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

The SSC Team October 2, 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 September.

 

How Sustainability Experts Should Give Feedback

 

Social Sustainability Satisfying Human Needs

 

How to Hire a Successful Sustainability Manger

 

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How Sustainability Practitioners Should Give Feedback

The SSC Team September 27, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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In the same way that hungry rats learn to navigate the blind alleys of a maze in their search for food, coaches, consultants, and other change agents learn that punishment most often follows their constructive criticism. Conversely, when they stroke the egos of clients, rewards come raining down. Managers fall victim to the same temptation: it’s much more fun (and in the short term, rewarding) to praise your direct reports than to deliver negative feedback. The bad news is that if you’re a consultant or coach, folks will tire of having smoke blown at them and, sooner or later, react negatively. They’re paying for reasoned critiques, and chronic evasiveness eventually gets on their nerves. And if you’re a manager, you can’t only rely on praise. 

Steven Berglas, Harvard Business Review

As consultants, it's our job to deliver feedback to our clients throughout the sustainability consulting engagement--and we've gotten pretty good at identifying, refining, and delivering news (both good and bad) about a company's "state of sustainability" and roadmap for action. But when we read the article, Don’t Sugarcoat Negative Feedback, in Harvard Business Review, we realized that the art of providing feedback has a much broader application to companies pursuing sustainability initiatives. Here are some of our takeaways:

Use Facts in Your Feedback

Berglas: Deliver constructive feedback rapidly in its raw form. This doesn’t mean harshly; there’s a way to soften blows without delaying them if you strive to be empathic. Just never make it seem like you’re avoiding hard cold facts. All that does is make the facts seem worse than they are.

Focusing our feedback on facts is a great way to create some space between participants, so that no one feels blamed, guilty, or shamed. It also allows everyone to (more) objectively assess the situation--including whether the feedback being provided is correct, how a solution should be constructed, and how responsibility and accountability for change should be allocated.

Wrong: [After 20 minutes of praise and exultation about everyone's awesome sustainability work.] "Look, even though we're all doing our best, it's not enough. We're falling behind on our performance data, and that's shown up in some recent press. We can't let our industry leave us in the dust. Come on, guys, we've got to improve!"

Right: "Our three-year carbon emissions are up 4.3%, while Competitor A is holding steady and Competitor B actually decreased its emissions by 1.1%. A report, which is getting press coverage this week in the New York Times and a number of "green blogs", calls us out for poor energy and climate performance in our industry. Let's talk about what that means in light of last month's board meeting where there was consensus about aiming for the top 25% of our industry across all sustainability issues."

Don't Predict the Outcome

Berglas: Resist the urge to prophesy. The absolute worst thing a CEO, coach, or consultant can do when offering constructive criticism to someone is to provide a timetable for the process that a person who must change should be expected to conform to.

While goals and targets are critical elements of effective sustainability planning, changing people (and institutions) is an uncertain process. When you need to address employee engagement and organizational culture issues, don't make promises that you can't keep. Yes, you can get a new Code of Ethics in place by the end of the year, but can you put a clear time line on when your emerging-market suppliers are going to really *get* the concepts of anti-bribery and corruption? You can provide a clear road-map, but putting calendar dates down for personal and organizational change is a dangerous proposition.

Be Honest about the Effort Required to Change

Berglas: Don’t minimize the challenge. When you critique someone with a history of success you have to assume that the flaws you see in them are (a) entrenched, and, (b) something they have long grappled with to suppress or get past. Saying, “No big deal” to that sort of issue can scare the socks off someone who knows that what you’re targeting for change is an issue they have battled unsuccessfully for years.

Sustainability is probably the biggest, most complex challenge that the world has ever faced -- and individual organizations trying to navigate a highly interconnected system in which it has limited leverage and resources is not an easy task. (Hah, understatement!) So don't portray the journey as all rainbows and kittens. It's going to be hard, and there are going to be really tough decisions. People need to understand that the road is going to be long, and the challenges are going to be scary--but that all great, epic adventures start with a seemingly insurmountable mountain to climb.

If you liked this article, you'll want to download SSC's free white paper on Sustainable Change Management. And if you're looking for a sustainability coach, check out our coaching and mentoring services. Or, join the conversation on Twitter, where SSC President Jennifer Woofter tweets at @jenniferwoofter. Did we get it right, or would you add something to our takeaways?

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

The SSC Team September 4, 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 August.

 

Companies Collaborating Could Mean Everyone Wins

 

Are You Getting the Real Truth from Your Employees?

 

Break Your Own Sustainability Habits and then Help Employees Change

 

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Use a “Pitch Deck” Format for Your Sustainability Project

The SSC Team August 30, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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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. 

Motivate Your In-House Team to Meet Your Sustainability Goals

The SSC Team July 24, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Convincing employees to work hard and work well is a millennia-old management challenge. Hundreds of studies point to proven motivational tactics, such as goal setting, feedback, and incentives, but all of these tactics can (and will) backfire.

“Chances are that you (at least sometimes) are using the wrong tools under the wrong circumstances,” writes Juliana Schroeder, a behavioral economist and psychologist.

Using feedback effectively

  • Use positive feedback to enhance personal commitment. For example, if you’re ramping up the arduous data collection process that goes along with a complex, detailed life-cycle assessment, that’s when you want to use encouraging words. We can do this!
  • Use negative feedback when you’re nearing the finish line. So data collection starts off well with everyone ready to get going and get the project done, but you get into a lull midway as the engineers and logistics folks are tired of taking your calls, that’s when you might want to roll out some stern warnings about being a team player and calling your supervisor.

Goal Setting

“Typically, a shorter distance between you and your goal is more motivating than a longer one,” writes Schroeder. “It feels within reach, and it’s easier to feel that you’re making progress. This means people should set closer targets or sub-goals.”

Using the same example from above, don’t kick off your LCA talking about the mountains of data we shall climb, instead map out with a consultant who has experience with LCA reporting a reasonable set of milestones for data collection inside of various processes identified. And when you see a big knot to untangle, break it into smaller pieces and set goals based on achieving the sub-goals.

“Focusing on the least amount of distance—either from the start or from the end of your project— is more motivating,” said Schroeder.

This means, don’t look up when you’re at the bottom, and don’t look down when you’re at the top.

Focus on the middle stages

“Research has found that people are more likely to slack off or behave unethically around the middle of a project,” said Schroeder.

Take this into consideration when project planning. If your team can quickly identify what the onerous parts of the job will be, and take on those early wince folks will still be motivated to perform well. In the middle, focus on the low-hanging fruit, like collecting the utility or transportation data or info you can get from third party vendors. If big obstacles pop up in the middle, try and work around them and save them to the end to tap into the motivation folks feel right as a project is wrapping up.

Incentives

If your company has the structure to provide incentives, don’t hesitate to use them. But don't go overboard.

“People will work harder for incentives they can get sooner—even if they are smaller than those they would get after waiting longer. The lesson here is simple: To motivate people, use immediate incentives,” said Schroeder.

If a team has a goal, structure small incentives for the manager or team member that help validate the hard work put in. Consider an extra day off for completing the work on time or a group luncheon after every major milestone.

“People also seem to value intrinsic incentives more when they are in the middle of pursuing a goal than when they have not yet started,” said Schroeder.

When working on sustainability projects, help frame the work in terms of the intrinsic benefits to the team members, to the company, and to company strategy focused on reducing environmental impact. Ideally this will already be a part of the company’s strategic plan, but capitalize on the feeling that employees have when they can take pride in working on a project that goes beyond the bottom line.

Selecting motivational tools can be complicated, especially keeping them fresh and appealing to meet the changing needs of employees. But, if you haven’t yet taken a strategic look at motivation, now is a great time to start.

Need to launch a life-cycle assessment or carbon footprint in 2018? We can guide you through the process and help keep your team motivated along the way.

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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Straight Talk with the CEO to Get Better Sustainability Results

The SSC Team June 26, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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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!  

Sustainability Strategy Isn’t a Checklist

The SSC Team May 3, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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There are a lot of business books out there that provide templates for business plans and checklists. And having a plan and a checklist is important for any project or start-up, but developing a business strategy or incorporating sustainability into a business strategy isn’t a series of items to check off of a “to-do list.”

Even if you went through and commissioned and then checked off an annual sustainability report, a carbon footprint, a life-cycle analysis, et cetera, there is no guarantee that your organization would even be close to executing a true sustainability strategy.

Sustainability strategy should be based on an organizational understanding of why you need to invest in assessing and reducing your environmental impact. Without understanding why, you risk wasting time and money on projects that don’t align with the overall business strategy and stakeholder needs.

After determining why sustainability is important to the organization, you should focus on materiality, or what are the most important or impactful steps the organization can make inside of a realistic timeframe or budget or deadline.

Finally, look to experts to develop a proven path forward that speaks to both the materiality and the underlying corporate strategy on this issue.

For example, if your company is a small manufacturing firm held accountable to demanding suppliers or upcoming environmental regulations, but you have no clear idea on your environmental impact, then your why may be “we need to know what we are facing so we can answer questions of our stakeholders with honesty and confidence.”

Next, is materiality – are suppliers or regulators more important? Can they be addressed through the same sustainability tool or report?

If you determine through a materiality assessment that your suppliers are the most important stakeholder group to address first, next, consider what information they are demanding, in what format, and by when. In the example case of manufacturing, this may be be collecting LCA data for a supplier scorecard or more pulling together even more thorough data for a third-party environmental or human product declaration (EPD/HPD) report.

Essentially, sustainability strategy should be tailored as carefully as marketing strategy or pricing strategy.

Company leadership should clearly understand why the sustainability efforts are integral to the success of the company, how important they are to the stakeholders who drive that success to help prioritize efforts, and which strategic path forward to take to meet stakeholder needs best.

SSC not only delivers excellent sustainability consulting services, we are focused on ensuring our clients choose the service, and level of service, that will meet their real business goals

Sustainability Consulting Round-Up: Best of Our Blog from December 2017

The SSC Team January 2, 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 December.

 

What is augmented reality and why is it important to integrate it into sustainability advocacy and strategy? 

 

Life Cycle Analysis can help you write a better ‘business continuity plan’

 

Making the case for water conservation? Communicate risk in dollars and cents

 

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Sustainability Consulting Round-Up: Best of the Blog for January 2017

The SSC Team January 31, 2017 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Each month, we highlight some of our more popular content on the SSC blog!

In case you missed them, here's a round-up of our most popular blog posts from this past month. These are the articles that received the most attention from our online audience. Check them out!

  1. Incorporating 30 Elements of Consumer Value to Maximize Sustainability Returns
  2.  Integrate Total Cost of Ownership with Your LCA to Make Sustainable Choices
  3.  3 Ways to Engage Suppliers on Sustainability
  4.  Is Your Sustainability Strategy Too Complicated?
  5.  Future of the FSC: What Happens When Manufacturers Reject Certifications

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