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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! 

The Obstacles with Sustainability Strategy

The SSC Team January 4, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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After you set up a sustainability strategy for a client, does it feel like they end up standing in their own way? Here you have a business that asked you to create a plan, but when it is presented they are hesitant to take the necessary steps to implement one or all of your ideas?

 

Talk about frustrating! Recently the Harvard Business Review talked about the challenges of navigating the politics of innovation and honestly the same concepts can be applied to sustainability strategy. So how can we leap over those hurdles that are getting in the way of a positive end result?

 

Here are the tips Brian Uzzi shared:

 

1. Anticipate Resistance
While the client may be clamoring to “be innovative” or incorporate “creative, new ideas” they may also not actually have the resources necessary to implement them in the long run. While the need for funds or time (or both) may cause resistance initially, you can present how your idea(s) is new, creative and won’t be stealing resources from an on-going project. This should help encourage clients to be more willing to implement your plan.

 

2. Unmask Political Motives

While it may seem clear to you that some kind of internal, political factors are getting in the way of sustainable changes, often the real reasons may not come to the forefront. The clients may present issues —cost, time, complexity — that are publically acceptable but are just covers for underlying factors. Maybe the client sees that the change may impact them in a way they don’t find positive. Or they feel like there isn’t enough data to support making adjustments. To move past issues that may not even be made clear to you, might require expanding your network and bringing more people on board to gain support to move forward.

 

3. Find the right champion

That’s where tip three comes into play. You may need another player within the organization — perhaps someone very senior — who will buy into the sustainable efforts you plan to implement. With them on board, it will likely be less challenging to convince others that there is merit to what you are proposing. However, you may need more than management support to seal the deal.

 

4. Secure social proof

So people wanted to make their office more sustainable, but they haven’t seen hard data that supports it will be effective. But since that evidence won’t be available until they implement the plan what are you going to do? Here’s where social impact can come into play. At the end of the day if enough people believe something, it doesn’t really matter how many facts we have, that social pressure is likely to be enough. If you can inspire some support within the larger team it is likely to lead to more support and implementation of your plan from the higher ups. If people in the office want to reduce waste and lessen their footprint, their desire is likely to impact others in the office.

 

Implementing your strategy may end up taking as much (or more!) work than creating it. But if you can approach the challenge with awareness, hopefully each project can be accomplished without a lot of added stressors. 

Sustainability Consulting Round-Up: Best of Our Blog from December 2017

The SSC Team January 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 December.

 

What is augmented reality and why is it important to integrate it into sustainability advocacy and strategy? 

 

Life Cycle Analysis can help you write a better ‘business continuity plan’

 

Making the case for water conservation? Communicate risk in dollars and cents

 

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.

Making the case for water conservation? Communicate risk in dollars and cents

The SSC Team December 21, 2017 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.

With extreme heat, drought conditions and raging wildfires in the headlines around the world, water and water conservation has been top of mind this summer and fall.

We have been talking about water sustainability in terms of corporate sustainability assessment, reporting and risk management for years. But many companies are just now looking at ways to assess their water risk.  

If you’re on the sustainability team, there is no better time than right now to make the case for performing a risk assessment and developing a sustainable water strategy to help mitigate business risk.

One of the best ways to speak the language of company leadership is to present risk in terms of dollars and cents.

Monitize how water scarcity may impact revenue

The Water Risk Monetizer is a tool that enables water-dependent businesses to look at their current and future water risks, with direct-impact insight into how water, or water scarcity, will impact revenue.  This free financial modeling tool will help water-dependent businesses better understand the current and future value of water.

When supply and demand meet water

A basic human need, water is likely the most under-priced natural resources in the global economy. Water costs to business have the potential to dramatically increase, or be made unavailable for business needs, as public opinion and government policy shift to ensure equal access for basic human consumption. 

Businesses can expect the cost and availability of water to increase, and should plan now to incorporate those increased costs, or look for ways to minimize water use, to ensure financial viability in an age of water scarcity.

Understand water risk, plan for water reduction

A monetized water scarcity assessment will help companies identify areas where risk exists today and in the future.

But, performing a cursory risk assessment is just the first step. Next, you’ll need to delve into actionable solutions to mitigate risk before it becomes a revenue loss – supply chain analysis, production technologies, factory siting, R&D strategy, or even product phase-out planning.

Make the case for water conservation, and then push for some real strategic water sustainability strategy.

If you are interested in corporate water management, you'll love our water footprinting tools. Got another water resource to share? Leave a comment, or talk to us on Twitter (@jenniferwoofter).

Sustainability Consulting Round-Up: Best of Our Blog from February 2017

The SSC Team February 28, 2017 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

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.

  1. The Business Case for Sustainability
  2. How to Calculate Your Company’s Carbon Footprint
  3. Interview Skills: How to Land Your Dream Job in Sustainability
  4. What “Sustainability Consulting” Is and Isn’t
  5. What Does Gender Equality Have to Do With Climate Change?

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.

 

 

Interview Skills: Landing Your Dream Job in Sustainability

The SSC Team February 7, 2017 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Many people confuse sustainability consulting with green marketing – beautifully branded, sleek consumer products designed with unbleached, post-consumer recycled paper products and lots of leafy logos – or with strategic sustainability communications – guiding employees or green teams toward more sustainable behavioral changes through values training and green workplace programs and policies.  

Sustainability consulting includes both of those elements at times, but most of the heavy lifting in sustainability consulting entails using complicated datasets to analyze and quantify activities, policies, programs, and processes that contribute to the environmental and social impacts of a product or organization.

Essentially, a lot of math. A lot of data. And a lot of analysis. And then a lot of strategic communications.

If you’re still with us, and you still think you’re stoked about a career in sustainability, how are you going to land the dream job?

  1. Get experience in sustainability through internships or fellowships
  2. Ensure you understand the work through finding and working with a mentor in the field
  3. Provide work samples
  4. Knock the interview out of the park

The interview is critical

Taking your interview skills to the next level means demonstrating your ability to learn while doing.

By using the 1956 research of Benjamin Bloom to highlight your higher cognitive thinking. This article helps explain how its done, but essentially – whether looking for a new client or a new job – going beyond storytelling and detailing your experiences based on your abilities to analyze, synthesize, evaluation and adjust course is going to put you ahead of the pack. 

Sustainability Consulting Round-Up: Best of the Blog for January 2017

The SSC Team January 31, 2017 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. Incorporating 30 Elements of Consumer Value to Maximize Sustainability Returns
  2.  Integrate Total Cost of Ownership with Your LCA to Make Sustainable Choices
  3.  3 Ways to Engage Suppliers on Sustainability
  4.  Is Your Sustainability Strategy Too Complicated?
  5.  Future of the FSC: What Happens When Manufacturers Reject Certifications

 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.

The Business Case for Sustainability

The SSC Team January 12, 2017 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives. 

Each year we try and start fresh, assuming that our potential clients may be learning about sustainability strategy from a practical implementation standpoint for the very first time.

Even though this post is from our archives, this webinar presented by, SSC President Jennifer Woofter called "The Business Case for Sustainability" presented to the DC chapter of Net Impact a few years back is a great primer on  how to identify, calculate, and prioritize social and environmental benefits to organizations.

We recorded the session, and you can watch it here! 

Some people still think that implementing sustainability might be great for the company's image, but bad for its bottom line. Nothing could be further from the truth, and you will learn how sustainability makes both Sense and Cents. 

Over the course of the webinar we will identify key areas where "going green" can pay off, calculate basic savings opportunities for energy, water, transportation and other issues, and understand basic financial models for calculating return on investment (ROI). We will also discuss how to value a company's reputation, brand image, and stakeholder relationships, as well as how to reduce certain costs borne by the company. We will focus on the following areas and demonstrate with real-life case studies: 

  • Economic: Promoting business excellence and maintaining the highest ethical standards 
  • Social: Engaging with community and exemplifying corporate responsibility 
  • Environmental: Employing green building practices and minimizing carbon emissions

 If you found this webinar helpful, you may also want to check out our white paper, Sustainability Through the Value Chain.  For a complimentary conversation about the topics in the webinar or white paper, please contact us.

5 Ways to Promote Sustainability Through Strong Values

The SSC Team December 20, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

It's a common problem in sustainability consulting: how do you get employees to pay attention to sustainability and integrate social and environmental considerations throughout their job responsibilities and daily behavior?  New research in psychology has some insight, and we're diving in for a closer look at how focus on values and virtues can help drive organizational success.

In 5 Reasons You Need to Instill Values in Your Organization, Jessica Amortegui outlines the connection between good intentions and effective transformation in the workplace. "It is an old truism: employees do not turn to written statements on the company intranet for clues about how to behave--they look to each other," Amortegui writes. "If your goal is to intentionally shape the actions and interactions of employees, you know the importance of creating a 'values-based' culture. However, you also know how difficult it is to implement one."

She further adds: "For companies to truly close the chasm between their stated and lived values, they must enter the human psyche to extract excellence from the inside-out, not dictate it from outside-in. This requires organizations to pivot their approach: rather than get people to live the values, they should focus on the values that live in the people. This taps into the innate qualities that exist across mankind: human virtues."

There a lot more great information in the article (read it in its entirety here) with many helpful links to additional studies and research, but what caught our eye was how Amortegui's thinking could easily be applied to the sustainability work we do with clients. Below, we take excerpts from her list (in italics) and add our own commentary on how it applies to sustainability-oriented change management.

1. Virtues Are a Workplace Game Changer

Amortegui: Employees who feel welcome to express their authentic selves at work exhibit higher levels of organizational commitment, individual performance, and propensity to help others.

Just as Walmart found with their Personal Sustainability Projects, allowing employees to identify a sustainability-related behavior that was personally relevant and valuable was instrumental in creating corporate-wide momentum. Consider how you engage employees -- are you making it clear how "green" opportunities and expectations in the office allow them to bring their most authentic selves to the job?

2. Virtues Lead To Growth Of The Whole Person

Amortegui: The ideal company makes its best employees even better--and the least of them better than they ever thought they could be. Employees are not just looking for the best places to work. They want to join the best places to grow.  

Find ways to tie sustainability goals into personal growth opportunities. Whether it's allowing employees to practice a hands-on skill (how to build a rain barrel or the basics of composting), develop speaking skills (hosting brown-bag workshops on green topics), or engaging with senior managers (participating on the Green Team), make sure that you cultivate a clear link between the initiative itself and the opportunity it provides for participants.

3. Virtues Lead to Greater Onboarding Success

Amortegui: When companies emphasize newcomers' authentic best selves, versus an organizational identity, it contributes to greater customer satisfaction and employee retention after six months.

Start talking about the opportunities for employees to exhibit their personal values by contributing to the company's sustainability efforts from day one. Include an overview of your sustainability goals and strategy in new employee orientations.  Find out how their personal interests and virtues align with the organization and invite them to participate accordingly.

4. Virtues Improve Engagement

Amortegui: Two of the most important predictors of employee retention and satisfaction are reporting to use your top strengths at work and reporting that your manager recognizes your top strengths. 

The more that mid-level managers understand and communicate sustainability goals and priorities to their staff, the easier it will be for employees to "get" how their individual job responsibilities play into the larger picture of organizational sustainability. Provide the training and leadership needed to get managers to 1) understand, 2) communicate, and 3) recognize sustainability potential in their departments. 

5. Virtues Increase Self-Awareness

Amortegui: Organizations that realize this potent potential for human excellence will transcend their current cultures and create a greenhouse effect: shining brightness on what is best about their people while cultivating the conditions for any organizational value system to live, breathe, and flourish.

There is great knowledge within your workforce about the practical realities of achieving sustainability in the workplace, within your industry, and in your community. Companies that tap into that knowledge on a regular basis will find that they reap a myriad of rewards: enthusiasm, morale, expertise, and engagement. Why not take advantage of it!

Want to read more about employee engagement? Check out another article we wrote on the subject for 2degrees, Three Ways to Engage Non-Wired Employees.

Thanks to 2degrees for publishing a version of this article!

6 Ways to Get Executive Buy In for Sustainability

The SSC Team December 6, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.

What do executives have in common with school kids? They both can be pretty picky. So when we read 6 Quick Lessons from the School Lunch Line for Pleasing Picky Customers, we realized that the tips applied equally well when trying to convince company executives to green-light a sustainability project. We've taken the article's six lessons which are listed below, and added our own commentary.

1. INVOLVE THEM INTO THE PROCESS.

It's easier to get approval for something when the person you are trying to convince feels ownership of it -- so ask for input and solicit feedback as you begin to plan and refine your proposal. Find out what makes your executives tick (cost savings, innovation, beating a competitor, etc.) and work that aspect into your pitch.

2. GIVE A NOD TO WHAT THEY KNOW.

If you can build on an existing program or process that is well-tested and well-loved, all the better. Anything you can do to reduce the risk (or perceived risk) of a new sustainability venture will make it more palatable for executives to swallow.

3. FREE SAMPLES NEVER HURT.

Can you give executives a taste of what's to come? Whether it's the results of a small pilot study ("Look, in just a week we saved $568- Imagine what we could do by rolling out this program company wide!") or a tangible thing to hold (a prototype of a new product), giving people a "bite" to try before committing to the whole meal can lower their resistance to something new. 

4. USE PEER DYNAMICS. PEOPLE ARE NATURALLY COMPETITIVE.

Sometimes you can use C-Suite dynamics to your advantage -- but tread carefully. You may find that certain executives are eager to prove themselves. That may mean that they challenge each other to find better and better sustainability initiatives. (Or it may mean that they undercut each other -- so again, be thoughtful in how you play office politics.) Alternately, consider framing your idea in terms of your company versus your competition. How can your initiative help leapfrog over your industry peers? How can it help you stay competitive? How can it open new markets that others haven't yet spotted?

5. DON’T GIVE UP IMMEDIATELY.

Anyone who has tried to sell their idea at the executive level has probably already learned this lesson, but it's worth repeating. It's unlikely that any significant initiative will get immediate approval -- so think early and often about how to introduce a phased approach, or plan your requests so that executives have plenty of time to consider and decide. 

6. ON THE OTHER HAND, ACCEPT YOUR LIMITATIONS.

Sometimes you just have to let it go. If executives are dead set against your program, move on. The beautiful thing about sustainability is that there is never a shortage of great ideas. So find the next one and start planning. (And don't forget that it's possible that your timing was just off -- keep your rejected idea in a drawer somewhere. It might be just what's needed six months from now!)

Thanks to 2degrees for publishing a version of this article!

If you are interested in reading more on this topic, check out our blog post: Does Your Executive Team Really Understand Your Sustainability Strategy?