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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.

 

 

Incorporating 30 Elements of Consumer Value to Maximize Sustainability Returns

The SSC Team December 1, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Occasionally we run across an article that is so jam packed with information and application to the world of corporate sustainability that we don't want to summarize a single word.

Instead, we recommend you stop what you're doing right now and read every single word of the recent article, The Elements of Value, from the September issue of the Harvard Business Review.

The article's implications for how B2C companies can position their own sustainability activities to generate consumer value are invaluable ways to approach sustainability strategy in product and service design and development. 

Yes. Mind. Blown.

Now that you're really understanding how this can truly transform your business, contact us so we can help get you on the path. The hardest part is usually the first step. We're here to help.

 

Best Practices for Virtual Teams

The SSC Team June 16, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives. 

A growing number of companies allow employees to work from home some or all of the time. That's great for many reasons (less time spent in traffic, lower commuting emissions, happier workforce!), but also presents challenges. Today, we're inspired by three articles on how to create, manage, and inspire the best virtual teams. Enjoy!

Tips for Transitioning an Office-Based Company to Remote Work: This Fast Company article includes an interview with an organization that recently went virtual (4 days a week) and 10 tips for companies considering a similar move. (Our favorite is #7!)

How to Be a Family-Friendly Boss: This Harvard Business Review article is focused on ways that bosses can help staff be great employees and great parents. Not surprisingly, allowing some form of virtual work, or telecommuting, is high on the list of recommendations. Our favorite part about this piece is the discussion about how to measure job performance.

How Virtual Teams Can Create Human Connections Despite Distance: This Harvard Business Review article provides great ideas for developing and maintaining highly effective teams when members are in different offices around the world (or just working from home a couple miles away). 

Curious about the environmental benefits of commuting (and how much telecommuting can help)? Download our free white paper, Reducing Your Organization's Carbon Footprint: Addressing Commuter-Related Emissions to learn more about it!

Best Practices for Virtual Teams

The SSC Team June 16, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives. 

A growing number of companies allow employees to work from home some or all of the time. That's great for many reasons (less time spent in traffic, lower commuting emissions, happier workforce!), but also presents challenges. Today, we're inspired by three articles on how to create, manage, and inspire the best virtual teams. Enjoy!

Tips for Transitioning an Office-Based Company to Remote Work: This Fast Company article includes an interview with an organization that recently went virtual (4 days a week) and 10 tips for companies considering a similar move. (Our favorite is #7!)

How to Be a Family-Friendly Boss: This Harvard Business Review article is focused on ways that bosses can help staff be great employees and great parents. Not surprisingly, allowing some form of virtual work, or telecommuting, is high on the list of recommendations. Our favorite part about this piece is the discussion about how to measure job performance.

How Virtual Teams Can Create Human Connections Despite Distance: This Harvard Business Review article provides great ideas for developing and maintaining highly effective teams when members are in different offices around the world (or just working from home a couple miles away). 

Curious about the environmental benefits of commuting (and how much telecommuting can help)? Download our free white paper, Reducing Your Organization's Carbon Footprint: Addressing Commuter-Related Emissions to learn more about it!

Can You Attract Low-Carbon-Focused Clients and Investors?

The SSC Team June 7, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

From the Fortune 500 to retail investors, corporations and individuals are looking to fund green companies and projects. Additionally, B2B companies are increasingly setting sustainability thresholds for suppliers. 

You can make your company attractive to the low-carbon marketplace in a number of ways:

Start reporting: One of the simplest ways to start on the path of attracting the green investment community is to clearly communicate your sustainability efforts and their results. If you aren’t generating a transparent, comprehensive sustainability report, then you are communicating that you do not and have not acknowledged your impact or risk in the face of climate change. By simply reporting on sustainability metrics, you are communicating that your organization is “on it.”

Seek certifications: Look to third-party certifications, in your industry or in a wider industry role, to begin building a validated sustainability strategy that follows best practices. From B-Corp certification to Energy Star (for electronics and appliances) to LEED to ….there are dozens of certifications that signal that your company is serious about following accepted sustainability standards.

Get on “a list:” There are a number of index funds put together based on corporate qualifications and certifications, or you can be added to a green stock listing. Of course, your sustainability efforts or products must be robust to qualify.

Issue green bonds: Starbucks recently made the news for issuing $500 billion in green bonds to fund its sustainability programs. Offering green bonds to investors to fund your sustainability efforts can serve two purposes: generate capital to fund larger-scale sustainability efforts and signal that you’re serious about the investment in the program.

Are you looking to improve your supplier scorecard performance and attract more green business? We have experience with dozens of supplier scorecard metrics and reporting standards to help open doors for your company.

 

Can You Attract Low-Carbon-Focused Clients and Investors?

The SSC Team June 7, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

From the Fortune 500 to retail investors, corporations and individuals are looking to fund green companies and projects. Additionally, B2B companies are increasingly setting sustainability thresholds for suppliers. 

You can make your company attractive to the low-carbon marketplace in a number of ways:

Start reporting: One of the simplest ways to start on the path of attracting the green investment community is to clearly communicate your sustainability efforts and their results. If you aren’t generating a transparent, comprehensive sustainability report, then you are communicating that you do not and have not acknowledged your impact or risk in the face of climate change. By simply reporting on sustainability metrics, you are communicating that your organization is “on it.”

Seek certifications: Look to third-party certifications, in your industry or in a wider industry role, to begin building a validated sustainability strategy that follows best practices. From B-Corp certification to Energy Star (for electronics and appliances) to LEED to ….there are dozens of certifications that signal that your company is serious about following accepted sustainability standards.

Get on “a list:” There are a number of index funds put together based on corporate qualifications and certifications, or you can be added to a green stock listing. Of course, your sustainability efforts or products must be robust to qualify.

Issue green bonds: Starbucks recently made the news for issuing $500 billion in green bonds to fund its sustainability programs. Offering green bonds to investors to fund your sustainability efforts can serve two purposes: generate capital to fund larger-scale sustainability efforts and signal that you’re serious about the investment in the program.

Are you looking to improve your supplier scorecard performance and attract more green business? We have experience with dozens of supplier scorecard metrics and reporting standards to help open doors for your company.

 

Why “Going Green” is Worth the Effort

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

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

SSC President, Jennifer Woofter, was featured in an article about the corporate benefits of sustainability.

“As manufacturers begin to unravel the complexities of corporate social responsibility, they’re finding that it’s made up of much more than simply going green.'...Despite this, many manufacturers are taking CSR seriously because of the litany of influences they do face — not least of which is pressure from their big customer and business partners, who are increasingly viewing CSR programs as an expectation, not an option. And from a consumer standpoint, transparency and accountability has become a significant factor in improving brand loyalty, no matter the industry.”

Woofter weighed in on the sustainability discussion by offering some key components of sustainability practices and why it’s worth the effort.

"Most suppliers and customers simply want manufacturers to take some steps forward in reducing the way their businesses infringe upon the environment or the rights of others. People don’t want, or expect, perfection,” she says. “What they want is to believe that you are doing your part to solve the problem.”

Woofter believes that, although any company can benefit by the improved reputation that comes along with a CSR program, she cautions businesses to be certain they understand the FTC guidelines on green marketing.

“While the FTC rules on green marketing can seem overwhelming, the message to manufacturers is simple: don’t make vague claims that you can’t back up,” explains Woofter.

If you're just getting started in sustainability, we have the experience and resources to ensure your programs are meaningful, manageable and strategically aligned. Contact us to talk about a green audit, the first step toward sustainability strategy.

 

Why “Going Green” is Worth the Effort

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

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

SSC President, Jennifer Woofter, was featured in an article about the corporate benefits of sustainability.

“As manufacturers begin to unravel the complexities of corporate social responsibility, they’re finding that it’s made up of much more than simply going green.'...Despite this, many manufacturers are taking CSR seriously because of the litany of influences they do face — not least of which is pressure from their big customer and business partners, who are increasingly viewing CSR programs as an expectation, not an option. And from a consumer standpoint, transparency and accountability has become a significant factor in improving brand loyalty, no matter the industry.”

Woofter weighed in on the sustainability discussion by offering some key components of sustainability practices and why it’s worth the effort.

"Most suppliers and customers simply want manufacturers to take some steps forward in reducing the way their businesses infringe upon the environment or the rights of others. People don’t want, or expect, perfection,” she says. “What they want is to believe that you are doing your part to solve the problem.”

Woofter believes that, although any company can benefit by the improved reputation that comes along with a CSR program, she cautions businesses to be certain they understand the FTC guidelines on green marketing.

“While the FTC rules on green marketing can seem overwhelming, the message to manufacturers is simple: don’t make vague claims that you can’t back up,” explains Woofter.

If you're just getting started in sustainability, we have the experience and resources to ensure your programs are meaningful, manageable and strategically aligned. Contact us to talk about a green audit, the first step toward sustainability strategy.

 

A Tool Worth Trying: “The Abundance Cycle” for Developing Your Sustainable Business Model

The SSC Team May 10, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Like a broken record, we continue to push out the message that sustainability cannot be a checklist or afterthought. Sustainability must be part of an organization’s core strategy, especially as regulators, stakeholders, and investors continue to push for meaningful progress on social and environmental impacts. 

Simultaneously, the idea that sustainability must continually justify its ROI is old news. Sustainability is profitable, check out the food and beverage industry for one example.

So why not just build the entire business strategy around a sustainability tactic? Good idea.

Building Profit Through Sustainability

We came across an interesting tool that may help existing organizations and entrepreneurs think strategically about sustainability – The Abundance Cycle, building virtuous cycles where solving ecological problems and building resilient communities opens new markets and strengthens competitive advantage.

Whether your organization needs to entirely re-think what services and products it offers, or you have experience in an industry but want to build a product or service that moves the meter on ecological or social problems, the Abundance Cycle exercise may help uncover new market potential.

Although some of the tactics, like reducing waste or increasing efficiency to reduce environmental impact are being widely employed, these and others applied in a new setting or industry may reveal truly disruptive solutions that may lead to meaningful, sustainable change.

People, Profits, Planet

We hate to rain on the parade, but in the event you do find a sweet spot through your Abundance Cycle exercise, be sure to think through the full impact of your idea.

Does your idea create a temporal exchange conundrum? Do you sacrifice one important metric in sustainability to take advantage of another. Creating a product from waste is good, but not being able to provide a safe work environment isn’t sustainable. Using biomimicry to build a better mousetrap is good, but what materials does it require? Are the materials sustainably sourced, produced, shipped, and disposed of?

Give The Abundance Cycle a try, and keep your eye on the big picture during the process.

What do you think the most and least “truly sustainable” brand case studies are in The Abundance Cycle, from a big-picture perspective? Let us know in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ask a Sustainability Consultant: What is Sustainability?

The SSC Team December 1, 2015 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SCC archives. 

We have been providing sustainability consulting services to organizations worldwide for more than a decade. But, we still find that the sustainability journey is just beginning for many. Here is a post from our archives helping define sustainability. Although the videos are oldies-but-goodies, we still see the value in these straightforward explanations. 

HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUSTAINABILITY?

The answer is not always simple.  Some people think sustainability is a destination, some people think sustainability is a journey (we think it's a little bit of both).  Some people like lofty definitions, like these three: 

Meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  (Brundtland Commission)

The possibility that human and other forms of life on earth will flourish forever. (John Ehrenfeld, Professor Emeritus. MIT"

Enough - for all - forever. (African Delegate to Johannesburg (Rio+10))

We like those definitions as a rallying call to inspire people to think broadly about sustainability.  But they aren't very helpful when it comes to actually putting sustainability into action.  

For that reason, we love The Natural Step's Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development.  It is based on a scientific consensus about how our world is unsustainable, and then provides four principles that eliminate those causes of unsustainability.  This video is a quick overview:

That's the concept of sustainability that we use here at Strategic Sustainability Consulting.  But it can still be kind of vague -- difficult to put into specific operation in part because a single organization operating within society cannot, on its own, do all of the things necessary to move society toward sustainability.  That's where sustainability strategy comes in.

This video is from Tim Nash of Strategic Sustainable Investments, who is a fellow alumni of the Strategic Sustainability graduate program at Blekinge Institute of Technology in Karlskrona, Sweden (where SSC president Jennifer Woofter also graduated).  It expounds on The Natural Step Framework, and explain how strategy becomes part of the process:

So that's it.  THAT is how we define sustainability.  We believe that these four system conditions provide the foundation upon which we create a sustainable society.  And an organization operating within our current unsustainable world must create a strategy to navigate through that funnel to maximize the value it delivers while minimizing the risk of hitting the "walls of the funnel".

Agree?  Disagree?  Let us know in the comments.