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Should You Pare Down Your Sustainability Agenda?

The SSC Team August 27, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this blog from the SSC archives: At the beginning of the year, a lot of people find themselves making long lists of things to achieve over the next 12 months. And ambitious sustainability agendas are no exception--it seems like we're always being pushed to do more, move faster, and achieve greater sustainability performance. After all -- we know that global challenges can't be solved by half-measures. Today, we're challenging the idea that you must do "better" sustainability by doing "more" sustainability-related activities. Instead, let's look at the benefits of doing less. And we'll start by reviewing an article called The Art of Adding by Taking Away by Matthew E. May, published last January in The New York Times. May begins his article with a quote from ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, subtract things every day. Profit comes from what is there, usefulness from what is not there.” This saying sparked something in May, who began to investigate the logic of problem solving by taking things away: "It dawned on me that I’d been looking at my problem in the wrong way. As is natural and intuitive, I had been looking at what to do, rather than what not to do. But as soon as I shifted my perspective, I was able to complete the project successfully." May finds that there are many ways to tie the "doing more by doing less" thinking into the business world:
  • By removing distractions, companies can focus on what really matters.
  • By searching for patterns and finding common elements, companies can spot opportunities earlier and streamline decision-making.
  • By removing product features, companies can drive innovation and reach new audiences.
So what does this mean for sustainability practitioners? Take a hard look at your company's sustainability activities -- are they clearly aligned and focused with your business strategy? Are they designed to mitigate your biggest environmental and social impacts? Are they responsive to your key stakeholders? Or...are your company's sustainability activities spread too thin and flow in so many directions it is difficult to adequately keep track of them? If your sustainability agenda doesn't revolve around a clear strategy, it's time to get off the merry-go-round and do a little paring. Here's what we suggest:
  • Conduct a materiality assessment to identify and prioritize your (internal and external) stakeholders and what they care about. This will give you a short list of sustainability topics that are the most important, and a longer list of "nice to have" activities to tackle as time permits.
  • Assess each of your existing sustainability activities against a materiality matrix. If you find that activities are falling outside of the "must have" sustainability priorities, you should consider redirecting resources to more important places.
  • Develop guidelines to help you address the importance, effectiveness, and urgency of any new activities under consideration. This will keep you on the straight and narrow going forward.
If you'd like some help in conducting a materiality assessment, please contact us! We love to take clients through this process--it's enlightening, empowering, and energizing to identify what's important (and what you can leave behind). In the meantime, we love May's final advice about how to apply this thinking to your own life: "First, create a “not to do” list to accompany your to-do list. Give careful thought to prioritizing your goals, projects and tasks, then eliminate the bottom 20 percent of the list — forever." "Second, ask those who matter to you most — clients, colleagues, family members and friends — what they would like you to stop doing. Warning: you may be surprised at just how long the list is." "The lesson I’ve learned from my pursuit of less is powerful in its simplicity: when you remove just the right things in just the right way, something good happens." Have you tried this approach? We'd love to hear what you're giving up in 2014, and what you're making more room to do! Leave us a comment or join the conversation on Twitter.

Using Sustainability to Avoid Risk

The SSC Team August 25, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this blog from the SSC archives: The evidence that sustainability can be good for business is overwhelming. Most of the case studies, examples, and analysis that has been done show positive links between a sustainable approach to environmental and social issues, and corporate profits, Thus far, the research has been primarily focused on direct operational efficiencies (like retrofitting your office lighting to save money and reduce your carbon footprint), innovation (using biomimicry to drive new product development), and productivity (ie. more engaged employees take less sick leave). However, there hasn't been as much talk about the nexus between sustainability and risk management. And for corporations operating in complex supply chains in a globally-connected economy -- well -- effective risk management can be the difference between success and failure. Below, we take a look at three articles that shed light on why companies still struggle to incorporate sustainability into their risk management practices (and vice versa).

Has sustainability become a risky business? 

This GreenBiz article by John Davies reviews a report by Ernst & Young. The key takeaway: While more companies are concerned about increased risk and the proximity of natural resource shortages, corporate risk response appears to be inadequate to address the scope and scale of some of these challenges. The free report looks at six corporate sustainability trends with a strong focus on the internal influencers of corporate performance (CEOs and boards), as well as external forces ranging from governments to shareholders and investors.

Playing It Safe Is Riskier than You Think

This article by Bill Taylor in the Harvard Business Review makes the case that "difficult and uncertain times are often the best times for organizations to separate themselves from the pack, so long as their leaders are prepared not to stand pat." While not directly about sustainability, this article certainly supports the notion that economic turmoil is no reason not to be ambitious about tackling big sustainability challenges.

Research: Why Companies Keep Getting Blind-Sided by Risk

by Mary Driscoll in the Harvard Business Review presents fascinating insight into why companies (and their executives) are not succeeding at identifying and mitigating risk. Survey findings indicate that most organizations’ leaders did indeed express concern about the impact of political turmoil, natural disasters, or extreme weather. But the findings also show that the people at the front lines of the business were hamstrung by a lack of visibility into risk. Nearly half said they lacked the resources needed to adequately assess business continuity programs at supplier sites. Many relied on the suppliers filling out perfunctory, unreliable checklists. There are some big lessons here for sustainability practitioners! Are simple mistakes holding back your sustainability? Find out how to correct those mistakes here!

Data Management Concepts for Sustainability, Pt. 4

The SSC Team August 20, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
This article was written as an expansion of our white paper “Choosing Sustainability Management Software for your Business” published in July 2011.  If you’re looking for information on how to make your software selection, check out the full article.  If you just want to make sense of this particular topic, keep reading.  Whether you like this article or not, we want to hear from YOU so that we can continue to provide the best insight for YOU, our readers…  Our series on Sustainability Software continues with “Data Management Concepts for Sustainability”.  In this article (Part 4 of 4), we’ll complete the introduction and definition of key Data Management terms (read Part 3 here).  Our end goal with this series is to enable YOU, as the Business Leader, to feel more comfortable in a technical discussion related to the various areas of Data Management, especially as related to the care and feeding of Sustainability Software packages. Being able to “talk the talk” is the best defense in the technology wilderness.  Just remember, at the basis of any technical term is a common sense business notion, and staying grounded to this notion will help keep your conversations from drifting astray.

Data Integration

Data Integration is one of the most difficult of the activities covered in this series because it involves most of the different activities working in concert with each other.  For example, it is implicit in Data Movement between systems where the Data models are different.  Suppose we have data in our Accounting system that will be used in a cost calculation algorithm (method) in our Sustainability Software.  To do this, we need to copy the Accounting data, then reshape it to conform to the load utilities for our package and proceed with the load.  This setup entails numerous subtleties including the cross referencing of the source data model in the Accounting System with the format of the import utility.  This is called Field Mapping and it’s not just an easy matching question where you can get the first few right and guess the rest.  Examples will help us here.
  • Suppose we need to deal with quantity shipment data and the target model is asking for unit prices and volumes.  We might need to deduce the carbon content per gallon from the available carbon content per fifty five gallon barrel, or just divide by 55.
  • A more complex example involves translation from the English System to the Metric System (raise your hand if you can do this without a calculator).
  • Another example would be the rules concerning the potential for rounding errors for large quantities.
  • A final classic example is how to deal with Asian names (commonly listed with the surname first) being transferred into a system with a European paradigm (where the surname is listed last).
Data Integration is expensive to build and more expensive to operate.  SaaS is a way to avoid the Integration Tax to the extent possible since it has already been built into many of the downstream systems you’ll be using.

Data Mining

Data Mining is the last major topic to be introduced.  It also involves smatterings of the others, but has a unique ad-hoc character at its essence. Suppose we have a database that describes product production events in a manufacturing setting.  Suppose also that we wish to learn more about root causes of some recurring problem that has escaped previous attempts to solve it and choose to “look at all the occurrences at once”.  Someone who is expert in the data itself, as well as all the business processes it describes could attempt to construct queries that will reveal common conditions that led to the problem occurrences.  For example, he might notice they all tend to fall in the first half hour of their respective production runs.  Further drill down might reveal they all involve late shipments from the same raw material vendor, while production runs with timely shipments from the same vendor seem to go without mishap.  This would lead us to suspect potential spoilage or lack of maturity in the late arriving material.  Data Mining is a spiral learning discipline.  One spirals in to a common cause, or spirals out to learn the nature of the Cosmos.

Conclusion

We hope that as a result of this information, albeit somewhat high-level, you’ll find a greater degree of ease in approaching Data Management problems and their solutions with any Sustainability Software package that you may be considering.   As with the rest of this series, our goal is to guide you through each of these complex topics and bring them safely toward a solution that will provide you with robust and accurate data and data management practices that will last for years to come. Now that you’ve read this article, tell us what you think!  And be sure to check out the full white paper.

Data Management Concepts for Sustainability, Pt. 2

The SSC Team August 13, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
This article was written as an expansion of our white paper “Choosing Sustainability Management Software for your Business” published in July 2011.  If you’re looking for information on how to make your software selection, check out the full article.  If you just want to make sense of this particular topic, keep reading.  Whether you like this article or not, we want to hear from YOU so that we can continue to provide the best insight for YOU, our readers…   Our series on Sustainability Software continues with “Data Management Concepts for Sustainability”.  In this article (Part 2 of 4), we’ll continue introducing and defining key Data Management terms (read Part 1 here).  Our end goal with this series is to enable YOU, as the Business Leader, to feel more comfortable in a technical discussion related to the various areas of Data Management, especially as related to the care and feeding of Sustainability Software packages. Being able to “talk the talk” is the best defense in the technology wilderness.  Just remember, at the basis of any technical term is a common sense business notion, and staying grounded to this notion will help keep your conversations from drifting astray.

Data Modeling

This term is most commonly associated with Data Warehouse design, but is relevant to the construction of any database.  If you elect to design and build your own Sustainability Software you will find the design of its underlying database (Data Modeling) to be one of the most labor intensive steps in the process, and because Sustainability is a rapidly evolving concept, it will seem that the database changes are boundless. Data Modelers are not only IT-savvy, but are required to be subject matter experts in the business functions of the company.  Data Modeling usually starts with vocabulary lists which are organized by a discipline called Taxonomy.  These lists are then translated into abstractions called Logical Data Models which ideally constitute the rigorous definitions of, and relationships among all the data elements required for the enterprise to function.  Then magic happens and database administrators interpret the Logical Data Models into real databases in software products such as Oracle, DB2 or SQL Server.  There are software tools like ERWin and ERStudio that assist both the modelers and DBA’s in doing this. These are lofty goals indeed and can be expensive to implement especially if you purchase expensive tools.  Additionally, in a rapidly changing environment it can be difficult for the Modelers to keep pace with the Entrepreneurs, but if your Business requires databases to function, their models (designs) must either be purchased from vendors or created by the home team. Since Analysis Paralysis can be costly, we encourage you to “buy” vs. “build” the database for your Sustainability Software, especially given the wide variety of SaaS solutions available in the market today.  For small to midsized companies, this is by far the most cost effective option.  If you elect a SaaS approach, all these issues will be completely hidden from view and their expenses will be shared among all the system’s users as part of the overall licensing cost.

Data Storage & Archiving

This is where the ongoing cost kicks in.  Hardware for data storage is at an all time low and trending downward, but the software licenses required are costly to buy and to maintain going forward.  Both must be periodically patched and upgraded which requires a sophisticated IT Infrastructure team.  These costs and hassles furnish more strong arguments for SaaS. There are also potential standards clashes with bringing in special purpose software.  For example, SQL Server is an excellent database platform for a small to midsized company, but the Sustainability package you love most might be based on DB2 and Cognos.  The benefits of the new system could easily be outrun by the cost of this big company software alone.  Remember the notion of Total Cost of Ownership, wherein it often turns out that ongoing costs exceed the installation costs dramatically. This is the area of Data Management concerned with backups, disaster recovery, test environments, complex operational change control, etc.  Bear in mind that Sustainability is an emerging venture and that commercial and governmental influences are afoot to undermine your investment, no matter which way you start out.  It’s best to adopt the conservative approach unless your industry has specific special needs that package software has not yet addressed. If you feel you must support your own Sustainability Software on your own premises with your own team, then make platform compatibility one of your highly loaded criteria.  If you have a SQL Server shop, try to adapt to a SQL Server-based package if possible. One final significant consideration: regardless of who maintains the data storage servers, you will be at least partly responsible to assure all data privacy and audit best practices are followed.  If these are not contemplated in the initial setup, it is possible you will enjoy fines and audits that will eventually motivate the re-design of the storage systems (or migration to a SaaS solution!) (TO BE CONTINUED…)  Now that you’ve read this article, tell us what you think!  And be sure to check out the full white paper.

Grow Your Sustainability Consultancy Business by Speaking Your Client’s Language

The SSC Team July 7, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this blog from the SSC archives: So, you know all about your prospective client and you’ve decided on the strongest business case for sustainability for their situation. Now it’s time to win them over and solidify the relationship with a smashing proposal or pitch.

1) Don’t think of a pitch as a sell, think of it as an educational opportunity

Don’t worry so much about whether or not the client is going to hire you at the time you are meeting with them. Instead, treat it like a customized webinar or mini-conference where you are showcasing your knowledge about sustainability, the realities of where the economy is heading, their specific opportunities in relation to sustainability, and what they will need to do to get ahead and effectively adopt sustainability in their corporate strategic framework. You are just showing them the raw ingredients, while keeping a hold of the recipe. 

2) Start at the very beginning, a very good place to start

So, you know all about sustainability. And you know all about your prospective client. Unfortunately, your audience, be it the CEO or a mid-level executive, may not know much more about sustainability than “I think it costs a lot, but everybody seems to be doing it.” Clear that up right away with a brief definition of strategic sustainability – use the definition you use for your own consultancy. Make sure the client know that sustainability is a business framework, not a philanthropic or public relations gesture. Drop a few names, too – Wal-Mart, GE, Nike, Rio Tinto, Toyota. It doesn’t hurt for your client to know that they are joining the ranks of commerce’s elite.

3) Stress the long term and a future of change

“Fundamentally, corporate sustainability is about exploring the next way your company will be successful, because almost all the things you currently rely on -- energy, supply chain, consumers, investors, regulation -- are going to change,” said David Bent from the non-profit sustainability organization Forum for the Future in a blog series for Greenbiz.com. Changing times demand that companies factor in future risks, such as rising energy prices, increased regulation, and pressure from consumers, into their strategic plans. Since many of these future risks and market changes are going to stem from environmental and social concerns, integrating sustainability principles into the corporate framework now, to address these issues now, isn’t just a “cost” to the business, it’s an investment in the future risk management. “You can’t predict ‘the’ future, but you had better be prepared for possible futures with a portfolio of strategies – and a business case – that ‘future-proof the company’ by diversifying your risk going forward,” advises Gil Friend, founder and CEO of Natural Logic. You must stress this fact to prospective clients – they will probably have to become sustainable eventually, but they might as well make some money doing it proactively instead of reactively. Just be sure to avoid scare tactics or pressure. The fact is: the world is changing, and change can be good.

4) Look to frame sustainability as a driver for innovation and opportunity

Find examples of “play-to-win” organizations that have used sustainability to tap into new opportunities (destroying the competition in the process) to help sell the concept. Companies are inherently competitive, but often are mired in a “compliance mentality.” Remind your audience that business is a battlefield; you might be able to tap into that competitive spirit. Use what you know about the company’s competitors or industry to highlight how the sustainability program may get them ahead of the game.

5) Present the client’s customized business case in a language that everyone can understand – shareholder value

It’s meat and potatoes time. You’ve briefly discussed sustainability, the risk of not acting, and the opportunity gained by taking action. Next is what they’ve all been waiting for – the business case. At this point, be fairly specific about what you feel the key “value drivers” of a sustainability program will be for this specific organization. First, present the business case. For example, an engineering firm with a zillion vacancies on its “careers” page and a reputation of an ‘old boys club’ may benefit from a sustainability program stressing competitive advantage – a program that will help its recruitment program, shape its industry, and help it become an early mover on new and emerging areas for growth (like green design, perhaps). Second, present the projected investment (in time and money) and the estimated return on investment (ROI). According to Friend, the business case has to provide a clear ROI in the financial, operational, and strategic dimensions. But be clear that ROI in sustainability isn’t only about short-term dollars and cents. When you are talking about elements like “recruitment” and “industry shaping,” be sure to clarify that these, albeit not short-term financial returns, are “indirect” returns. While direct returns include costs (lighting retrofits or waste-reduction), indirect returns ( impacts on brand reputational value, employee productivity and retention, product quality, community goodwill, etc.) can open companies to new business as much as any marketing plan while helping reduce risk. For an in-depth discussion on costing for sustainability, check out the book Making Sustainability Work by Marc Epstein. Third, use statistics, examples, graphics, and best practices, briefly but effectively, to back up your claims on how your proposed programs can directly affect shareholder value through direct and indirect returns. Finally, give the client a path on how a sustainability program for this value driver might be incorporated into their organizational framework.

6) Don’t frighten them off

Although you may have made an amazing pitch with ROI analysis that just can’t be denied, a client may still balk. “But we don’t have $150,000 for a lighting retrofit, even if we know it will save us $300,000 over the next six years…” Yes, it may be ideal if you could tackle each value driver head on, re-write the strategic plan, and reorganize the company, but, more likely, the financial minds at your prospect’s firm are going to be reluctant to loosen the purse strings. To help ease them into the process (and help you begin to form a long, trusting relationship), break it down into steps. Begin with saying, “Now that I’ve presented the strategic sustainability framework that will eventually deliver the most value to your organization, let’s talk about where we begin. Every journey starts with a series of small steps…” At this point, have one or two programs that will work as small but effective pilot programs for this broader sustainability plan. Try to find the one or two manageable programs with the lowest-hanging, least expensive fruit, and suggest that the client give them a try first. The pilots will help you build credibility with the CFO’s office, as well as awareness throughout the rest of the organization. Hopefully by achieving documented success with the first few pilot programs, the company will continue to draw on your services to expand into the more complex strategic development of their sustainability program (that you were the architect of).

7) Be straightforward about the business relationship

Once you’ve delivered the presentation (no more than an hour of their time) and have some concrete offerings available for them (green audits, waste audits, pilot ‘Green Team’ programs, stakeholder engagement initiatives, or whatever your other pilot programs were) be ready for questions. Know how long each program will take and what it may cost if they suddenly want to go whole hog. Be prepared to answer detailed questions about customer service, your ‘next steps’ in project development, your experience, your resources, costs of your service, as well as costs directly to them (retrofits, training investments, life-cycle-analyses, etc.) and the overall estimated ROI for each suggested program. Instead of spending your time trying to convince the client through testimonials of how great you are, just do what you do best: consult them. Show them what you know and use examples from research or from your past experience to illustrate how they, too, can meet their goals, transform their business, reduce their risk, and increase shareholder value through sustainability. You are simply the person with the tools to help them get the process started. Find out how you can become a better sustainability leader in one of our latest blogs.

Growing Your Sustainability Consultancy Business

The SSC Team June 18, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this blog from the SSC archives: “Put yourself in your client’s shoes.” It’s not just another cliché. Ok, yes it is. In this case, however, it is going to make you money. According to Martin Lines, the marketing director for Nestle Professional, the most important element a consultant can have in their CSR- or sustainability-focused consultancy pitch is customization to the client’s existing business and sustainability strategy. "Agencies need to demonstrate that their solution is aligned to the client's corporate strategy,” Lines said in a presentation last year. Sounds so basic, but often consultants get it wrong – pitching ethical reasons for sustainability when a company is operating on thin margins and would be better served by efficiency and cost-saving initiatives, or pitching cost-saving initiatives when a client is more interested in building brand value and brand awareness. There is no one-size-fits-all sustainability strategy, so why would there be a one-size-fits-all sustainability pitch? Of course this means you’ll need to do your homework before meeting with prospective clients, but the extra work can pay off if the client is impressed by how much you already know about their business. Here are three steps for helping turn your presentation into profit:

1. Go online and read

Read the press releases (Is the prospect always giving money to local charity groups? They might respond to reputation-building pitches.). Google the company looking for news stories or legal troubles (Fined for improper handling of chemicals in 2009? They might benefit from an EMS plan.). Poke around in industry news, scour the website, and look at the employment opportunities. You never know where you might find a hook.

2. Know who their stakeholders are and what they want

Is the company selling primarily to one large organization (like Wal-Mart) that has sustainability at its core? If so, you’re going to need to know where the client’s client is headed. Is the company working in controversial areas, such as mining, where stakeholder engagement is going to take precedence over things like waste auditing or employee engagement? Knowing who is pushing and pulling on a client can help you find key indicators in developing a sustainability pitch.

3. Drop in to say hello

So, you’ve done a bit of homework and made a few calls, and the client seems interested. If you think this could be a big fish, take your time. Phone up your contact person and tell him or her that you’re interested in visiting the manufacturing facility, taking a tour of the HQ, or meeting virtually with a few key people to get a better idea of how to make more relevant and customized suggestions. Ask questions. Lots of questions. But don’t get in the way and don’t try to sell them anything. “Learning how to make the case for sustainability needs to be situational. I customize my ‘making a case for sustainability’ style by asking a lot of questions,” said Pauline S. Chandler, director of the MBA in sustainability at the Antioch University of New Hampshire, Keene, in a recent article on Triple Pundit. Chandler recently took 16 MBA students on facility tours at three New England businesses to illustrate how different organizations will spark different lines of questioning, which then lead to different approaches to sustainability planning. So, take a lesson from academia, and go pay your client a visit. Your pitch might benefit from the day trip. Once you’ve gathered all the information you think you need, it’s time to develop your presentation. A central tenet in getting an organization to adopt sustainability planning is making the business case for sustainability. Looking for ways to become a better sustainability consultant? Check out our blog post that talks about 8 steps to improving as a sustainability consultant!

Sustainable Supply Chains in Chinese Factories

The SSC Team May 19, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this 2013 interview from the SSC archives: An increasing number of companies are implementing sustainable supply chain programs. These programs usually include requests to suppliers to fill out long surveys, track and report data, and develop internal management systems to improve factory-level sustainability performance. At Strategic Sustainability Consulting, we believe that effective supply chain engagement on sustainability is critical to manage risk and leverage opportunities, but we also know that suppliers are often overwhelmed at the requests they are getting from their customers. To get some insight into the challenges facing suppliers, we recently interviewed Nate Sullivan of Efficiency Exchange (EEx). We've worked with EEx, a provider of sustainability software and services to Chinese factories, for many years, and believe they have their finger on the pulse of the Chinese supply chain. SSC: You specialize in working with Chinese factories. What are you seeing in these factories with regard to supplier questionnaires? Nate Sullivan: Supplier questionnaires and worksheets are not a new thing -- factories have seen them for decades.  They've always had to fill out spreadsheets and word documents with tons of information about their facility -- from general company information, to detailed labor practices and customized quote sheets.  However, they complain that the only ones that seem to have a real impact are the quote sheets, because they're about price, and that's ultimately what customers care about in practice.  Now they are being asked to fill out sustainability questionnaires full of data, which requires a full time job to compile and document (around 40 hours a month).  Most of the time they don't even know why the customer is asking for the data, and they say that they rarely hear much back after submitting the information.  So basically it's another hoop to jump through that doesn't appear to influence purchasing decisions, and keeps factories from focusing on what they do well -- which is making stuff. SSC: What are the biggest obstacles to effectively measuring and managing sustainability impacts (like energy, waste, and water) at the supplier factory level? NS: The biggest problem, by far, is accuracy. People really need to realize that there's a tremendous amount of bad, inaccurate data out there that is useless no matter how you look at it, because it simply doesn't reflect reality. That's almost entirely due to how and why it's collected, which is usually through required self-reporting, without any incentive for suppliers that what they provide is true. Unless you're going to sit there in every facility, forever, and actively track what's happening -- which isn't practical for any retailer we've met, no matter how big -- you simply have to find a better reason for suppliers to track and truthfully report what's going on than "because I say so." And that doesn't even address the fact that suppliers have lots of customers who all have their own elaborate set of disclosure requirements, or that factories have no idea how to measure many of the things they're asked to report. SSC: Your company, Efficiency Exchange, has developed software and services that aim to overcome these challenges. Can you explain the 3-4 most important elements that supplier factories should be looking for in sustainability programs and tools? NS: The number one thing factories should be looking for is something that helps their business. Manufacturing is a tough gig; it's not like these guys have huge margins they can afford to cut into an order to look good for potential customers. So the most important characteristic of any kind of factory facing tool is that it provides direct business value to that factory. Any investment that is going to provide that kind of value to a factory needs to be easy to use, and inexpensive not only to buy, but to operate, understand, implement, etc. In our experience, what's missing from every tool we've looked at is simplicity and clarity. There are lots of systems that are really powerful and complex, but they're usually designed to be all things to all people -- utilities, retailers, manufacturers- and anybody who could conceivably buy it, really. With any kind of typical enterprise software, you end up buying this incredibly expensive, super-capable system, and then a bunch of consulting services, training, and support on top of that.  (Then you have to) whittle it down and customize it into something that's actually useful to you. Factories don't have the time or money or expertise to deal with any of that. So any tool that's going to make sense at the factory level has to strip away all of that extra nonsense, and focus on being something that's lightweight, useful, and solves a problem right out of the box. That means it can't necessarily be all things to all people -- it has to be built specifically for factories that need help with this kind of stuff, and it has to provide that help in a really direct way. If you're a factory looking at any kind of sustainability or operational improvement tool, just stop and think about how the tool is going to affect what you do all day. Are you going to get a dashboard or a weekly report? What are you actually going to do with that? Are you going to print it out once a month and put it in a file cabinet? If so, that tool doesn't make sense for you. Anything that's going to be useful needs to go from login, all the way to the part where you're saving money, or getting new business, or removing some obstacle that slows down your growth. Everyone talks about intelligence versus just data, but "actionable intelligence" versus just intelligence is just as important of a distinction, especially for factories. Whatever tool you're investing in needs to take you from software to actually doing something inside your facility that helps your business. How is sustainability saving Chinese textile mills money? Read about it here!