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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

  

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Straight Talk with the CEO to Get Better Sustainability Results

The SSC Team June 26, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Sustainability decisions and reports are data-heavy. And not only that, sustainability data may be unfamiliar to many, including your own CEO.

One of the worst things a sustainability executive or sustainability consultant can do is jargon-speak and data-overload when presenting to corporate leadership.

“Too many executives overestimate the CEO’s understanding of, and desire for, detailed functional data. Many of the best CEOs are generalists who lack deep expertise in most functional areas,” writes Joel Trammell for Entrepreneur.

Remember that the CEO, and in many cases other executives, are relying on you – either as an consultant or as the in-house expert – to analyze the functional data and deliver your expert opinion on that data.

Here are Trammell’s three tips for turning down the data noise and turning up the sustainability signal to get better results:

  1. Keep the big picture in mind. Deliver “concise insight” into how a sustainability program is tracking on goals and how those goals are supporting the company’s overarching goals. Drop the details, and focus on impact.
  2. Focus on the future. When talking about a new sustainability program or report, focus on how the results of the report are going to affect the company’s future performance. Asking for an expensive LCA? Don’t dwell on the cost of the actual LCA assessment, instead frame the ask around how the LCA will “identify risk.” And, by identifying risk the LCA will give guidance on mitigating it, and the result will be long-term, low-risk operations in a more sustainable marketplace. Win!
  3. Ask for support when you need it. “Only the CEO can mitigate conflicts between departments and allocate resources where they are most needed,” said Trammell. This is especially important for sustainability executives, as we are trusted with advising and changing how other departments operate. Not everyone likes change. If you are feeling push back from purchasing on the new sustainable purchasing processes, directly provide guidance on how the CEO can proactively remove barriers in purchasing so he or she can see the positive results you promised from the program (Note: Don’t tattle. Keep it professional with clear action steps from the CEO).

By focusing on the big picture, the future, and framing how your role is working with and for other departments, you can keep your communication with the CEO focused and relevant.

Are you looking to pitch to company executives, but need to translate sustainability performance in a language that the C-suite understands? Let us know!  

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

The SSC Team May 31, 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 May.

 

Sustainability Strategy Isn't a Checklist

 

Data or Your Gut? Understanding Your True ROI

 

3 Questions to Make Sustainable Decisions

 

5 Minute Video: Making Your Business Case for Sustainability

  

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3 Questions to Make Sustainable Decisions

The SSC Team May 15, 2018 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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This month we picked Alexandre Magnin’s 3 Strategic Questions to help make the best sustainable decisions. As a sustainability consultant, you know that your clients may find socio-ecological sustainability issues complex and daunting. Thankfully even though there are a lot of factors to consider, there are also tools and frameworks that can be very helpful in firming up with a plan. 

Data or Your Gut? Understanding Your True ROI

The SSC Team May 8, 2018 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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When it comes to business there will probably never be an end to the discussion of return on investment talk. But it’s important to remember that while financial returns may be easier to document and demonstrate, there is a lot of "data" that's simply subjective, part of the institutional knowledge, or coming from the expert you've hired that you clearly expect to trust. When all these issues are floating around the world of statistics, here’s why going with your "gut" isn't wrong.

 

In the world of sustainability measuring your ROI cannot be based on stats alone. Sure, if you reduce your energy and water usage it’s great to watch your bill go down. However the bigger savings is the enormous — and less immediately clear — impact that these efforts are having on the environment. What’s more important? Saving $50 or reducing your carbon footprint? Hopefully it’s the second one.

 

Paul Marushka adds to the narrative by examining how a “prove it” mentality challenges the value that environmental health and safety bring to the workforce. Despite our obsession with being able to use data to prove the worth of an initiative, sometimes we simply know the intrinsic value in something. Even if there aren’t stats to back it up. Marushka uses the former CEO of Alcoa as an example of what significant results can be achieved without having data to support the efforts: After he challenged the company to become the world’s safest, Alcoa saw an increase in earnings of 600 percent with sales growing by 15 percent per year during a 5-year period. Seems pretty clear that you can prove to leadership the value of investing in environmental health and safety — even if you don’t have software to examine everything and back you up.

 

Because when it comes to sustainability you have to look past the simple dollar value of your business efforts. There may be other ways to measure ROI. Although these efforts may be less tangible immediately, as a business owner you should start trusting your instincts. In a piece for Inc., Peter Kozodoy brought up a unique concept: how trusting your instincts over hard data could help you make better business decisions. And science is supporting the notion that your intuition is there to help you.

 

In a report published in Psychological Science Joel Pearson, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New South Wales, and his research team found evidence that people can use their intuition to make better, faster, more accurate and more confident decisions. Considering how much we tend to cling to data in the business world, this may seen like an unreliable option, however Pearson’s study showed that surrounding ourselves with more positive, subliminal inputs not only helps us make better choices, but it helps us to trust those choices. Engaging in this concept of picking up on other’s subconscious messages could explain why some folks get "luckier" than others — they always have the uncanny ability to spot exceptional business ideas, or seem to find the best people to work with. Individuals who are more in tune with their intuition over what statistic might tell them may be coming out ahead.

 

As you continue forward in your sustainability efforts, remember that your decisions shouldn’t be based on stats alone. There are a little of elements to consider and numbers don’t always tell the full story.