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The Obstacles with Sustainability Strategy

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

 

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

 

Here are the tips Brian Uzzi shared:

 

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

 

2. Unmask Political Motives

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

 

3. Find the right champion

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

 

4. Secure social proof

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

 

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

What is Augmented Reality and Why is it Important to Integrate it into Sustainability Advocacy and Strategy?

The SSC Team December 26, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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While the technology for augmented reality is still in its infancy, the capabilities are proving that AR could be key to helping bridge the gap between data and understanding data.

While reality is three-dimensional, the incredible amount of data we now have available to us to help inform our decisions and actions remains trapped on two-dimensional pages and screens. This gulf between the real and digital worlds limits the ability of many to fully take advantage of the incredible depth of information provided by billions of smart, connected products (SCPs) worldwide.

In “Why Every Organization Needs an Augmented Reality Strategy” Michael E. Porter and James E. Heppelmann examine what AR really is along with it’s evolving technology, how companies should deploy AR, and the critical choices that they will face when it comes to integrating AR into strategy and operations.

So what is augmented reality? It is a set of technologies that superimposes digital data and images on the physical world in a way that can release untapped and uniquely human capabilities. More broadly, AR enables a new information-delivery system, that could profoundly impact the way data is structured, managed, and delivered online. While the internet has dramatically impacted the way that information is collected, transmitted, and accessed, its model for data storage and delivery—pages on flat screens—does have limits: It requires people to mentally translate 2-D information for use in a 3-D world.

This is not always an easy task — think about that Ikea direction sheet you had to work with the last time you put together a dresser and you understand the challenges.  But by superimposing digital information directly on real objects or environments, AR can provide people with the opportunity to process the physical and digital simultaneously, eliminating the need to mentally bridge the two, improving the ability to rapidly and accurately absorb information, make decisions, and execute required tasks quickly and efficiently.

AR is poised to enter the mainstream with one estimate putting spending on AR technology at $60 billion in 2020. AR will affect companies in every industry and many other types of organizations, from universities to social enterprises. In the coming months and years, it will transform how we learn, make decisions, and interact with the physical world. It will also impact how enterprises can assist their customers, train employees, design and create products, and manage their value chains, and, ultimately, how they compete. While challenges in deploying AR remain, pioneering organizations including Amazon, Facebook, General Electric, Mayo Clinic, and the U.S. Navy, are already implementing AR and seeing a major impact on quality and productivity.

So you get the basic concept, but might still be uncertain as to why AR will be necessary? Take this example from The Guardian about climate change and how people have a very difficult time making long-term decisions (or even accepting it’s reality) because they do not see it happening right in front of them and therefore don’t see a reason to worry. Scientist and artists have already come up with some super creative ways of using augmented reality to help people see and feel the future if we don't do something today. Including the app After Ice which helps may help those who don’t understand the dangers of climate change experience the impact from wherever they are standing making it “real” for them in a way that reading or diagrams hasn’t been able to do.

Other interesting uses of AR include White Noise, an installation that pits realtime data on consumption against conservation — consumption almost always wins. Or artist and designer Catherine Sarah Young collaboration with scientists from Singapore-ETH Future Cities Laboratory and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Northwestern Switzerland, last year to develop the exhibition The Apocalypse Project: House of Futures which speculated about the future of our environment through a the lens of high fashion. The interactive projects allowed visitors to discuss their ideas about what makes a sustainable planet and a desirable future.

While AR won’t be a part of every business tomorrow now is a good time to get ahead of the game and start to think about how this incredible technology could help your business better tell its story of serve it’s customers or employees. It may seem like the future, but it is going to be a part of our every day life before long. 

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.