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Sustainability Consulting Round-Up: Best of Our Blog for April 2016

The SSC Team April 28, 2016 Tags: Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Each month, we highlight some of our more popular content on the SSC blog!

In case you missed them, here's a round-up of our most popular blog posts from this past month. These are the articles that received the most attention from our online audience. Check them out!

If you like an article, please consider sharing it online via your favorite social media platform. Helping us grow our audience is the #1 way you can show your support for the work that we do.

Solutions for Replacing Spreadsheets in Your Sustainability Reporting Practices

The SSC Team April 26, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

The old saying goes “If it is important, you must manage it; if you want to manage it, you must measure it,” but too many companies today use spreadsheets to track their environmental impacts.

Would you use a spreadsheet to track your corporate finances?  To monitor your inventory?  To log all of your personnel data?  Using a spreadsheet may seem like the simplest way to track your sustainability reporting, but in reality using this as part of your process is risky.

Don’t get us wrong, we love Excel as much as the next person, but for sustainability tracking, a spreadsheet is cumbersome and prone to errors. Whether you make a data entry mistake while flipping back and forth between screens or you simply have incorrect data to start, once you get it wrong in a spreadsheet, it is difficult to figure out where exactly you went astray. After all of that work, why risk losing all that information, inaccurate information, or user confusion?

Fortunately, an entire industry of software providers has cropped up to combat the problem of spreadsheet-based sustainability reporting, each promising to streamline the data collection, validation, and reporting of all things sustainability-related for you. These programs come in all shapes, sizes, specifications and styles. Some of these software platforms are fabulous; some, not so much. While many of the systems are more appropriate for big companies, some of them will be just right for you. Here are some questions you might want to start asking yourself in your hunt for a provider:

Do you know what you will be measuring and reporting on with this software? Your intent may range from being able to perform life cycle analysis (LCA) for your product supply chain to fulfilling a need to report on your carbon emissions to a customer such as Walmart onward to one of various international reporting protocols. Maybe you are being audited by an NGO or other stakeholder group. Knowing the reason for making your purchase will be essential to making the right decision as every package provides some or all of these functions to varying degrees. Plus, if you have a specific use in mind, you may be able to more easily narrow your list of vendors to review.

What are your customers, suppliers, competitors, friends and neighbors using? It’s unlikely that your business is operating in a complete bubble isolated from any other enterprise carbon accounting software users. Assuming that you are on good terms with at least some of these folks, it probably makes sense to reach out to them and see what direction they’ve chosen. For your customers and suppliers, it may make sense to select an option that aligns more easily with their own selections. With regards to your industry, you may be able to pick something that gives you a competitive advantage – at least in the near term – until the competition buys the same software. In any case, take advantage of what other smart people know and use that knowledge to your advantage.

What business processes will you need to adapt to your software? What business processes will your software need to fit? Understanding both the flexibility of you and your company in terms of implementing a new system is critical. Unless you are developing your own custom sustainability software solution that exactly fits your business process, you will most likely need to be able to change your process or customize the software somewhat. Understanding the ease and cost of going in either direction is important to your final decision. At the end of the day the cost of purchasing this system must be outweighed by some combination of cost savings and other benefits if you are to pull out the corporate credit card and make a purchase.

Looking for more guidance?  To help you find the right solution, we’ve combed through a myriad of different sustainability software options and took a look at best practices in software selection. Our white paper “Choosing Sustainability Management Software for Your Business” provides a process for determining what type of sustainability software provider can meet your needs. To help you find a program that is the perfect fit for your business, download this complimentary white paper here to get started and find out more!

Solutions for Replacing Spreadsheets in Your Sustainability Reporting Practices

The SSC Team April 26, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

The old saying goes “If it is important, you must manage it; if you want to manage it, you must measure it,” but too many companies today use spreadsheets to track their environmental impacts.

Would you use a spreadsheet to track your corporate finances?  To monitor your inventory?  To log all of your personnel data?  Using a spreadsheet may seem like the simplest way to track your sustainability reporting, but in reality using this as part of your process is risky.

Don’t get us wrong, we love Excel as much as the next person, but for sustainability tracking, a spreadsheet is cumbersome and prone to errors. Whether you make a data entry mistake while flipping back and forth between screens or you simply have incorrect data to start, once you get it wrong in a spreadsheet, it is difficult to figure out where exactly you went astray. After all of that work, why risk losing all that information, inaccurate information, or user confusion?

Fortunately, an entire industry of software providers has cropped up to combat the problem of spreadsheet-based sustainability reporting, each promising to streamline the data collection, validation, and reporting of all things sustainability-related for you. These programs come in all shapes, sizes, specifications and styles. Some of these software platforms are fabulous; some, not so much. While many of the systems are more appropriate for big companies, some of them will be just right for you. Here are some questions you might want to start asking yourself in your hunt for a provider:

Do you know what you will be measuring and reporting on with this software? Your intent may range from being able to perform life cycle analysis (LCA) for your product supply chain to fulfilling a need to report on your carbon emissions to a customer such as Walmart onward to one of various international reporting protocols. Maybe you are being audited by an NGO or other stakeholder group. Knowing the reason for making your purchase will be essential to making the right decision as every package provides some or all of these functions to varying degrees. Plus, if you have a specific use in mind, you may be able to more easily narrow your list of vendors to review.

What are your customers, suppliers, competitors, friends and neighbors using? It’s unlikely that your business is operating in a complete bubble isolated from any other enterprise carbon accounting software users. Assuming that you are on good terms with at least some of these folks, it probably makes sense to reach out to them and see what direction they’ve chosen. For your customers and suppliers, it may make sense to select an option that aligns more easily with their own selections. With regards to your industry, you may be able to pick something that gives you a competitive advantage – at least in the near term – until the competition buys the same software. In any case, take advantage of what other smart people know and use that knowledge to your advantage.

What business processes will you need to adapt to your software? What business processes will your software need to fit? Understanding both the flexibility of you and your company in terms of implementing a new system is critical. Unless you are developing your own custom sustainability software solution that exactly fits your business process, you will most likely need to be able to change your process or customize the software somewhat. Understanding the ease and cost of going in either direction is important to your final decision. At the end of the day the cost of purchasing this system must be outweighed by some combination of cost savings and other benefits if you are to pull out the corporate credit card and make a purchase.

Looking for more guidance?  To help you find the right solution, we’ve combed through a myriad of different sustainability software options and took a look at best practices in software selection. Our white paper “Choosing Sustainability Management Software for Your Business” provides a process for determining what type of sustainability software provider can meet your needs. To help you find a program that is the perfect fit for your business, download this complimentary white paper here to get started and find out more!

A Conference to Check Out: Mark Your Calendar for SXSW Eco This Fall

The SSC Team April 5, 2016 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Like TEDTalks, we love hearing from the world’s best and brightest. This year’s SXSW conference in March had some interesting forums on niche sustainability issues – like diversity in the sustainability field and greening the Super Bowl – but SXSW Eco is where the conference organizers devote an entire three-day conference on environmental and sustainability issues.  

To get your mind racing, catch up on the 2015 SXSW Eco Sessions now, read this guest blog about renewable energy, and talk yourself into booking that fall trip to Austin.

Have you attended a worthwhile conference that we should put on our radar? Let us know in the comments! 

 

 

 

 

Find Sustainability Mentors to Help Guide You

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

Everyone talks about mentoring, some with an eye roll and some with awed reverence of that one person who changed me forever. If you’re a sustainability consultant, you should be looking for mentors in places you may not have thought to look.

The obvious places we look for sustainability mentors: other consultants, professors, sustainability leaders.

But running a consultancy is more about sustainability, it’s about business skills. And, therefore, looking for mentors across the spectrum to help you build the support skills to run a business is crucial. And, even more interesting, you don’t even have to know your mentor to learn from her.

Look to people outside of sustainability and use best-practice from other fields to improve your own business as a sustainability consultant.

You’ll need much more than sustainability knowledge for your consultancy to succeed as a viable, profitable business. You’ll need to know how to sell, manage employees, manage clients, work with media, and keep up-to-date on everything from small-business taxes to major moves in sustainability reporting and policy.

It’s a big job, and you’re going to need all the help you can get!

Do you have a great “virtual mentor”? Tell us who it is in the comments.

 

 

Find Sustainability Mentors to Help Guide You

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

Everyone talks about mentoring, some with an eye roll and some with awed reverence of that one person who changed me forever. If you’re a sustainability consultant, you should be looking for mentors in places you may not have thought to look.

The obvious places we look for sustainability mentors: other consultants, professors, sustainability leaders.

But running a consultancy is more about sustainability, it’s about business skills. And, therefore, looking for mentors across the spectrum to help you build the support skills to run a business is crucial. And, even more interesting, you don’t even have to know your mentor to learn from her.

Look to people outside of sustainability and use best-practice from other fields to improve your own business as a sustainability consultant.

You’ll need much more than sustainability knowledge for your consultancy to succeed as a viable, profitable business. You’ll need to know how to sell, manage employees, manage clients, work with media, and keep up-to-date on everything from small-business taxes to major moves in sustainability reporting and policy.

It’s a big job, and you’re going to need all the help you can get!

Do you have a great “virtual mentor”? Tell us who it is in the comments.

 

 

Find Sustainability Mentors to Help Guide You

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

Everyone talks about mentoring, some with an eye roll and some with awed reverence of that one person who changed me forever. If you’re a sustainability consultant, you should be looking for mentors in places you may not have thought to look.

The obvious places we look for sustainability mentors: other consultants, professors, sustainability leaders.

But running a consultancy is more about sustainability, it’s about business skills. And, therefore, looking for mentors across the spectrum to help you build the support skills to run a business is crucial. And, even more interesting, you don’t even have to know your mentor to learn from her.

Look to people outside of sustainability and use best-practice from other fields to improve your own business as a sustainability consultant.

You’ll need much more than sustainability knowledge for your consultancy to succeed as a viable, profitable business. You’ll need to know how to sell, manage employees, manage clients, work with media, and keep up-to-date on everything from small-business taxes to major moves in sustainability reporting and policy.

It’s a big job, and you’re going to need all the help you can get!

Do you have a great “virtual mentor”? Tell us who it is in the comments.

 

 

Use a “Pitch Deck” Format for Your Sustainability Project

The SSC Team February 23, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Investors and C-suite leaders are used to seeing pitch decks. They’re used to getting high-level information that is well presented, organized, and clear, and quickly analyzing it to ask the right questions.

If you bog your ideas or proposals down in data, as we sustainability professionals do love the data, you risk losing the attention of the decision makers and not winning the work or getting the green-light on your big idea.

Instead, consider crafting a pitch deck style presentation to get your idea off the ground. Entrepreneur published a 14-point checklist for investors, and we think it’s easily molded for any project-pitching presentation. Not all 14 are relevant here, but we pulled out the best ones!

1. Cover page.

If you are an outside consultant pitching a project, include personal contact information, logo, and business name to establish your identity. And even if you’re an internal employee, put your name and title on the front page (just in case someone in the board room spaces on your name. Save everyone the embarrassment).

2. Elevator pitch.

Briefly summarize the scope of the project, the goals, and the impact on the company, specifically in terms of this project’s alignment with the company’s strategy (or lack of strategy) in sustainability. Keep this part short.

3. Describe the problem.

Outline why you’re proposing this particular sustainability effort for the company in the first place, using peer benchmarking, risk profiles, and/or stakeholder pressure to demonstrate how this project is a “worthy investment.” For example, if you’re going for a life-cycle assessment for a small manufacturing firm or supplier to a major retailer, talk about supplier scorecards and stakeholder pressure.

4. Propose a solution.

Explain why this sustainability effort is the best next (or first) step toward a marked solution to the problem. Be realistic and don’t over-promise.

5. Competition.

Bring up other case studies from companies similar to the one you’re pitching and demonstrate how a project of this type has been successful to others.

12. Critical risks and challenges.

In a traditional pitch deck, you would want to “address every obstacle and stumbling block you can foresee,” but in this case use this area to demonstrate that the scope of work might grow or change based on discoveries along the way.

6. Market opportunity.

If you’re a consultant, be sure to point out what makes you different from the competition, whether it’s your extensive industry knowledge, your data collection gurus, or your long performance record.

11. Press mentions and accolades (and case studies or references).

Keep this short, but provide references or a case study that demonstrates your expertise.

9. Team (and budget).

Outline how many of the company’s employees will need to set aside time to support this project (or just the budget if you’re pitching as a consultant).

A solid presentation that is well organized and clear will get your point across quickly and give you more time to answer specific questions if the need arises.

We like to provide clear proposals to our clients to clarify and demystify the processes, benefits, application, and cost of services like life-cycle assessments and sustainability reporting. Although every company is unique, we have more than 10 years of experience delivering valuable results for a modest investment. 

Sustainability Strategy Isn’t a Checklist

The SSC Team February 9, 2016 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

There are a lot of business books out there that provide templates for business plans and checklists. And having a plan and a checklist is important for any project or start-up, but developing a business strategy or incorporating sustainability into a business strategy isn’t a series of items to check off of a “to-do list.”

Even if you went through and commissioned and then checked off an annual sustainability report, a carbon footprint, a life-cycle analysis, et cetera, there is no guarantee that your organization would even be close to executing a true sustainability strategy.

Sustainability strategy should be based on an organizational understanding of why you need to invest in assessing and reducing your environmental impact. Without understanding why, you risk wasting time and money on projects that don’t align with the overall business strategy and stakeholder needs.

After determining why sustainability is important to the organization, you should focus on materiality, or what are the most important or impactful steps the organization can make inside of a realistic timeframe or budget or deadline.

Finally, look to experts to develop a proven path forward that speaks to both the materiality and the underlying corporate strategy on this issue.

For example, if your company is a small manufacturing firm held accountable to demanding suppliers or upcoming environmental regulations, but you have no clear idea on your environmental impact, then your why may be “we need to know what we are facing so we can answer questions of our stakeholders with honesty and confidence.”

Next, is materiality – are suppliers or regulators more important? Can they be addressed through the same sustainability tool or report?

If you determine through a materiality assessment that your suppliers are the most important stakeholder group to address first, next, consider what information they are demanding, in what format, and by when. In the example case of manufacturing, this may be be collecting LCA data for a supplier scorecard or more pulling together even more thorough data for a third-party environmental or human product declaration (EPD/HPD) report.

Essentially, sustainability strategy should be tailored as carefully as marketing strategy or pricing strategy.

Company leadership should clearly understand why the sustainability efforts are integral to the success of the company, how important they are to the stakeholders who drive that success to help prioritize efforts, and which strategic path forward to take to meet stakeholder needs best.

SSC not only delivers excellent sustainability consulting services, we are focused on ensuring our clients choose the service, and level of service, that will meet their real business goals.

 

SSC Releases Latest Case Study on Health Product Declarations for a Global Commercial Interiors Manufacturer

The SSC Team February 2, 2016 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

SSC is working with Stonhard/Liquid Elements, a global leader in the manufacturing and installation of commercial interior floor, wall and lining systems, to gather data to complete the company's Health Products Declaration (HPD). 

The reporting requirements for manufacturers in the building industry continue to demand more detailed information, as architects, engineers, and builders continue to design structures to meet the high standards of green design and gain LEED, USGBC, and other certifications. 

But many manufacturers do not have the in-house expertise to gather data used in HPD and/or EPD reports, use the industry tools required to submit and report data, and also ensure their proprietary information is protected.

Read our latest case study to see how the SSC team was able to help the client with its HPD and help them navigate the path toward accurate, secure and transparent product reporting. 

Contact us to talk about taking the first step toward navigating your industry-specific reporting requirements.