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TED Talks Sustainability: Harish Manwani, COO – Unilever: Profit is not always the point

The SSC Team December 8, 2015 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: Harish Manwani joined global consumer products corporation Unilever as a management trainee in 1976; he is now the company's chief operating officer.

About the Talk: Capitalism has delivered some amazing things to society, but also some devastating ones as well. Although we may think that capitalism, and corporations, are all about the bottom dollar, Manwani argues that corporations can, and must, include the “fourth G” in measuring success: growth that is sustainable

Will the UK Modern Slavery Act do any good?

The SSC Team November 5, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Late last week, the UK Parliament passed the Modern Slavery Act, a bill designed to require UK companies to report any steps they are taking to address and prevent human trafficking and modern slavery in their supply chains.

According to the Global Slavery Index, modern slavery is estimated to include more than 36 million people who work in conditions completely controlled by others. Most of these people are found deep in the supply chains of global corporations.

To comply with the Modern Slavery Act, it doesn’t mean a company will have to actually address human trafficking and modern slavery. A company simply has to report whether it has taken any steps to do so.

Therefore, if a corporation files a report indicating that it has taken no steps, it will still be in compliance with the law.

So, does this do us any good?

Overall, yes.

This act pushes corporations one step closer to connecting the process of reporting to the concrete steps of taking action.

We've seen this cause/effect hundreds of times as external pressure – supplier scorecards, stakeholder pressure, or legislation – pushes companies to report. The first report can be humbling, but the process of reporting opens up action steps, focus areas, and progress.

As companies file their first reports, some saying “no action taken.” We believe that their stakeholders will ask “why?” It is then that they will realize it is time to do an initial Social Audit, Supply Chain Analysis and/or Life Cycle Analysis.

A recent article in Huffington Post written by two CEOs speak to the effect of data:

"The vulnerability in our supply chains was in labour hire, specifically the recruitment of migrant workers from disadvantaged backgrounds. Social audits revealed that recruiters were stealing wages from workers through excessive recruitment fees and high interest loans, creating a situation of debt bondage. Upon learning of these terrible conditions, we took immediate action so that workers were paid back the fees they were owed, allowing them to earn a proper wage.”

The companies and the CEOs in question were performing social audits prior to the UK Modern Slavery Act, and were able to take action.

We believe that more companies will engage with auditors, and decisive action will be taken because of this new law.

So, yes, the Modern Slavery Act is going to do some good.  

Would stronger legislation and adoption in other countries, like the U.S., do even more good? Likely.

However, corporations can and should begin on this important work now. There is no need to wait for legislation to become a more socially and environmentally responsible organization.

Learn more about supply chain assessments and audits and how they can help your company create a system to uncover risks lurking in the supply chain. How have supply chain audits helped your organization uncover risk? Let us know in the comments!

 

5 Ways to Benchmark Your Sustainability Performance

The SSC Team September 24, 2015 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
A dispatch from SSC President Jennifer Woofter As we work with clients to advance their sustainability journey, we're always looking for ways to slice and dice the information we gather. I thought it might be helpful to share some of the common ways we analyze an organization's performance:

Company Now vs. Company Then

How does the client's current performance compare against it's performance in the past (1 year ago, 5 years ago, etc.). This works best when we've been working with a client for a while and can judge how much progress has been made since our initial assessment.

Company vs. Industry Peers

We look at client performance against a representative peer group -- so for example, a midsize mining company would be compared against other midsize mining companies.

Company vs. Industry Leaders

We look at client performance against the sustainability leaders in the industry -- so we might compare a midsize mining client against the current mining constituents of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI).

Company vs. Value Chain Partners

We look at the client's performance against its key upstream suppliers and downstream customers. This analysis provides great insight into risk mapping and alignment -- is the client paying attention to the things its customers care about?

Company vs Sustainability Standard

Comparing a client's sustainability performance against other external standards (ISO 14001, GRI, CDP, SASB, DJSI, etc.) is another way to spot omissions and mis-alignment. It can also help to spot the areas where the standards overlap -- where the client may get the most bang for the buck in closing a gap. What other ways to benchmark are we missing? Let us know in the comments!

A Review of GHG Protocol’s Corporate Standard Training Webinar

The SSC Team July 23, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller This July, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol offered an online training session that covered the basics of the Corporate Standard, and it was the perfect introduction to corporate greenhouse gas accounting. With the Corporate Standard being widely used among businesses and organizations world wide, this three day course was great for your first introduction to GHG accounting or even those who needed a refresher course. The Corporate Standard Training allows participants to gain knowledge and skills in 7 different categories:
  1. GHG Accounting and Reporting Principles
  2. Business Goals and Inventory Design
  3. Setting Organizational Boundaries
  4. Setting Operational Boundaries
  5. Tracking Emissions over Time
  6. Identifying and Calculating GHG Emissions
  7. Reporting GHG Emissions
Wanting a full, comprehensive knowledge of the Corporate Standards, I signed up for the webinar and gave it a go:

The Good

One of the biggest benefits of this course, unlike other GHG Protocol trainings, was that it had a live instructor. Being able to have your questions answered on the go is helpful, because all too often when you have to wait for the end of a presentation, you might have forgotten what you wanted to ask or don't remember what section of the presentation to reference. Another great aspect of this webinar was the in-session exercises. After each main principle was covered, we were walked through the steps of how to complete that process on our own, and then given an exercise to do so. It was highly beneficial to have someone work through the problems with you and answer your questions on the spot.

The Bad

While the live aspect of the webinar was great overall, sometimes it could be a bit of a hassle. If the instructor ever went too quickly over a slide or you didn't catch what they said, you wouldn't be able to go back and re-listen. You did have the option of pulling up the powerpoint on your computer, but by doing so, you might have missed what the presenter was currently talking about. Another downside was the length of course. By day three I was having difficulty staying focused. I think all 10.5 hours are necessary, but I would rather see it condensed into two days rather than three.

Overall

This course offered an excellent introduction to the Corporate Standard and GHG accounting. If you are new to emissions reporting or are wanting a formal class that breaks down the details, then I would highly encourage you to sign up for the next webinar. But if you are someone that has years of experience, then there really is no need for you to take this course. Are simply mistakes holding back your sustainability? Find out how to correct those mistakes here!

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.

The Brutal Truth about Sustainability Reporting

The SSC Team March 5, 2015 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

In 2012, Jennifer Woofter wrote an article for CSRwire that we featured on our blog discussing some of the harsh truths about sustainability reporting. We thought this article was worth sharing again! Enjoy:

Last month, Strategic Sustainability Consulting (SSC) released its sixth annual Sustainability Report. That means we have published one report for every year that we've been in business. And once again, as cofounder and President, I was the author.

Committing to write an annual sustainability report is a little bit like spring-cleaning. You try to keep up with it throughout the year, but it's the once-a-year deep clean that really scours all the corners.

Much like spring-cleaning, few organizations eagerly anticipate the sustainability reporting process, and for good reason.

It's a bit of a nightmare.

Analyzing the data -- even with a great data management tool -- is a headache. Waiting for the stragglers to get their information back always takes longer than planned. I'm never happy with the first or second (or sometimes third) versions of the opening Letter from the President. Yet, I do it, and proudly stand by my company's commitment to devote the time and resources to an annual accounting of our sustainability performance. 

If your organization is dreading the approach of your sustainability-reporting season -- or wondering if committing to your first sustainability report is even worth it -- let me offer you a view from the trenches.

Sustainability Reporting: The Good News

Producing an annual sustainability report sends a powerful message to stakeholders about your commitment to environmental and social responsibility. Many companies talk about "going green," but the fact is that only a fraction of those organizations take the time to evaluate their performance and communicate it publicly. Those few, diligent companies get an instant credibility boost that only comes with putting your money where your mouth is.

Moreover, when done correctly, the annual sustainability reporting process can be an incredible strategic tool that helps you assess where the organization is today, determine tangible goals for the future, and chart a roadmap to get there. The steps necessary to producing a robust sustainability report are remarkably similar to developing a sustainability strategy -- so why not combine them and get more bang for your buck?

The Bad

Sustainability reporting is a time consuming process. From my experience in both writing our sustainability reports and helping clients produce their own, the entire process can take anywhere from six weeks to six months. Nothing about a Sustainability Report is simple or quick, from the data gathering to the CEO's Letter.

So make sure to schedule enough time -- and then double that to give you a cushion. I promise that you'll need it.

Equally important: don't listen to those software providers that promise to reduce time spent preparing a sustainability report by 90 percent. Software can make it easier to collect and aggregate data, but it doesn't -- and cannot -- effectively address the areas that take the bulk of the work and time spent: describing programs, identifying challenges, setting goals, wrestling with delicate issues, the seemingly interminable editing and review process, graphic design and publication.

And The Ugly: GRI's 90+ Sustainability Performance Indicators

Even if you collect and report on each of the 90+ sustainability performance indicators listed in the Global Reporting Initiative's (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, even if you carefully tally and index every measurement under the sun, it's not going to be enough. What really makes a sustainability report meaningful is its context. 

What do I mean? Let's start with GRI's statement on context:

Information on performance should be placed in context. The underlying question of sustainability reporting is how an organization contributes, or aims to contribute in the future, to the improvement or deterioration of economic, environmental, and social conditions, developments, and trends at the local, regional, or global level.

Reporting only on trends in individual performance (or the efficiency of the organization) will fail to respond to this underlying question. Reports should therefore seek to present performance in relation to broader concepts of sustainability.

In essence, you can't just report on what your organization did. You must also report on what those actions mean in your local community, in your industry, and in the world at large. No longer is it enough to judge the success of environmental and social initiatives using indicators like these:

  • Hours spent training employees (safety)
  • Gallons of water used (resource use)
  • Thousands of dollars donated (philanthropy)

The indicators listed above don't really tell anyone about the effectiveness of a program or its relative impact (positive or negative). Here's another example:

If I told you that a company emitted 3,415 tons of carbon last year, would you be pleased or distraught? The truth is you wouldn't be prepared to venture a reaction unless you had more information. You're missing context. 

Adding The Context to Sustainability Reporting

Figuring out the sustainability context for your organization is one of the toughest challenges for sustainability reporters. I know, because in 2011 my company made it a specific priority. I wrote in the opening pages of the report:

"This year, we’re pushing the boundaries of our sustainability reporting, and sharing how our activities have rippled out into the world. For each of the major reporting sections, we’ll report on the outcomes of our activities.

Not just how many clients we served — but what our consulting helped those clients to achieve. Not just how many webinars we conducted, but who received that training. Not just how many miles we traveled, but what those miles helped us to do."

The Opportunity

I won't lie -- I'm not completely happy with our approach to contextualizing sustainability. I think there are many more opportunities to push deeper and really explore what it means to be a sustainability consulting company -- balancing our own impacts against the services we deliver to clients. Trying to quantify that has turned out to be much harder than I anticipated.

But we've made a start and we'll continue to improve in the coming years. That's the huge opportunity presented by annual sustainability reporting. There's always the chance to expand, to redefine, to recalculate, to re-examine, or to shift your focus as you learn along the way.

Yes, I both dread and anticipate the annual sustainability reporting cycle. The best part, however? Just like that dreaded spring-cleaning, it's that moment when you step back and survey the finished product.

Two of our clients recently published their annual sustainability reports and featured them in our blog. Check out the article here!

A Tale of Two Sustainability Reports

The SSC Team February 5, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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By: Alexandra Kueller

Imagine our excitement when we discovered that not one, but two of our clients in the food industry were releasing their sustainability reports on the same day. This got us thinking, How can comparing these two reports help our community? We discovered that the patterns and differences can be translated across industries to help you understand what makes a good sustainability report whether it is your first time or third.

Chicken of the Sea is the nation's leading producer of packaged seafood, producing tuna, salmon, shrimp and more, and they are published their third report. PureCircle is a producer of stevia and natural sweeteners for the global food and beverage market, and they just published their first report.

Below we explore the highlights of the two reports:

Chicken of the Sea

In their third year of reporting, Chicken of the Sea continued to make progress towards their 2020 sustainability goals (2012 baseline). Chicken of the Sea has five main focus areas for their 2020 goals:

  • Energy – reduce electricity and natural gas use by 20% each
  • Waste – reduce landfill waste by 30%
  • Water – reduce water use by 15%
  • Health & Safety – maintain/reduce safety incidents
  • Supply Chain – audit 90% of seafood procurement spend

In 2013, Chicken of the Sea saw major strides towards a lot of their goals, but there were three focus areas that really stood out: waste, water, and health & safety.

Chicken of the Sea made a concerted effort in 2013 to reduce waste that went into the landfill, and it paid off nicely: Chicken of the Sea saw a 27.8% reduction in waste. Not only did the waste focus area see a huge reduction, but so did the water focus area as well. With the goal of 15% reduction, Chicken of the Sea reduced water use by 12.8% by installing new water-saving technology. Finally, Chicken of the Sea saw a 40% lower incident rate than the previous year, staying on par with their goal.

PureCircle

Even though this is PureCircle’s first sustainability report, sustainability has been engrained in their business practices since the beginning. This past year, though, they wanted to increase their transparency. Their first report did an excellent job at outlining their environmental and social commitments, and how those commitments align with their 2020 Sustainability Intensity Goals.

On the environmental side, PureCircle has four main 2020 goals (against 2011 baseline):

  • Reduce carbon intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce energy intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce water intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Eliminate waste across farming and processing operations with zero waste to landfill

So far, PureCircle is on course to meet all of their goals, with one goal (energy intensity) already exceeding the original goal by reducing intensity by 42%.

On the social side of PureCircle’s sustainability goals, the company hopes to:

  • Support 100,000 small-scale farmers with sustainable agriculture policies
  • Ensure 100% traceability from gate to individual farm

PureCircle is working and engaging with small-scale farmers on issues such as food security, biodiversity, waste reduction, and fertilizer application to help improve not only the stevia plants, but to enrich the lives of the farmers as well.

Curious about how a SSC sustainability report might look like? Check out our previous reports here!