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Six Ways to Improve Communication About Corporate Sustainability Efforts

The SSC Team February 19, 2019 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Looking for ways to improve the relationship between your nonprofit organization, or NGO, and businesses in order to grow your corporate sustainability efforts? We found these six insights from GreenBiz pretty inspirational.

 1. Don’t just talk, listen!
While you likely have an agenda in mind when you arrive at a meeting, it’s super helpful to keep it to yourself initially and LISTEN to your corporate counterpart to see what they want and need. Then you can carefully tailor your suggestions to help them meet the goals they are most interested in. They are likely going to be more willing to commit if they feel heard.

2. Don’t judge the corporation
It isn’t hard for someone to see if an NGO is judging the company through condescending statements within minutes of a call or meeting. And this is going to start everything off on a bad foot. Instead, if you come to the table assuming that this company wants to make changes, everyone will be in a better place. With an optimistic attitude you are far more likely to make a solid connection that will help the process move forward.

3. Really be an expert
If you want companies to take you seriously, you need to really make your expertise known. This means that you not only have a working knowledge of the science behind the changes you suggest but have real life experience helping businesses make these changes. Get in there, be hands on when you can so that you understand how everything works on the ground.

4. Be willing to work with companies no matter their size
While CEO buy in right away is really amazing, it isn’t always the way things work. To make this process happen, you must be open to working with big, medium and small companies that need to work toward a more sustainable end game. No matter what the size of the business is, you need to approach your project with the three Ps Bob Langert, former VP of Sustainability, McDonald's, touts: passion, patience and persistence. Sustainability efforts impact cannot be felt or seen overnight, so you need to be committed for the long haul.

5. Demonstrate Your Independence and Knowledge
Companies that are looking for sustainability assistance need it to come from an NGO with excellent credibility. So don’t hide your success, make sure businesses know about them!

Langert believes that when companies are hiring a team to improve their sustainable efforts, they should, “Evaluate partnership choices on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning very corporate friendly and 10 meaning very radical.” He notes that the most successful partnerships are likely to come when working with NGOs in the 5 to 7 range as they are often fiercely independent; willing to collaborate and are knowledgeable about business and market forces; and tend to be more practical.

6. Apply smart pressure
While being positive and professional typically sets you up for the best chance to succeed, there are times when exerting some pressure can also be a good tool, particularly when you have a very smart solution in mind.

So chose your battles wisely after your client has had a chance to see your work in action. The company will have seen your positive track record and will be much more inclined to buy in, even if it is going to take more effort on their behalf.

Three Goals to Get Your Sustainability Program Off and Running

The SSC Team February 14, 2019 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.

Your company recently formed a green team, but it doesn't seem to be accomplishing much. Or maybe you've just been designated as your organization's green champion, but can't seem to get anything done. Sound familiar? 

You may be suffering from "start-up" syndrome. Back in June, Inc. Magazine published an article by Peter Cohan called 3 Simple Goals You Must Set to Succeed, which discussed the importance of setting goals for start-up enterprises. We found it intriguing that his suggestions so closely mirror the questions we ask newly formed green teams during consulting engagements.

1. Mission: What is the enduring purpose of the venture?

To answer this, ask yourself what problem matters most to your venture and why you are willing to go years with little pay or sleep to solve it. A start-up’s mission must be deeply meaningful to the founder and be compelling to people that the founder wants to hire. After all, without capital, a hungry start-up’s only currency is denominated in terms that are hard to quantify: the difference between a humdrum existence and work that has deep meaning.

Before you jump into developing new programs and initiatives, get clear on your sustainability goal. Is it to "green your office" or to "green your organization?" That answer will tell you whether you should be focused on replacing styrofoam in the kitchen or developing a comprehensive green supply chain program. It will also tell you who needs to be on the team -- whether is a cadre of mid-level employees, or top executives with budget-wielding power. Setting the enduring vision of your sustainability program will help determine the scope of your ambitions.

2. Long-term goal: What will this company look like in five years?

A long-term goal for your start-up must satisfy the aspirations of the founder, the investors, and the employees. And that forces the entrepreneur to trade-off a desire to maintain control with drawing in capital so investors can get a sizeable return.

Start with the end in mind -- what do you want your organization's sustainability program to look like in 20 years? (While in start-up land, 5 years might be an eternity, we would argue that it's not really "long term.") Where do you want sustainability responsibilities to reside? Who should be managing sustainability? What do you want to have accomplished? Where do you want to stand relative to your peer group? Understanding the long-term goal will help you make smart decisions now about where to focus your efforts.

3. Short-term goal: What frugal experiments must we make to reach our long-term goal?

If the mission and the long-term goal are the 1% of the inspiration needed to build a successful venture, the short-term goals are the 99% perspiration. Create a series of real options. I mean that you should make small, inexpensive bets -- a win means that the venture can go on to the next short-term goal; a loss means a chance to learn what went wrong and do it better the next time.

Sustainability guru Bob Willard says that pilot projects are the surest way to convince management to move forward to bigger sustainability commitments. They are small, they are relatively cheap, they are exciting, and they create a sense of innovation. You may not get a huge budget or a lot of responsibility -- but as the green champion, you may get the leeway to tackle a couple of "frugal experiments." Use these opportunities to show what you can do, and you'll get a bigger bite at the apple next time around.

The Complexities of Connecting Executive Bonuses to Sustainable Efforts

The SSC Team February 7, 2019 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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https://hbr.org/2018/11/how-to-tie-executive-compensation-to-sustainability

 When it comes to doing the right thing, wouldn’t it be great if everyone jumped all in just because? Unfortunately, we’ve seen that that is certainly not the way green efforts have worked in the past.

 

While a number of large corporations are making good efforts toward greener practices, the way these efforts should be rewarded when it comes to a traditional bonus or increased compensation is hard to define.

 

In an exploration of how to tie executive compensation to sustainability, Seymour Burchman noted that deciding which elements of sustainable practices for that organization have priority is key and those goals could be linked to a pay incentive.

 

Typically compensation committees would start by tying bonuses or other long-term incentives to goals that relate to compliance and risk management. This tactic might be acceptable for some investors, but it may take too much focus off of the company’s core mission.

 

So, where to begin?

 

Burchman suggests that bonuses should depend heavily on executives’ success in engaging the company in the big strategic picture that correlate with sustainability. If they can motivate their team members to go on the offense when it comes to sustainable efforts, that in turn can help pull sustainability from the edges of the business model into the center.

 

Even though it is clear that not every company can tackle major sustainable initiatives right now, the opportunities to pursue them is growing fast. In a survey by the UN and Accenture, 63% of executives said they believe sustainability will cause major changes in their business over the next five years.

 

Taking these changes into consideration requires a company’s board to engage in a different way of thinking about what will make their company increasingly sustainable while also expanding those efforts when it comes to suppliers and customers.

 

As these goals are established and then connected to executive incentives, it’s vital that directors make sure that to avoid any negative consequences that may come with an attempt to meet said goals. It’s also imperative that directors remain focused on creating a reasonable number of sustainability goals that deliver the most value. Value that can, in term, be used to energize executives and provide benefits for other stakeholders and the broader community.

Sustainability Consulting Round-Up: Best of Our Blog from December 2018

The SSC Team January 1, 2019 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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We try to post a new blog at least once a week, just to share our insights into the world of sustainability strategy and what it takes to be a sustainability consultant or professional today. Here are our most-read posts from December.

 

Thank You Paul Polman: Lessons in Leading-Edge Sustainability Leadership at the Fortune Global 500 Level

 

Sustainability Explained with Simple Natural Science

 

State of the Profession 2018

 

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A 6-Minute Guide to Better Sustainability Decisions

The SSC Team December 18, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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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!

State of the Profession 2018

The SSC Team December 11, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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This year marks the 5th Annual GreenBiz Group’s State of the Profession report, which examines the evolution of the role of the sustainability leader in today’s business world. Each year, GreenBiz conducts an in-depth survey to find out how much sustainability leaders earned, where they worked and what their job entails. A few highlights from this year’s report are a look at whether sustainability programs are sustainable, the rise of the specialists, the implementation of external talent and the gender pay parity.

 

One of our favorite takeaways from this year’s report?

 

That the most important factor impacting whether or not an organization would push their sustainability efforts to the next level was customer pressure. Not top investors or C-Suite demands, but instead the value that people have put into taking care of our planet.

 

For insight into this and so much more, check out the 2018 State of the Profession Report.

Time to Do More Than Talk

The SSC Team November 6, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Have you encountered a CEO or employee who totally believes in the value of sustainable efforts, but also thinks it’s basically someone else’s problem? Unfortunately you aren’t alone. A recent feature in the Harvard Business Review noted that while many organizations these days are happy to talk about sustainable changes, they aren’t really committed to implementing those efforts.

 

Example? While carbon emissions continue to grow, only 1/3 of the 600 largest US Companies have taken steps to put systematic sustainability oversight in place at the board level. So how can we motivate companies to take that next step and actually walk the walk when it comes to making sustainable changes?

 

After interviewing more than 100 people ranging from CEOs to shop floor workers, CB Bhattacharya found that most companies fail to help the members of their team — at all levels — take ownership over these changes. In order to successfully implement sustainable solutions everyone has to believe that this is OUR problem, not someone else’s. So Bhattacharya developed a 3-step model that will help companies move away from just talking and into action.

 

Incubate

In this first phase requires examining your company’s goals and determining how your business impacts the world. In this step, businesses often gain perspective on ways they could make sustainable changes through action, but typically need further help to move their plan into place.

 

Launch

During phase two, the sustainability plan must be presented to stakeholders which helps set the element of ownership into motion. You need to determine what will be the strongest selling point for your team to get committed — focusing on financial benefits or the positive feelings of making a difference. Most likely you will need a bit of both to encourage the feeling that these efforts are for the long-term betterment of your company and the community.

 

Helping members of the team see that their efforts have a real impact can make a huge difference to their willingness to commit to changes.


Entrench

Once people have really gotten on board with the plan and sustainable changes are in place, they will (hopefully) become routine. Making sure to measure the impact of your changes so you can report back will make it clear to everyone what a difference is being made. Being able to really see the changes — say water use reduction — can be highly motivating, instilling pride in the good work and inspiring people to want to do more.

 

 

In Leveraging Corporate Responsibility: The Stakeholder Route to Maximizing Business and Social Value, Bhattacharya and fellow authors Sankar Sen and Daniel Korschun note that the social and environmental responsibility movement doesn’t seem to show any signs of fading away.  As more and more companies commit to making real changes, there are also indirect effects of the efforts — employee retention, customer loyalty, and investor reaction and support.

 

If you can get your team to go all in with you, we know the benefits will be worth the effort.

How to Earn Respect as a Sustainability Leader

The SSC Team October 9, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.

When trying to lead a sustainability program from the inside, you may find that getting internal buy-in from your peers, managers and executives is the toughest part of the job. This is especially true when sustainability and CSR don’t get a lot of respect as a corporate priority.

Consider the situation from nay-sayers perspectives, though, and you can begin to see why sustainability (and you) aren’t favorites at work:

  • The CFO may be thinking: why was sustainability “forced” on my, and why does it always seem to be spending more money than it saves?

  • The COO may be thinking: have CSR programs really delivered anything meaningful to the company, or is it just a feel-good initiative that’s taking people away from their “real” jobs?

  • Department heads may be thinking: Do sustainability people do anything except for harp about recycling all the time?

  • The Director of Communications may be thinking: I just want to tell a good story. Why do the sustainability managers always want to bring up our weaknesses?

The industry, the corporate culture, the history of the company’s performance, the physical location, and many other factors may contribute to how your co-workers, subordinates, and leadership view the role of the sustainability leader.

In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat, a security software company, gives some solid advice about earning respect inside a corporate culture.

Sustainability leaders may want to pay special attention to Whitehurst’s advice.

  • Show passion for the purpose of your organization and constantly drive interest in it. Even though you may have a TON of ideas on how your company can quickly change and make significant environmental gains, you should frame those ideas and the positive change they can create in language that speaks to the purpose of the organization itself. If internal stakeholders see sustainability programs as strengthening the business as a whole, and not just some ancillary reporting department, they will begin to respect sustainability’s role in the organization.

  • Demonstrate confidence. You may be asking employees who are not under your direct supervision to make changes to purchasing habits, reporting protocols, and behavior. You need to ask them with respect and confidence. Conveying confidence for a program that is supported up the chain-of-command will help establish you – and the programs you are implementing – will encourage others to follow your lead.

  • Engage your people. One of the biggest complaints about sustainability may stem from the top-down approach to change. Of course, you’re gathering the data, interpreting the reports, and making recommendations – but those who have to change because of a recommendation may come to see your role as an arbitrary rule imposer. As you look at programs and policies that affect department function or employee behavior, ask for input, ideas, and thoughts about how to implement change. You may get some great ideas from unexpected places.

  • Don’t be a know-it-all. You may know a bit about sustainability, but you probably don’t know a lot about the detailed work of the different functional areas in your company. By showing passion for shared company goals and values, being confident in your own role, and engaging people in different areas of the company, you will begin to build a positive reputation. But, you may also misstep. By “owning up” as Whitehurst says, you should frankly address when something doesn’t go as planned and help the team build a work-around together.

Managing sustainability is a difficult role in many corporate systems as sustainability is not a supervisory, but more of an advisory, department. This makes it even more important to earn respect with internal stakeholders. By doing so, you will really see the full effects of sustainability programs and help integrate sustainability into the fabric of the company’s culture.

Working on a tough sustainability project where internal stakeholders are pushing back? Let us know in the comments.

Sustainability Consulting Round-Up: Best of Our Blog from September 2018

The SSC Team October 2, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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We try to post a new blog at least once a week, just to share our insights into the world of sustainability strategy and what it takes to be a sustainability consultant or professional today. Here are our most-read posts from September.

 

How Sustainability Experts Should Give Feedback

 

Social Sustainability Satisfying Human Needs

 

How to Hire a Successful Sustainability Manger

 

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8 Steps to Designing an Incident Management System That Works

The SSC Team September 18, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Incident management focuses on handling unplanned issues effectively while minimizing damage to your organization. So, whether it is IT, PR, or sustainability, being as prepared as possible for the unplanned is essential to success.

 

Everbridge offers these 8 Best Practices for IT Incident Management, a process that can be applied generally for managing all sorts of incidents.

 

1.     Manage an incident through the entire lifecycle

This one is pretty straightforward. When an incident occurs be sure to see it all the way to the end. That means when it is resolved for everyone involved. In sustainability, its tempting to address the legal ramifications of an incident, such as determining fault in a wastewater spill, and ignoring other stakeholders. Be sure your organization protects itself, but also that messages are as transparent as possible. If you make a huge error, then try owning up for a collaborative, effective resolution.

2.     Standardize for efficiency

Sure, not all incidents will be the same; but by ensuring there is a process in place the response for each incident can more efficient. Processes can include how to document the incident, who is responsible for what, and when the incident begins and ends. Checklists can help ensure there is a concrete standardization of the process.

3.     Classify and Prioritize incidents

By determining the urgency of certain categories of incidents, managers are better able to determine how to move forward with coinciding issues. This is an additional form of standardization that allows for a quick decision to be made based on the importance of each incident. This helps to resolve urgent incidences rapidly while placing low priority incidents further back in the queue. Thinking about incidents involving the supply chain – environmentally or human factors - and incidents that seem “superficial,” like an executive being caught out in a personal scandal, as different priorities, but under the same planning structure, will help keep everyone on the same page.  

4.     Automate spread of messaging

Communication is key to resolving incidents and ensuring customers are still satisfied. Categorization helps to ensure communication is done in conjunction with priority level. Low priority issues will require a little less touch while high priority incidents require immediate action and more direct stakeholder engagement.

5.     Effective communication

The importance of real-time communication cannot be overstated. Automation helps to keep all relevant stakeholders updated as to the status of each incident. Ensuring communication is in real-time keeps impacted users updated to changes and satisfy customers’ questions about incident status.

6.     Optimize access to allow users to track status

Placing ourselves in the user’s shoes helps us to understand the importance of knowing the incident status. Usually, no news is bad news for a company. When an incident arises, let stakeholders know exactly what phase of response the company is in. Even if the statements seem repetitive, stakeholders will appreciate the attentiveness.

7.     Integrate with other processes and systems

Incidents are often not isolated to one process or system. So don’t overlook the role that these variables might have on the incident. Consider ticketing systems, monitoring systems, knowledge base, and situational intelligence. In terms of sustainability, things like a product recall may be seen by the manufacturing division as an engineering issue, but the ripple effects across the supply chain need to be addressed as well. Be sure in the planning phases that all stakeholders are accounted for and all areas of operations.

8.     Continue improving

The work doesn’t stop once a system is in place. Continuously review performance and strive for process improvement. Listen to those using the system, too, for opportunities to improve. Create opportunities to hold yourselves accountable by monitoring and reporting out on how successful your incident management process is and how you intend to improve.

 

At the end of the day, incident management is about the mitigating the impact of each incident.

 

By creating a standardized process that focuses on communication and continuous improvement you will eventually find a process that works for your company.