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Becoming a Better Sustainability Consultant: Understanding Your Client’s Industry

The SSC Team April 5, 2018 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Do you often wonder how you could become a better sustainability consultant? Check out Strategic Sustainability Consulting President Jennifer Woofter’s monthly tip to help you gain knowledge that will better help you serve your clients. After listening to this month’s tip about focusing on the unique industry of each client, we invite you to share your questions in the comments below.

https://youtu.be/YfA9C7455FU

 

There is Room to Grow for Suppliers Tackling Sustainability

The SSC Team March 27, 2018 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Let’s start with the positive news. When it comes to implementing more sustainable sourcing practices, a recently published Stanford University study, which focused on large global suppliers, found that more than 50% of the companies reviewed have been implementing these practices. Not surprisingly companies with valuable brands (and therefore a more vocal customer base) were the most likely to be utilizing sustainable practices.

 

But Cassandra Sweet notes in There’s Room for Progress on Tackling Sustainability Through the Supply Chain, that while this is great news, the study also found that companies lower down the supply chain — where changes to their social and environmental practices would be more beneficial — have been less likely to implement sustainable practices.

 

To complete their research, 449 publicly traded companies from a variety of sectors were examined in order to evaluate the extent to which their efforts were going to impact the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. And from this evaluation, it was clear that progress is being made. This portion of the study was focused on industry giants like L’Oreal and Coca-Cola Co. who, among others, have been making big adjustments. These include training their suppliers to help reduce or reuse plastic packaging, address climate change and promote sustainable production among other areas. Coca-Cola Co. has also been providing training to the farmers who supply them in order to help promote sustainable agriculture, gender equity, and fair working conditions.

 

With this good news, we now need to focus our attention on non-consumer-facing companies who haven’ t been as committed to implementing sustainable practices yet. Unfortunately supply-chain sustainable implementations aren’t as likely to drive change at a global scale unless a lot more companies start to utilize sustainable sourcing practices. Sweet raises the important issue that these practices need to be strong, verifiable, address a broad set of sustainability issues and reach all tiers of global supply chains.

 

Here’s the thing, so many companies are going half in when it comes to making sustainable changes. An example that Sweet highlights is when a company focuses on ensuring that one product ingredient is sustainably sourced, without paying any attention to other ingredients. Or by making sure that the packaging of a product is made from recycled materials, but at the same time the product contained within that packaging is not sustainably sourced.

 

Do you feel like your company is falling into this gray zone and could do better? If so, you will benefit from connecting with a sustainability consultant. You might be struggling to understand the complex world of corporate social responsibility, wondering how you can translate your values into actions, and unsure how to prioritize your social and environmental initiatives, but we can help! At Strategic Sustainability Consulting we can work with you to kick off your sustainability journey and help you understand the strengths, challenges, and best-fit sustainability strategy for your company, in your industry, to meet your stakeholder needs, right now. 

Free Learning Resources for Aspiring Sustainability Professionals

The SSC Team March 22, 2018 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Sustainability consulting is about so much more than caring about mitigating the effects of climate change. We often hear about the passion and energy aspiring consultants hope to bring to the field, but what a good consultant really needs is business knowledge, a solid understanding of the sustainability field, consulting skills, and change management skills.

Of course, growing into the role is part of the process of developing into a senior consultant. And growing requires learning.

If you have a solid background in business or consulting, maybe you need to focus on your sustainability knowledge. If you are a science and data expert, maybe you need to brush up on your strategic management and leadership skills.

Whatever your skill gap is, whatever your job status is, whatever your goals are, you should always set aside some time to learn something new.

We came across this ridiculously good article from Inc. featuring 21 awesome places to learn skills online, and we highlighted a few good ones to illustrate how easy it is to brush up on key sustainability and consulting skills for free.

 Go forth and learn.

· MIT OpenCourseWare – MIT has offered courseware, learning resources, and syllabi up online for free for a number of years now. Review lecture notes, find the best textbooks, follow along with lab demos on courses ranging from climate studies, change management, leadership, and sustainability policy.

· Boundless – A company shaping the way textbooks are written and sold, Boundless offers great overview information on dozens of topics to help students quickly understand the basics of any field. From accounting to biology to business, Boundless is a solid place to brush up on a topic you don’t need to know tons of detail about.

· UReddit – Reddit surprises with some really interesting courses on things that you might not be able to find anywhere else online. Think “Advanced training on Microsoft Excel” or “Starting your own business.”

· Future Learn – A private company owned by The Open University offering free coursework from professionals in the UK and partners around the world.

· Free course: Make an Impact: Sustainability for Professionals. Find out how to integrate a sustainable development strategy into your company with this free online course. University of Bath.

· Supply Chain Innovation: How Technology Can Create a Sustainable Future. University of Twente.

Once you’ve built your foundational knowledge, come back and get certified as a green auditor or connect with our CEO for personal job coaching based on your newly developed skills.

How to Earn Respect as a Sustainability Leader

The SSC Team March 13, 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. 

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

The SSC Team March 1, 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 February.

How to Improve Client Outreach

 

The Four Big Social Media Mistakes Your Company Is Probably Making

 

Straight Talk with the CEO to get Better Sustainability Results

 

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SSC’s Sustainability Consulting Masterclass Updated for 2018

The SSC Team February 28, 2018 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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So you want to become a sustainability consultant?

Sustainability consulting is competitive, multi-disciplinary, and continually changing as technology, policy, climate, and the global economy changes. But breaking in to the field is more than possible. It's just a matter of understanding how your own particular skills and interests can be effectively developed and positioned to add value to your future consulting clients - and what you can expect managing your own consulting business. 

Our Sustainability Consulting Masterclass is an online, on-demand series of five webinars, each ranging from 60-100 minutes long. It's great place to start to understand the basics of becoming a successful sustainability consultant and assessing the challenges of the business side of consulting. 

The series covers topics such as: 

  • Sustainability 101 - an industry overview
  • high-growth areas within sustainability consulting
  • clients you can expect to see hiring
  • writing proposals and contracts for sustainability consulting engagements
  • project management tools, communication strategies, and suggestions for how to approach pricing.

Get a sneak peak at each of the classes, including testimonials from past participants. 

And until March 15, 2018, we're knocking $51 off the price of the course. 

We hope you enjoy your own continuing education and thank you for choosing SSC to help you in your professional development. 

 

 

 

Straight talk with the CEO to get better sustainability results

The SSC Team February 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 Strategy Isn’t a Checklist

The SSC Team February 8, 2018 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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There are a lot of business books out there that provide templates for business plans and checklists. And having a plan and a checklist is important for any project or start-up, but developing a business strategy or incorporating sustainability into a business strategy isn’t a series of items to check off of a “to-do list.”

Even if you went through and commissioned and then checked off an annual sustainability report, a carbon footprint, a life-cycle analysis, et cetera, there is no guarantee that your organization would even be close to executing a true sustainability strategy.

Sustainability strategy should be based on an organizational understanding of why you need to invest in assessing and reducing your environmental impact. Without understanding why, you risk wasting time and money on projects that don’t align with the overall business strategy and stakeholder needs.

After determining why sustainability is important to the organization, you should focus on materiality, or what are the most important or impactful steps the organization can make inside of a realistic timeframe or budget or deadline.

Finally, look to experts to develop a proven path forward that speaks to both the materiality and the underlying corporate strategy on this issue.

For example, if your company is a small manufacturing firm held accountable to demanding suppliers or upcoming environmental regulations, but you have no clear idea on your environmental impact, then your why may be “we need to know what we are facing so we can answer questions of our stakeholders with honesty and confidence.”

Next, is materiality – are suppliers or regulators more important? Can they be addressed through the same sustainability tool or report?

If you determine through a materiality assessment that your suppliers are the most important stakeholder group to address first, next, consider what information they are demanding, in what format, and by when. In the example case of manufacturing, this may be collecting LCA data for a supplier scorecard or more pulling together even more thorough data for a third-party environmental or human product declaration (EPD/HPD) report.

Essentially, sustainability strategy should be tailored as carefully as marketing strategy or pricing strategy.

Company leadership should clearly understand why the sustainability efforts are integral to the success of the company, how important they are to the stakeholders who drive that success to help prioritize efforts, and which strategic path forward to take to meet stakeholder needs best.

SSC not only delivers excellent sustainability consulting services, we are focused on ensuring our clients choose the service, and level of service, that will meet their real business goals

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

The SSC Team February 1, 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 November.

 

The Obstacles with Sustainability Strategy

 

Creating Partnerships Can Be Useful for Your Company

 

Is Vanpooling a Good Choice for Your Company?

 

 

 

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Where Sustainability and Boards of Directors Intersect

The SSC Team January 25, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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With consumers and Wall Street continuing to put pressure on companies to be open about their sustainable practices, boards of directors are feeling the pinch. Investors certainly expect that board members understand and help prepare for challenges. Investing in sustainability is increasingly seen as a risk mitigation strategy, particularly now that it is clear that there is a connection between sustainable efforts and how companies perform.

There are a number of sustainability issues — climate change, water scarcity, labor inequality, product safety — that impact the bottom line. By understanding the impact of these risks on their companies and incorporating that information into the decision making process, boards can meet the demands of a growing number of investors around the world — and unlock real business opportunities.

This Greenbiz.com article, How to Build a Board that’s Competent for Sustainability, was an excellent round up of how to manage boards effectively when it comes to sustainability issues.

 

When an environmental or social issue impacts production and more, board members must respond. And it’s the job of the corporate staff, from investor relations to corporate secretaries to sustainability officers, to help the board become fluent in these sustainability risks — so that directors can understand why it matters to their business and what they can do about it. While some would say you could simple add a member or two to the board who is well versed in sustainable issues, a report recently release by Ceres suggest you should build a sustainably competent board.

 

How to build a sustainably competent board

Key suggestions include integrating sustainability issues into board recruitment and educating directors on sustainability issues and why it’s critical for them to engage with external stakeholders, including investors and experts on sustainability issues. The end goal is totally straightforward and by tackling material sustainability risks as a group, the board can ask the right questions, support or challenge management as needed and make knowledgeable decisions on strategy and risk.

 

There are other important elements that can assist in this process such as investor relations. Investors have long paid attention to board composition, including leading the charge calling for more diversity on corporate boards. Now that focus has grown to include climate competency, with major investors including CalPERS, CalSTRS, Blackrock and State Street (PDF) demanding that boards bring on climate-competent directors.

To work on this transition, the sustainability department and investor relations team can pair up to help educate directors when it comes to sustainability issues. They can prepare educational materials and sessions, report on material sustainability issues and discussion to boards and involve boards in materiality assessments, including ongoing updates of the business case for managing sustainability issues. Materiality assessments are particularly important. A growing number of companies are putting in place formal process to assess materiality sustainability issues. Board members should be involved in these processes to provide input, as well as to vet the results.

Finally, corporate staff can help the board engage with investors and other expert stakeholders on the topics important to the company through outreach to stakeholders or by creating advisory councils that have sufficient expertise to engage with directors and help brief and prepare board members for investor engagements on sustainability issues.

If a board wants what is best for the company, it’s clear that establishing a focus on sustainability issues will be good for business. Would you like help making the case to leadership on the power of sustainability, contact us!