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Conference Worth Considering: GreenBiz 17

The SSC Team January 26, 2017 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Each year sustainability leaders from the world’s largest companies gather at the GreenBiz Forum to explore pressing challenges and emerging opportunities in sustainable business. The event offers a rich blend of presentations, workshops and networking opportunities framed by the State of Green Business report.

This year, join GreenBiz 17 in Phoenix, Arizona from February 14-16, 2017.

Come back inspired by what’s possible and ready to tackle your organization’s sustainability challenges.

Are you going? Let us know in the comments. 

Sustainability Progress Check: Manufacturing Firms in the Architecture and Engineering Industry – Sustainability Lessons from ArchitectureBoston Expo (ABX)

The SSC Team January 5, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

In November, we headed out to ArchitectureBoston Expo (ABX) to get the pulse on sustainability from the perspective of architects, engineers, builders, contractors, manufacturers, and other AEC professionals. We spoke to dozens of representatives from the more than 400 exhibitors about sustainability programs, sustainability strategy, and what they think of it all.

Our conversations resulted in two really great questions:

Additionally, we took extra time and conducted a survey specifically targeted at companies that manufacture products (as opposed to service providers and distributors) used in the AEC field to delve deeper into what types of companies are doing what types of sustainability programs and why.

We gathered survey results from 30 manufacturers ranging in size from 1-10 employees to 550+ employees to gauge their sustainability performance and pressure from stakeholders. Exactly ⅓ of the respondents are doing little to no work in sustainability - not tracking any metrics other than those required by law and, in most cases, offering LEED credits. On the flip side, ⅓ have completed full sustainability reports and many had done EPDs, HPDs, and/or LCAs or carbon footprints for their core business. The remaining ⅓ was - obviously - somewhere in the middle, having a largely uncoordinated sustainability program that has been pieced together based on stakeholder pressure - certifications, submitting energy or water or supply chain data based on customer requests.

Essentially, the industry seemed evenly split with regard to tracking sustainability information, but as predicted, the companies with the most employees and most visible global brands are doing the most work and completing more comprehensive analysis - and seeing financial returns on their sustainability efforts. The larger the company, the more resources to dedicate to sustainability, the more they benefit.

However, companies across the board reported that they were feeling pressure from stakeholders - whether architects or builders or developers - to report more thoroughly on sustainability. More than 42 percent of respondents said they have been asked for carbon footprint data, LCA, and/or HPDs/EPDs in the past year. Nearly 30 percent of respondents have been asked for specific data points - water use, supply chain certifications, energy use, and/or waste information. An additional 7 percent have been asked by shareholders or clients for a full sustainability report.

Although stakeholders are asking for information, very few draw hard lines when the information isn’t readily available, with companies noting that the frequency of being asked for the information is increasing, but they have yet to feel a negative effect for not having the information on hand.

The question is: When will the critical tipping point be reached when an LCA or EPD or HPD be required as a standard part of an RFP for a major construction project, and will the ⅔ of companies with little to no comprehensive data be ready in time to be competitive on the project?

The average GRI-compliant sustainability report, an HPD or EPD, or a comprehensive, third-party verified life-cycle assessment can take more than six months to complete, start to finish. And the investment in a sustainability project for a small to medium sized manufacturing firm can range from tens of thousands of dollars to 10-times that amount...

So what should your company do? 

We believe it’s time for companies to build a sustainability reporting strategy into the overall operating budget so all of the reporting mechanisms and comprehensive data are on-hand when that critical tipping point is reached.

The next questions are:

  • What type of reporting should your business be focused on?
  • What should you budget for sustainability?
  • How do you use the sustainability tools to your competitive advantage?

Luckily, with more than 10 years’ experience in the field, we can answer all of these questions for you in less than it cost to attend ABX in the first place.

We encourage all of our potential clients to invest in training for their employees so they understand the advantages of strategic sustainability implementation, the material issues for the industry segment you compete in, what your peers are doing, and how you can take a leadership role in sustainability through effective planning.

Instead of engaging us for a year-long life-cycle assessment project, when you really just need an EPD or to start your first annual sustainability report, take advantage of our 1-Day Sustainability Assessment and Rapid-Decision Making Workshop. For a fraction of the cost of your sustainability program, we will guide you and your team through

  • Sustainability 101
  • Give you our recommendations for the best-course for your company
  • Facilitate a rapid-decision making discussion to further narrow down a path forward that meets your company's needs, budget, resources, and goals. 

We'd love to hear from you! Check out our full service offerings and submit a contact form and we'll be happy to schedule a 15-minute phone call to help you clarify next steps on your sustainability journey.

 

 

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!

Don’t “Adapt” to Environmental Trends, Changes and Regulations, Prepare for Them

The SSC Team November 22, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Was Microsoft ready for mobile computing? Nope. But they didn’t need to be because they were busy preparing for cloud computing. Was Google+ the next gen social media powerhouse. Nope. But it didn’t need to be because they were preparing to pretty much become synonymous with “the Internet” through unprecedented search, advertising, subscription, and cloud-based tools (not to mention Google X).  

Business analysis often write snappy articles about how certain giants “failed” to take advantage of market opportunities, but they’re often looking at the short term view. Companies like IBM, Google, Microsoft, Union Pacific, Disney, Wal-Mart and so many others, are already thinking about their next thing, not just “the next big thing.”

“The truth is that once you find yourself in a position where you need to adapt, it’s usually too late,” said business consultant Greg Satell in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review.

Build a Better Business

Take the focus of being “agile” and “ready for the next trend,” and start focusing on developing a product, system, or service that is better than anything available – and be absolutely certain to be a leader on sustainability issues today. Don’t wait, or it’s too late.

Lead on Sustainability

Many firms approach sustainability as a checkbox. Don’t. Even if the pressure to develop a policy is coming from clients or regulators, develop a strategic sustainability policy and then just do one extra thing to advance beyond the baseline.

Maybe that one extra thing is writing in a lobbying effort toward an environmental regulation that will help give your firm a competitive advantage because you’re already doing so well in that area. Maybe that one extra thing is, not just reporting on emissions, but taking a small step in reducing them – lighting retrofits, solar panels, telecommuting programs. Maybe that one extra thing is engaging in a peer benchmarking study to see how far your organization needs to reach to get to the front of the pack.

As climate change effects become more acute and the global community begins to coalesce around ways to work together to make progress on combating it, don’t get caught playing catch up.

“Business that focus on solving big problems and are willing to invest in them for years —or even decades — can get a lot of other things wrong,” said Satell.

Climate change is a “big problem,” so get to solving it. It will be profitable for your firm and the planet itself. 

TED Talks: Leadership – 5 Ways to Lead in an Era of Constant Change

The SSC Team November 10, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Everyone loves a good TED Talk. Here’s one of our favorites.

Organizational change expert Jim Hemerling outlines strategies for making change management a positive experience instead of a tumultuous one. He argues that a business in today's constantly-evolving world can be invigorating instead of exhausting. Watch this awesome TED talk where Hemerling outlines five strategies, centered around putting people first, for turning company reorganization into an empowering, energizing task for all.

 

 

Consider an employee-driven sustainability effort, but weigh cost and benefit

The SSC Team October 18, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Building effective green teams, motivating employees, channeling creativity and harnessing energy among employees can be difficult during the implementation of a sustainability program that pushes employees to change behavior.

Recently, an article published by CH2M provided an excellent series of “steps” for sustainability managers to consider when pushing for distributive leadership in the sustainability area – creating a strong program that is employee-driven versus manager-driven.

The steps are centered on the company’s efforts to match the company’s material goals with the employees’ material goals and then encourage the employees to “run with it.”

CH2M’s list of steps is an excellent resource for those organizations with the flexibility and opportunity to engage employees in specific ways that empower employees and align their efforts with corporate sustainability goals.

However, when strategically allocating sustainability resources, it is important to weigh the cost benefit of any and all sustainability activities with regard to their investment versus real impact.

CH2M’s program is unique – and powerful – because the investment in this type of employee-driven program directly aligns with the material needs of the corporation – reducing energy use, rehabilitating watersheds, reducing water consumption, reducing waste.

However, not all industries align so closely to benefit from employee-driven sustainability programs. It’s important when developing sustainability programs that employees do have a way to provide input and also understand why the company is making efforts in this area, but spending half of the sustainability budget – in dollars or in time investment – on a program that makes employees “feel good” or “feel committed” may not actually result in meaningful change on sustainability metrics.

Following CH2M’s example, we would propose adding an 8th step (and placing that step in the top spot), performing a materiality assessment. By doing this first, a company can clearly see where its strategies will be directly aligned with its employees priorities (as well as other stakeholders) and will rate those priorities in order of most to least impactful on the overall business. Then, harnessing the energy and developing the programming will be both successful and valuable in terms of sustainability metrics.

Are you interested in figuring out what your stakeholders are most concerned with and how those concerns match up to your organizational strategies? Contact us about performing a materiality assessment to help align your sustainability strategy and optimize it for the most impact. 

A 6-minute Guide to Better Sustainability Decisions

The SSC Team October 13, 2016 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives. 

This video from Harvard Business Review introduces a methodology for helping you choose the best decision-support tool for your specific business situation. While the tool is not sustainability-focused, we found it fascinating to think about how to use a decision-tree model like the one presented for thinking about high-stakes decisions like:

•  Accounting for climate change impacts on capital investments.

•  Introducing new "green" products into the marketplace.

•  Rolling out a new telecommuting program.

•  Planning new freight routes for global distribution.

Watch this 6-minute video and let us know if you think this tool helps identify better ways to make high-stakes sustainability decisions?  Leave a comment or join the conversation on Twitter!

Does Your Organization Really Care About Climate Change?

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

Here’s the cold, hard truth – maybe you, your shareholders, your CEO, and your customers don’t really care much about climate change when viewed through the “quarterly earnings” lens of business operations. 

Well, they’re probably not alone.

According to the Yale Project on Climate Communications, there are six different belief subsets held by the public, ranging from “skeptic” to “activist.”

A recent article in Green Biz took those subsets and applied them to a simplified model discussing how business decision-makers may fall into categories regarding the business’ role in climate change.

Knowing the “belief subset” a company’s leadership, falls into is important, but as a sustainability professional, advocate, concerned stakeholder or policy maker, it’s more important to understand the subset position in the context of change management. Essentially, identifying the subset will help also pair the appropriate persuasive tactics to shift corporate thinking from subset to subset, pushing towardfrom #1 “skeptic” into #2 “acknowledgement,” and ideally, all of the way to #6 “thought leader/activist.”

The business community and its beliefs are as varied as the general public’s views on climate change, so be deliberate in understanding your audience when advocating for progress, reporting, action, or funding for a sustainability initiative.

Many of our best clients started out in the middle of this climate change subset scale – feeling pressure from stakeholders to “do something,” but not understanding or having the in-house expertise to make any progress on the issue. Through sustainability reporting and materiality assessments, among other services, many of our clients have been able to move from feeling pressured to actively embracing CSR initiatives – while earning new business, remaining competitive, and saving money in the process.

No matter where your organization is on the spectrum, the momentum toward taking meaningful action on climate change issues is going to reach you eventually. Get ahead of the curve. We can help.

 

4 Ways to Effectively Execute Your Sustainability Programs

The SSC Team August 11, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Execution, or the ability to meet goals and objectives, is consistently ranked as a top-3 skill that executives require of successful managers. Going through the motions to develop processes – whether that is providing regular updates or analyzing best practices of a system – are all fine and good, but if you can’t actually move the bar, it’s possible your sustainability program (or you) will get canned.

But reaching goals and milestones for a sustainability program that requires company employees to change their own workplace behavior to reach objectives is less about long hours at the office burning the midnight oil tracking data, and more about engaging in employees effectively.

Analysts at Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consultancy, looked at data gleaned from thousands of performance reviews to determine the top four behaviors that improved manager ability to execute team-based projects.

Be clear and methodical

If you’re a sustainability manager, you need to take a breath and set aside time for strategic planning. If your CEO wants meaningful sustainability results, then defining those results through strategic planning, based on how the sustainability strategy aligns with company goals is likely the best path to effectively execute a sustainability strategy.  

Don’t get distracted too early with green teams or waste reduction or the excitement of a budget for a carbon footprint. You likely need to start with a pow-wow with the C-suite on what exactly the company hopes to achieve, strategically, through the sustainability program, then perform a materiality assessment, and then develop an organized strategic plan to connect company strategy with stakeholder materiality.

The result will be a plan with a clear direction, action steps, and measurable goals – backed up by company leaders.

Set stretch goals and deadlines

By framing the activities inside of a clear strategic plan that ties to company success, everyone can see why they are being asked to change. And by setting realistic “stretch goals” and deadlines, employees see opportunity to do something possible, following a clear path.

Goal-setting is a solid motivational strategy, but don’t overdo it and stress employees out.

Give more feedback, especially more positive feedback

When managing people, or motivating them, feedback is crucial. If you want employees, on an individual level, to change their behaviors to help the company achieve its goals, then give individual employee positive feedback.

Tie employee action to positive feedback – and get personal. Thank departments for reaching milestones or goals. Celebrate participation in sustainability focused programs. And, if you are tracking departmental data and see a team not achieving the milestones set forth for, don’t send a memo.

Instead, sit down for a lunch and learn with the team and talk about the progress-to-date and their barriers to participation. Listening and positive feedback can move people to action much more effectively and quickly than emails and memos.

Resolve conflict and build team unity

Pairing individual praise and feedback for individual behavior change is doubly effective when people are also strongly tied together in teams. Successful teams “probably do all or most of the above – work assignments are clear and processes make sense, deadlines are ambitious but fair, and feedback is plentiful – but they also do something more. On these teams, it’s not just the boss motivating team members — the expectations of peer team members are powerful motivators, too.”

Managers that can build team culture around sustainability efforts – so that employees are proud to be a part of the larger organizations in part because of it’s commitment to social and environmental sustainability – will also aid in executing the sustainability strategy.

Contact us to start talking about sustainability strategy and how to go from tracking data to reaching meaningful milestones.

 

3 Creativity Boosters to Engage Employees in Your Sustainability Efforts

The SSC Team July 26, 2016 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Employees tend to get tunnel vision, focusing on their own daily work and not having the time or training to keep organizational strategy or “other department” goals in mind. Use these four creativity boosters to engage employees in sustainability efforts and keep them thinking outside of their cubicles.

Mix and Match

By pulling employees from different departments together for meetings or brainstorming sessions, you will see how different perspectives combined together may produce interesting results. Are you struggling to get recycling numbers up or having difficulty motivating employees to turn in critical data for sustainability reporting? Gather them in a room with folks they usually don’t work with and ask them to solve your problems for you. Shifting comfort zones and encouraging risk-taking may result in real progress.

Take Time to Play

Sitting behind a desk or in front of a machine all day can take put your brain into automation mode. For desk-bound employees, some companies set up an art station or a Lego block area to boost creativity. For engaging employees in sustainability, figure out how to put some fun into behavior change – Who can make the tallest paper recycling tower? Build a composting monster bin that “eats up” food waste. Host a competition for the team that comes up with a new way to save time, energy or materials in product production.

Ask the Kids

Another way to engage employees is to involve their kids. Freedom to create is part of a child’s mind, so posing adult problems to children can yield in very interesting results. Engage kids in a competition, either at home or through Bring Your Kids to Work Day. Problem solving competitions, design focus groups, or just plain old awareness campaigns using kid-created messaging will both engage employees in your effort and bring new insight to your sustainability team.