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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.

How Do Sustainability Reports Change Over Time?

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

Enjoy this post from the SSC blog archives. 

At Strategic Sustainability Consulting, we’ve been doing sustainability reporting for TEN years – one for each year that we’ve been in business. We’ve also helped a variety of clients produce their own sustainability reports. So we know the joys and pains involved – from both sides of the experience.

A few years ago, Jennifer Woofter looked back on how SSC's own sustainability report has changed over time, we thought it might be valuable to share some of those reflections based on six years of sustainability reporting. 

While each company’s experience will be different, there are some common threads that are shared among reporting organizations.

Are you interested in writing your first, sixth or tenth sustainability report? We can help.

 

Straight talk with the CEO to get better sustainability results

The SSC Team December 3, 2015 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Sustainability decisions and reports are data-heavy. And not only that, sustainability data may be unfamiliar to many, including your own CEO.

One of the worst things a sustainability executive or sustainability consultant can do is jargon-speak and data-overload when presenting to corporate leadership.

“Too many executives overestimate the CEO’s understanding of, and desire for, detailed functional data. Many of the best CEOs are generalists who lack deep expertise in most functional areas,” writes Joel Trammell for Entrepreneur.

Remember that the CEO, and in many cases other executives, are relying on you – either as an consultant or as the in-house expert – to analyze the functional data and deliver your expert opinion on that data.

Here are Trammell’s three tips for turning down the data noise and turning up the sustainability signal to get better results:

  1. Keep the big picture in mind. Deliver “concise insight” into how a sustainability program is tracking on goals and how those goals are supporting the company’s overarching goals. Drop the details, and focus on impact.
  2. Focus on the future. When talking about a new sustainability program or report, focus on how the results of the report are going to affect the company’s future performance. Asking for an expensive LCA? Don’t dwell on the cost of the actual LCA assessment, instead frame the ask around how the LCA will “identify risk.” And, by identifying risk the LCA will give guidance on mitigating it, and the result will be long-term, low-risk operations in a more sustainable marketplace. Win!
  3. Ask for support when you need it. “Only the CEO can mitigate conflicts between departments and allocate resources where they are most needed,” said Trammell. This is especially important for sustainability executives, as we are trusted with advising and changing how other departments operate. Not everyone likes change. If you are feeling push back from purchasing on the new sustainable purchasing processes, directly provide guidance on how the CEO can proactively remove barriers in purchasing so he or she can see the positive results you promised from the program (Note: Don’t tattle. Keep it professional with clear action steps from the CEO).

By focusing on the big picture, the future, and framing how your role is working with and for other departments, you can keep your communication with the CEO focused and relevant.

Are you looking to pitch to company executives, but need to translate sustainability performance in a language that the C-suite understands? Let us know!  

Use the “8 Habits” of creative genius to shape your sustainability activities

The SSC Team November 24, 2015 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Approaching sustainability shouldn't be 100 percent data, data, data driven.

Use these 8 Habits of the creative geniuses in our midst to help your organization build a sustainability team and sustainability programs that can help lead your company on the path to greener operations.

Creative minds:

1. Look for inspiration in unexpected places

If you’re looking to figure out how to take the first steps in sustainability, know that someone has likely gone before you. Most sustainability planners know about looking at industry best practices, but we focus more on peer benchmarking inside and outside of a client’s industry. Just because you work in the mining sector, doesn’t mean you can learn lessons from consumer products.

2. Make slow decisions

There are a million different options for addressing both environmental and social sustainability efforts. For each set of stakeholder groups, there are programs, policies, supply-chain choices, upstream/downstream evaluations, risks, rewards, and more. As a team, and as a company, it’s probably a good idea to take it slow to come up with a really, truly effective program.

3. Find internal motivation

Sustainability professionals often come with buckets of “passion” for doing our kind of work, so this one should be easy. Passion is a motivator, but make sure your sustainability professionals also have the skill set to get the job done.

4. Start from scratch

Ok, so doesn’t this contradict looking for inspiration in unexpected places? Not really. Starting from scratch is more of an exercise. For example, instead of saying, “Let’s use energy efficient lighting and LEED practices in our new headquarters building,” the team should spend time considering, “What is a headquarters?”

A free-flow exercise might generate discussion about work-from-home policies, investing in teleconferencing, and eventually result in a much smaller, more efficient “energy efficient, LEED certified” HQ.

5. Be willing to take risks

 “Training employees to be comfortable disagreeing with others and receptive to disagreement will create an atmosphere of innovation.” Creating a corporate value system that includes sustainability as an ingrained part of the culture will give employees the confidence they need to address disagreement or bring new ideas to the table. Lunchroom compost bin, anyone?

6. Always try new things

Because of the constantly changing nature of sustainability, this one isn’t hard. New regulations, scientific findings, and processes are always being published. However, if you’ve been stuck in a rut generating the same old sustainability report and waste audit these past few years, maybe it’s time to step it up. Take that risk and try something to really push your sustainability efforts to new gains.

7. Find connections between experiences

Sustainability is not a stand-alone effort focused on just reporting carbon reduction efforts or mitigating supply-chain risks. Sustainability can be found in all areas of your organization, and the world you operate in. From your built environment to your supply chain to your HR policies and everything in between, it is all connected, and the sustainability team should be seeking ways to become the system, not stand outside and report on it.

8. Be open to magic

But magic is about being open to new ideas. At SSC, this generally translates to “reading, a lot.” Wehave a suite of tools help our clients, but if we’re stuck thinking that our products and services “are what they are” then we won’t grow.

Your sustainability efforts should be the same. Read our blog, read business blogs, sustainability articles, research papers, case studies. You’ll start to see the connections and maybe The Great Idea Fairy will visit you!

Has your organization come up with an insanely creative way to be more sustainable? Let us know in the comments! 

Put your office paper use policy down, on paper

The SSC Team November 19, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Paper is arguably one of the most important physical invention in human history. (People keep claiming “printing press,” but seriously. That’s like“car” without “wheel.”)

For all its importance, paper is capable of doing some major damage to wetlands, oceans, and forests.

According to New Leaf Paper’s recently released Life Cycle Analysis, recycled paper has a climate impact 100 times lower than virgin paper.

Recycled paper uses 75 percent less water, has no impacts on rivers or wetlands from recurring logging of large forests, and avoids the harvesting of multiple forest types.

The obvious solutions

Solve incrementally, not drastically

Making the decision to cut 40% of an organization’s paper use or increase budgets for paper by 40% probably won’t work. Instead, make it a change management effort.

Employees, department heads, and company management all need to understand the effort, be given clear direction, milestones, and goals, and feel that they are making a difference.

Here’s a sample of how you can manage the transition to using less paper: 

  • Ensure employees fully understand why you’re focusing on paper (Save the forests! Save the ocean!)
  • Ensure employees understand how much paper they’ve used in the last measurable period (A mini-paper audit, perhaps?)
  • Give department managers a monthly “paper budget” and not an all-access pass to the copy room (It’s easier to “run out of paper” at the end of each 30 days, and “get by,” than it is to conceptualize what a year’s supply of paper means. Learning to ration over time is more successful.).
  • Give each department a paper reduction goal
  • Reward and support employee efforts to reduce printing and keep costs down (money saved through paper reduction can be donated to a conservation organization).

The case for reducing paper consumption and changing the purchasing behavior is similar to all change management projects. Communicate, collect data, create an action plan with goals, and measure your success.

For help developing sustainability strategies for your organization, contact us! 

4 of the Best Ways to Share Your Carbon Footprint Results

The SSC Team June 11, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this article from the SSC blog archives: Once you've gone through the trouble of gathering all of your data and crunching the numbers, many companies get stuck on how to most effectively communicate their carbon footprint results. Should you do a press release? Put it on the company website? Participate in the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) Report process? There are lots of ways to share the results of your carbon footprint. But before you jump into particular communication channels, it's essential to decide what aspects of the data you want to highlight. Here's our take on the four most critical elements to share:

1. Your absolute greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

This is the total metric tons of CO2-e that your company is responsible for over a given time period (usually a year). Be sure to divide it up between Scope 1 (direct emissions -- like natural gas), Scope 2 (indirect emissions – like electricity), and Scope 3 (indirect emissions -- value chain activities such as employee commuting, business travel, and waste).

2. Your adjusted GHG emissions.

Absolute emissions are important, but they lack context. You should also choose a relevant way to adjust for your company's specific operations. This might mean looking at carbon-per-employee, carbon-per-revenue, carbon-per-sales, or carbon-per-production-unit.

3. Emissions over time.

For both absolute and adjusted emissions, it's helpful to show a track record -- three years is considered the minimum, while five years or more is considered the “best practice.” (Of course, if you've just started calculating your annual carbon footprint, you won't have a 3-year track record yet!). By showing how your carbon profile changes over time, you'll give stakeholders an idea of your future trajectory.

4. Your carbon footprint story.

Don't just put up the numbers…explain them. What boundary did you draw around your footprint (e.g. what operations and activities were included)? Why are your numbers going up (or down)? How have changes to your business operations (like acquisitions, mergers, divestments, layoffs, expansions, etc.) affected your emissions profile? What are you expecting to see in the future? A few paragraphs of explanation will make a world of difference in your communications. Once you have the pieces in place, what are the best vehicles for sharing your carbon footprint information? We've listed our favorite options below -- and we'd love to hear your opinions in the comments section!
  • Website -- great as an all-purpose communications vehicle, for internal and external stakeholders. Example: Nestle
  • Visual infographic -- more interesting than a simple chart (when done correctly). Example: Microsoft
  • Press release -- a traditional way to announce timely news and to drive readers to your website, your sustainability report, and other communications. Example: Green Century Funds
  • Employee all-hands meeting -- a personal touch can go a long way in generating enthusiasm and buy-in among all levels of staff. Example: Megamas Training Company
  • Sustainability report -- the standard “best-practice” way to share not just your carbon footprint, but also other social and environmental performance. Example: Coca Cola (and note their disclosure about carbon recalculation at the bottom!)
  • Social media – by making the dialogue related to carbon calculations more social, companies can take their disclosure to the next level. Example: SAP
Find out how you can become a better sustainability leader in one of our latest blogs.

9 Reasons Your Sustainability Communications Fail

The SSC Team March 19, 2015 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

Sustainability leaders have to talk - a lot. Sometimes they speak at conferences, other times they speak to clients, or they might even write a guest article for a website. Regardless of the audience or platform, if you're in sustainability, you have to communicate. But every so often communications can fail.

What happens when you do notice that you're not getting your sustainability message across? Fast Company published an article that highlighted 9 different ways a leader's communication might be stalling. We thought that the reasons mentioned in the article also work perfectly for sustainability communications.

1. Distrust Versus Trust

Have you ever found yourself talking to someone who is not 100% on board with sustainability, and you instantly go on the defensive? Instead of distrusting the person you're talking to right off the bat, try trusting them. When you open up, communications can go a lot further.

2. Monologue Versus Collaboration

You're speaking to a room full of people, and you find yourself talking non-stop. Take a moment and look at the crowd. How engaged are they? Do you see people doing head nods? It's very easy to get carried away when speaking, because you want to get your point across, but collaboration goes a long way. Engage with the audience and see what happens!

3. Complexity Versus Simplicity

The sustainability field loves their acronyms. GHG. LCA. GRI. CDP. SASB. IIRC. The list goes on and on. While many people within sustainability might know what you're talking about when mentioning these words, but you don't always know who is in your audience. Simplicity is key; don't get carried away with industry lingo.

4. Insensitivity Versus Tact

When talking about sustainability, the conversation can often mention climate change. Unfortunately, climate change is still a politically-charged topic, and people can get turned off when listening to someone speak about it. You don't have to avoid the topic completely, but be smart and tactful about how you approach certain topics.

5. Achievement Versus Potential

You might have a handful of published reports under your belt and a countless number of speaking opportunities, but that doesn't mean you can rest on your laurels. You might think you know the best way to deliver a presentation, but listen and look to the people around. There is always room to grow and improve the way you communicate sustainability.

6. Dilution Versus Distinction

You find yourself trying to convince a client that it's important to publish a sustainability report, and in order to prove your point, you keep going on and on with a variety of anecdotes and facts. Stop diluting your point and cut to the chase. If you keep dragging out your reason why, the client may lose interest! Clear through the clutter, and lay out the key facts.

7. Generalization Versus Specificity

It's very easy when writing sustainability plans, reports, etc. to become very generic with your statements. "X company cares deeply about the environment." "X company works very hard at recycling." Instead of just spouting off platitudes, get specific. How has a company achieved their recycling goals? What sets a company apart from others when it comes to environmental care? Make your communications meaningful.

8. Logic Versus Emotion

There is a time for logic and a time for emotion when it comes to communication, but what happens when you don't recognize the right place to use these two tactics? If you're trying to motivate a crowd at a conference to get excited about sustainability, tap in on emotion, but if you're speaking to a client about a potential project, use logic.

9. Distortion Versus Perspective

The sustainability field is ever-changing, and no one can remain an expert forever. Don't write an article acting like you know everything about sustainability, or don't give a presentation where you come off as being better than everyone else. With new information and research always being published, sometimes you should take a back seat and learn from your peers. After all, no one likes listening to a know-it-all.

Is your sustainability plan failing to get attention? Here are 7 different ways to improve that.