product. Certainly, superior execution and customer service go a long way toward making your business a success.”

Ty Monague, author of True Story: How to Combine Story and Action to Transform Your Businessbelieves that customers will pay more for a good story.  Take, for example, a 2006 experiment by New York Times magazine columnist, Rob Walker, which tested a hypothesis that stories sold products. Writers were asked to create a story that evoked human interest to accompany a handful of cheap items worth less than $5 each, such as a wooden mallet, a lost hotel key, a plastic banana. He put the objects up for sale on Ebay with the narratives- and was surprised by the results. “On average, the value of the objects rose 2,700 percent,’"wrote Montague. 

Maybe the reason that today's eco-conscious products have trouble commanding a price premium is because their social and environmental stories are communicated poorly--or worse, not at all. Unless the consumer can make a human connection to the story behind the product, it's likely going to remain at a price disadvantage and fighting it out with other traditional products in a competitive marketplace.

So the next time you think about green products--whether you are buying them or selling them--consider whether the story has been crafted in a way to appeal to your values, your history, or your humanity. Are you more willing to shell out a couple extra bucks to be part of that story?  Leave us a comment or join the conversation on Twitter!

Best of the Blog for July 2016

The SSC Team July 28, 2016 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Each month, we highlight some of our more popular content on the SSC blog!

In case you missed them, here's a round-up of our most popular blog posts from this past month. These are the articles that received the most attention from our online audience. Check them out! 

  1. Free Learning Resources for Aspiring Sustainability Professionals
  2. Welcoming the New ASTM Standards
  3. Test Your Company's Strategic Sustainability Alignment
  4. Best Practices for Virtual Teams
  5. Closing the Gap Between Sustainability Strategy and Execution

If you like an article, please consider sharing it online via your favorite social media platform. Helping us grow our audience is the #1 way you can show your support for the work that we do.