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Interview Skills: Landing Your Dream Job in Sustainability

The SSC Team February 7, 2017 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Many people confuse sustainability consulting with green marketing – beautifully branded, sleek consumer products designed with unbleached, post-consumer recycled paper products and lots of leafy logos – or with strategic sustainability communications – guiding employees or green teams toward more sustainable behavioral changes through values training and green workplace programs and policies.  

Sustainability consulting includes both of those elements at times, but most of the heavy lifting in sustainability consulting entails using complicated datasets to analyze and quantify activities, policies, programs, and processes that contribute to the environmental and social impacts of a product or organization.

Essentially, a lot of math. A lot of data. And a lot of analysis. And then a lot of strategic communications.

If you’re still with us, and you still think you’re stoked about a career in sustainability, how are you going to land the dream job?

  1. Get experience in sustainability through internships or fellowships
  2. Ensure you understand the work through finding and working with a mentor in the field
  3. Provide work samples
  4. Knock the interview out of the park

The interview is critical

Taking your interview skills to the next level means demonstrating your ability to learn while doing.

By using the 1956 research of Benjamin Bloom to highlight your higher cognitive thinking. This article helps explain how its done, but essentially – whether looking for a new client or a new job – going beyond storytelling and detailing your experiences based on your abilities to analyze, synthesize, evaluation and adjust course is going to put you ahead of the pack. 

Sustainability Progress Check: Manufacturing Firms in the Architecture and Engineering Industry – Sustainability Lessons from ArchitectureBoston Expo (ABX)

The SSC Team January 5, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

In November, we headed out to ArchitectureBoston Expo (ABX) to get the pulse on sustainability from the perspective of architects, engineers, builders, contractors, manufacturers, and other AEC professionals. We spoke to dozens of representatives from the more than 400 exhibitors about sustainability programs, sustainability strategy, and what they think of it all.

Our conversations resulted in two really great questions:

Additionally, we took extra time and conducted a survey specifically targeted at companies that manufacture products (as opposed to service providers and distributors) used in the AEC field to delve deeper into what types of companies are doing what types of sustainability programs and why.

We gathered survey results from 30 manufacturers ranging in size from 1-10 employees to 550+ employees to gauge their sustainability performance and pressure from stakeholders. Exactly ⅓ of the respondents are doing little to no work in sustainability - not tracking any metrics other than those required by law and, in most cases, offering LEED credits. On the flip side, ⅓ have completed full sustainability reports and many had done EPDs, HPDs, and/or LCAs or carbon footprints for their core business. The remaining ⅓ was - obviously - somewhere in the middle, having a largely uncoordinated sustainability program that has been pieced together based on stakeholder pressure - certifications, submitting energy or water or supply chain data based on customer requests.

Essentially, the industry seemed evenly split with regard to tracking sustainability information, but as predicted, the companies with the most employees and most visible global brands are doing the most work and completing more comprehensive analysis - and seeing financial returns on their sustainability efforts. The larger the company, the more resources to dedicate to sustainability, the more they benefit.

However, companies across the board reported that they were feeling pressure from stakeholders - whether architects or builders or developers - to report more thoroughly on sustainability. More than 42 percent of respondents said they have been asked for carbon footprint data, LCA, and/or HPDs/EPDs in the past year. Nearly 30 percent of respondents have been asked for specific data points - water use, supply chain certifications, energy use, and/or waste information. An additional 7 percent have been asked by shareholders or clients for a full sustainability report.

Although stakeholders are asking for information, very few draw hard lines when the information isn’t readily available, with companies noting that the frequency of being asked for the information is increasing, but they have yet to feel a negative effect for not having the information on hand.

The question is: When will the critical tipping point be reached when an LCA or EPD or HPD be required as a standard part of an RFP for a major construction project, and will the ⅔ of companies with little to no comprehensive data be ready in time to be competitive on the project?

The average GRI-compliant sustainability report, an HPD or EPD, or a comprehensive, third-party verified life-cycle assessment can take more than six months to complete, start to finish. And the investment in a sustainability project for a small to medium sized manufacturing firm can range from tens of thousands of dollars to 10-times that amount...

So what should your company do? 

We believe it’s time for companies to build a sustainability reporting strategy into the overall operating budget so all of the reporting mechanisms and comprehensive data are on-hand when that critical tipping point is reached.

The next questions are:

  • What type of reporting should your business be focused on?
  • What should you budget for sustainability?
  • How do you use the sustainability tools to your competitive advantage?

Luckily, with more than 10 years’ experience in the field, we can answer all of these questions for you in less than it cost to attend ABX in the first place.

We encourage all of our potential clients to invest in training for their employees so they understand the advantages of strategic sustainability implementation, the material issues for the industry segment you compete in, what your peers are doing, and how you can take a leadership role in sustainability through effective planning.

Instead of engaging us for a year-long life-cycle assessment project, when you really just need an EPD or to start your first annual sustainability report, take advantage of our 1-Day Sustainability Assessment and Rapid-Decision Making Workshop. For a fraction of the cost of your sustainability program, we will guide you and your team through

  • Sustainability 101
  • Give you our recommendations for the best-course for your company
  • Facilitate a rapid-decision making discussion to further narrow down a path forward that meets your company's needs, budget, resources, and goals. 

We'd love to hear from you! Check out our full service offerings and submit a contact form and we'll be happy to schedule a 15-minute phone call to help you clarify next steps on your sustainability journey.

 

 

Sustainability Resources You Might Have Missed

The SSC Team November 24, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

It seems like every day there is a new sustainability tool on the market. Some are awesome, some are interesting, and some will make you scratch your head in confusion. But don't worry, we've done the heavy lifting and highlighted three sustainability tools below that are worth your time. Enjoy!

World Resources Institute (WRI) Climate Analysis Indicators Tool, or CAIT 2.0 - "The platform offers free online access to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other climate data, enabling researchers, policymakers, media, and others to download, visualize and share data for analysis and communications on climate change."

Value Chain Mapping - "Obtaining a clear picture of the fundamental inputs and outputs of your business provides valuable information for sustainability program development, as well as CSR reporting. CR professionals are developing sustainability-specific value chain maps in order to systematically assess the company's impacts throughout product sourcing, transport, development, use and disposal."

Sustainable Apparel Coalition's Higg Index Web Portal - "The Higg Index is used by the coalition's members to measure metrics such as energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, chemicals policies, waste management and labor practices from factories around the world... Although you must be a coalition member to gain complete access to the index, any invited supplier can submit data about its facilities and business practices. This will turn the Higg Index into a valuable Web resource that will help apparel and footwear companies collect and consider environmental and social information from potential suppliers or production resources."

Want to know more about sustainability reporting?  Check out our white paper, Sustainability Reporting and SMEs:  A Closer Look at the GRI.

 

Improve Your Sustainability Presentation Skills

The SSC Team September 27, 2016 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Your sustainability strategy may be off the charts good and your pitch deck summary may connect all of the dots, but whether you’re in front of the decision-makers, on the phone, or delivering a webinar, you should take a look at these 16 ways to improve your presentation skills for maximum effect.

Of course, each presentation may require emphasis on different techniques and elements to connect with your audience, here are four standard ideas you should always embrace:

1.     Provide a takeaway – The audience of each presentation should walk away feeling that the information was designed for them. Pitching to mid-level managers about how to motivate employees will look and feel much different than selling a program to executives. If this means you need to deliver more presentations to smaller audiences, do it. The effect on behavior, and program impact, will be well worth the time.

2.     Don’t wait to answer questions – It’s become standard to say, “We will get to your questions at the end of the presentation,” but don’t do that. Practice skipping around and you’ll be able to quickly address a question and jump right back in. This will make the presentation feel more like a conversation, as well as demonstrate that you know your stuff.

3.     Always provide a solution – If you’re a consultant, you’re actually delivering a sales pitch, right? But don’t let your audience know you’re trying to sell them. Instead, frame your service offerings on how buying into what you have to say will benefit the client’s business. If you’re a sustainability manager, you’re still trying to sell your ideas, but still use that “business first” framework to demonstrate how your program aligns with larger company goals.

4.     Don’t go data heavy – Sustainability is all about data, but presentations that are too heavy on data will kill whatever persuasive elements you’ve got going on. Even if the presentation itself is about the results of the sustainability reporting or LCA reporting process (i.e. a review of data), keep the slides simple, the data relevant and understandable, and provide a written supplement to audience members. By focusing on interpreting the crucial data points, delivering solutions-based or action-based analysis, the data will come to life.

5.     Don’t run long – Really, just don’t. If you’ve scheduled an hour meeting, plan for 40 minutes of presentation time. You never know who is running late, who might have a question, or what discussion may result at the end of your time in the spotlight. Really tighten up the time.

By running short, providing a takeaway, being responsive, offering solutions, and delivering interesting content, your presentations will become one of your best assets for moving the bar forward. 

 

Four Ways to Stay Focused as a Sustainability Consultant

The SSC Team September 13, 2016 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

As independent consultants, time management is imperative to juggle multiple clients and meet deadlines. Whether you’re just starting out or 10-years in, it’s always a good idea to assess your daily work habits to ensure you’re getting the most out of your most valuable asset – your time.

1)    Eliminate distractions

As a sole proprietor or small team, it’s easy to get caught up in the detail-oriented work of managing the business (answering phones, replying to emails), marketing (social media, website updates), and learning (reading blogs and white papers). Although these activities are important, if they’re not scheduled appropriately, they are just distractions. Turn off your phone during focus time, close all of those other browser windows, and start a timer. Using an app like Harvest to track time helps you stay “on the clock” and may motivate you to stick to the task at hand. In between tasks, use that time for a 5-minute “check in” on email, text, and social – if that is your regular daily priority in between project work.

2)    Organize tasks

What’s the best way to eliminate distractions? Organize tasks, and if you have the resources, outsource some of them. Using a software platform, like Asana or Basecamp, or a CRM platform, you can quickly prioritize, budget time, and follow steps by priority, not just chronologically. And you don’t always need to hire a new employee to get extra relief from the daily distractions and grind of running a business. Get a part-time virtual assistant to return calls and emails, budget in money for your expert consultants to write blogs for your website, and look for creative ways to automate, eliminate, or streamline tasks.

3)    Practice mindfulness

This isn’t something we would have immediately thought of, but a recent article in Harvard Business Review made the case for mindfulness practice. Start the day in a calm, mindful way, and then “go to work,” following your prioritized, organized task plan and blocking out distractions. Don’t get up and check email and jump in to work that you haven’t assessed against your other competing interests.

4)    Shorten, shrink, and schedule meetings

Clients love meetings, calls, and check-ins, but you need to gently push back, training your clients to schedule a time-limited meeting with a clear objective tied to a deliverable – and only inviting the people directly involved with that step. Write out a short meeting agenda – for yourself, even if you don’t need to share it with the client – and make sure you jot down the action items that should result from the meeting. Keep it brief – 15 minute meetings are our favorite – and spend a few (scheduled) minutes each week assessing how the meeting flow went, what you can replicate for future clients, and where you can improve. Eventually, you’ll have a good handle on the type of meeting, the length of meeting, and the important persons to include for different types of projects.

Use tools to help manage you and keep you focused on and track, but also be sure to schedule in some buffer time – a lunch, a workout, an office tidying session – to help your mind process and avoid burnout.

What techniques do you use to stay focused? Let us know in the comments.

 

How Coursera is Changing Sustainability Education

The SSC Team September 8, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Updated post from the SSC Archives. 

Over the last 10 years, dozens (hundreds?) of colleges and universities have added courses related to environmental and social sustainability. While we love many of them (and have contributed to more than a couple), one of the biggest game-changers has been the launch of Coursera.

We are a social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. We envision a future where the top universities are educating not only thousands of students, but millions. Our technology enables the best professors to teach tens or hundreds of thousands of students.

Here are four great Coursera classes on sustainability topics that have caught our eye. Check them out, and go search Coursera for hundreds of other courses in business, economics, sustainability, and so much more. 

 

The Most Important Skill for Sustainability Professionals

The SSC Team July 21, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

What is the most important skill for sustainability professionals to have? In this short video, SSC President Jennifer Woofter shares her thoughts on what it takes to succeed in this profession.

Need more help with your new career in sustainability?  Register for our online course, Sustainability Consulting Masterclass or sign up for some one-on-one coaching

Best of the Blog for June 2016

The SSC Team June 30, 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! 

  1. Free Learning Resources for Aspiring Sustainability Professionals
  2. Puma, Adidas, Under Armour - Who Has the Best Sustainability Sustainability
  3. Best Practices for Virtual Teams
  4. Seven Questions to Focus Sustainability Leadership
  5. Test Your Company's Strategic Sustainability Alignment

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.

Best of the Blog for June 2016

The SSC Team June 30, 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! 

  1. Free Learning Resources for Aspiring Sustainability Professionals
  2. Puma, Adidas, Under Armour - Who Has the Best Sustainability Sustainability
  3. Best Practices for Virtual Teams
  4. Seven Questions to Focus Sustainability Leadership
  5. Test Your Company's Strategic Sustainability Alignment

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.

Don’t Insult Employees With Sustainability “Nudges”

The SSC Team May 19, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Just a few years ago, everyone seemed to have a signature block pleading for the trees – “Don’t print this e-mail for our planet” or “Think before printing this email.”

And then those tree-loving messages mostly disappeared.

Marketing and behavioral research may be indicating that “nudge” marketing, or deliberately manipulating choices to change behavior, may backfire.

Nudges can be condescending If your employees need to print a report, then they need to print the report. Using an email signature line to signal to one another that individuals aren’t capable or committed enough to make green choices without constant reminders can come off as condescending and put employees on the defensive about sustainability communications.

Even when nudges “work,” they may not achieve the ultimate goal To print or not to print, that isn’t the question. When the formerly ubiquitous email signature became popular, maybe companies did see a decrease in paper use for a time. But did the nudge truly make a difference over the long term? Was there a paper use policy in place to create lasting institutional behavioral change? Were employees motivated and engaged enough to carry the behavioral change over to their home lives or their next job? That’s sustainability. Nudge marketing is a blip in the radar.

Nudges may backfire! Imagine putting up a sign in the office restrooms over the paper towel dispenser (100% post-consumer recycled paper towels, mind you) that reads: “Remember: Paper towels were trees once.”

Although you’re trying to nudge employees into using less, thus landfilling less, you may immediately find that employees not only aren’t using less paper in the restrooms, but they’re also not participating in any other office sustainability efforts. What went wrong?

Look at the bigger picture. Employees may be infuriated that the air conditioning is still set at 60 degrees and the building lights are on all night, but “you want us to walk around with wet, clammy hands all day so you can save a few dollars on paper towels?”

Just stop nudging altogether in sustainability efforts. Don’t rely on a potentially condescending, ineffective tool to alienate employees. Instead, try educating employees, involving them in the process, and using motivational tools to create lasting change.

Have you seen workplace or marketing “nudges” that backfired? Let us know in the comments.