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Will Technology Help Us All Get Along?

The SSC Team July 5, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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In a world that seems more divided with every passing day, the thought of finding a way to minimize conflict is incredibly appealing.

 

In the recently published Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? MIT scientists Henry Lieberman and Christopher Fry examine why there are wars, mass poverty and other social ills. Their main thesis is that our world is oversaturated with a competitive spirit and this is holding people back from cooperating and working toward solutions to the world’s major problems. But the authors also believe they have found a possible way to turn everything around — by using modern technology to address the root of the problem.

 

Lieberman and Frye believe that scarcity drives the world’s competition, but thanks to recent technological advances — think 3D printing and artificial intelligence — widespread scarcity could come to an end.

 

If so, a post-scarcity world, premised on cooperation, would emerge. Sure it sounds great, but is it actually possible?

Unfortunately we believe there are a few issues that make this concept infeasible. While new technologies can be incredibly beneficial in many ways, they are usually only available to consumers as finished products that must be exchanged for money. Lieberman and Fry’s principle ignores the fact that many of these technologies exist at the expense of other humans and environments in our global economy. The intuitive belief that technology can manifest from money alone, anthropologists tell us, is a culturally rooted notion that ignores the fact that the scarcity experienced by some is linked to the abundance enjoyed only by a few.

We have had a few decades to experience some pretty dramatic technological advances and during this time it has become clear that super-efficient technologies typically encourage an increased use of raw materials and energy, not a reduction in them. Data on the global use of energy and raw materials indicate that absolute efficiency has never occurred: both global energy use and global material use have increased threefold since the 1970s. Therefore, efficiency is better understood as a rearranging of resources expenditures, such that efficiency improvements in one end of the world economy increase resource expenditures in the other end.

 

So if we aren’t on the verge of solving the problem of our competitive society, what are the next steps we need to take in order to improve the way we take care of the global economy and the natural world?

Within each of us are two “beings:” the self-interested being that has been programmed to maximize profit and the more altruistic being who loves to communicate, work for the betterment of others and share. As Lieberman and Fry highlight, our current society is geared toward the first being and our idea of a good life is centered on monetary power. But for the betterment of all society — and our natural resources — we have to move toward the power of our inner altruist.

When it comes to this focus on technology as a way to connect in this global economy, companies need to make a better effort to recognize the environmental cost of technology. Our “digital society” is based on a material- and energy-intensive infrastructure and we must work toward minimizing the negative impacts on the lives of current and future generations by unwittingly encouraging serious environmental instability and associated social problems.

And as more interconnected commons-based businesses continue to emerge around the world, we can work to creating new forms of businesses that empower individuals. As members of this global community it is vital that we become more aware of how the abundance of some is dependent on the work of others, as well as the stability of our natural environments.

While our solutions might not be the same as Lieberman and Fry, we are heartened to think that many among us want to figure out a way to live in a less competitive, more inclusive society. It’s clear that we are connected with our fellow citizens of earth — near and far — and the only way forward is together.

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

The SSC Team July 3, 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 June.

 

Mining Companies Can Care

 

Triple Bottom Line: The Science of Good Business

 

Keeping Your Sustainability Team Engaged- Words to Live By

 

Taking the Trash to a Whole New Level

  

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Taking the Trash to a Whole New Level

The SSC Team June 28, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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While we have been recycling certain products for a long time, there have been some pretty amazing innovatinos when it comes to building products on the market. These new materials are taking the idea of a sustainable approach to building to a whole new level. Take for example the creation of luxury building materials from waste. One truly great feature of this upcycling trend is that the new materials are being developed by designers who will use them, which means that they are actually attractive as well as useful.

 

These new materials are being used as substitutes for conventional woods, plastics and stone, and often come in sheet or tile form that are ready to be cut, shaped and manipulated by architects and designers.

 

Really, a Danish company at the forefront of this movement is focused on taking used textiles and transforming them into a sheet material similar to plywood.

 

In fact, companies around the world are coming up with some pretty clever new building materials turning items as basic as bottles and as strange as dirty diapers and sanitary products into materials that can be used for construction.

 

When it comes to embracing sustainable living, those are thinking well outside the box and turning products — like the notoriously hard to recycle plastic grocery bags — into building materials are making incredible strides.  In Building with Waste, which compiles these unique new materials, the authors speculate that, in future, we could end up re-using pretty much everything. This would be pretty darn helpful since we are on track to double municipal waste output by 2025. That’s a pretty terrifying thought.

 

And it isn’t just building materials, there are products being made with carbon dioxide. Collecting CO2 from the world’s smokestacks is hard, but once it has been collected what can be done with the carbon? To address this problem, people have invented technologies that convert captured CO2 into new products — crazy in a great way, right?

 

Solutions so far have included a lot of creative ideas such as converting carbon dioxide into carbon fibers which can be used as lighter-weight alternative to metal to make products like wind turbine blades, race cars, airplanes and bicycles. A company in Calgary is combining CO2 with waste products, such as fly ash left over from burning coal or petroleum coke, to create nanoparticles that can be used as additives for concrete, plastic and coatings to enhance performance and increase efficiency.

 

These innovations and more prove that many in this world are working toward a more sustainable future. We must continue to find creative solutions for reducing waste in order to take care of our most precious resource — the earth.

TEDTalk The Business Benefits of Doing Good

The SSC Team June 21, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Everyone loves a good TED Talk! Here’s one of our favorites

In a talk from earlier this year, social impact strategist Wendy Woods explored assessing the impact the various aspects of business can have on various aspects of society, and how we can make adjustments in order to not only do less harm, but to actually improve things. Woods discusses how executives can move beyond corporate social responsibility to "total societal impact" — which will not only benefit a company's bottom line but also society at large. 

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

The SSC Team May 1, 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 April.

 

Guests, Properties Need to Coordinate in Minimizing Food Waste

 

5 Ways You can Promote Sustainability by Instilling Values In Your Organization

 

Listen Up: Companies Should Not Be Afraid to Get Political

 

Becoming a Better Sustainability Consultant: Understanding Your Client’s Industry

 

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TEDTalk 3 Creative Ways to Fix Fashion’s Waste Problem

The SSC Team April 26, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Everyone loves a good TED Talk! Here’s one of our favorites

We may all have too many clothes in our closet that we keep meaning to sort through and donate, but did you ever think about the clothes that never make it to anyone’s closet? If you thought that last season's unpurchased coats, pants and tops ended up being put to use, you’re wrong. Sadly, most of it (nearly 13 million tons each year in the United States alone) ends up in landfills. Clearly the world of fashion has a massive waste problem, and Amit Kalra wants to fix it. Here are some creative ways that he believes the industry can evolve to be more conscientious about the environment —and gain a competitive advantage at the same time.

 

Free Learning Resources for Aspiring Sustainability Professionals

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

Sustainability consulting is about so much more than caring about mitigating the effects of climate change. We often hear about the passion and energy aspiring consultants hope to bring to the field, but what a good consultant really needs is business knowledge, a solid understanding of the sustainability field, consulting skills, and change management skills.

Of course, growing into the role is part of the process of developing into a senior consultant. And growing requires learning.

If you have a solid background in business or consulting, maybe you need to focus on your sustainability knowledge. If you are a science and data expert, maybe you need to brush up on your strategic management and leadership skills.

Whatever your skill gap is, whatever your job status is, whatever your goals are, you should always set aside some time to learn something new.

We came across this ridiculously good article from Inc. featuring 21 awesome places to learn skills online, and we highlighted a few good ones to illustrate how easy it is to brush up on key sustainability and consulting skills for free.

 Go forth and learn.

· MIT OpenCourseWare – MIT has offered courseware, learning resources, and syllabi up online for free for a number of years now. Review lecture notes, find the best textbooks, follow along with lab demos on courses ranging from climate studies, change management, leadership, and sustainability policy.

· Boundless – A company shaping the way textbooks are written and sold, Boundless offers great overview information on dozens of topics to help students quickly understand the basics of any field. From accounting to biology to business, Boundless is a solid place to brush up on a topic you don’t need to know tons of detail about.

· UReddit – Reddit surprises with some really interesting courses on things that you might not be able to find anywhere else online. Think “Advanced training on Microsoft Excel” or “Starting your own business.”

· Future Learn – A private company owned by The Open University offering free coursework from professionals in the UK and partners around the world.

· Free course: Make an Impact: Sustainability for Professionals. Find out how to integrate a sustainable development strategy into your company with this free online course. University of Bath.

· Supply Chain Innovation: How Technology Can Create a Sustainable Future. University of Twente.

Once you’ve built your foundational knowledge, come back and get certified as a green auditor or connect with our CEO for personal job coaching based on your newly developed skills.

TEDTalk 3 Thoughtful Ways to Conserve Water

The SSC Team February 22, 2018 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Everyone loves a good TED Talk! Here’s one of our favorites

Lana Mazahreh grew up in Jordan where people have been living with absolute water scarcity since 1973. It was there that she learned to conserve water as soon as she could write her own name. The United Nations say one in three people around the world live facing a water crisis and Mazahreh’s practical talk shares three tips from water-poor countries on how to conserve water and address this global crisis.

The Obstacles with Sustainability Strategy

The SSC Team January 4, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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After you set up a sustainability strategy for a client, does it feel like they end up standing in their own way? Here you have a business that asked you to create a plan, but when it is presented they are hesitant to take the necessary steps to implement one or all of your ideas?

 

Talk about frustrating! Recently the Harvard Business Review talked about the challenges of navigating the politics of innovation and honestly the same concepts can be applied to sustainability strategy. So how can we leap over those hurdles that are getting in the way of a positive end result?

 

Here are the tips Brian Uzzi shared:

 

1. Anticipate Resistance
While the client may be clamoring to “be innovative” or incorporate “creative, new ideas” they may also not actually have the resources necessary to implement them in the long run. While the need for funds or time (or both) may cause resistance initially, you can present how your idea(s) is new, creative and won’t be stealing resources from an on-going project. This should help encourage clients to be more willing to implement your plan.

 

2. Unmask Political Motives

While it may seem clear to you that some kind of internal, political factors are getting in the way of sustainable changes, often the real reasons may not come to the forefront. The clients may present issues —cost, time, complexity — that are publically acceptable but are just covers for underlying factors. Maybe the client sees that the change may impact them in a way they don’t find positive. Or they feel like there isn’t enough data to support making adjustments. To move past issues that may not even be made clear to you, might require expanding your network and bringing more people on board to gain support to move forward.

 

3. Find the right champion

That’s where tip three comes into play. You may need another player within the organization — perhaps someone very senior — who will buy into the sustainable efforts you plan to implement. With them on board, it will likely be less challenging to convince others that there is merit to what you are proposing. However, you may need more than management support to seal the deal.

 

4. Secure social proof

So people wanted to make their office more sustainable, but they haven’t seen hard data that supports it will be effective. But since that evidence won’t be available until they implement the plan what are you going to do? Here’s where social impact can come into play. At the end of the day if enough people believe something, it doesn’t really matter how many facts we have, that social pressure is likely to be enough. If you can inspire some support within the larger team it is likely to lead to more support and implementation of your plan from the higher ups. If people in the office want to reduce waste and lessen their footprint, their desire is likely to impact others in the office.

 

Implementing your strategy may end up taking as much (or more!) work than creating it. But if you can approach the challenge with awareness, hopefully each project can be accomplished without a lot of added stressors. 

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!