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

The SSC Team July 3, 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 June.

 

Mining Companies Can Care

 

Triple Bottom Line: The Science of Good Business

 

Keeping Your Sustainability Team Engaged- Words to Live By

 

Taking the Trash to a Whole New Level

  

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Taking the Trash to a Whole New Level

The SSC Team June 28, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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While we have been recycling certain products for a long time, there have been some pretty amazing innovatinos when it comes to building products on the market. These new materials are taking the idea of a sustainable approach to building to a whole new level. Take for example the creation of luxury building materials from waste. One truly great feature of this upcycling trend is that the new materials are being developed by designers who will use them, which means that they are actually attractive as well as useful.

 

These new materials are being used as substitutes for conventional woods, plastics and stone, and often come in sheet or tile form that are ready to be cut, shaped and manipulated by architects and designers.

 

Really, a Danish company at the forefront of this movement is focused on taking used textiles and transforming them into a sheet material similar to plywood.

 

In fact, companies around the world are coming up with some pretty clever new building materials turning items as basic as bottles and as strange as dirty diapers and sanitary products into materials that can be used for construction.

 

When it comes to embracing sustainable living, those are thinking well outside the box and turning products — like the notoriously hard to recycle plastic grocery bags — into building materials are making incredible strides.  In Building with Waste, which compiles these unique new materials, the authors speculate that, in future, we could end up re-using pretty much everything. This would be pretty darn helpful since we are on track to double municipal waste output by 2025. That’s a pretty terrifying thought.

 

And it isn’t just building materials, there are products being made with carbon dioxide. Collecting CO2 from the world’s smokestacks is hard, but once it has been collected what can be done with the carbon? To address this problem, people have invented technologies that convert captured CO2 into new products — crazy in a great way, right?

 

Solutions so far have included a lot of creative ideas such as converting carbon dioxide into carbon fibers which can be used as lighter-weight alternative to metal to make products like wind turbine blades, race cars, airplanes and bicycles. A company in Calgary is combining CO2 with waste products, such as fly ash left over from burning coal or petroleum coke, to create nanoparticles that can be used as additives for concrete, plastic and coatings to enhance performance and increase efficiency.

 

These innovations and more prove that many in this world are working toward a more sustainable future. We must continue to find creative solutions for reducing waste in order to take care of our most precious resource — the earth.

If Your Investors Are Assessing Your Climate Risk, Shouldn’t You Be?

The SSC Team June 7, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives. 

 

A few summer ago, the World Resources Institute and the UNEP Finance Initiative consulted with more than 100 energy, climate, and finance experts to create a discussion framework for investors to weigh exposure to the risks of climate change.

Essentially, it is a toolkit for investors to evaluate a company based on climate risk factors not directly related to physical risk. Most investors can already pick out obvious physical risks, i.e. investing in coastal property as sea levels rise. But non-physical, climate-change effected risks are also important.

The WRI discussion framework addresses those risks, called carbon-asset risks. They include public policy, regulation, technology, unpredictable market conditions, and shifting public opinion.

This discussion framework is an excellent tool for investors to weigh risks as they choose to make investments, but we argue that companies themselves should be looking at this tool to discover their own carbon asset risks and then engaging in some deeper-level analyses and audits.

For example, the assessment recommends that investors look beyond carbon footprinting and delve deeper into company supply chain audits that may uncover risks. For example:

  • Geographic location (are too many of your suppliers in the path of a super-typhoon?),
  • Local regulations (are the countries your source your raw materials from looking to legislate and increase your costs?),
  • Diversification in operations or production (are your products and services too dependent on fossil fuels?).

This discussion framework, while absolutely useful for investors, can also be used as a cheat sheet for your own business. Next step: Start auditing and taking action now to mitigate your climate risk.

Reducing exposure to risk is crucial, not only to become more attractive to investors, but also to become a more sustainable organization overall!

If you’re ready to start looking more deeply at your carbon asset risk, contact us to learn more about sustainability assessment and supply chain analysis

Managing a Remote Workforce 101

The SSC Team May 22, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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You may have thought about the pros and cons of from home, but there is a lot for someone managing a remote workforce to think about when a company expands their telework policy. You may not be certain that this would be the best choice for your company, but the truth of the matter is having a remote workforce is a green solution. Think about it, no more long commutes for your team members just so everyone can sit in the same office. We’ve pulled together some guidelines that will help make managing a remote team work for your company.

 

First as a sustainability company, you know that employees who switch to telecommuting impacts carbon emissions—as soon as a person stop driving into work they reduce their carbon footprint in a big way. Multiply that by a larger population of the workforce and that impact increases dramatically. Sara Sutton Fell highlighted how a few large corporations who were encouraging workers to telecommute had a major impact in her piece, How Telecommuting Reduced Carbon Footprints at Dell, Aetna and Xerox, for Entrepreneur in 2015. It’s been a few years, so think about how much more we can do remotely!

 

Fell pointed out that Global Workplace Analytics had determined 50% of the American workforce had telecommute-compatible jobs. If those individuals all worked from home half the time it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 54 million metric tons annually, the equivalent of taking almost 10 million cars off the road. It would also reduce annual oil consumption by 640 million barrels. You know that these changes would be an incredible boon for the environment.

 

Speaking of oil,  the U.S. Energy Information Administration notes that the U.S. uses approximately 19 million barrels of oil every day. If people worked from home part-time, 1.75 million of those barrels—almost 10 percent—would be eliminated. Plus, a CoSo Cloud study suggested that 77 percent of the remote employees it studied were more productive than office-bound employees. Clearly companies implementing wider work-from-home policies are seeing positive impacts in three big ways:

 

• the company benefits thanks to cost savings, higher productivity and employee retention

• the environment benefits due to the reduction of carbon footprints

• and the individual team members benefit because they have a better work-life balance (and can feel good about positively impacting the environment).

 

Who can say no to such a win-win-win situation?

 

Okay so all of that sounds great, but you might not be sure how to best manage your team from a distance or how to keep them engaged with their peers and their projects. William Morrow offered some insight into the challenges of managing an off-site team in his recent article Don’t Even Try Managing a Remote Team Without These Tools

 

What are the main challenges to a remote work force? Different time zones or communication and collaboration issues among team members can be a hindrance to productivity. It can also be more challenging to build up strong relationships within your team if they are never in the same place at the same time. To help you combat these challenges, Morrow highlights some of the top tools that will keep your team on the same page, starting as soon as they onboard. He suggests utilizing ClickMeeting for this process. It is a platform built for webinars that is commonly used as a virtual conference room. It also enable your organization to deliver presentations that allow remote workers to engage in real time as well as share documents, illustrate information with a whiteboard feature, and run Q&A sessions for your remote attendees, keeping everyone on the same page.

Morrow also suggest finding a platform that that will allow your new employees to gain skills from hands on training while they work (particularly if they are working in a tech capactity). Setting up a virtual lab environment, like MicroTek, allows team members to experiment and make mistakes without negative consequences to your company.

But on top of the hiring and initial workflow, you also need to think about HR and technology issues. Whether they are in the office or working remotely, all members of your team will be more productive if their computers and other devices are running smoothly and they feel invested in the company as individuals. Check out the BambooHR suite, which provides a valuable employee-appraisal platform, and TeamViewer to help you deal with remote tech issues.

 

Then, and this is perhaps the trickiest part, you need to find a good solution to support communication and collaboration among the team. There are a number of tools that can help your team continue to be cohesive, but Slack and Google Drive are definitely among the top performers in this area.

 

Now remember all of these helpful platforms require a password and since you should be creating unique and complex passwords for everything, consider an option like LastPass or 1Password to help you keep track of these. A site like these allows you to store every password associated with your online accounts which means you only have to remember one master password — the one that logs you in to the password-manager application. Bonus: administrators can select which remote employees can log in to which online accounts, and set expiration dates for access.

 

You’ve got all your processes in place — great! — but you still need to help keep your employees engaged with their jobs and each others.  While your team is likely to be more productive at home where they can avoid all the office distractions, Ryan Gellis notes that you have to make sure your workforce has a sense of cohesion. To create this positive team culture from a distance you need to make sure to use the right technology (as Morrow mentioned), plan for in-person activities ranging from a coffee hour to happy hour to fancy dinner out. It is clear that meeting in person, when possible, boosts a team’s connection even if that meeting is purely a social outing.

 

Another key to keeping your staff members engaged is inspiring communication among everyone — yourself included. If you are available, your staff is likely to be more tuned in. Also set core hours — even if it is just 4 or 5 hours midday —because having a set time where everyone is available via email, phone or chat will help keep the projects progressing in a timely fashion.

 

So if you are thinking about expanding your remote workforce — you can do it! It’s great for the environment, your employees, and likely, your company’s bottom line.

TEDTalk 3 Creative Ways to Fix Fashion’s Waste Problem

The SSC Team April 26, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Everyone loves a good TED Talk! Here’s one of our favorites

We may all have too many clothes in our closet that we keep meaning to sort through and donate, but did you ever think about the clothes that never make it to anyone’s closet? If you thought that last season's unpurchased coats, pants and tops ended up being put to use, you’re wrong. Sadly, most of it (nearly 13 million tons each year in the United States alone) ends up in landfills. Clearly the world of fashion has a massive waste problem, and Amit Kalra wants to fix it. Here are some creative ways that he believes the industry can evolve to be more conscientious about the environment —and gain a competitive advantage at the same time.

 

TEDTalk 7 Principles for Building Better Cities

The SSC Team March 15, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Everyone loves a good TED Talk! Here’s one of our favorites

Let’s face, we are an urban world. With more than half of the world's population living in cities, and another 2.5 billion people expected to move to urban areas by 2050 we need to be giving a lot of though to the way we build. From climate change to economic vitality to our very well-being and sense of connectedness, Peter Calthorpe is at work planning these cities of the future and advocating for community design that's focused on human interaction. In his talk, he shares seven principles to help us solving sprawl while also building more sustainable cities.

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! 

Is Vanpooling a Good Choice for Your Company?

The SSC Team January 23, 2018 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

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 Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives

Check out the following question pop up on 2Degrees.com (a platform for sustainability professionals): 

We’re based in rural Wiltshire and fast outgrowing our site. Whilst expansion plans are in the works, our car park is at capacity and we have more new starters joining every week. Whilst most of us car share, we’re still looking for ways to take cars off the road. We’re looking at introducing buses from the major towns and cities for Dyson people to get to work and back home. It would be great to learn about how others have implemented a similar scheme successfully and what things to watch out for including any experiences you can share on linking incentives to use of more sustainable modes of transport.

-- Nicola Warner | Dyson

There were several good comments already in the thread, but of course we wanted to add our own input! Here's what we said:

Have you considered vanpooling as an option?

We’ve found that vanpooling is a great option for companies located in rural areas when employees live in many directions. It’s particularly valuable for companies with a growing headcount, because it’s relatively easy to add a new van (while adding a new bus route is a significant commitment in terms of time and money).

There's lots of good evidence that vanpooling is good for employees and good for companies. According to Enterprise RideShare:

Vanpooling drastically reduces commuting and maintenance costs by up to $800 a month* (based on AAA mileage). Also, employees who vanpool are eligible for tax incentives  (IRS Tax Code 132(f)) and local government subsidies... People who share a ride aren't subject to the daily traffic grind, which means they arrive at work happier, more relaxed and, in turn, are more productive. Also, vanpoolers are found to be more punctual than those that drive alone. So employees who vanpool are more likely to arrive to work on time.

If you'd like to chat more with us about vanpooling and the key lessons (both positive and negative) we've learned over time, please contact us to set up a meeting. Otherwise, check out these resources for more information.

Vanpooling: A Handbook to Help You Set Up a Program at Your Company - a PDF guide from the US Department of Transportation. While the handbook is a bit old (published in the early 1990s), it is a great roadmap for setting up and managing a vanpooling program.

Vanpool Benefits: Implementing Commuter Benefits - a PDF guide from the US Environmental Protection Agency's "Best Workplace for Commuters" program. While written with an American audience in mind, all companies will find it useful for considering the financial costs and benefits of a vanpooling program.

Curious about how different commuting patterns affect your company's carbon footprint? Download our free white paper, Reducing Your Organization's Carbon Footprint: Addressing Commuter-Related Emissions

TEDTalk Fashion has a pollution problem — can biology fix it?

The SSC Team January 18, 2018 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Everyone loves a good TED Talk! Here’s one of our favorites

Multi-discipline designer Natsai Audrey Chieza is committed to reducing pollution in the fashion industry while creating amazing new things to wear. Working in her lab she noticed that the bacteria Streptomyces coelicolor makes a striking red-purple pigment. Now she’s using the bold, color-fast fabric dye and cutting down on water waste and chemical runoff. She isn't alone in using synthetic biology to redefine our material future — imagine "leather" made from mushrooms or super strong yarn made from spider-silk protein. We're not going to build the future with fossil fuels, Chieza says. With a background crossing the boundaries between technology, biology, design and cultural studies, she believes a more sustainable future will be built with biology.

How to Set Carbon Reduction Goals

The SSC Team February 16, 2017 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

Based on a presentation by the EPA, we picked up some great nuggets of advice for companies seeking to establish credible and meaningful carbon reduction goals.

KEY COMPONENTS OF A CREDIBLE GHG REDUCTION STRATEGY:

  • Begin with a corporate-wide GHG inventory (base year) of Scope 1 and 2 emissions, with Scope 3 emissions included if relevant to the goal. Annual tracking and reporting of progress is a must!
  • Build an emissions inventory plan, which institutionalizes progress and ensures high quality data. Make sure you know where the data is coming from, who is responsible for managing it, and where (and why) assumptions are being made.
  • Determine a GHG reduction goal, based on a complete and verified inventory. While independent, 3rd party-verification is best, it can be expensive. Consider beginning with an internal auditing and assurance process.

WHAT MAKES A STRONG CARBON REDUCTION GOAL?

  • Absolute reductions are important--don't just rely on efficiency improvements to lower carbon-per-product, carbon-per-revenue, or carbon-per employee trends.
  • Consider your company's goals against projected GHG performance in your sector--are you aligned with industry expectations? (And if you are wildly different from your peers, do you have a good reason as to why you are different?)
  • Goals should be achievable within 10-12 years--ambitious enough to need a decade to execute, but not so lofty as to lose touch with reality.
  • Public commitment from a company's executive leadership adds credibility and gravitas to the goal!
  • Make it specific to your company's operations, and beyond "business as usual".

ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS WHEN SETTING CARBON REDUCTION GOALS:

  • Align your goals with what science tells us is necessary for climate-balance. For example, the IPCC recommends reductions of 20-30% by 2020, and 80% by 2050 (from 1990 levels).
  • Frequently review your emissions inventory for completeness, accuracy, and relevance. Determining your carbon footprint boundaries and data sources isn't a one-time process. It should evolve as your company evolves.

Want more information? Check out our carbon footprinting and CDP Reporting services, and download our white paper on the impact of employee commuting on your company's carbon footprint!