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Greening Your Non-Profit from the Inside Out

The SSC Team June 25, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this blog post from the SSC archives: Why is environmental responsibility important to an organization’s bottom line?  What are key impacts?  What does your organization’s carbon footprint look like?  Where should you begin?  These questions and more are addressed in an excellent resource that is easy-to-use and only a download away.  If you work for a non-profit or if you have non-profit clients, this is something that you will want to take a look at. “Greening Your Non-Profit from the Inside Out: A NeighborWorks® Guide for Community Development Organizations” essentially serves as a handbook that was designed to provide community development organizations with an easy-to-use resource for taking the first steps towards “going green”. Using the results of the sustainability action plans from 2008, NeighborWorks developed a manual and online course entitled “Greening Your Nonprofit Business” in 2009. The manual, produced in conjunction with Strategic Sustainability Consulting, is available free online to all network organizations and to the broader community development field to help them take steps toward environmental sustainability. The manual has been downloaded 24,000+ times since its publication in 2009, making it one of the most popular downloads on www.nw.org.  Once you start to skim you’ll quickly realize why it’s a top download and how it is still relevant today. It begins with a general introduction to the topic of environmental sustainability and prepares you for the following chapters that dive into specific green action items to get you started.  Divided into eleven “green” topics ranging from energy efficiency to customer communication, each section provides a wealth of information.  Statistics, case studies, recommendations, and other resources will help you to understand the environmental impacts of each topic and how to go about minimizing that impact in a simple, cost-effective way.  Because there is no “one size fits all” solution to going green, the manual includes website links to some of the best organizations working on the issue—where you can find a solution tailored to fit your circumstances.  This information is organized so that you can quickly find the information you need. In case you didn’t already know, we partner and work with NeighborWorks on a lot of different projects and have found their dual mission to be a perfect match for what we have to offer as well.  NeighborWorks America is the country’s leader in affordable housing and community development, working to create opportunities for lower-income people to live in affordable homes in safe, sustainable neighborhoods that are healthy places for families to grow.  NeighborWorks commits to being a leader with its network in employing and promoting equitable, green and sustainable practices for the long-term benefit of the environment so that people can live and work in healthy, ecologically friendly, and affordable places.  Learn more here and download the manual today! Find out how you can become a better sustainability leader in one of our latest blogs.

4 of the Best Ways to Share Your Carbon Footprint Results

The SSC Team June 11, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this article from the SSC blog archives: Once you've gone through the trouble of gathering all of your data and crunching the numbers, many companies get stuck on how to most effectively communicate their carbon footprint results. Should you do a press release? Put it on the company website? Participate in the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) Report process? There are lots of ways to share the results of your carbon footprint. But before you jump into particular communication channels, it's essential to decide what aspects of the data you want to highlight. Here's our take on the four most critical elements to share:

1. Your absolute greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

This is the total metric tons of CO2-e that your company is responsible for over a given time period (usually a year). Be sure to divide it up between Scope 1 (direct emissions -- like natural gas), Scope 2 (indirect emissions – like electricity), and Scope 3 (indirect emissions -- value chain activities such as employee commuting, business travel, and waste).

2. Your adjusted GHG emissions.

Absolute emissions are important, but they lack context. You should also choose a relevant way to adjust for your company's specific operations. This might mean looking at carbon-per-employee, carbon-per-revenue, carbon-per-sales, or carbon-per-production-unit.

3. Emissions over time.

For both absolute and adjusted emissions, it's helpful to show a track record -- three years is considered the minimum, while five years or more is considered the “best practice.” (Of course, if you've just started calculating your annual carbon footprint, you won't have a 3-year track record yet!). By showing how your carbon profile changes over time, you'll give stakeholders an idea of your future trajectory.

4. Your carbon footprint story.

Don't just put up the numbers…explain them. What boundary did you draw around your footprint (e.g. what operations and activities were included)? Why are your numbers going up (or down)? How have changes to your business operations (like acquisitions, mergers, divestments, layoffs, expansions, etc.) affected your emissions profile? What are you expecting to see in the future? A few paragraphs of explanation will make a world of difference in your communications. Once you have the pieces in place, what are the best vehicles for sharing your carbon footprint information? We've listed our favorite options below -- and we'd love to hear your opinions in the comments section!
  • Website -- great as an all-purpose communications vehicle, for internal and external stakeholders. Example: Nestle
  • Visual infographic -- more interesting than a simple chart (when done correctly). Example: Microsoft
  • Press release -- a traditional way to announce timely news and to drive readers to your website, your sustainability report, and other communications. Example: Green Century Funds
  • Employee all-hands meeting -- a personal touch can go a long way in generating enthusiasm and buy-in among all levels of staff. Example: Megamas Training Company
  • Sustainability report -- the standard “best-practice” way to share not just your carbon footprint, but also other social and environmental performance. Example: Coca Cola (and note their disclosure about carbon recalculation at the bottom!)
  • Social media – by making the dialogue related to carbon calculations more social, companies can take their disclosure to the next level. Example: SAP
Find out how you can become a better sustainability leader in one of our latest blogs.

8 Steps to Becoming a Better Sustainability Consultant

The SSC Team June 9, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller As I approach my one year anniversary at SSC, I’m amazed at not only how quickly the past year has flown by, but also with how much I learned the first 12 months on the job. I’ve come to learn how to craft a sustainability narrative for a company and what data to collect for carbon footprinting analysis. I’ve slowly (but surely) gotten better at client and project management. I’ve even gotten over my fear of attending conferences by myself! But none of what I’ve learned will be useful, unless I can take this new information and apply it to my long-term goals as a sustainability consultant. I recently came across an article by Jonathan Long featured on Entrepreneur called “8 Steps to Crushing Ridiculous Goals” that discussed how to achieve the goals you set for yourself, and it made me think about how I could apply these 8 steps to being a better sustainability consultant.

1. Master easy goals first

Any project can seem daunting when you join a new company in a field you’re just starting to understand. The first few months on the job I set small goals for myself, such as “get acquainted with the waste audit spreadsheets” or “understand how to use the sustainability reporting platform”. This helped me feel more at ease in my new role and help me gain confidence going forward.

2. Break ridiculous goals down into several smaller goals

One of the first big projects I had a chance to work on from the beginning was collecting data for a client’s annual sustainability report. It was very unnerving in the beginning, but once I broke everything down into a timeline, I was able to set smaller goals, which made the overall goal much more attainable.

3. Be prepared to push hard through the finish line

As much as it would be nice to leave your work at the office, it simply isn’t practical, and I very quickly learned that sustainability consulting is no different. There are certain times during a project that will require time outside of the office to complete or quick turnarounds late at night, and by anticipating when these busy periods are, I can then better manage my time both in and out of the office.

4. Build a team of specialists around you

I’m lucky enough to work with some of the smartest and brightest people in the field. By surrounding myself with people who specialize in certain areas of sustainability consulting, I am able to learn so from them just by watching how they attack different projects.

5. Don’t stall or make excuses

Learning to juggle multiple client projects at once was an initial challenge, but I knew that I couldn’t make excuses for my shortcomings. I began to set weekly and daily deadlines for myself, and I eventually was able to better manage all my simultaneous projects.

6. Accept that failure is a possibility

When I was helping to write and edit one of my first sustainability reports, I was too nervous to write or change anything, because I didn’t want to fail. How would I ever be able to grow and learn from my experiences if I don’t take any chances? No one is perfect, and missing the mark on a project is inevitable for everyone.

7. Be prepared and willing to sacrifice

Projects pop last minute. It’s going to happen whether you can control it or not. And sometimes when this happened over the course of the past year, I’ve had to make some sacrifices. Yes, I was bummed I couldn’t go to dinner with my friends that one time, but a project had to be completed by the end of the day. Sacrifices will have to happen.

8. Don’t ever quit

Being a sustainability consultant isn’t always smooth sailing, but you can never give up. Simple enough. Find out how you can become a better sustainability leader in one of our latest blogs.

5 Habits That Might Be Stunting Your Sustainability Leadership

The SSC Team June 4, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller Sustainability is a broad term that can mean something different to each person you ask, and jobs that require sustainability leadership are no different. You might be a sustainability consultant, a CSO, head of a sustainability team, or even someone in marketing who got dumped with the task of sustainability. Each of these people will attack sustainability in a different way, but they all need good sustainability leadership. And no matter what your profession is, leadership will always be necessary. Larry Alton, wrote an article for Entrepreneur titled "5 Habits That Are Destroying Your Ability to Lead," took note and came up with a list of  bad habits leaders can acquire over time, and we decided to put our own sustainability spin on their list.

1. Isolating Yourself

It’s always tempting to go to your office, shut the door, and hammer away at a project. It can be an efficient way to get things done, right? While you might think you are just trying to be productive, you are also isolating yourself from your team members. You might be struggling to finish a carbon footprint, while trying to edit a sustainability report at the same time, but no one will know if you need help if you’re always cooped up in your office. Don’t be afraid to reach out when you need help, and be sure to keep your team members in the loop.

2. Setting Firm Direction

When it comes to sustainability, there is no “right way” to go about it. You might have a plan set for how you will report your company’s emissions data or have your 2020 goals set, but once you start moving forward, everything can change. It is easy to want to stick to what the original plan is, but don’t be stuck in the mud. Sustainability isn’t a linear path, and a good leader will know how to adapt.

3. Focusing on Day-to-Day Tasks

There are certain times of the year when sustainability professionals find themselves a bit busier than usual. It could be because you need to approve the final draft of your sustainability report and you need to make sure everything is perfect, or you could be completing a massive data collection process. Regardless of what you are doing, it becomes very easy to just focus on what needs to happen by the end of the day. The problem is that sustainability doesn’t end when a project does; sustainability is a long-term process. By only focusing on day-to-day tasks, you can lose sight on the long road ahead.

4. Making Excuses

When something doesn’t go our way, we tend to make excuses (and even if we try not to, we’re only human, after all). There are always opportunities for excuses: half of the data you need for a carbon footprint is missing, or you’re assigned over oversee a new sustainability project when you’re just someone from finance. Rise above the problem, and demonstrate why you’re a good leader.

5. Working Too Hard

You want to lead by example, so you show your coworkers how hard you work. That’s great, until you never take a break. Working long hours and skipping breaks will eventually catch up with you, whether it’s a lack of focus, increase in stress, or simply your physical health declining. No one wants to be around a leader that is constantly stressed out. Take a break every once in a while – your coworkers might thank you for it! Looking to focus your sustainability leadership? Find out how here!

How Sustainability is Saving Chinese Textile Mills Money

The SSC Team April 16, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

It’s no secret that China is not an environmentally progressive country. Beijing is plagued by air pollution, over 100 cities are facing water scarcity issues, almost a third of China’s rivers are too polluted for human contact, and to top it all off, as a nation China is one of the highest emitters of carbon dioxide. 

One of China’s largest polluters are their textile producers. Responsible for roughly 50% of the world’s fabrics, textile manufacturing is a very environmentally un-friendly process that results in high energy and water use. The industry is responsible for the being the third largest dischargers of wastewater and the second largest user of chemicals in China. 

All hope is not lost, though. With the help of the National Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Clean By Design program, Chinese textile manufacturing facilities are using green tactics to not only reduce energy and water consumption, but also help them save money as well.

The NRDC recently released a report stating that the 33 textile mills that are using the Clean By Design program are saving an estimated $14.7 million annually. By going after the “low-hanging fruit” – the low-cost, easy to implement projects – the textile manufacturers are helping to make a strong business case for sustainability.

Here are some of the ways the Chinese textile mills have not only reduced their environmental impact, but also saved money along the way:

Electricity Reductions

10 of the 33 textile mills went after projects that helped reduce electricity consumption. While the average reduction was only 4%, some of the more impactful projects yielded a 9% reduction with over $21,000 in annual savings. As a bonus, this project paid for itself in only a month!

Water Reuse

31 mills implemented 53 projects that resulted in an average of 9% water savings, with some of the top mills reducing water consumption by 20%. A lot of the reuse efforts focused on targeting process water and grey water, because those tended to yield the largest and most cost-effected reductions. Some mills installed a water treatment process, and that initial investment of $7,600 paid for itself in three months.

Energy Recovery

Through 173 projects that focused on electricity reduction, every participating mill saw an average reduction of 6%, with the top mills seeing a 10% reduction in energy. A majority of the projects saw efforts to recover heat from exhaust gas, water, and oil due to the fact that they produced that largest, most cost-effective reductions: a $500,000 investment yielded roughly $650,000 in annual returns.

Looking for ways to reduce your company's carbon footprint? Learn more by checking out our white paper!

The Secret Step to Effective Carbon Management – Clarify Your Goals

The SSC Team March 26, 2015 Tags: , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Carbon management is always important, so we thought this blog entry from 2013 was worth another share! Enjoy:

When it comes to managing your company's carbon emissions, it can be difficult to know where to start. Should you send out an email reminding employees to turn off their computers each night? Start researching the more than 80 different carbon accounting software options? Gather your executive team around the board room table to talk about 5-year goals? Hire a consultant? Set aside three days to read through the international standards for carbon accounting and reporting?

If you're not careful, you can end up spinning your wheels and getting nowhere fast. 

To help you avoid that ignoble end, we've put together a blog series that outlines our 6-step process for helping clients develop a carbon management program. While the level of time and effort required for each step will depend on the size of your organization and your industry, all organizations should follow basically the same path. 

Clarify your goals. This is the very first thing you need to do, and often the most-overlooked. Being crystal clear on your goals for emissions management allows you to:

Be a more effective internal salesman. 

When you need to convince your executive team to provide additional support (in terms of budget or simply more of their attention and encouragement), it will be essential to have a compelling "pitch". 

Choose the appropriate team.

Carbon management will require support from facilities management, purchasing, finance, communications, and human resources. Knowing the scope and shape of your goals will help you decide who needs to be on your carbon management team. 

Designate a carbon leader

Carbon management is a interdisciplinary effort, and you'll need to choose someone to navigate the intra-office politics, collect and vet the data, draft and edit communications, and prioritize competing initiatives. Seniority is not important (although it can be helpful) -- the key is that you need to choose someone with excellent interpersonal skills and a special affinity for juggling multiple projects at the same time.

Stay focused

Later on in the process, when you have to make tough decisions about which eco-initiative to prioritize, you will find it invaluable to be able to compare projects against your program goals. 

Do you find your sustainability communications failing? Here are 9 reasons that might be happening.

How to Beta Test Your Carbon Footprint Strategy

The SSC Team February 26, 2015 Tags: , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Here is a blog from 2013 we think you would enjoy again:

We frequently get calls from prospective clients who need to develop a carbon management strategy. After a number of these calls we started to recognize a pattern, so we put together a 6-step framework that explains our approach to developing an effective carbon management strategy. 

While the level of time and effort required for each step will depend on the size of your organization and your industry (and hiring a sustainability consultant can make the process more efficient), all organizations should follow basically the same path. 

We've already covered step #1 (clarify your goals) and #2 (decide on a carbon measurement process), so today we're talking about the next step.

Once you've 1) committed to measuring your company's carbon footprint and 2) developed a process for gathering and analyzing the data, the next step is NOT full implementation! 

First you need to test your assumptions, tools, and scheduling. And the best way to work out the kinks in your process is to do a pilot test. Here's how it works:

Choose a single facility

It doesn't matter which facility, but choose one that has most of the impacts and emissions categories that you identified in Step 2. So for example, if your company manufacturers televisions, choose one of your manufacturing plants and not a small sales office. You should also choose a facility that is 1) well-run, 2) has decent data management systems in place, and 3) has a good working relationship with your team (especially with you!).

Identify your on-the-ground team

You'll need to work with someone who manages the bills (for energy, water and waste data), logistics (for direct and 3rd party shipping), human resources (for employee commuting and business travel), and operations (for key performance indicators like # of employees, $ revenue, # units produced, etc.). Make sure that they know they've been selected as a test study, and that they know what's expected of them in the coming weeks.

Send out the data request

Since this is a pilot test, we find it most useful to do a quick round of data collection using an excel spreadsheet. At this point in the game, there is no reason to set up any software or online configuration. Simply create a spreadsheet with one row for each type of data you are requesting, with columns according to the figure below. The key is to quickly determine where good records are available, where estimates need to be made, who is responsible, and where there may be gaps and/or red flags.

See what comes back -- and how long it takes

You may find that your time estimates are dramatically off. You may also find that you need to add in additional rounds of data review and quality assurance at the facility level.

Run your data through a preliminary carbon calculator

You can create your own carbon calculator using sites like Emissionfactors.com -- or use the one that your sustainability consultancy has available. (You should NOT be paying for a software subscription yet -- this is still the testing period.) See what jumps out at you. In many cases, you'll be surprised at how big your indirect impacts are -- for most of our clients we find that Scope 3 emissions account for about 75% of total carbon emissions.

Tweak your process

Now that you have a real life pilot study of your carbon footprint data collection and analysis, you're ready to finalize the process. If you find errors in your assumptions, or need to change your data collection process, now is the time. If you're happy with the results, great! Now you're ready to consider the best way to roll out the process to all facilities. In many cases, it will be asustainability software platform (and now that you know what you need, the process of choosing the right one will be much, much easier!). In other cases, it may make sense to have your IT people develop a web application for your intranet site so that people can enter their data directly into the calculator (without having to purchase a software subscription.)

Roll it out!

You're finally ready to expand your carbon footprint process to additional locations. Depending on your sense of urgency, you may choose to tackle all facilities at once, or take a phased-in approach. Whichever works best for you!

Want to learn more about reducing your carbon footprint? Check out our white paper!

How to Engage Employees in your Carbon Management Strategy

The SSC Team February 10, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Here is a blog post from 2013 that we think you would enjoy again:

If your CEO walked down the hallways of your organization and popped his or her head into a dozen offices, how many people would be able to answer these questions?

  • What are the key business activities driving our carbon footprint?
  • How has our carbon footprint changed over the last five years?
  • How is your department contributing to our corporate emissions profile?

If you're like 99% of other businesses, you probably have not been engaging employees on the issues of climate change, carbon emissions, and greenhouse gas reduction. At least -- not in a meaningful way. If the main answer you get from employees is, "we turn off the lights and shut down our computers at night," you are missing the boat. There is a much bigger role for employees to play and by fully engaging them on the topic, your organization can reap big benefits.

There are dozens of articles and guides on how to engage employees in sustainability -- and we've listed some of the best below. What we want to talk about today, however, are the three things that MUST be present in order for people to change their behavior. Want to get people on board with your carbon reduction goals? Can't figure out why staff can't remember to shut off the lights when they leave? Keen to encourage more "out of the box" thinking around carbon management? Here's what they need:

1. Motivation

Employees need to have a reason to participate. Because not all people are motivated by the same things, smart companies must provide multiple "motivators." Some of our favorites:

Create simple prompts -- put up signs, posters, and quick tips where they are highly visible. This can be in the hallways, on the company intranet, or in regular email communications.
Use social pressure -- studies have shown that people are more likely to participate in a workplace initiative if a colleague asks them to do it. Consider having "carbon leaders" spread throughout the company that can encourage engagement in a 1-on-1 setting.
Appeal to emotion and identity -- tie your plea into larger themes and values. For some companies, carbon management will be a natural fit with their core values (e.g. people at Google seem to naturally resonate with "green" themes). Other companies will make it more about the individual employee.

2. Ability

Staff needs the skills, confidence, and knowledge required to contribute. With any initiative, during the planning phase you need to ask yourself these questions:

Do people know what is expected of them? How will we ensure that employees are educated about the initiative and their role in it?
Do we need to provide training to specific personnel in order for this initiative to be effective? Who needs a higher level of knowledge to help it run smoothly?
Do people have the self-confidence to engage? What kind of encouragement or support do we need to provide so that people enthusiastically participate with the knowledge that they can do the job well?

3. Opportunity

Workers need the resources, relationships, and environmental conditions that allow their engagement to flourish. There are three general strategies that work here:

Empower employees: Involve them in project governance. Let on-the-ground employees determine project goals, strategies, and the tools needed to do the job. Be transparent through all areas of the project, so that everyone participating can see how it's progressing in real time. 
Strengthen social capital: Get people from different areas of the company together, both in large groups (i.e. weak ties) and smaller, more intimate ways (i.e. building bonds). When people build relationships across the organization, they are more likely to see opportunities to contribute to your carbon management initiatives.
Change the environment: Move people around, relocate the recycling bins, allow once-a-week telecommuting. Get people out of their usual workday rut and see what happens!

Want more?

Here are some of our favorite employee engagement resources:

Want to learn more about reducing your carbon footprint? Check out our white paper!