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Using sustainability to avoid risk

The SSC Team February 21, 2017 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

The evidence that sustainability can be good for business is overwhelming. Most of the case studies, examples, and analysis that has been done show positive links between a sustainable approach to environmental and social issues, and corporate profits, Thus far, the research has been primarily focused on direct operational efficiencies (like retrofitting your office lighting to save money and reduce your carbon footprint), innovation (using biomimicry to drive new product development), and productivity (ie. more engaged employees take less sick leave).

Over the past few years, there has been an increasing amount of discussion about the nexus between sustainability and risk management. And for corporations operating in complex supply chains in a globally-connected economy -- well -- effective risk management can be the difference between success and failure. Below, we take a look at three articles that shed light on why companies still struggle to incorporate sustainability into their risk management practices (and vice versa).

Has sustainability become a risky business? This GreenBiz article by John Davies reviews a report by Ernst & Young. The key takeaway: While more companies are concerned about increased risk and the proximity of natural resource shortages, corporate risk response appears to be inadequate to address the scope and scale of some of these challenges. The free report looks at six corporate sustainability trends with a strong focus on the internal influencers of corporate performance (CEOs and boards), as well as external forces ranging from governments to shareholders and investors.

Playing It Safe Is Riskier than You Think by Bill Taylor in the Harvard Business Review makes the case that "difficult and uncertain times are often the best times for organizations to separate themselves from the pack, so long as their leaders are prepared not to stand pat." While not directly about sustainability, this article certainly supports the notion that economic turmoil is no reason not to be ambitious about tackling big sustainability challenges.

Research: Why Companies Keep Getting Blind-Sided by Risk by Mary Driscoll in the Harvard Business Review presents fascinating insight into why companies (and their executives) are not succeeding at identifying and mitigating risk. Survey findings indicate that most organizations’ leaders did indeed express concern about the impact of political turmoil, natural disasters, or extreme weather. But the findings also show that the people at the front lines of the business were hamstrung by a lack of visibility into risk. Nearly half said they lacked the resources needed to adequately assess business continuity programs at supplier sites. Many relied on the suppliers filling out perfunctory, unreliable checklists. There are some big lessons here for sustainability practitioners! 

We are focused on helping companies use a "lens of sustainability" to spot risk earlier, broaden risk response options, and more effectively mitigate risk within their operations and all along their supply chain. If this work strikes a chord with you, please get in touch with us. We'd love to hear from you!

 

TEDTalks Sustainability: To Solve Old Problems, Study New Species

The SSC Team February 14, 2017 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Everyone loves a good TED Talk, and here is one of our favorites. Enjoy!

Developmental and regeneration biologist Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado delivers a talk about how the limited number of species involved in today's medical and scientific research studies are harming innovation. Advocating for the use of nature's wonderfully abundant, diverse and mysterious features to explore new solutions to old problems, Alvarado hopes to see biological breakthroughs.

Because research focuses generally on just seven species, including rats, chickens, fruit flies and humans, scientists end up studying an astonishingly narrow sliver of life. By expanding our view, Alvarado hopes  it'll be enough to solve the oldest, most challenging problems in science, like cancer. In this visually captivating talk, Alvarado calls on us to interrogate the unknown and shows us the remarkable discoveries that surface when we do.

What are you watching? Share with us in the comments. 

 

 

 

 

Developmental and regeneration biologist

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.

 

Don’t “Adapt” to Environmental Trends, Changes and Regulations, Prepare for Them

The SSC Team November 22, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Was Microsoft ready for mobile computing? Nope. But they didn’t need to be because they were busy preparing for cloud computing. Was Google+ the next gen social media powerhouse. Nope. But it didn’t need to be because they were preparing to pretty much become synonymous with “the Internet” through unprecedented search, advertising, subscription, and cloud-based tools (not to mention Google X).  

Business analysis often write snappy articles about how certain giants “failed” to take advantage of market opportunities, but they’re often looking at the short term view. Companies like IBM, Google, Microsoft, Union Pacific, Disney, Wal-Mart and so many others, are already thinking about their next thing, not just “the next big thing.”

“The truth is that once you find yourself in a position where you need to adapt, it’s usually too late,” said business consultant Greg Satell in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review.

Build a Better Business

Take the focus of being “agile” and “ready for the next trend,” and start focusing on developing a product, system, or service that is better than anything available – and be absolutely certain to be a leader on sustainability issues today. Don’t wait, or it’s too late.

Lead on Sustainability

Many firms approach sustainability as a checkbox. Don’t. Even if the pressure to develop a policy is coming from clients or regulators, develop a strategic sustainability policy and then just do one extra thing to advance beyond the baseline.

Maybe that one extra thing is writing in a lobbying effort toward an environmental regulation that will help give your firm a competitive advantage because you’re already doing so well in that area. Maybe that one extra thing is, not just reporting on emissions, but taking a small step in reducing them – lighting retrofits, solar panels, telecommuting programs. Maybe that one extra thing is engaging in a peer benchmarking study to see how far your organization needs to reach to get to the front of the pack.

As climate change effects become more acute and the global community begins to coalesce around ways to work together to make progress on combating it, don’t get caught playing catch up.

“Business that focus on solving big problems and are willing to invest in them for years —or even decades — can get a lot of other things wrong,” said Satell.

Climate change is a “big problem,” so get to solving it. It will be profitable for your firm and the planet itself. 

Integrate Total Cost of Ownership with Your LCA to Make Sustainable Choices

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

Sustainability professionals speak the language of quantifying carbon emissions. Most other business professionals, however, speak the language of currency. Budgets. Market fluctuations. Stock price. Cost of materials or labor.

For most procurement professionals, pricing out goods and services generally means looking at the bottom line cost per unit over time. For example, a restaurant chain looking at cloth versus paper napkins is factoring in the annual cost of purchasing and disposing of paper napkins versus the prorated annual cost of purchasing, laundering, and replacing cloth napkins over their useful life. It’s dollars and cents.

Where natural capital accounting is a way to present the balance sheet of an organization by factoring in environmental impact, total cost of ownership, or TCO, helps firms better integrate sustainability information into the procurement process.

By taking the LCA data and drilling into each stage in the life cycle and calculating an environmental “cost,” a firm can create a TCO framework for a product or service. Or, better yet, can create better procurement guidelines based on optimal TCO variables that balance environmental and financial choices.

A Big Leap

TCO work is not easy. It requires firms to “dive deep into the value chain, and look at factors including manufacturing time, costs of parts, research and development, and environmental sustainability. This includes emissions from suppliers as well as those of consumers using the products and services.”

However, by using TCO purchasing practices firms are finding new business opportunities by meeting the increasing demands of consumers seeking “green” goods and services, decreased overall costs as waste reductions are targeted, and helps firms focus on the long term benefits of spending more up front, for example on energy efficient or renewable energy technology, resulting in a net decrease in operational costs over time.

Just like natural capital accounting, TCO work is difficult, not quite standardized at the level of most carbon emissions calculators, and underutilized. We hope to see more firms take up both practices, further integrating the bottom line dollar with the bottom line for the environment.

 

TED Talks: Leadership – 5 Ways to Lead in an Era of Constant Change

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

Everyone loves a good TED Talk. Here’s one of our favorites.

Organizational change expert Jim Hemerling outlines strategies for making change management a positive experience instead of a tumultuous one. He argues that a business in today's constantly-evolving world can be invigorating instead of exhausting. Watch this awesome TED talk where Hemerling outlines five strategies, centered around putting people first, for turning company reorganization into an empowering, energizing task for all.

 

 

Does Sustainability Progress Require Disruption?

The SSC Team September 22, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives. 

The Harvard Business Review article, For Cross-Functional Change, a Good Disruption Helps, by author Brad Power has been percolating in our minds over the last few weeks. Strategic Sustainability Consulting has been around for almost a decade, and during that time we've asked ourselves multiple times, "why isn't society moving faster towards sustainability?" The evidence of major upheaval (climate change, income inequality, water scarcity) is indisputable and the business case (cost savings, competitive advantage, increased productivity) is well-established. So what's holding us back?

Maybe it's that we aren't feeling the pain of our unsustainability yet.

"How do you improve the whole organization, not just parts of it?" Power asks. "The uber challenge for process improvement in organizations has always been to successfully make improvements across functions. But have any sizable organizations assigned people to manage their major end-to-end processes — and actually been successful?"

While Powers isn't writing about sustainability, his message resonates. Most companies have only made modest inroads in their journey towards sustainability. Even the often heralded sustainability "leaders" recognized with awards and named to "100 Most Sustainable" lists often have only incremental improvements to showcase, spaced unevenly across their operations. 

Why is that?

"In the absence of a significant disruptive event, or obvious proof that the world is changing, the gravitational forces in organizations pull strongly towards the performance engine: functional, hierarchical, command-and-control, rigid," notes Power. "And this engine gets improved and streamlined only with small, incremental changes."

Without a doubt, disruption is coming -- via increases in unpredictable extreme weather events, or changing patterns of water availability, or political uncertainty created by unequal access to natural resources. All the evidence points to the fact that disruption is coming. We might not know exactly what form it will take, or how hard it will hit -- but it's coming and companies need to do all they can to prepare and mitigate those risks.

So what can sustainability leaders do to help prepare their companies to face the inevitable disruptions to come? Powers advises:

"...in an environment that is increasingly unpredictable and volatile, leaders must devote more resources to sensing and responding to threats and opportunities, and then must communicate to the organization what “responding” means in terms of changing the way it does its work. Without a clear and compelling, motivating case being made by leaders, successful cross-functional changes will remain few and far between."

We agree. In fact, our first question to potential clients is "how does [what you're asking us to do for you] fit into your larger sustainability strategy?" And our second question is "how confident are you that your sustainability strategy is helping you make effective decisions?" Nine times out of ten, the conversation takes a big step backward so that the issues of uncertainty, volatility, changing stakeholder expectations, and risk management can first be fully discussed. And that's a good thing.

If you need some help looking at the big sustainability picture, and what it means for your company's future, please contact us. We're happy to talk with you about how we can help!

White Paper Worth Reading: Choosing the Correct Emission Control Technology

The SSC Team September 15, 2016 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Clean air standards and GHG reduction pressure are driving manufacturers to reduce energy use, and sometimes look to install emission control technologies.  

As the air-pollution control landscape changes, manufacturers are rushing to keep up with emission reduction trends, but many questions remain.

Check out this white paper to learn about pairing industrial processes with appropriate emissions control devices, determining the cost-benefit of the various devices, and whether new or established technologies are a better fit for meeting GHG emissions standards.

Choosing the Correct Emission Control Technology

Webinar to Watch: A Next-Generation Solar Strategy for Commercial Operations

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

A Next-Generation Solar Strategy for Commercial Operations

July 19, 2016 @ 1pm Eastern

Presented by GreenBiz

Companies often find that the power grid is the leading contributor to their carbon footprint, but the barriers to sustainable energy for most businesses is way too high. Check out this free webinar about how companies can purchase solar energy and significantly reduce their impact from electricity use.

 

 

Webinar to Watch: A Next-Generation Solar Strategy for Commercial Operations

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

A Next-Generation Solar Strategy for Commercial Operations

July 19, 2016 @ 1pm Eastern

Presented by GreenBiz

Companies often find that the power grid is the leading contributor to their carbon footprint, but the barriers to sustainable energy for most businesses is way too high. Check out this free webinar about how companies can purchase solar energy and significantly reduce their impact from electricity use.