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Growing Your Sustainability Consulting Business: Making the Business Case for Hiring YOU

The SSC Team December 22, 2015 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Check out this blog from the SSC archives. 

This just in: Nearly 80 percent of global CEOs affirmed in a recent survey  that sustainability has become a part of corporate operations (survey conducted by Accenture and the United Nations Global Compact of 800 global CEOs).

This is great news! As sustainability continues to move mainstream, there should be plenty of new clients crawling out of the FSC-certified woodwork in the coming years.

But that doesn’t mean that getting work is going to be easy. According to a different survey done in partnership with the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Boston Consulting Group just last year, many companies had “not developed a business case for sustainability” and are investing many of their sustainability dollars in maintaining regulatory compliance.

What? That doesn’t make sense, does it?

It sort of does from a business-logic perspective. First, basic environmental protection laws help ensure regulators are pushing companies to clean up or be fined. Second, PR and marketing teams are spending sustainability dollars, as “going green” can help increase sales and reputational value. Then, as some efficiency cost-savings become apparent, the operations team moves in. These elements separately can all be counted toward “sustainability investment,” but that doesn’t mean the company is strategically tackling its move into sustainability by developing a true “business case.”

Why not? According to Gil Friend, founder and CEO of Natural Logic, most people are still “seeing ‘sustainability’ only as a cost, not an investment.” So, naturally they are only doing the obvious low-cost, high return on investment (ROI) sustainability things. This can be especially true for small- to medium-sized enterprises without any real knowledge of sustainability or the resources to tackle the issue strategically (i.e. your potential clients. Hint, hint.).

So the path is clear. Now that you know everything there is to know (See Part 1) about your prospective client, it’s time to develop a tailored “business case for sustainability” that will help you win business by opening client’s eyes to the opportunity that a real sustainability strategy provides. 

In Part 3 of this series, we discuss how to communicate the business case to your prospective client in terms that they will understand (read: shareholder value), but for now let’s just find the business case.

Don’t even think about hugging trees or saving rainforests. According to David Bent, head of business strategies at Forum for the Future, a nonprofit sustainable development organization based in the UK, “the ‘societal case’ does not automatically make a business case.” Yes, there is a lot of societal pressure to address social and environmental problems, but that doesn’t mean that the societal case is going to sell sustainability to a client. Generally, you should focus on what will help the client be a better, more profitable business, and present the societal and environmental benefits as icing on the sustainability cake (unless you’re really lucky and land a socially conscious client!).

Use what you know about the prospective client and pick what you think the strongest business case or cases are. The best news here is that the Forum for the Future has done the hard work for us. In early January, the organization created a table combining key elements of the most commonly used business cases for sustainability. The table, called Pathways to Value, will help you identify how to make direct links between the business strategy of the prospective client and sustainability initiative that will tie in with the client’s strategic goals. To access the chart, click here or type in http://www.forumforthefuture.org/projects/pathways-to-value.

For example, if your prospective client is in a highly regulated industry, like mining, and you learned from research that they’ve just won a contract to open a mine in an area with a large Native American population, they would have a high risk of damaging their reputation, high regulatory costs, and concerns about the license to operate. Hence, you should focus your sustainability pitch heavily on “risk reduction” elements. Yes, the company may also benefit from staff motivation and retention programs, but the biggest payoff in investing in sustainability is probably the area with the strongest business case. And the strongest business case is going to be most interesting to the client; therefore, you should concentrate your pitch on that business case.

By pitching the right product to the client, you will probably have a better chance of earning their business (and, hopefully, when your programs maximize ROI, you’ll look like a genius).

Once you have identified the key business case or cases, it is time to prepare your presentation. In order to make sure you get the most out of every minute of face time, make sure you are speaking to your client in a language that he or she understands. For more about being on the same page, check out Growing your sustainability consultancy business, Part 3: Speak your client’s language.

Enjoyed this blog post? You might want to consider the Strategic Sustainability Masterclass Series. For more information, visit our online training section.

Ask a Sustainability Consultant: What is Sustainability?

The SSC Team December 1, 2015 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SCC archives. 

We have been providing sustainability consulting services to organizations worldwide for more than a decade. But, we still find that the sustainability journey is just beginning for many. Here is a post from our archives helping define sustainability. Although the videos are oldies-but-goodies, we still see the value in these straightforward explanations. 

HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUSTAINABILITY?

The answer is not always simple.  Some people think sustainability is a destination, some people think sustainability is a journey (we think it's a little bit of both).  Some people like lofty definitions, like these three: 

Meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  (Brundtland Commission)

The possibility that human and other forms of life on earth will flourish forever. (John Ehrenfeld, Professor Emeritus. MIT"

Enough - for all - forever. (African Delegate to Johannesburg (Rio+10))

We like those definitions as a rallying call to inspire people to think broadly about sustainability.  But they aren't very helpful when it comes to actually putting sustainability into action.  

For that reason, we love The Natural Step's Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development.  It is based on a scientific consensus about how our world is unsustainable, and then provides four principles that eliminate those causes of unsustainability.  This video is a quick overview:

That's the concept of sustainability that we use here at Strategic Sustainability Consulting.  But it can still be kind of vague -- difficult to put into specific operation in part because a single organization operating within society cannot, on its own, do all of the things necessary to move society toward sustainability.  That's where sustainability strategy comes in.

This video is from Tim Nash of Strategic Sustainable Investments, who is a fellow alumni of the Strategic Sustainability graduate program at Blekinge Institute of Technology in Karlskrona, Sweden (where SSC president Jennifer Woofter also graduated).  It expounds on The Natural Step Framework, and explain how strategy becomes part of the process:

So that's it.  THAT is how we define sustainability.  We believe that these four system conditions provide the foundation upon which we create a sustainable society.  And an organization operating within our current unsustainable world must create a strategy to navigate through that funnel to maximize the value it delivers while minimizing the risk of hitting the "walls of the funnel".

Agree?  Disagree?  Let us know in the comments.

Listen: Jennifer Woofter talks about individual impact in our interconnected world

The SSC Team November 17, 2015 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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In a recent podcast with 1000 Leagues Across the Sea (an effort to row across the North Atlantic and share a variety of perspectives about the experience), our own Jennifer Woofter addresses how daily activities impact the environment.

"There is only so much our societies can take from the Earth before the Earth is unable to rebound," she says. 

Part of the journey of being more sustainable, both as individuals and in organizations, is striking a balance between making sustainable choices and still being able to participate in the world as it is. 

Jennifer speaks about how global politics, individual consumption, and the natural world are intricately connected, and how our our interconnectivity in this unsustainable world is being examined by entities big and small.

This examination - by corporations, by scientists, by governments, by NGOs - is a combined effort to help all of us determine how much the Earth can truly take, how to put on the brakes before we come close to those limits, how conserve so our resources are replenished or preserved, and how to 'live a little.'

At SSC, our job is to help governments, non-profits, and corporations understand how to make incremental change that add up to big impact. Check out our service offerings, and let us help you start making sustainable choices. 

 

What you know AND who you know are important for aspiring sustainability consultants

The SSC Team October 27, 2015 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

If you’ve been on our website and really want to become part of our consultant network, you know that there is one thing you should never, ever say. Ever.

Don’t know what it is?

Then you haven’t done your homework.

Sustainability consulting is a small world

If you’re trying to break into the world of sustainability consulting, then you need to truly strategize about how to engage with industry leaders, consultants, and firms who are hiring.

A recent article in Entrepreneur gives a round-up of the 10 strategies for making friends with important people in your networking plan.

The first five steps are all about research, reading, and making an effort to truly understand your potential contact’s business strategy and hot buttons. Next, activate your network, stay in touch, and add value to your potential contact’s day-to-day through meaningful communication.

Have the skills (or grow them)

While you’re “working the room” to build your professional network, make sure you fully understand what it takes to be a sustainability consultant. Know your own skill set and be able to describe how those skills will apply in a sustainability consulting roles.

Know your strengths, and your shortcomings

Don’t oversell yourself to a high-profile potential contact, or you might ruin your reputation before you gain a foothold. Be honest about where you are in your career, what your areas of interest are, and make efforts to improve your skills through practice and education.

Learn more about specific sustainability consulting training courses we offer, and opportunities to work with us