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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

 

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.

What “Sustainability Consulting” Is (and Isn’t)

The SSC Team September 20, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.

In today’s marketplace, sustainability consulting is a catch-all term, used to describe multiple professions. It is important for readers to pay careful attention when an author predicts the growth of the “sustainability consulting industry” since it can be defined in so many ways.

We believe that many of the firms that claim to offer sustainability consulting services are, in fact, offering something quite different. Sometimes it is a narrower subset of services (like energy auditing); in other cases it is simply traditional services (like public relations) focused on sustainability initiatives. 

So how do we define sustainability consulting?

In general, organizations purporting to offer sustainability consulting services fall into the following broad categories.

Sustainability Strategy: these consulting firms provide planning and strategy services—usually for an entire organization or division. Sustainability strategy firms help businesses use sustainability as a lens through which to make good business decisions. Their goal is to help clients innovate, gain competitive advantage, satisfy stakeholders (especially customers), and empower employees to integrate sustainability into their day-to-day jobs. This type of firm usually has staff with extensive training in management, business administration, organizational development, and/or change management. Example: Strategic Sustainability Consulting.

Technical Support: these firms focus on one or more technical aspects of sustainability, such as green building design and construction, renewable energy and energy efficiency, waste diversion and recycling, and water and wastewater services. Rather than help the company integrate sustainability into its overall business decision-making processes, these firms tend to tackle discrete projects within a facility or division. Their staff generally has engineering or other technical degrees. Example: ERM.

Testing, Auditing and Verification: these firms provide third-party review of sustainability data—either on a corporate/facility level or a product level—and may provide assurance, auditing, or verification services. A firm in this category may exclusively cater to sustainability data (e.g. third-party assurance of a sustainability report), but will often provide non-sustainability services as well (e.g. third-party assurance of annual reports). Example: UL Environment.

Visioning and Facilitation: these firms focus on the “big picture” of sustainability, working with clients to brainstorm and create new mental models for companies, communities, and societies. These firms tend to be smaller and more radical, since the market for their services is smaller and their goal is to push the boundary of “business as usual.” The principals of these firms come from a variety of backgrounds, but often have training in facilitation techniques like Open Space, World Café, and the Art of Hosting. Example: The Natural Step.

Sustainability Marketing: these firms help clients tell their sustainability story. They range from public relations firms to graphic designers, and have varying involvement in the crafting of the story versus the delivery of the message. Staff at these firms usually has marketing, advertising, design and communications degrees. Many smaller firms in this category will focus exclusively on sustainability marketing, but larger companies will often have only one division devoted to sustainability and focus most of its effort on other communication areas. Example: J. Ottman Consulting.

Sustainability Software: one of the fastest growing areas of the sustainability marketplace is the development and sales of sustainability software—including carbon accounting, EHS management, and sustainability reporting platforms. Many of these companies offer some kind of consulting support, but it is generally related to the set-up and implementation of the sustainability software. While there is some overlap between this category and the Technical Support category, we distinguish the two because the Technical Support companies generally provide a service (e.g. an energy audit) while Sustainability Software companies generally sell a distinct product. Example: Credit360.

Check out our past blog “State of the Sustainability Consulting Industry” to learn more on the background for these findings.

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.

How to Hire a Successful Sustainability Manager

The SSC Team September 6, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Determining whether or not to implement sustainability efforts is a question of the past for many firms. But once it has been decided, the focus is on how to hire a successful sustainability manager.

 

Of course, many firms have standardized hiring policies and procedures focused on hiring the most qualified candidate; but when it comes to hiring a manager for an all-together new initiative, especially sustainability, where should you start?

 

Bob Langert, former VP of Sustainability at McDonald’s identified 8 attributes most commonly found in sustainability leaders. With 30 years of experience working in sustainability, Langert is a leading expert on the topic and has recently finished work on his book, The Battle to Do Good: Inside McDonald’s Sustainability Journey, due out in January.

 

Among these eight common characteristics Langert found in sustainability leaders are courage, contrariness, and conviction.

 

He describes that sustainability change will often be met with resistance and, in order to persevere in the face of this resistance, managers must be courageous and “accept and relish the fact that leadership in sustainability means changing something...”  

 

Additionally, conviction plays a central role in leading with courage. Because sustainability is a big-time change from the status quo, “conviction – really having a firmly held belief – is required as the contagious springboard to bring others along,” according to Langert.

 

Bold, contrarian characteristics are incredibly valuable in a sustainability, but they cannot exist without bringing people together around a common goal – sustainability.

 

Langert outlines this need clearly, saying “It’s ironic that while it takes a lot of courage, conviction, cleverness and contrariness to battle to make sustainable change, a really good leader knows how to do so and still attract others to the mission or cause.” Thus, highlighting the need for attributes like collaboration, cheerfulness, charisma, and humility.

 

While conviction can carry an initiative to a certain extent, listening to and working with those who will be impacted can increase success. Langert also includes that, when it comes to charisma, “there’s no one personality profile that dominates.” Instead, he emphasizes that good leaders use their charisma to influence others by building trust.

Finally, Langert noticed that the most successful sustainability leaders are quick to share wins and slow to take credit. In other words, their humility is a strength that is good for teams and, ultimately, sustainability.

 

Knowing these characteristics is a wonderful start, but how can businesses identify them in applicants to ensure they are hiring the right sustainability leader?

 

Inc. offers advice for hiring managers emphasizing that “It (hiring) goes far beyond conducting an insightful professional interview, although this is part of it.”

 

Take a look at what you have to offer and what you are looking for by building a performance-based job description. Once you have a clear idea of what you are looking for, you can be more prepared to ask questions that allow candidates to demonstrate what it is you are looking for in a sustainability manager.

 

During the interview process consider conducting a performance-based interview and asking questions about accomplishments. These types of questions allow you to compare the candidate’s accomplishments to the sustainability manager position.

 

Additionally, as the candidate discusses these accomplishments interviewers can dig deeper, focusing on the attributes discussed by Langert.

 

This process can be arduous and complicated. In many cases, you may not yet know what you’re looking for or how to best determine which candidates are ready to lead your sustainability initiatives and there’s nothing wrong with that.

 

Sometimes it's ok NOT to hire, but to get a consultant (like us) on board first to fully develop the job description and 5-year plan, and then hire a more junior person for implementation. There are many things to be learned when it comes to creating successful sustainability efforts. Luckily, there is plenty of help available. 

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

The SSC Team September 4, 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 August.

 

Companies Collaborating Could Mean Everyone Wins

 

Are You Getting the Real Truth from Your Employees?

 

Break Your Own Sustainability Habits and then Help Employees Change

 

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.

Break Your Own Sustainability Habits, and Then Help Employees Change

The SSC Team August 28, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Are you searching for ways to make your office more environmentally friendly? Before declaring a moratorium on plastic bags and forcing your co-workers into a carpool schedule, take some time to look in the mirror and reflect on your own habits.

 

We are, quite literally and biologically, creatures of habit and repetition, so creating a new pattern of behavior is far from easy. Our brains love saving time by making some actions automatic, even if those actions are ultimately harmful to us or our planet. If you’re trying to get your colleagues on board with a few new, positive sustainability habits around the office, start first by taking stock of your own bad habits and serving as a role model for change.

 

Global CEO coach Sabina Nawaz stresses the importance of frequently tracking and reviewing your goals and progress when trying to form a new habit. In order to track and measure your progress, your goals must be exactly that: measurable. Trying to attack too lofty or broad of a goal can be overwhelming and may ultimately lead you to slip back into negative behaviors.

 

Consider choosing 3 small tasks that you can concretely determine if you’ve completed or not. For example, bringing in your reusable bottle, unplugging your work station at the end of the day and printing less than 30 pages per day. The Nature Conservatory and Huffington Post also have some other great suggestions for small ways to decrease energy use and waste in the office.

 

Nawaz recommends using a simple chart called the “Yes List” to quickly track whether you’ve completed the new habit each day. You can make a hard copy or keep the tracker on your mobile device to make it even more convenient. If the chart is too complicated or cumbersome, you won’t use it, so make sure the chart is quick and clean like the one below.

 

Having a visual representation of your progress will keep you motivated and also help you determine which habits you may need to adjust or the ones you’ve successfully completed, so you can introduce a new habit. 

   
  
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After you’ve successfully tracked and started to shift your own habits for a few weeks, share your chart with your colleagues as motivation for them and a proof point that change is possible! 

 

Invite them to join you on your sustainability journey and share resources so they can pick the habit that make most sense for them. 

 

 

Creating Sustainable Value (for a Business)

The SSC Team August 23, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Day in and day out, you likely encounter clients who question how sustainability will create value for their business. Let this video by Alexandre Magnin help you respond to their concerns so you can better work with them to incorporate sustainability into their strategy. Magnin’s video focuses on the Sustainable Value Framework (published in 2003 in the journal of the Academy of Management Executive).

https://sustainabilityillustrated.com/en/portfolio/creating-sustainable-value-business/


Are You Getting the Real Truth from Your Employees?

The SSC Team August 21, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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We know that lying is a part of life. All of us have told the occasional white lie, even at work. But when it comes to managing a business how often are your employees lying and more importantly, why are they bending the truth?

 

First, let’s take a look at how often employees lie. Harvard Business Review says that according to research “20% of people tell 80% of the lies, and 80% of people account for the remaining 20%.” So, the good news is that most of your employees are probably not lying; at least not very often.

 

Let’s get to the bottom of why employees lie. The 20% telling most of the lies often don’t see anything wrong with their deceit. Normally, things are going well for our deceitful employees when they lie and they “…do it when they are feeling good or in control of things – because they get a kick out of it.” Our frequent liars are also more likely to admit their deceitful ways if confronted.

 

But what about the majority of employees who make up the remaining 20%? Frequently their lies stem from stress, poor work/life balance, pressure to fit in with peers, or a lack of timely opportunities to tell the truth.

 

If we are able to acknowledge that our employees are going to tell lies (as are we) the next question is how to eliminate, or at least minimize harm. As we know, not all lies are negatively affecting business. If two employees don’t care for each other but claim to ‘like one another’ and cooperate, well, what’s the problem?

 

If you suspect you aren’t getting the truth slow down and take a closer look at the situation. Are you being honest with employees? Do employees have frequent opportunities to offer the truth and do leaders value that feedback? Are transparency and feedback a regular part of the day-to-day operation?

 

Feedback is essential to creating highly effective teams and thriving companies. But how can you ensure you are getting truthful, constructive feedback from your employees?

 

The simple answer is to just ask them. From using Survey Monkey to utilizing regular check-ins to hear how things are going, there are many ways companies solicit feedback

 

Additionally, you need to determine how much feedback you want. There is quite a spectrum of feedback out there. We’ve all likely been solicited for feedback by our leadership only to have it fall on deaf ears as more of a formality. Additionally, we’ve all probably been asked to provide feedback only to be met by a staunch defense that leaves us feeling, somehow, in the wrong for doing what we were asked to do.

 

“One of the biggest tragedies of mankind is people holding their opinions in their heads… they’re not dealing with the things they need to deal with,” Ray Dalio, Founder and CIO of Bridgewater Associates, told Adam Grant on his podcast Work Life.

 

Bridgewater is one of the biggest hedge fund firms in the world. Its culture is founded on something Dalio calls “radical transparency,” where all employees, from top to bottom, put “every criticism, every opinion, out in the open.” The newest, lowest ranking employee is encouraged to provide feedback as high up as the CEO.

 

So, is radical transparency right for your company? Probably not to the extent Bridgewater takes it. But according to Grant “… if we want to get better at something, we should go and learn from the extreme.”

 

At the end of the day, employees lie for a variety of reasons. It is not our responsibility as leaders in the organization to discover the origin of each lie and punish the instigator.

 

Instead, we can take a closer look at ourselves as leaders and our organizational culture. This can help us to discover the optimal level of transparency that motivates our teams to be more truthful and productive. 

TED Talk Kamal Meattle: How to Grow Fresh Air

The SSC Team August 16, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Everyone loves a good TED Talk! Here’s one of our favorites

From 2009, Kamal Meattle’s TED Talk is focused on how three common houseplants used in specific spots within a home or office building, can result in measurably cleaner indoor air. With the EPA lifting strict limits on air emissions, this creative thinking toward have fresh air to breath is more necessary than ever. Meattle’s New Delhi office is filled with air-filtering plants and sustainable architecture, making it a model green business.