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Sustainability Consulting Round-Up: Best of Our Blog for May 2016

The SSC Team May 31, 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!

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.

 

 

Practice Persuasion Techniques to Get Your Sustainability Effort Launched

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

Hearing “no” can be demoralizing, especially when you’ve worked hard to build a program that may not only bolster the organization, but, in the case of sustainability, can often also result in meaningful progress on reducing environmental and social impact.

So, when you get a firm negative, how can you persuade the decision makers to change their minds? Disrupt their foundation of belief.

Psychologists have determined that our “strongly held beliefs form a network of consistent concepts.”

If mind-changing were simple, one could present a single strong argument against a belief to disrupt the consistency of the network of concepts, but it’s obviously not that simple.

Individuals are able to hold inconsistent beliefs simultaneously, as well as disregard strong challenges to their beliefs simply by drawing on the network of concepts that has been built over time.

To truly change minds, one needs to attack the problem in multiple ways, simultaneously.

Develop counterarguments to their strongest positions

For example, if a decision-maker can’t see the value of investing resources in your sustainability effort, work to develop strong counterarguments to disrupt the foundation of their “no-ROI for sustainability” belief.   

Increase exposure to supporting evidence for the new belief

Your counterarguments should be consistent and frequent, such as case-studies of companies that implemented projects similar to the one you are proposing. Showcasing the positive results will continue to undermine the belief that your program “isn’t worth it” or “won’t work.”

Provide information from multiple sources

Deliver multiple bits of counter-evidence from a variety of sources that are both recognized as authoritative and respected by the decision-maker. Knowing that the decision-maker built his or her belief system through evidence, try and break down the belief further by presenting evidence from the same sources that he or she builds other belief systems from. Having evidence from a respected, trusted source helps further destabilize the belief.  

Address the emotional attachment

With strong counterarguments and solid evidence from trusted sources, the belief should be in a state of incoherence. But be cautious. It’s possible that the feeling of “being pushed in a corner” or a sense of being manipulated will cause a rebound from the boss where her or she doubles down on the original decision based on the discomfort of having a belief network shaken. Tread firmly, but don’t make it personal and don’t push too hard, too fast.

“What's key, at any rate, is to recognize that people's active resistance to efforts to change their mind doesn't mean that those efforts aren't working. Belief change is a war of attrition, not a search for the knock-down argument that gets someone to see things differently in one fell swoop,” said Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas, Austin.

Have you heard “yes,” but can’t get the team to act? Are you struggling to be assertive in your role as a manager? We’re always looking for ways to apply smart management principles to the sustainability field. Do you have a recent article that caught your eye? Let us know in the comments.

 

Practice Persuasion Techniques to Get Your Sustainability Effort Launched

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

Hearing “no” can be demoralizing, especially when you’ve worked hard to build a program that may not only bolster the organization, but, in the case of sustainability, can often also result in meaningful progress on reducing environmental and social impact.

So, when you get a firm negative, how can you persuade the decision makers to change their minds? Disrupt their foundation of belief.

Psychologists have determined that our “strongly held beliefs form a network of consistent concepts.”

If mind-changing were simple, one could present a single strong argument against a belief to disrupt the consistency of the network of concepts, but it’s obviously not that simple.

Individuals are able to hold inconsistent beliefs simultaneously, as well as disregard strong challenges to their beliefs simply by drawing on the network of concepts that has been built over time.

To truly change minds, one needs to attack the problem in multiple ways, simultaneously.

Develop counterarguments to their strongest positions

For example, if a decision-maker can’t see the value of investing resources in your sustainability effort, work to develop strong counterarguments to disrupt the foundation of their “no-ROI for sustainability” belief.   

Increase exposure to supporting evidence for the new belief

Your counterarguments should be consistent and frequent, such as case-studies of companies that implemented projects similar to the one you are proposing. Showcasing the positive results will continue to undermine the belief that your program “isn’t worth it” or “won’t work.”

Provide information from multiple sources

Deliver multiple bits of counter-evidence from a variety of sources that are both recognized as authoritative and respected by the decision-maker. Knowing that the decision-maker built his or her belief system through evidence, try and break down the belief further by presenting evidence from the same sources that he or she builds other belief systems from. Having evidence from a respected, trusted source helps further destabilize the belief.  

Address the emotional attachment

With strong counterarguments and solid evidence from trusted sources, the belief should be in a state of incoherence. But be cautious. It’s possible that the feeling of “being pushed in a corner” or a sense of being manipulated will cause a rebound from the boss where her or she doubles down on the original decision based on the discomfort of having a belief network shaken. Tread firmly, but don’t make it personal and don’t push too hard, too fast.

“What's key, at any rate, is to recognize that people's active resistance to efforts to change their mind doesn't mean that those efforts aren't working. Belief change is a war of attrition, not a search for the knock-down argument that gets someone to see things differently in one fell swoop,” said Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas, Austin.

Have you heard “yes,” but can’t get the team to act? Are you struggling to be assertive in your role as a manager? We’re always looking for ways to apply smart management principles to the sustainability field. Do you have a recent article that caught your eye? Let us know in the comments.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

The End of Sustainability Reporting As You Know It

The SSC Team May 17, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

The sustainability report is in a transformational time. Companies collecting data and publishing well-designed, static PDF files (or still printing reports on glossy paper), will soon find themselves behind the curve.

The Global Reporting Initiative’s latest report, The Next Era of Corporate Disclosure: Digital, Responsible, Interactive questions the framework of the sustainability reporting process, asking tough questions about the presentation, quality, and availability of sustainability data being published.

The GRI report is both a roadmap and a prediction for how sustainability reporting will continue to change in the coming years, pushing organizations toward even more clarity, transparency, and responsiveness.

Instead of static information produced on an annual “look-back” basis, organizations will provide detailed information in dynamic, interactive digital formats on an ongoing basis. Stakeholders will be able to analyze and interact with data in more meaningful ways, pushing companies toward more environmentally and socially responsible decisions, with immediacy.

The GRI report is an exciting step, and just the first in GRI’s Sustainability and Reporting 2025 project aimed at “unlock[ing] the full value of sustainability performance data for decision makers,” said GRI chief executive Michael Meehan.

What does this mean for your 2016 sustainability report? 

As the landscape of sustainability reporting shifts, companies can prepare now in a few meaningful ways:

  1. Commit to sustainability as part of a meaningful corporate strategy, not just as a response to pressure. 
  2. Start with a materiality assessment to consider all impacts and their relative positions.
  3. Publish digitally, with a focus on clear information and accessible data.
  4. Seek third-party verification to validate findings.
  5. Avoid “filler” information that misleads or distracts from central social and environmental reporting issues.

At SSC, we are already incorporating many of these practices into our clients’ sustainability reports: conducting materiality assessments, publishing reports digitally with downloadable data that can be manipulated, and following a standardized reporting methodology to ensure information is presented in a standardized way.

We look forward to a future where sustainability disclosure is less about data reporting and more about collective decision-making, driving whole industries and societies toward meaningful change on social and environmental metrics. 

Are you ready for a next-generation sustainability report? Reach out to discuss sustainability strategy, disclosure, and meaningful progress on reducing social and environmental impact. 

The End of Sustainability Reporting As You Know It

The SSC Team May 17, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

The sustainability report is in a transformational time. Companies collecting data and publishing well-designed, static PDF files (or still printing reports on glossy paper), will soon find themselves behind the curve.

The Global Reporting Initiative’s latest report, The Next Era of Corporate Disclosure: Digital, Responsible, Interactive questions the framework of the sustainability reporting process, asking tough questions about the presentation, quality, and availability of sustainability data being published.

The GRI report is both a roadmap and a prediction for how sustainability reporting will continue to change in the coming years, pushing organizations toward even more clarity, transparency, and responsiveness.

Instead of static information produced on an annual “look-back” basis, organizations will provide detailed information in dynamic, interactive digital formats on an ongoing basis. Stakeholders will be able to analyze and interact with data in more meaningful ways, pushing companies toward more environmentally and socially responsible decisions, with immediacy.

The GRI report is an exciting step, and just the first in GRI’s Sustainability and Reporting 2025 project aimed at “unlock[ing] the full value of sustainability performance data for decision makers,” said GRI chief executive Michael Meehan.

What does this mean for your 2016 sustainability report? 

As the landscape of sustainability reporting shifts, companies can prepare now in a few meaningful ways:

  1. Commit to sustainability as part of a meaningful corporate strategy, not just as a response to pressure. 
  2. Start with a materiality assessment to consider all impacts and their relative positions.
  3. Publish digitally, with a focus on clear information and accessible data.
  4. Seek third-party verification to validate findings.
  5. Avoid “filler” information that misleads or distracts from central social and environmental reporting issues.

At SSC, we are already incorporating many of these practices into our clients’ sustainability reports: conducting materiality assessments, publishing reports digitally with downloadable data that can be manipulated, and following a standardized reporting methodology to ensure information is presented in a standardized way.

We look forward to a future where sustainability disclosure is less about data reporting and more about collective decision-making, driving whole industries and societies toward meaningful change on social and environmental metrics. 

Are you ready for a next-generation sustainability report? Reach out to discuss sustainability strategy, disclosure, and meaningful progress on reducing social and environmental impact. 

Use a “Pitch Deck” Format for Your Sustainability Project

The SSC Team February 23, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Investors and C-suite leaders are used to seeing pitch decks. They’re used to getting high-level information that is well presented, organized, and clear, and quickly analyzing it to ask the right questions.

If you bog your ideas or proposals down in data, as we sustainability professionals do love the data, you risk losing the attention of the decision makers and not winning the work or getting the green-light on your big idea.

Instead, consider crafting a pitch deck style presentation to get your idea off the ground. Entrepreneur published a 14-point checklist for investors, and we think it’s easily molded for any project-pitching presentation. Not all 14 are relevant here, but we pulled out the best ones!

1. Cover page.

If you are an outside consultant pitching a project, include personal contact information, logo, and business name to establish your identity. And even if you’re an internal employee, put your name and title on the front page (just in case someone in the board room spaces on your name. Save everyone the embarrassment).

2. Elevator pitch.

Briefly summarize the scope of the project, the goals, and the impact on the company, specifically in terms of this project’s alignment with the company’s strategy (or lack of strategy) in sustainability. Keep this part short.

3. Describe the problem.

Outline why you’re proposing this particular sustainability effort for the company in the first place, using peer benchmarking, risk profiles, and/or stakeholder pressure to demonstrate how this project is a “worthy investment.” For example, if you’re going for a life-cycle assessment for a small manufacturing firm or supplier to a major retailer, talk about supplier scorecards and stakeholder pressure.

4. Propose a solution.

Explain why this sustainability effort is the best next (or first) step toward a marked solution to the problem. Be realistic and don’t over-promise.

5. Competition.

Bring up other case studies from companies similar to the one you’re pitching and demonstrate how a project of this type has been successful to others.

12. Critical risks and challenges.

In a traditional pitch deck, you would want to “address every obstacle and stumbling block you can foresee,” but in this case use this area to demonstrate that the scope of work might grow or change based on discoveries along the way.

6. Market opportunity.

If you’re a consultant, be sure to point out what makes you different from the competition, whether it’s your extensive industry knowledge, your data collection gurus, or your long performance record.

11. Press mentions and accolades (and case studies or references).

Keep this short, but provide references or a case study that demonstrates your expertise.

9. Team (and budget).

Outline how many of the company’s employees will need to set aside time to support this project (or just the budget if you’re pitching as a consultant).

A solid presentation that is well organized and clear will get your point across quickly and give you more time to answer specific questions if the need arises.

We like to provide clear proposals to our clients to clarify and demystify the processes, benefits, application, and cost of services like life-cycle assessments and sustainability reporting. Although every company is unique, we have more than 10 years of experience delivering valuable results for a modest investment. 

Three Ways to Engage Middle Managers in Sustainability

The SSC Team February 18, 2016 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.

Without the support of middle management there's little hope of implementing a successful corporate sustainability strategy. So what can you do to get them engaged?

A lack of knowledge around sustainability initiatives and goals amongst your staff can usually be traced back to middle management.

Your executive team recently developed a beautiful sustainability strategy. It’s ambitious, relevant, timely, and aligned with the company's overarching business goals. It is responsive to stakeholder concerns, and is built on a strong business case that will deliver financial and social returns in the short- and long-term. You are feeling great about the work that's been done, and you eagerly anticipate seeing the sustainability plan put into action.

But there's a problem. When you walk around and talk to employees - in the warehouse, behind the front desk, in the assembly line, and near the water cooler - they don't seem to be aware of the amazing sustainability work that's been accomplished to date. They can't identify the company's top-line sustainability goals, or explain how sustainability fits into their everyday job responsibilities.

What's gone wrong? The problem can usually be traced back to middle management. Without a swath of mid-level managers ready to take the lead on sustainability goals and empower their employees to do the same, there is little hope of implementing a successful corporate sustainability strategy.

There's lots of research that shows the critical importance of an engaged middle management. In fact, one study indicated that that approximately 43% of an organization's success resides with mid-managers whose positions are generally two to three levels below the CEO. Think about that: 43% of your company's sustainability success rests with your middle management.

Mid-level managers are responsible for translating corporate mandates (like business goals, financial objectives, and sustainability strategies) into clear and practical directives that can be applied throughout the organization. They are also responsible for coaching and developing employee talent, as well as resolving conflict - both between employees and among competing business initiatives.

When managers can't (or won't) take sustainability seriously, or are unable to effectively translate sustainability into something that is useful and compelling to their staff, momentum is lost and corporate sustainability initiatives flounder.

So how can companies best support their middle managers throughout the sustainability journey? Read about it here.

Are You Giving Your Employees Too Many Green Choices?

The SSC Team February 4, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

You might think that it's helpful to provide employees with dozens of tips to help them green their home and work. But some new research about decision-making suggests that offering fewer choices may be the better option. 

In a recent Fast Company article, Your Choice Of Paper Towels Shouldn't Cause An Existential Crisis, author Patrick Kayser recounts his personal story of having too many choices of paper towels at the supermarket. His research has uncovered some interesting findings about how people make decisions:

Barry Schwartz, in his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why Less Is More, maintains that too much choice can lead to the paralysis of decision making. He cites a study where the more options employees had in choosing their 401k plan, the less likely they were to actually make a choice--often leaving up to $5,000 of free company matching on the table. 

Now apply that thinking to your sustainability program--and specifically to initiatives in which you encourage employee engagement. Is it possible that people are feeling overwhelmed by the options and instead choose to do nothing? What would happen if you narrowed down the sustainability-related programs to the top three company priorities, and asked people to join one? 

Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing, conducted a study featuring free samples of jam in a supermarket. Every few hours, she would switch her offering of jam from 6 samples to 24. 60% of all visitors were drawn to the larger assortment of jams, but they were significantly less likely to actually purchase jam. Iyengar’s study found that only 3% of people who visited the larger assortment of jams bought a bottle--whereas 30% of visitors to the smaller assortment ended up making a purchase. 

We've actually written about this study before, and what it means for green programs at work. Essentially, the more specific you can be in focusing your sustainability priorities, the more likely it is that you'll get employee participation. And by focusing on fewer programs, you'll have more time and resources to take those programs to the next level.

Schwartz goes on to paint an even bleaker picture for marketers. He holds that the abundance of choice causes us to dislike whatever it is we do end up choosing because of the opportunity cost associated with the other options. So, if we can break through the paralysis that too much choice presents us and actually buy something, there is a good chance we won’t like whatever it is we bought because we’ll be dreaming about how great the other options could have been? 

Ack! You don't want employees feeling disappointed with their green decisions, or wondering if they should have chosen something better. (Notice we are carefully avoiding any reference to the grass being "greener" on the other side). Instead, reduce your employee-led sustainability programs and make sure that you do a terrific job at capturing each one's winning stories, awesome metrics, and audacious goals. You'll make it easier to demonstrate the value of each program, and keep employees motivated to do more. 

Did you like this article? Follow SSC President Jennifer Woofter on Twitter (@jenniferwoofter), where she tweets about employee engagement strategies that work for sustainability-minded companies. Want a more meaty bite on the topic? Download our white paper on Engaging Employees in the Company's Sustainability.