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The Clean Power Plan: A Terrible Economic Idea or a Terrific One?

The SSC Team March 2, 2017 Tags: Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

As predicted, the forecasts of the economic impact of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the EPA’s regulation that limited CO2 emission from power plants, have fallen strongly on partisan lines. The current administration has claimed that EPA regulations are causing economic harm and are planning to roll them back, while others have asserted positive economic impact that will result from the plan.

The World Resources Institute recently reviewed four of the major studies of the CPP to determine which perspective has the most merit.

WRI’s results are clarifying, and not surprisingly they conclude that the CPP likely would not have a negative economic impact through an increased cost of electricity, but the bigger issue is in that the four studies themselves came up with widely different conclusions based from the same data.

How did this happen?

Essentially, the authors of each study were not impartial. Research assumptions were made using foundational data that largely supported a conclusion that would benefit the sponsors of the study.

The lesson: Not all research is created equal.

As the next phase of this work, WRI plans to conduct its own modeling with the primary objective to provide impartial and transparent information on the impact of the CPP – and of all future regulations.

Climate change isn’t partisan. Neither is science. Neither is economics. We need more organizations like WRI, the EPA, governments, universities, and foundations to fund important, unbiased, and peer reviewed work to guide policy work moving forward.

TEDTalks Sustainability: Why Earth May Someday Look Like Mars

The SSC Team February 2, 2017 Tags: Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

We love a good TED Talk. Here's one of our favorites. 

Astrophysicist Anjali Tripath explains how the 400 pounds of hydrogen and almost 7 pounds of helium escape from Earth's atmosphere into outer space every minute may be transforming our planet into the next Martian enclave.

Tripathi studies the atmospheric escape and she considers how this process might one day (a few billion years from now) turn our blue planet red.

Tripathi arned degrees in physics and astronomy from M.I.T., the University of Cambridge and Harvard University. She is recognized as a promising American leader with a commitment to public service and was a 2016-17 White House Fellow.

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. 

The limits of national politics in driving renewable energy

The SSC Team January 24, 2017 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

A lot of people in the sustainability field, whether as consultants, advocates, or managers are asking themselves: How will the new presidential administration in the U.S. affect the “green” economy?

In the months leading up to his inauguration, the incoming president called climate change a “hoax,” announced plans to dismantle the EPA, and vocally denounced U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Accords.

Although it is disconcerting, dangerous, and misinformed to marginalize global climate change, we are fairly certain that corporations engaging in meaningful sustainability strategy, renewable energy innovation, and green investing across global markets will continue to rise.

Business itself is driving much of the demand for renewables. Consumers want sustainable products. Innovators are always looking for the newest mousetrap. And in our wired world, innovation means more energy efficiency across industries from national defense to personal electronics to keep costs down and power up.

The Renewable Energy Sector Will Continue to Grow

In fact, three of the incoming cabinet members have already distanced themselves from the official White House positions. The marketplace and our international partners and competitors are seeing the advantages of investing in renewable energy, from decreased energy dependency to creating new jobs.

Whether or not the president changes his mind on climate change or sustainability, the market will continue to drive us toward a greener future. Sustainability is the driver of innovation in 2017, and there’s no going back on that. 

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. 

Viewpoint: As African economies grow, regulators, investors, and corporations need to put sustainability first

The SSC Team October 25, 2016 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

A recent analysis in the Harvard Business Review paints a fairly rosy picture for economic growth up and across the African continent. When controlling for the drop in revenue from oil-rich African countries and disruption from the Arab Spring movement, other economic sectors maintained a 4%+ growth rate over the past five years.

Growth coupled with a rapid urbanization rate, increasing workforce size, accelerating technology access, and abundant resources all mean that the “continent still offers promising opportunities for global investors and businesses.”

The article asserts that, “to unlock growth, companies should look for opportunities in six sectors that we find have ‘white space’— wholesale and retail, food and agri-processing, health care, financial services, light manufacturing, and construction. All these sectors are characterized by high growth, high profitability, and low consolidation.”

To continue, the authors do make note that political and economic stability play major roles in how the continent will move forward. But there is no mention of how global, national, regional, and governments should also pay close attention to – and set policy and precedent for – how a 4%+ economic growth rate, booming population, and tens of millions of households entering the consumer class should be regulated in terms of mitigating the effects on the environment.

Yes, to unlock growth, companies should be looking at Africa – specifically these six sectors – and governments should be paying close attention to prevent exploitation of the new working and consumer classes. Yet, everyone should also be committed to making sure this new African future is sustainable as well.  

Tackling sustainability, and adding sustainability in as a factor for African development in assessments like the one published, pressing global multinational companies to ensure all African initiatives have robust sustainability elements, designing programs to help African-based companies gain immediate and relevant access to sustainability strategic planning tools and best practices, including African leaders in important conversations and protocols as global climate accords are developed, and essentially not reinventing the wheel.

As we see Asian countries struggling to reduce emissions generated by decades of providing a cheap-labor market driven by coal power, the international business community and government leaders need to ensure sustainability is directly integrated into Africa’s path for industrial development – helping build a green Africa starting today.

TED Talks Sustainability: How Fear of Nuclear Power is Hurting the Environment

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

We love TED Talks! Here’s one of our favorites:

Climate policy expert Michael Shellenberger is focused on critically thinking about the economic, social, and environmental implications of global climate change. His take: “We’re not in a clean energy revolution; we’re in a clean energy crisis.”

Amidst longstanding fears of nuclear power plant accidents and failures, he is concerned that the actual risks outweigh the benefits – and if we don’t capitalize on those benefits, everyone will suffer. 

 

Does Sustainability Progress Require Disruption?

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

Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives. 

The Harvard Business Review article, For Cross-Functional Change, a Good Disruption Helps, by author Brad Power has been percolating in our minds over the last few weeks. Strategic Sustainability Consulting has been around for almost a decade, and during that time we've asked ourselves multiple times, "why isn't society moving faster towards sustainability?" The evidence of major upheaval (climate change, income inequality, water scarcity) is indisputable and the business case (cost savings, competitive advantage, increased productivity) is well-established. So what's holding us back?

Maybe it's that we aren't feeling the pain of our unsustainability yet.

"How do you improve the whole organization, not just parts of it?" Power asks. "The uber challenge for process improvement in organizations has always been to successfully make improvements across functions. But have any sizable organizations assigned people to manage their major end-to-end processes — and actually been successful?"

While Powers isn't writing about sustainability, his message resonates. Most companies have only made modest inroads in their journey towards sustainability. Even the often heralded sustainability "leaders" recognized with awards and named to "100 Most Sustainable" lists often have only incremental improvements to showcase, spaced unevenly across their operations. 

Why is that?

"In the absence of a significant disruptive event, or obvious proof that the world is changing, the gravitational forces in organizations pull strongly towards the performance engine: functional, hierarchical, command-and-control, rigid," notes Power. "And this engine gets improved and streamlined only with small, incremental changes."

Without a doubt, disruption is coming -- via increases in unpredictable extreme weather events, or changing patterns of water availability, or political uncertainty created by unequal access to natural resources. All the evidence points to the fact that disruption is coming. We might not know exactly what form it will take, or how hard it will hit -- but it's coming and companies need to do all they can to prepare and mitigate those risks.

So what can sustainability leaders do to help prepare their companies to face the inevitable disruptions to come? Powers advises:

"...in an environment that is increasingly unpredictable and volatile, leaders must devote more resources to sensing and responding to threats and opportunities, and then must communicate to the organization what “responding” means in terms of changing the way it does its work. Without a clear and compelling, motivating case being made by leaders, successful cross-functional changes will remain few and far between."

We agree. In fact, our first question to potential clients is "how does [what you're asking us to do for you] fit into your larger sustainability strategy?" And our second question is "how confident are you that your sustainability strategy is helping you make effective decisions?" Nine times out of ten, the conversation takes a big step backward so that the issues of uncertainty, volatility, changing stakeholder expectations, and risk management can first be fully discussed. And that's a good thing.

If you need some help looking at the big sustainability picture, and what it means for your company's future, please contact us. We're happy to talk with you about how we can help!

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.

 

TED Talks Sustainability: Bernie Krause: The voice of the natural world

The SSC Team September 1, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Nothing inspires us like a good TED talk, and here’s one of our favorites. Enjoy it!

About the speaker: Bernie Krause is a musician. With a resume that features Stevie Wonder and The Byrds, Krause found music in and began making history by recording the sounds of nature. Listening to the wind, the rain, the insects, the grunts and groans of animals, Krause uses natural soundscapes to analyze critical questions about how humans interact with and are altering fragile ecosystems.

About the talk: Krause discusses his 45-year journey of capturing the sounds of nature, and discovering how humans are radically alteringthe fragile ecosystems that make our planet complete. By opening our ears to “nature’s symphonies,” Krause believes humans will better connect with and fight to protect the nature around us.