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How to Set Smart Carbon Goals

The SSC Team August 6, 2015 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this blog from the SSC archives:

Every company needs smart carbon goals -- and this is especially true if you are a Walmart supplier (or sell to a retailer with a similar sustainability scorecard). But what makes a good carbon goal? You don't want to be too ambitious and fall short, but you also don't want to set such easily attainable goals that you look lazy. What is the right middle ground?

Before we jump in, we want to mention that there is much disagreement in the sustainability industry about what an appropriate carbon goal is -- and what companies should be aiming for. So please take our opinion with a grain of salt. What works for you might be different that for another organization.

Ok, let's get into it.

Should you set a goal of carbon neutral? 

Maybe. It's an admirable goal, and we love BHAGs. However, there are two main problems that we see with carbon-neutral goals. First, it's easy to slide from a meaningful effort to reduce carbon-generating activities into a focus on buying your way out of the problem with RECs and carbon offsets. Second, the challenge of zero carbon is so big that it can be overwhelming. Avoid these two problems by 1) keeping the emphasis on carbon reduction, and only purchase carbon offsets to mitigate truly unavoidable impacts, and 2) creating a year-by-year plan with shorter goals that get you to carbon neutral.

Should you set a goal aligned with IPCC guidelines?

Yes. The IPCC report is the go-to place for understanding global carbon thresholds. In it, scientists tell us we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 392 parts per million ("ppm") to below 350 ppm. That equates to a global reduction in carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 (against 1995 baselines). (Read more about the science here). In order to honestly say that you are "doing your part" to stop climate change, your company should be aiming to reduce its carbon footprint at this same rate. (If you're interested in learning more, please contact us -- we have access to tools that can help you figure out what IPCC guidelines mean for your company on a year-by-year basis!)

Should you set a modest 5% - 10% goal?

Maybe. It's better to have a modest goal, rather than no goal. But our general feeling is that these types of goals are mostly suited to extremely short timeframes -- like 1-3 years. And that's great, particularly if you are just starting out and need some quick wins to build momentum. But don't overlook the bigger picture. It's critical to understand where you need to be in the long run (20-50 years from now). Focusing on that horizon will help you consider the carbon implications of capital investments, supply chain development, mergers and acquisitions, and new product development.

Should you set goals beyond tons of CO2-e?

Yes. There are lots of ways to set carbon goals. And while an absolute reduction in tons of CO2-e is a vital element of a carbon management plan, it is not complete. Consider the following to round out your approach:

  • Adjusted carbon goals (like carbon-per-production-unit, or carbon-per-$-revenue) will help you determine how your carbon efficiency is changing as you grow (or shrink) your organization.
  • Employee engagement goals (like % of employees trained on carbon reduction initiatives) will help you measure how far into your organization you have embedded your mission.
  • Supply chain goals (like % of suppliers reporting their Scope 1 and 2 emissions) will help you track how much of your Scope 3 emissions are covered, and how much you are leveraging your value chain towards sustainability.

Are simple mistakes holding back your sustainability? Find out how to correct those mistakes here!

4 Mistakes That Are Holding Back Your Company’s Sustainability

The SSC Team July 21, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller Take a step back and examine your company’s sustainability. Is your company moving forward with its sustainability goals and initiatives? Or do you feel like your company could be doing more? If you identify with the latter, there might be some simple mistakes being made that is causing this problem. Introduced in the Fast Company article “4 Business Decision-Makings Mistakes Are Holding You Back”, Romi Stein discusses common mistakes companies have made and how it has hurt them. Wanting to put a sustainability twist on the points discussed in that article, we have highlighted ways that these mistakes could be causing your sustainability initiatives some harm:

Failure to Learn

Have you ever been to a conference or event where an older person - someone with years of experience and knowledge - got on stage and lectured everyone about the "right way to do sustainability"? Did you then subsequently think to yourself, "but isn't there more than one way to do sustainability?" That's because there is! The field of sustainability is always changing, in the sense that new information and research is always being published. We are always finding better ways to track emissions and inventive ways to report sustainability initiatives, so there is no need to exclaim that there is a right way for sustainability. If someone isn't willing to learn new ways of approaching sustainability, they appear too entrenched in the past, and soon their sustainability will be too.

Failure to Anticipate

It’s the end of July, which means a lot of companies have either submitted their CDP reports for 2014 or are making their final edits. But more than likely there are companies that are scrambling to put together a year’s worth of emissions data and sustainability initiatives. Sustainability, like any field or industry, has annual deadlines – whether set by the company or by other organizations. CDP and UNGC have deadlines to submit their reports, and many companies aim to publish their sustainability report around the same time every year. If a company does not anticipate these deadlines, that often means other sustainability work gets pushed to the side just to make sure the reports go out on time.

Failure to Adapt

Over the past few years, there has been a big push to bring materiality to sustainability, and slowly, companies are doing so. But what happens if your company doesn’t change and adapt to materiality or every other new trend? How much of an impact could that have? Nothing in sustainability stays the same for long, which can make it difficult to tell what’s important to focus on. New reporting standards are released, new trends emerge, but there are instances where reporting standards account for these trends. With GRI’s G4 iteration, it plays up the importance of materiality and how companies should build their annual reports around it. If your company is ignoring materiality, it can look like they don’t take sustainability seriously.

Failure to Execute

One of the biggest ways to hold back a company's sustainability is by them simply failing to execute their sustainability plan. This could happen for a variety of reasons: your company isn't allocating the same resources to sustainability that it once did; you forgot to keep up with data tracking throughout the year; more pressing, non-sustainability related projects pop up. No matter what your job, in whatever industry, this is going to happen - it's an inevitable part of having a job. But what will make the difference is how you react when facing these issues. Does your company just ignore all sustainability-related initiatives for the rest of the year, or are they doing something to make sure they are sticking to their plan? Think your company could be a little more sustainable? Find out how to get your company moving towards sustainability here.

Where Are Your Sustainability Blind Spots?

The SSC Team June 16, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this article written by Jennifer Woofter that was featured on the 2Degrees website in 2013: The journey towards sustainability is a marathon--a race of a thousand steps. And whether you are on the first step or somewhere in the middle (since no one is close to the end, right?), it's likely that you have made some assumptions, used estimates, or put aside things that aren't working. That's not a bad thing -- in fact, to effectively move forward to attain such an ambitious goal you must deal with complexity and uncertainty. Otherwise, you will face "analysis paralysis". However, the risk of taking that approach is that by simplifying, focusing, and systematizing your sustainability efforts, you can inadvertently create blind spots--weaknesses that you don't know are there. Blind spots are a particularly challenging problem because it isn't easy to fix something if you don't even know that it's broken. John Dame and Jeffrey Gedmin offer Three Tips for Overcoming Your Blind Spots in Harvard Business Review. We've pulled their best quotes (in italics, below) and then added our own thoughts about how to apply their advice to sustainability practitioners.

Use a Devil's Advocate to Fight Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is a well-documented tendency for people to draw conclusions and interpret events in a way that conforms to previously held beliefs--leading to poorly reasoned decision-making based on incomplete information and judgments. (Wikipedia has a great write-up on the phenomenon here.) "When you have a theory about someone or something, test it. When you smell a contradiction – a thorny issue, an inconsistency or problem – go after it. Like the orchestral conductor, isolate it, drill deeper. When someone says – or you yourself intuit – 'that’s just an exception,' be sure it’s just that. Thoroughly examine the claim." Whether you are predisposed to believe that the CFO will never get on board with your sustainability plan, or that your fellow employees care deeply about sustainability, it's essential that you incorporate a way to test those assumptions before investing too much time and resources into a plan of action. Regularly sit down with executives to better understand their priorities and pressures. Survey employees to determine which sustainability issues are most important to them, and how they rank in comparison to other workplace concerns. Test your beliefs and predispositions. And then test some more. "Dealing with confirmation bias is about reining in your impulses and challenging your own assumptions. It’s difficult to stick to it day in and out. That’s why it’s important to have in your circle of advisers a brainy, tough-as-nails devil’s advocate who – perhaps annoyingly, but valuably – checks you constantly." If your team is big enough, incorporate a devil's advocate. If it's just you, set aside time in your schedule (or in your process) to wear the devil's advocate hat yourself. Ask questions like:
  • What are we missing?
  • What could go wrong?
  • What alternate approaches can we take?
  • What are the unintended consequences that might pop up?
Use the role of devil's advocate to surface objections that might arise from others on your team, discover better routes to success, and assess a wider range of program outcomes.

Keep a Journal to Combat Hindsight Bias

Hindsight bias is also called the "knew it all along" effect, and causes "extreme methodological problems while trying to analyze, understand, and interpret results" (Wikipedia). It makes us think that things are more predictable, simpler, and more straightforward than they really are. For a challenge as complex as sustainability, this is a major concern. Here’s one way to check hindsight bias: Keep a diary. And record minutes from important meetings...What becomes painfully clear is that we failed to predict much of anything – claims after the fact notwithstanding. While acting as a mechanism to keep us honest about our ability to forecast the future, a detailed journal provides an added bonus: additional insight into how we make decisions. Once you've been using a journal for at least several months, go back and review it to see what patterns emerge. (For example, you may find that your boss is always grumpy in October, or that you have a tendency to lose your temper after a big success.)

Hire a Diverse Staff to Eliminate Groupthink

Groupthink is is "a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an incorrect or deviant decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences." (Thanks, Wikipedia!) Fighting groupthink should start at the hiring stage. Look for people who share your basic values and purpose, but who are also tough, independent, and able to tell you what they think. Moreover: check that decisions at all levels in the company are being made on the basis of rationality, not merely flowing from authority or a tendency (however subconscious) to conform. While sustainability practitioners (in-house, or consultants) may not be in a position to control who is hired in a company, there are other ways to avoid groupthink. More importantly, make sure that you don't shut yourself off from people who don't see the world from your viewpoint. Just as many sustainability leaders bemoan the closed-minded and isolationist philosophies of climate-change deniers, we too can fall prey to "preaching to the choir" and focusing only on talking to other sustainability believers. This approach does NOT mean that you must engage and bring in people who are intentionally at loggerheads with you. But it is important to understand why people feel the way that they do, what motivates them, and what values you share with them. Take note- it not only applies to big topics (like global climate change), but also to more discrete topics (like how to approach the topic of Green IT for your next budget cycle). Make a point to intentionally solicit information from a wide variety of perspectives early on in your process--your ultimate success may depend on it. Looking for ways to become a better sustainability consultant? Check out our blog post that talks about 8 steps to improving as a sustainability consultant!

Workplace Movement Toward Environmental Sustainability – Pt. 1

The SSC Team April 28, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller Last week we introduced the Retail Industry Leaders Association’s (RILA) brand new Retail Sustainability Management Maturity Matrix. The Matrix hopes to be a tool that will be used by sustainability executives, individual companies, and industry-wide. We also noted that while the Matrix is designed with the retail industry in mind, we think that is has a wide applicability beyond just the retail sector. Today we are focusing on three of the seven sectors that are featured in the Matrix. Hoping to provide a more in-depth look at how RILA hopes to benchmark across the industry in terms of environmental sustainability, we are going to look at what it would take for a company to become a leader in that sector.

Strategy and Commitment

Before a company can begin their sustainability journey, they must first have some sort of sustainability strategy, right? And if that strategy is weak, how strong will a company's goals be? How well will the company show executives that sustainability is necessary? What this section hopes to capture is how well a company is addressing environmental sustainability at a governance level. A leading company in this sector will have a sustainability strategy that is aligned across departments and integrated into corporate strategy, has defined comprehensive and aggressive goals, incorporates executives from all relevant parts of the business, and more. The Strategy and Commitment sector has five different dimensions:
  • Strategy
  • Materiality/Risk Identification
  • Goals
  • Governance & Executive Engagement
  • Incentives

People and Tools

Sustainability cannot happen without people. Whether the people are stakeholders or employees, sustainability is a collaborative process that needs to have everyone involved from the beginning. While the people involved in your sustainability process is important, so are the tools you use. If you don't have the right set of tools and the right people, your company might be falling short in terms of their sustainability. According to RILA, in order to be leading this sector, a company must demonstrate that they have a dedicated team to creating and investing in sustainable innovations, incorporate feedback from key stakeholders into sustainability strategy, provide a collaborative forum for employees to engage in, and more. The People and Tools sector has four different dimensions:
  • Stakeholder Engagement
  • Employee Engagement
  • Funding Mechanisms
  • Business Innovation Mechanisms

Visibility

You have your sustainability strategy in place and have assembled a team of employees that have the right set of tools to tackle sustainability, so what's next? Choosing sustainability metrics focused on all material aspects. Using 3rd-party standards in your sustainability reporting. Having sustainability be a focus in marketing campaigns. Partner with other organizations to continue to identify room for improvement. These are just some of the ways RILA says companies can become better sustainability leaders while promoting their sustainability. The Visibility sector has five different dimensions:
  • Metrics & Measurement
  • Reporting & Communicating
  • Point-of-Purchase Consumer Education
  • Marketing Campaigns
  • Collaborative Involvement
Last fall we attended the annual RILA Sustainability Conference. Read about some of our thoughts on the conference here.

Introducing RILA’s 2015 Retail Sustainability Management Maturity Index

The SSC Team April 21, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) recently announced their brand new Retail Sustainability Management Maturity Matrix. The Matrix, which is based on Deloitte and RILA’s knowledge of the retail industry and its sustainability programs, hopes to be a tool that will be used by sustainability executives, individual companies, and industry-wide.

(Although this matrix is designed with the retail industry in mind, we think that it has a wide applicability beyond just the retail sector.)

While there are many aspects of sustainability, the Matrix focuses specifically on environmental sustainability. The Matrix has seven sectors that helps break down the different components of environmental sustainability:

  1. Strategy & Commitment
  2. People & Tools
  3. Visibility
  4. Retail Operations
  5. Supply Chain
  6. Products
  7. Environmental Issues

Each sector is then broken down by dimensions, and each dimension is ranked by five categories: starting, standard, excelling, leading, and next practice. RILA acknowledges that only a few companies are in the “leading” category, but hopes that over the next few years more companies can get to that level. The main goal of the Matrix is to identify all of the possible pathways to strong environmental sustainability.

Here are some of the ways the Matrix can be useful:

  • Identifying and assessing the maturity of your sustainability program and opportunities for improvement
  • Helping to facilitate conversations about your sustainability program’s development
  • Finding ways to access for funding for your sustainability program
  • Training employees to have more sustainability responsibility
  • Allowing internal, external evaluation of your program’s perception, gaps it might have

It’s RILA’s goal to use the Matrix to benchmark the industry in 2015, while annually updating the matrix.

Over the course of the next two weeks, we will be further breaking down the Matrix by sector to get a more in-depth look at how the Matrix will work.

Last fall we took an in-depth look at SSC's peer benchmarking system that we used against the athletic wear industry. Catch up 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!

4 Keys to Thinking about the Future of Sustainability

The SSC Team February 3, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Here is a blog entry from last year that we thought would be worth another look. Enjoy!

At SSC, we often look to thought leaders and successful CEOs to give us inspiration and we are rarely disappointed in what we find.  In the Harvard Business Review article, Four Keys to Thinking About the Future, author Jeffrey Gedmin offers four ideas to help leaders see into the future. We thought his points below were great, and applied them to sustainability strategy and planning.

1. ENHANCE YOUR POWER OF OBSERVATION.

"For starters, be empirical and always be sure you’re working with the fullest data set possible when making judgments and discerning trends. Careful listening, a lost art in today’s culture of certitude and compulsive pontificating, can help us distinguish the signal from the noise."

Listen to your stakeholders -- both your supporters and your critics. Listen to the language they are using. Investigate their claims.  Ask them for clarification when you don't fully understand what they are saying, and make them be specific. You don't have to respond to every request or complaint that you get, but having an open mind will allow you to spot trends and notice opportunities you might otherwise miss.

2. APPRECIATE THE VALUE OF BEING (A LITTLE) ASOCIAL.

"I’m convinced that a company culture that encourages curiosity is vitally important... Curiosity keeps us learning and helps us, like the virtue of patience, to see the hidden, or understand the unexplained."

Don't put all your eggs in one basket -- experiment, pilot, and test sustainability initiatives in small increments. Find a risk level that's comfortable for you and play around a bit. Ask the question "why?"... a lot.  Find ways to help your colleagues get curious about sustainability and its impact on their job functions.

3. STUDY HISTORY.

"I think you study history to study human nature, the human condition, and human behavior. This is the realm of patterns, but also — frustratingly and fascinatingly — of infinite complexity and unpredictability."

Revisit the sustainability initiatives that failed or were rejected by management and ask some questions. What are the systemic factors that are keeping your sustainability strategy from reaching its full potential? What lessons from other departments and initiatives can inform your approach? Are there examples that you can draw on from other industries, or other parts of your supply chain? Sustainability challenges are rarely unique, and in most cases you can find answers (or parts of answers) if you look around and notice who's been in a similar situation before.

4. LEARN TO DEAL WITH AMBIGUITY.

"Whether it’s nature or nurture, most of us seem hard-wired to sort the world into simple binary choices. Alas, there’s often lots of grey out there."

What impact is climate change going to have on your business? How is a growing income disparity going to affect your market share? When will tighter regulation on your supply chain partners start impacting your pricing model? You will find that the true answer to these questions is, "I don't know." Sustainability is so complex that it is often impossible to accurately predict the future. So effective sustainability leaders must learn to successfully deal with ambiguity. Using systems thinking, applying sustainability principles ("reduce reliance on fossil fuels") rather than prescriptive rules ("install solar") will help sustainability leaders stay flexible and open to the best opportunities when they present themselves down the road.

Thanks to Environmental Leader for publishing a version of this article on their website!

SSC helps companies develop sustainability strategies that are relevant today, AND sets a course for the future. If you'd like some assistance creating or refining your sustainability roadmap, please contact us. We'd love to help.

5 Ways to Keep Your Sustainability Strategy on Track

The SSC Team January 20, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Be sure to check out this previously published blog entry for some inspiration to start off the new year right on track. Enjoy:

There is nothing more frustrating than seeing your company’s hard-fought sustainability strategy slip away as a result of competing priorities, disengaged employees, or an opaque bureaucracy. Don't let your efforts go to waste!  Incorporate as many of these ideas into your sustainability plan as you can to ensure that it continues to evolve and adapt (and even improve) long after the initial enthusiasm is over.

1. Frame sustainability in terms of business process and success.

The more you embed sustainability into the existing systems of your company, the more it will become business-as-usual, and thus harder to forget or ignore. If your company has a standard 3-year payback time for capital investments, then make sure your sustainability expenditures pay for themselves in less than 36 months. If your HR department has a skill categorization used for new hires, then make sure that sustainability aspects are added to the tool used by the HR managers. Make sustainability criteria part of the existing new vendor on-boarding process, rather than a separate questionnaire. And in each of these areas, make sure that you can clearly and concisely explain why sustainability adds business value. If you can't do that, you're going to have major trouble getting others on board.

2. Put sustainability into job descriptions. 

What does your sales team need to know about the company's sustainability goals? What kind of eco-design experience do product developers need? What do facilities managers need to know about LEED? What do customer service reps need to be able to explain to sustainability-minded buyers? In which sustainability reporting standards and green marketing guidelines should the marketing staff demonstrate competence? Go through each category of job descriptions--by both department and seniority level--and identify the hard and soft sustainability skills that are needed to execute and improve the company's sustainability strategy over time.

3. Put sustainability into work orders.

Embed sustainability into the way that your work gets done. Whether you call it work instructions, or a standard operating procedure--make sure that you make it explicitly clear who, where, when, why, and how sustainability should be incorporated into everyday tasks and periodic activities. But make sure that the instructions don't have sustainability jargon written all over them- instead, make it simple and clear so that the discrete components of a larger sustainability activity are broken down and inserted into the relevant business process.

4. Set corporate goals, but require business units to get involved.

Letting each department create its own sustainability strategy is like herding cats—it’s nearly impossible to get everyone headed in the same direction. Forcing business units to conform to a single set of corporate sustainability activities is also a recipe for disaster since it ignores the innate differences that appear across geographies, duties and responsibilities, and workforce demographics. Instead, opt for a hybrid approach: decide what sustainability means for the company as a whole. From there, develop three to five top sustainability goals--like reducing carbon emissions by 15 percent in five years. Then, let the individual business units create action plans to get there--using whatever means are most applicable to their unique situation. When business units take ownership over execution of the plan, they are much more likely to see it through to the end.

5. Institute a semi-annual sustainability presentation to the Board of Directors. 

Nothing creates a sense of accountability like standing before the highest governance body of your organization to report on your sustainability successes and failures. Particularly when you follow the rule #1 above (frame sustainability in terms of business success), your board will be eager to hear about how sustainability is reducing operating cost, mitigating risk, increasing revenue, opening up new markets, and improving staff recruitment and retention. Perhaps more than any other group, the Board will force you to answer the question, "what value does this bring to the company?"

If these aren't enough for you, consider adding these options as well:

  • Publish an annual sustainability report -- it's hard to step backwards once you've put yourself out there in terms of transparency and disclosure. And once you're committed to doing a report, you'll be motivated to keep it full of awesome stories, meaningful metrics, and a sense of momentum.
  • Incentivize sustainability performance -- make sure that your performance-based compensation structure (bonuses, stock awards, other perks) are linked to achieving sustainability goals. Make sure to include both short- and long-term sustainability goals, so that people are encouraged to see the big picture, rather than just the year-end goal posts.
  • Dedicate time and money to bringing in outside experts -- Outside perspective can be invaluable. Whether it's a sustainability consultant, a local government representative, or the leader of a national NGO, hearing from sustainability advocates can test your assumptions, reveal new possibilities, and validate your charted course. Get inspired, get challenged, and get re-committed!

What has your company done to keep the sustainability momentum alive and well? Share your comments below, or tell me on Twitter (@jenniferwoofter). And if you liked this article, please share it on your social media platform of choice!

Thanks to 2degrees for also publishing this article.  Read it here.

8 Questions for Sustainability Innovators

The SSC Team January 15, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Here is an article we wrote early last year, and we thought it was worth sharing again! Enjoy:

At Strategic Sustainability Consulting, we love Scott Anthony, the thought leader and managing partner of the innovation and growth consulting firm Innosight. His book, The Little Black Book of Innovation, challenged us, and we recommend it to anyone thinking about how to innovate within a company.

But enough flattery. Anthony's recent Harvard Business Review article, Eight Essential Questions for Every Corporate Innovator, got us thinking about how innovation and sustainability are a natural fit, and we wanted to share it with SSC readers.

Below, we've highlighted the questions that Anthony recommends that corporate innovators ask themselves, and then we added our thoughts below each question, from a sustainability perspective.

Identifying New Growth Opportunities

  • What problem is the customer struggling to solve?
  • Which customers can’t participate in a market because they lack skills, wealth, or convenient access to existing solutions? 

There is a huge opportunity for companies to use sustainability as a lens to enter new markets -- including the developing world. Selling to the "bottom of the pyramid" requires innovative thinking -- and companies like Unilever, Coke, and Nestle are paving the way, by using "shared value creation" to benefit the local communities in which they operate.

Identifying the Threat of Disruption

  • Where are we overshooting the market by providing features that users don’t care about and don’t want to pay for? 
  • If you were going to disrupt your company, how would you do it?

Despite a lot of wishful thinking by companies, consumers generally are not willing to pay extra for "green" features. Instead, savvy companies are using sustainability to enhance safety, quality, durability, efficiency, and value. Don't make the mistake of thinking you can get a green premium for your product -- instead focus on creating a better product or service through innovation. Being "green" is just the icing on the cake.

Designing Compelling Offerings

  • Who has already solved the problem you are trying to address? 
  • What can you do that few other companies in the world can do? 

Sustainability is a global challenge, and no single company can solve it alone. Innovators need to identify and exploit the leverage points in the system--and often those appear at the junction between entities. Public-private partnerships like the UN Global Compact, collaborations like The Sustainability Consortium, and industry groups like the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy are proving that sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Commercializing Your Idea

  • What assumption are you making that, if false, would blow your strategy up? 
  • How can you learn more affordably and efficiently? 

The world of sustainability is rapidly changing-- methodologies, regulations, best practices, frameworks, legislation, stakeholder expectations--and the work of sustainability innovators is never done. Make sure that your eyes are not so closely fixated on your prize that you miss the changing world around you. You need to continue to regularly engage with your peers, to review your risk assessment methodology, and to indulge colleagues who will play the devil's advocate. Look for partners across your value chain, and make an effort to challenge each other in your various pursuits!

Thanks to 2degrees for publishing a version of this article!  Read the 2degrees article here.

Have additional ideas on ways for sustainability leaders to innovate?  Leave a comment or join the conversation on Twitter!