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Six Ways to Improve Communication About Corporate Sustainability Efforts

The SSC Team February 19, 2019 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Looking for ways to improve the relationship between your nonprofit organization, or NGO, and businesses in order to grow your corporate sustainability efforts? We found these six insights from GreenBiz pretty inspirational.

 1. Don’t just talk, listen!
While you likely have an agenda in mind when you arrive at a meeting, it’s super helpful to keep it to yourself initially and LISTEN to your corporate counterpart to see what they want and need. Then you can carefully tailor your suggestions to help them meet the goals they are most interested in. They are likely going to be more willing to commit if they feel heard.

2. Don’t judge the corporation
It isn’t hard for someone to see if an NGO is judging the company through condescending statements within minutes of a call or meeting. And this is going to start everything off on a bad foot. Instead, if you come to the table assuming that this company wants to make changes, everyone will be in a better place. With an optimistic attitude you are far more likely to make a solid connection that will help the process move forward.

3. Really be an expert
If you want companies to take you seriously, you need to really make your expertise known. This means that you not only have a working knowledge of the science behind the changes you suggest but have real life experience helping businesses make these changes. Get in there, be hands on when you can so that you understand how everything works on the ground.

4. Be willing to work with companies no matter their size
While CEO buy in right away is really amazing, it isn’t always the way things work. To make this process happen, you must be open to working with big, medium and small companies that need to work toward a more sustainable end game. No matter what the size of the business is, you need to approach your project with the three Ps Bob Langert, former VP of Sustainability, McDonald's, touts: passion, patience and persistence. Sustainability efforts impact cannot be felt or seen overnight, so you need to be committed for the long haul.

5. Demonstrate Your Independence and Knowledge
Companies that are looking for sustainability assistance need it to come from an NGO with excellent credibility. So don’t hide your success, make sure businesses know about them!

Langert believes that when companies are hiring a team to improve their sustainable efforts, they should, “Evaluate partnership choices on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning very corporate friendly and 10 meaning very radical.” He notes that the most successful partnerships are likely to come when working with NGOs in the 5 to 7 range as they are often fiercely independent; willing to collaborate and are knowledgeable about business and market forces; and tend to be more practical.

6. Apply smart pressure
While being positive and professional typically sets you up for the best chance to succeed, there are times when exerting some pressure can also be a good tool, particularly when you have a very smart solution in mind.

So chose your battles wisely after your client has had a chance to see your work in action. The company will have seen your positive track record and will be much more inclined to buy in, even if it is going to take more effort on their behalf.

Three Goals to Get Your Sustainability Program Off and Running

The SSC Team February 14, 2019 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.

Your company recently formed a green team, but it doesn't seem to be accomplishing much. Or maybe you've just been designated as your organization's green champion, but can't seem to get anything done. Sound familiar? 

You may be suffering from "start-up" syndrome. Back in June, Inc. Magazine published an article by Peter Cohan called 3 Simple Goals You Must Set to Succeed, which discussed the importance of setting goals for start-up enterprises. We found it intriguing that his suggestions so closely mirror the questions we ask newly formed green teams during consulting engagements.

1. Mission: What is the enduring purpose of the venture?

To answer this, ask yourself what problem matters most to your venture and why you are willing to go years with little pay or sleep to solve it. A start-up’s mission must be deeply meaningful to the founder and be compelling to people that the founder wants to hire. After all, without capital, a hungry start-up’s only currency is denominated in terms that are hard to quantify: the difference between a humdrum existence and work that has deep meaning.

Before you jump into developing new programs and initiatives, get clear on your sustainability goal. Is it to "green your office" or to "green your organization?" That answer will tell you whether you should be focused on replacing styrofoam in the kitchen or developing a comprehensive green supply chain program. It will also tell you who needs to be on the team -- whether is a cadre of mid-level employees, or top executives with budget-wielding power. Setting the enduring vision of your sustainability program will help determine the scope of your ambitions.

2. Long-term goal: What will this company look like in five years?

A long-term goal for your start-up must satisfy the aspirations of the founder, the investors, and the employees. And that forces the entrepreneur to trade-off a desire to maintain control with drawing in capital so investors can get a sizeable return.

Start with the end in mind -- what do you want your organization's sustainability program to look like in 20 years? (While in start-up land, 5 years might be an eternity, we would argue that it's not really "long term.") Where do you want sustainability responsibilities to reside? Who should be managing sustainability? What do you want to have accomplished? Where do you want to stand relative to your peer group? Understanding the long-term goal will help you make smart decisions now about where to focus your efforts.

3. Short-term goal: What frugal experiments must we make to reach our long-term goal?

If the mission and the long-term goal are the 1% of the inspiration needed to build a successful venture, the short-term goals are the 99% perspiration. Create a series of real options. I mean that you should make small, inexpensive bets -- a win means that the venture can go on to the next short-term goal; a loss means a chance to learn what went wrong and do it better the next time.

Sustainability guru Bob Willard says that pilot projects are the surest way to convince management to move forward to bigger sustainability commitments. They are small, they are relatively cheap, they are exciting, and they create a sense of innovation. You may not get a huge budget or a lot of responsibility -- but as the green champion, you may get the leeway to tackle a couple of "frugal experiments." Use these opportunities to show what you can do, and you'll get a bigger bite at the apple next time around.

The Complexities of Connecting Executive Bonuses to Sustainable Efforts

The SSC Team February 7, 2019 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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https://hbr.org/2018/11/how-to-tie-executive-compensation-to-sustainability

 When it comes to doing the right thing, wouldn’t it be great if everyone jumped all in just because? Unfortunately, we’ve seen that that is certainly not the way green efforts have worked in the past.

 

While a number of large corporations are making good efforts toward greener practices, the way these efforts should be rewarded when it comes to a traditional bonus or increased compensation is hard to define.

 

In an exploration of how to tie executive compensation to sustainability, Seymour Burchman noted that deciding which elements of sustainable practices for that organization have priority is key and those goals could be linked to a pay incentive.

 

Typically compensation committees would start by tying bonuses or other long-term incentives to goals that relate to compliance and risk management. This tactic might be acceptable for some investors, but it may take too much focus off of the company’s core mission.

 

So, where to begin?

 

Burchman suggests that bonuses should depend heavily on executives’ success in engaging the company in the big strategic picture that correlate with sustainability. If they can motivate their team members to go on the offense when it comes to sustainable efforts, that in turn can help pull sustainability from the edges of the business model into the center.

 

Even though it is clear that not every company can tackle major sustainable initiatives right now, the opportunities to pursue them is growing fast. In a survey by the UN and Accenture, 63% of executives said they believe sustainability will cause major changes in their business over the next five years.

 

Taking these changes into consideration requires a company’s board to engage in a different way of thinking about what will make their company increasingly sustainable while also expanding those efforts when it comes to suppliers and customers.

 

As these goals are established and then connected to executive incentives, it’s vital that directors make sure that to avoid any negative consequences that may come with an attempt to meet said goals. It’s also imperative that directors remain focused on creating a reasonable number of sustainability goals that deliver the most value. Value that can, in term, be used to energize executives and provide benefits for other stakeholders and the broader community.

A 6-Minute Guide to Better Sustainability Decisions

The SSC Team December 18, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.

This video from Harvard Business Review introduces a methodology for helping you choose the best decision-support tool for your specific business situation. While the tool is not sustainability-focused, we found it fascinating to think about how to use a decision-tree model like the one presented for thinking about high-stakes decisions like:

  • Accounting for climate change impacts on capital investments.

  • Introducing new "green" products into the marketplace.

  • Rolling out a new telecommuting program.

  • Planning new freight routes for global distribution.

Watch this 6-minute video and let us know if you think this tool helps identify better ways to make high-stakes sustainability decisions?  Leave a comment or join the conversation on Twitter!

State of the Profession 2018

The SSC Team December 11, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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This year marks the 5th Annual GreenBiz Group’s State of the Profession report, which examines the evolution of the role of the sustainability leader in today’s business world. Each year, GreenBiz conducts an in-depth survey to find out how much sustainability leaders earned, where they worked and what their job entails. A few highlights from this year’s report are a look at whether sustainability programs are sustainable, the rise of the specialists, the implementation of external talent and the gender pay parity.

 

One of our favorite takeaways from this year’s report?

 

That the most important factor impacting whether or not an organization would push their sustainability efforts to the next level was customer pressure. Not top investors or C-Suite demands, but instead the value that people have put into taking care of our planet.

 

For insight into this and so much more, check out the 2018 State of the Profession Report.

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

The SSC Team December 6, 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 November.

 

Welcome to the New Normal- Sustainability as a Requirement

 

Don't Insult Employees with Sustainability "Nudges"

 

Marketing Giants Take On Climate Change Message and There is No Time to Waste

 

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Sustainability is like Football: a 5-step game plan to help you win

The SSC Team November 29, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Ever thought that sustainability is like football? No? Think about it, a good game plan is the basis of helping you win. If players were running in all directions performing random actions on their own a team would not stand a chance! The same concept can be applied to your sustainability plan. Magnin uses football as a metaphor to present a 5-level approach for your sustainability plan. This framework can be very useful for gaining perspective and having structure as you analyze an organization, write a report, answer questions, and help people avoid picking random actions from a list of best practices. Having a game plan will establish a course of action that is more effective with the resources available in order to make maximum progress on a sustainability journey.

Marketing Giants Take On Climate Change Message and There Is No Time To Waste

The SSC Team November 27, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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In order to make sweeping environmental changes, companies are going to have to step it up and work together to inspire the movement. Take the coordinated efforts that emerged when 17 of New York's top marketing, advertising, and communications agencies came together during the summer with leading climate scientists to launch an effort that would encourage urgent and collective action addressing climate change.

 

Through this meeting of the minds, Potential Energy emerged. Their mission? To put the full force of the creative industry behind the need to rapidly accelerate active support for clean energy as a cultural norm. This is not a small task, as those of us in the sustainability industry know after butting heads with folks who don’t even believe we have a problem.

 

So what was the motivation behind this campaign? Perhaps a little built of guilt about the constant narrative that consumerism and a more, more, more culture with no concern for the environmental impact is at play.

 

John Marshall, chief strategy officer at Lippincott and president of Potential Energy, hit the nail on the head — the current green narrative simply isn’t connecting with a broad enough base to drive the urgency of these efforts. 

 

“We're going to need a new narrative, one that de-polarizes and de-liberalizes the issue and moves beyond traditional messages of the environmental community and broadens it.”

Marshall’s team at Lippincott conducted a market segmentation based on querying 6,000 U.S. voters. They found that only 13 percent of the voting population is connecting with the traditional environmentalist message. So now we need to figure out how to create climate or clean energy or renewable energy messages that actually connect with and motivate the other 87 percent. In order to do that there are lots of questions to answer: How do they think? What do they value? What motivates them? What tribes do they live in? How do we make this relevant?

We know that this is nothing if not timely, in fact our citizen’s desire for efforts to address climate change seem to be moving in reverse with a Gallup poll from March noting that the percentage of Republicans who believe climate change is caused by human activity dropped over the past year, from 40 percent in 2017 to 35 percent.

 

The New York Times also featured a lengthy look at how we could have solved climate change in the 1980s, but here we are with intensely polarized — and, arguably, misinformed — opinions. All this means that changing minds is not going to be an easy task.

 

In the past, advertising has not simply promoted consumerism, but also the idea that the more you have the happier you will be. Only recently that people have begun to embrace the concept that we can live well — perhaps even live better — if we have less stuff.

So Potential Energy hopes that their efforts can resonate with those who aren’t on that page yet. They are working to bring some of the most creative people on the planet together in order to come up with crazy, weird, new ideas, to test those ideas, and try to launch them. At this point, we simply don't have time for the existing messages to continue to not work, Marshall said.

Here’s hoping we can find a message to reach that 87% and get everyone on board to help our world. We don’t have a back up, so we’ve got to find a way to make this one last!

Don’t Insult Employees With Sustainability “Nudges”

The SSC Team November 22, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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 Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.

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

Curiosity is Key to Success at Your Company

The SSC Team November 20, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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When we make great discoveries in the world of sustainable efforts — or any industry for that matter — one key element is the main driver: curiosity.

 

The desire to find a new way to accomplish a goal or, scratch that, a better way to accomplish a goal is vital to the success of all enterprise. Not sure you buy it? A recent study highlighted three key factors about how curiosity impacts the success of a business.  

When it comes to sustainability, we definitely buy in that curiosity is key. When employees from the CEO to the janitor think creatively about possible solutions, then everyone is more deeply committed to the final decisions. Also in an area constantly developing and changing, like sustainable efforts, encouraging curiosity allows those leading the way to gain more respect from their team members while inspiring employees to develop more-trusting and more-collaborative relationships with one another.

Encouraging curiosity will spark not only success, but engagement at work. By making some small adjustments to the way you manage your employees, you are likely to find better ways to inspire your team members to think more creatively about both new and routine efforts.

Part of encouraging curiosity is actually being open to the ideas your employees develop. In a survey conducted by Francesca Gino for HBR, she asked more than 3,000 employees from a wide range of industries and 70% reported that they face barriers to asking questions at work. While many leaders fear that spending time engaging in creative thought processes might increase risk and inefficiency, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Other benefits? When employees are encouraged to think creatively they also tend to think about things from someone else’s perspective and take an interest in others ideas rather than focus solely on their own desires. This leads to a more effective and smooth workflow where conflicts are less intense and groups can achieve better results.

But this is all easier said than done. Here are 5 ways can foster curiosity in our workplace (and reap the benefits!)

1.     Hire curious people
There are lots of ways to assess curiosity such as asking candidates about their interests outside of the office. Being an avid reader of subject unrelated to their industry, just for the sake of knowing more is an indication of curiosity. Also keep in mind that questions posed by your candidates can demonstrate a curious streak.

2.     Be curious yourself
Ask questions of your team members and sincerely listen to their answers. By being curious about their insights, taking their responses in and acting on what makes the most sense for your company will show everyone that you are really interested in their ideas.

3.     Focus on learning
While we tend to be super focused on results at work, it can be highly beneficial to also show a commitment to learning. Spending time to gain new knowledge is typically more beneficial to organizations than simply thinking about the end goal all the time.

4.     Encourage exploration in your team
Employees can also broaden their interests by broadening their networks. Curious people often end up being star performers because of their diverse networks. How do they get there? By being more comfortable asking questions than their peers and creating and nurturing ties at work easily. Those ties tend to be critical to their career development and success.

5.     Take time to listen to questions
Leaders can help draw out a employee’s innate curiosity. Think about asking all employees for answers to “What if…?” and “How might we…?” questions about the firm’s goals and plans through a brainstorming session. They are likely to come up with all sorts of things, which can then be discussed and evaluated together.

In most industries people tend to believe that the implicit message that comes from asking questions is an unwanted challenge to authority. However this perception doesn’t need to be the case. Inspire the creative minds at your office to help come up with new, inventive solutions to your unique client problems. Being creative and innovative is what sustainability is all about!