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How to Earn Respect as a Sustainability Leader

The SSC Team October 9, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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When trying to lead a sustainability program from the inside, you may find that getting internal buy-in from your peers, managers and executives is the toughest part of the job. This is especially true when sustainability and CSR don’t get a lot of respect as a corporate priority.

Consider the situation from nay-sayers perspectives, though, and you can begin to see why sustainability (and you) aren’t favorites at work:

  • The CFO may be thinking: why was sustainability “forced” on my, and why does it always seem to be spending more money than it saves?

  • The COO may be thinking: have CSR programs really delivered anything meaningful to the company, or is it just a feel-good initiative that’s taking people away from their “real” jobs?

  • Department heads may be thinking: Do sustainability people do anything except for harp about recycling all the time?

  • The Director of Communications may be thinking: I just want to tell a good story. Why do the sustainability managers always want to bring up our weaknesses?

The industry, the corporate culture, the history of the company’s performance, the physical location, and many other factors may contribute to how your co-workers, subordinates, and leadership view the role of the sustainability leader.

In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat, a security software company, gives some solid advice about earning respect inside a corporate culture.

Sustainability leaders may want to pay special attention to Whitehurst’s advice.

  • Show passion for the purpose of your organization and constantly drive interest in it. Even though you may have a TON of ideas on how your company can quickly change and make significant environmental gains, you should frame those ideas and the positive change they can create in language that speaks to the purpose of the organization itself. If internal stakeholders see sustainability programs as strengthening the business as a whole, and not just some ancillary reporting department, they will begin to respect sustainability’s role in the organization.

  • Demonstrate confidence. You may be asking employees who are not under your direct supervision to make changes to purchasing habits, reporting protocols, and behavior. You need to ask them with respect and confidence. Conveying confidence for a program that is supported up the chain-of-command will help establish you – and the programs you are implementing – will encourage others to follow your lead.

  • Engage your people. One of the biggest complaints about sustainability may stem from the top-down approach to change. Of course, you’re gathering the data, interpreting the reports, and making recommendations – but those who have to change because of a recommendation may come to see your role as an arbitrary rule imposer. As you look at programs and policies that affect department function or employee behavior, ask for input, ideas, and thoughts about how to implement change. You may get some great ideas from unexpected places.

  • Don’t be a know-it-all. You may know a bit about sustainability, but you probably don’t know a lot about the detailed work of the different functional areas in your company. By showing passion for shared company goals and values, being confident in your own role, and engaging people in different areas of the company, you will begin to build a positive reputation. But, you may also misstep. By “owning up” as Whitehurst says, you should frankly address when something doesn’t go as planned and help the team build a work-around together.

Managing sustainability is a difficult role in many corporate systems as sustainability is not a supervisory, but more of an advisory, department. This makes it even more important to earn respect with internal stakeholders. By doing so, you will really see the full effects of sustainability programs and help integrate sustainability into the fabric of the company’s culture.

Working on a tough sustainability project where internal stakeholders are pushing back? Let us know in the comments.

Anyone can become a “trash talker” and help reduce waste. Are you next?

The SSC Team October 4, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Let’s talk about trash. We all make it, some of us more than others. So naturally, there are people all over (including us) working to make the whole world, including waste, more sustainable.

 

Meet Kelsey Hallowell. Hallowell’s job is to help reduce waste for a company called Reduction in Motion, based in Baltimore, MD.

 

Hallowell works with a variety of clients, but in a recent interview she focused on changes being made by the Maryland Stadium Authority. The MSA owns both Camden Yard, home to the MLB’s Baltimore Orioles and M&T Bank Stadium, home to the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.

 

It may seem like professional sports venues aren’t concerned about their waste, but it turns out they do care and for good reason. Many businesses are not aware of how much waste they create, where it goes, or how much it costs to dispose of it among other things. When operating a business as large as a stadium, those costs cannot go unnoticed for long.

 

This problem inspired Bill Griffin to start Reduction in Motion in 2002. It all started with Griffin noticing the amount of inappropriate waste that went into bags designated for regulated medical waste. Griffin’s objective was to help these businesses understand all aspects of waste and, in turn, help them deal with it more efficiently and save money.

 

Although they had their start in the medical industry, Reduction in Motion has expanded. While sports venues do not generate the constant waste a hospital does, they see a significant amount of waste over a short period of time which can create unique challenges.

 

Among the challenges, seen both in hospitals and sports venues, are compliance. While many fans and employees do care about complying with waste guidelines, many do not. Hallowell suggested that it is really about developing a plan and continuing to engage with all parties involved, including fans.

 

“The truth is it’s easier to do the right thing if we make it easy,” Hallowell said when discussing how to ensure these programs are successful. Part of her job is not only to create and implement the programs but to sustain them. This is the more challenging part.

 

And it is also the reason why jobs like Hallowell’s should exist in every industry so sustainability experts can work to have an impact whether it be sporting events, hospitals, or hotels among others.

 

When it comes to travel, the amount of food waste in the hospitality industry is overwhelming and definitely can stand to be overhauled.

 

Many of us are guilty of being a little bit more wasteful when we are traveling or taking in a game than we are at home. But, as Hallowell noted, if it is easier to make the right decision, we are all more likely to do so.

 

We are more than prepared to help you take the next steps when it comes to sustainability. Among our services are waste audits, similar to those Hollowell conducts with Reduction in Motion, focusing on understanding what you’re throwing away, how to reduce costs associated with waste, and reduce waste, overall.

 

We also offer a variety of services to help you become a sustainability expert. Again, we believe it is essential for waste reduction and sustainability to be a priority in every industry. Take the next step today by investing in sustainability.

Sustainability Consulting Round-Up: Best of Our Blog from September 2018

The SSC Team October 2, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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We try to post a new blog at least once a week, just to share our insights into the world of sustainability strategy and what it takes to be a sustainability consultant or professional today. Here are our most-read posts from September.

 

How Sustainability Experts Should Give Feedback

 

Social Sustainability Satisfying Human Needs

 

How to Hire a Successful Sustainability Manger

 

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How Sustainability Practitioners Should Give Feedback

The SSC Team September 27, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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In the same way that hungry rats learn to navigate the blind alleys of a maze in their search for food, coaches, consultants, and other change agents learn that punishment most often follows their constructive criticism. Conversely, when they stroke the egos of clients, rewards come raining down. Managers fall victim to the same temptation: it’s much more fun (and in the short term, rewarding) to praise your direct reports than to deliver negative feedback. The bad news is that if you’re a consultant or coach, folks will tire of having smoke blown at them and, sooner or later, react negatively. They’re paying for reasoned critiques, and chronic evasiveness eventually gets on their nerves. And if you’re a manager, you can’t only rely on praise. 

Steven Berglas, Harvard Business Review

As consultants, it's our job to deliver feedback to our clients throughout the sustainability consulting engagement--and we've gotten pretty good at identifying, refining, and delivering news (both good and bad) about a company's "state of sustainability" and roadmap for action. But when we read the article, Don’t Sugarcoat Negative Feedback, in Harvard Business Review, we realized that the art of providing feedback has a much broader application to companies pursuing sustainability initiatives. Here are some of our takeaways:

Use Facts in Your Feedback

Berglas: Deliver constructive feedback rapidly in its raw form. This doesn’t mean harshly; there’s a way to soften blows without delaying them if you strive to be empathic. Just never make it seem like you’re avoiding hard cold facts. All that does is make the facts seem worse than they are.

Focusing our feedback on facts is a great way to create some space between participants, so that no one feels blamed, guilty, or shamed. It also allows everyone to (more) objectively assess the situation--including whether the feedback being provided is correct, how a solution should be constructed, and how responsibility and accountability for change should be allocated.

Wrong: [After 20 minutes of praise and exultation about everyone's awesome sustainability work.] "Look, even though we're all doing our best, it's not enough. We're falling behind on our performance data, and that's shown up in some recent press. We can't let our industry leave us in the dust. Come on, guys, we've got to improve!"

Right: "Our three-year carbon emissions are up 4.3%, while Competitor A is holding steady and Competitor B actually decreased its emissions by 1.1%. A report, which is getting press coverage this week in the New York Times and a number of "green blogs", calls us out for poor energy and climate performance in our industry. Let's talk about what that means in light of last month's board meeting where there was consensus about aiming for the top 25% of our industry across all sustainability issues."

Don't Predict the Outcome

Berglas: Resist the urge to prophesy. The absolute worst thing a CEO, coach, or consultant can do when offering constructive criticism to someone is to provide a timetable for the process that a person who must change should be expected to conform to.

While goals and targets are critical elements of effective sustainability planning, changing people (and institutions) is an uncertain process. When you need to address employee engagement and organizational culture issues, don't make promises that you can't keep. Yes, you can get a new Code of Ethics in place by the end of the year, but can you put a clear time line on when your emerging-market suppliers are going to really *get* the concepts of anti-bribery and corruption? You can provide a clear road-map, but putting calendar dates down for personal and organizational change is a dangerous proposition.

Be Honest about the Effort Required to Change

Berglas: Don’t minimize the challenge. When you critique someone with a history of success you have to assume that the flaws you see in them are (a) entrenched, and, (b) something they have long grappled with to suppress or get past. Saying, “No big deal” to that sort of issue can scare the socks off someone who knows that what you’re targeting for change is an issue they have battled unsuccessfully for years.

Sustainability is probably the biggest, most complex challenge that the world has ever faced -- and individual organizations trying to navigate a highly interconnected system in which it has limited leverage and resources is not an easy task. (Hah, understatement!) So don't portray the journey as all rainbows and kittens. It's going to be hard, and there are going to be really tough decisions. People need to understand that the road is going to be long, and the challenges are going to be scary--but that all great, epic adventures start with a seemingly insurmountable mountain to climb.

If you liked this article, you'll want to download SSC's free white paper on Sustainable Change Management. And if you're looking for a sustainability coach, check out our coaching and mentoring services. Or, join the conversation on Twitter, where SSC President Jennifer Woofter tweets at @jenniferwoofter. Did we get it right, or would you add something to our takeaways?

What “Sustainability Consulting” Is (and Isn’t)

The SSC Team September 20, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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In today’s marketplace, sustainability consulting is a catch-all term, used to describe multiple professions. It is important for readers to pay careful attention when an author predicts the growth of the “sustainability consulting industry” since it can be defined in so many ways.

We believe that many of the firms that claim to offer sustainability consulting services are, in fact, offering something quite different. Sometimes it is a narrower subset of services (like energy auditing); in other cases it is simply traditional services (like public relations) focused on sustainability initiatives. 

So how do we define sustainability consulting?

In general, organizations purporting to offer sustainability consulting services fall into the following broad categories.

Sustainability Strategy: these consulting firms provide planning and strategy services—usually for an entire organization or division. Sustainability strategy firms help businesses use sustainability as a lens through which to make good business decisions. Their goal is to help clients innovate, gain competitive advantage, satisfy stakeholders (especially customers), and empower employees to integrate sustainability into their day-to-day jobs. This type of firm usually has staff with extensive training in management, business administration, organizational development, and/or change management. Example: Strategic Sustainability Consulting.

Technical Support: these firms focus on one or more technical aspects of sustainability, such as green building design and construction, renewable energy and energy efficiency, waste diversion and recycling, and water and wastewater services. Rather than help the company integrate sustainability into its overall business decision-making processes, these firms tend to tackle discrete projects within a facility or division. Their staff generally has engineering or other technical degrees. Example: ERM.

Testing, Auditing and Verification: these firms provide third-party review of sustainability data—either on a corporate/facility level or a product level—and may provide assurance, auditing, or verification services. A firm in this category may exclusively cater to sustainability data (e.g. third-party assurance of a sustainability report), but will often provide non-sustainability services as well (e.g. third-party assurance of annual reports). Example: UL Environment.

Visioning and Facilitation: these firms focus on the “big picture” of sustainability, working with clients to brainstorm and create new mental models for companies, communities, and societies. These firms tend to be smaller and more radical, since the market for their services is smaller and their goal is to push the boundary of “business as usual.” The principals of these firms come from a variety of backgrounds, but often have training in facilitation techniques like Open Space, World Café, and the Art of Hosting. Example: The Natural Step.

Sustainability Marketing: these firms help clients tell their sustainability story. They range from public relations firms to graphic designers, and have varying involvement in the crafting of the story versus the delivery of the message. Staff at these firms usually has marketing, advertising, design and communications degrees. Many smaller firms in this category will focus exclusively on sustainability marketing, but larger companies will often have only one division devoted to sustainability and focus most of its effort on other communication areas. Example: J. Ottman Consulting.

Sustainability Software: one of the fastest growing areas of the sustainability marketplace is the development and sales of sustainability software—including carbon accounting, EHS management, and sustainability reporting platforms. Many of these companies offer some kind of consulting support, but it is generally related to the set-up and implementation of the sustainability software. While there is some overlap between this category and the Technical Support category, we distinguish the two because the Technical Support companies generally provide a service (e.g. an energy audit) while Sustainability Software companies generally sell a distinct product. Example: Credit360.

Check out our past blog “State of the Sustainability Consulting Industry” to learn more on the background for these findings.

How to Hire a Successful Sustainability Manager

The SSC Team September 6, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Determining whether or not to implement sustainability efforts is a question of the past for many firms. But once it has been decided, the focus is on how to hire a successful sustainability manager.

 

Of course, many firms have standardized hiring policies and procedures focused on hiring the most qualified candidate; but when it comes to hiring a manager for an all-together new initiative, especially sustainability, where should you start?

 

Bob Langert, former VP of Sustainability at McDonald’s identified 8 attributes most commonly found in sustainability leaders. With 30 years of experience working in sustainability, Langert is a leading expert on the topic and has recently finished work on his book, The Battle to Do Good: Inside McDonald’s Sustainability Journey, due out in January.

 

Among these eight common characteristics Langert found in sustainability leaders are courage, contrariness, and conviction.

 

He describes that sustainability change will often be met with resistance and, in order to persevere in the face of this resistance, managers must be courageous and “accept and relish the fact that leadership in sustainability means changing something...”  

 

Additionally, conviction plays a central role in leading with courage. Because sustainability is a big-time change from the status quo, “conviction – really having a firmly held belief – is required as the contagious springboard to bring others along,” according to Langert.

 

Bold, contrarian characteristics are incredibly valuable in a sustainability, but they cannot exist without bringing people together around a common goal – sustainability.

 

Langert outlines this need clearly, saying “It’s ironic that while it takes a lot of courage, conviction, cleverness and contrariness to battle to make sustainable change, a really good leader knows how to do so and still attract others to the mission or cause.” Thus, highlighting the need for attributes like collaboration, cheerfulness, charisma, and humility.

 

While conviction can carry an initiative to a certain extent, listening to and working with those who will be impacted can increase success. Langert also includes that, when it comes to charisma, “there’s no one personality profile that dominates.” Instead, he emphasizes that good leaders use their charisma to influence others by building trust.

Finally, Langert noticed that the most successful sustainability leaders are quick to share wins and slow to take credit. In other words, their humility is a strength that is good for teams and, ultimately, sustainability.

 

Knowing these characteristics is a wonderful start, but how can businesses identify them in applicants to ensure they are hiring the right sustainability leader?

 

Inc. offers advice for hiring managers emphasizing that “It (hiring) goes far beyond conducting an insightful professional interview, although this is part of it.”

 

Take a look at what you have to offer and what you are looking for by building a performance-based job description. Once you have a clear idea of what you are looking for, you can be more prepared to ask questions that allow candidates to demonstrate what it is you are looking for in a sustainability manager.

 

During the interview process consider conducting a performance-based interview and asking questions about accomplishments. These types of questions allow you to compare the candidate’s accomplishments to the sustainability manager position.

 

Additionally, as the candidate discusses these accomplishments interviewers can dig deeper, focusing on the attributes discussed by Langert.

 

This process can be arduous and complicated. In many cases, you may not yet know what you’re looking for or how to best determine which candidates are ready to lead your sustainability initiatives and there’s nothing wrong with that.

 

Sometimes it's ok NOT to hire, but to get a consultant (like us) on board first to fully develop the job description and 5-year plan, and then hire a more junior person for implementation. There are many things to be learned when it comes to creating successful sustainability efforts. Luckily, there is plenty of help available. 

Sustainability Consulting Round-Up: Best of Our Blog from August 2018

The SSC Team September 4, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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We try to post a new blog at least once a week, just to share our insights into the world of sustainability strategy and what it takes to be a sustainability consultant or professional today. Here are our most-read posts from August.

 

Companies Collaborating Could Mean Everyone Wins

 

Are You Getting the Real Truth from Your Employees?

 

Break Your Own Sustainability Habits and then Help Employees Change

 

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United We Understand: EcoPulse 2017 Special Report

The SSC Team August 9, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

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White Paper: United We Understand
This special report released by GreenBiz earlier this year is centered around the idea that words have power. Are you choosing the ones that unify? Or the ones that divide?

In an age filled with divisive rhetoric, sustainability messaging can be a unifying force. Check out this report for ideas about how your company can create sustainability messages that help you connect with your consumer values.

 https://www.greenbiz.com/whitepaper/united-we-understand-eco-pulsetm-2017-special-report

Do You Need Expensive Software for Environmental Reporting?

The SSC Team July 10, 2018 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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According to a recent press release by the Environmental Business Journal (EBJ), the U.S. environmental industry grew 3.9% in 2014. Although the data will take another 10 months to come together for 2015, it’s fairly safe to say the sector saw growth again last year as the economy held steady.

EBJ reports on 14 business segments divided into three categories, all three categories showing upward trends in 2014.

The largest single growth area in 2014 was a double-digit gain in environmental software and information systems.

The industry has seen many environmental, health, safety and sustainability software vendors disappear as quickly as they appear, but every industry sees the tech start-up side get red hot, cool off, and heat up again.

With evolving needs, evolving science, and evolving technology capabilities, it is not at all surprising that many start-ups struggle in this field.

Complicating matters is the fact that many of the customers that a software company in the environmental software and information systems field would need to acquire aren’t fluent in what they actually need to purchase (or how to use it).

Environmental reporting and data management systems are a lot like complicated legal matters or the tax code: companies likely need a specialist, and we haven’t reached a tipping point in the business community where enough companies have specialists.

Companies might buy a software license from a promising start-up with good software, yet not know how to actually collect the appropriate data and end up not using the tool to its potential. By the time they’ve got the team in place and are ready to ramp up, the software tool they’ve purchased needs an expensive upgrade because of changes in the science, regulations, or standards of sustainability reporting. You can see how the CEO might balk on a second wave of investment when the first wasn’t a huge success.

It’s not that start-ups are struggling in a silo, it’s more likely that we just haven’t reached a critical mass of companies with the in-house resources that can gain maximum value from a well-built environmental software tool. Combine that with a standard of reporting that itself is a moving target, and it is really difficult to gain traction as a environmental software company.

If you know your company is ready to do begin sustainability reporting, but don’t have the in-house team to manage the software tools on the market, contact us. We work with leading software programs for tracking and reporting on environmental data, and help companies determine what might will for them. 

Sustainability Consulting Round-Up: Best of Our Blog from June 2018

The SSC Team July 3, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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We try to post a new blog at least once a week, just to share our insights into the world of sustainability strategy and what it takes to be a sustainability consultant or professional today. Here are our most-read posts from June.

 

Mining Companies Can Care

 

Triple Bottom Line: The Science of Good Business

 

Keeping Your Sustainability Team Engaged- Words to Live By

 

Taking the Trash to a Whole New Level

  

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.