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6 Ways to Get Executive Buy In for Sustainability

The SSC Team December 6, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.

What do executives have in common with school kids? They both can be pretty picky. So when we read 6 Quick Lessons from the School Lunch Line for Pleasing Picky Customers, we realized that the tips applied equally well when trying to convince company executives to green-light a sustainability project. We've taken the article's six lessons which are listed below, and added our own commentary.

1. INVOLVE THEM INTO THE PROCESS.

It's easier to get approval for something when the person you are trying to convince feels ownership of it -- so ask for input and solicit feedback as you begin to plan and refine your proposal. Find out what makes your executives tick (cost savings, innovation, beating a competitor, etc.) and work that aspect into your pitch.

2. GIVE A NOD TO WHAT THEY KNOW.

If you can build on an existing program or process that is well-tested and well-loved, all the better. Anything you can do to reduce the risk (or perceived risk) of a new sustainability venture will make it more palatable for executives to swallow.

3. FREE SAMPLES NEVER HURT.

Can you give executives a taste of what's to come? Whether it's the results of a small pilot study ("Look, in just a week we saved $568- Imagine what we could do by rolling out this program company wide!") or a tangible thing to hold (a prototype of a new product), giving people a "bite" to try before committing to the whole meal can lower their resistance to something new. 

4. USE PEER DYNAMICS. PEOPLE ARE NATURALLY COMPETITIVE.

Sometimes you can use C-Suite dynamics to your advantage -- but tread carefully. You may find that certain executives are eager to prove themselves. That may mean that they challenge each other to find better and better sustainability initiatives. (Or it may mean that they undercut each other -- so again, be thoughtful in how you play office politics.) Alternately, consider framing your idea in terms of your company versus your competition. How can your initiative help leapfrog over your industry peers? How can it help you stay competitive? How can it open new markets that others haven't yet spotted?

5. DON’T GIVE UP IMMEDIATELY.

Anyone who has tried to sell their idea at the executive level has probably already learned this lesson, but it's worth repeating. It's unlikely that any significant initiative will get immediate approval -- so think early and often about how to introduce a phased approach, or plan your requests so that executives have plenty of time to consider and decide. 

6. ON THE OTHER HAND, ACCEPT YOUR LIMITATIONS.

Sometimes you just have to let it go. If executives are dead set against your program, move on. The beautiful thing about sustainability is that there is never a shortage of great ideas. So find the next one and start planning. (And don't forget that it's possible that your timing was just off -- keep your rejected idea in a drawer somewhere. It might be just what's needed six months from now!)

Thanks to 2degrees for publishing a version of this article!

If you are interested in reading more on this topic, check out our blog post: Does Your Executive Team Really Understand Your Sustainability Strategy?

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

Lobbying Isn’t (Always) a Dirty Word: Climate Change is a Very Special Interest

The SSC Team November 3, 2016 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

The public discourse, especially in the current political climate, tends to take extreme positions on practically every issue. Of course climate change and climate change regulation is already quite a hot-button, but the act of lobbying itself – approaching elected officials to influence public policy – is often considered dirty politics.

In truth, those of us committed to smart regulations and international cooperation to help reduce the effects of climate change, can benefit from pressing our elected officials to take this issue seriously. U.S. voters head to the polls next week – make sure you know what your candidates’ views are on climate change – and organizations small and large should consider taking a stronger position and using their resources to help create a smart regulatory environment.

The deck isn’t stacked against the green companies

According to a recent study, more than $3.1 billion was spent lobbying on environmental issues between 2009 and 2014, and nearly half of that money was spent by firms lobbying for climate-protecting regulation.

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) “openly supported a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, and even left the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over the organization’s vociferous opposition to carbon regulation,” and was the second highest spender lobbying on climate change in 2008.

Too few are using the government to help

The study also found that mostly the activist companies – very low emitters with a competitive advantage from increasing regulation – and the worst greenhouse gas emitters (gas, oil, coal, and the like) are primarily the ones taking the fight to state and national legislators. This means that there are hundreds of thousands of organizations that aren’t speaking up at all, allowing the major players to dictate the terms.

Integrate lobbying into your sustainability strategy

As companies develop sustainability strategies, be sure to include lobbying – at the local, regional, or national level –  in that strategy. Set the pace as a leader on the issues so you’re not caught playing catch up when legislation is enacted.

Is your organization integrating lobbying and outreach efforts into its sustainability strategy? Let us know where you've seen gains.

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!

EPA and Waste Management Webinar Recap: Putting a Price Tag On Emissions Reduction

The SSC Team August 16, 2016 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Last Tuesday, GreenBiz hosted the first in a two part webinar series on the emissions impact of recycling and Sustainable Materials Management (SMM).

SMM can be generally described as active management of a product’s life cycle to reach sustainability aims.

The webinar began with an overview of the EPA’s work on SMM/LCA advocacy. Essentially, the EPA sees its role as advancing LCA and SMM as integral business practices. Because LCA and supply-chain work is so crucial to truly moving the bar on reducing emissions, it’s heartening to know that the EPA has made this a priority in their policy, oversight, and research work.

From lifecycle to the trash

After the EPA presentation, the talk shifted from life-cycle studies directly to the end of the life cycle and the work of Waste Management, the American comprehensive waste and environmental services company. Waste Management has undertaken a massive effort calculate the actual dollar cost of reducing emissions waste by method of disposal.

As a side note, the presenters did not do a great job of clearly making this transition from LCA work to emissions reduction cost calculating. But, it seems that the overall point was two-fold:

1.     Most organizations look at their carbon footprint – which is business operations – and what comes up most commonly is that the largest emissions source for most businesses is energy use. So, companies focus on energy reductions initiatives, essentially passing their product emissions - natural resources, product use, and product disposal –  onto suppliers and consumers. This needs to stop. More organization need to look up and down a product’s life cycle to really engineer, source and plan in ways that reduce the overall impact of the entire product to move the bar on sustainability.

2.     As organizations begin to engineer products with a focus on SMM, it would be helpful to know the GHG emissions resulting in end of life (i.e. GHG emissions of landfilling versus single-stream recycling) and the cost in real dollars of each of the processing methods. That’s where Waste Management stepped in.

Waste Management’s work calculating the price of reducing GHGs in the waste management industry delivers a cost per ton of GHG emissions through various waste processing techniques. (The most reduction for the lowest cost goes to – residential and commercial single-stream recycling!)

The Waste Management process, prioritization, and graphical representation on how they calculated cost/benefit is pretty fantastic. Definitely consider downloading the slides.

But questions remain.

How can organizations and policymakers work to reduce the cost of the other types of GHG emissions reduction technologies (e.g. anaerobic digesters)? Is there talk about subsidizing them? How can businesses be incentivized to use materials that can be sent into the low-emissions/low-cost single-stream recycling category and/or eliminate materials that can’t? Is there talk about banning certain materials? Are there waste processing technologies that need research funding that provide low-cost emissions reduction?  

Calculating cost and cost benefit is important from an engineering standpoint, but only if your organization is somehow incentivized or driven to engineer with the life cycle in mind. Without pressure – regulatory or otherwise- companies are still largely driven by the biggest incentive of all: producing products for the lowest actual cost and passing any environmental costs onto the planet, via the consumer.

Listen to the recap here, and log in today at 1pm Eastern for the second webcast, Setting Goals: Have We Reached the Limits of Recycling?, where presenters look at SMM through waste reduction efforts and give guidance on how to set effective waste reduction and recycling goals.

Are you ready to take a more advanced approach to understanding and reducing impact through a product life-cycle assessment? Check out our LCA overview information and contact us for a brief discussion of the benefits and challenges. 

 

Motivate Your In-House Team to Meet Your Sustainability Goals

The SSC Team March 1, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

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 2016? We can guide you through the process and help keep your team motivated along the way.

 

Sustainability Strategy Isn’t a Checklist

The SSC Team February 9, 2016 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

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.

 

5 Tips for Staying Motivated as a Sustainability Professional When Making a Difference Seems Overwhelming

The SSC Team January 21, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Global climate science sometimes comes head to head with policymakers and corporations in ways that make us feel like there is no way that we, as sustainability professionals, can really ‘save the world.’

It can be difficult to keep things in perspective. But we must.

If you quit, then you really have no hope of effecting change. And you’re still here, still on this planet, and you likely still need a job. So, find some internal motivation and keep going.

Here is our take on the Six Ways for Staying Motivated When You Really Want to Quit:

1. Practice looking at Things From the Other Side

If you think it’s futile to ‘keep fighting’ when change is so incremental and what is at risk in our world seems so great, look at it from a different perspective. Don’t be afraid to spend a few minutes looking back in time and celebrating some of the that have been accomplished in our world, or in your own career, to feel reenergized.

2. Identify your Intention

Are you going head-to-head with the CEO because you want to win, or because you truly believe what you’re doing will help the company achieve its goals? Look at what you hope to achieve as a sustainability professional, assess whether it lines up with what you’re actually doing, and then realign your action steps so you’re doing what you intend to do. If you have a clear intention, you’re more likely to feel motivated because you’ll feel like you’re getting somewhere.

3. Find a Different Way to do Things

If you come up against a hurdle, use some creative genius to work around it. Or just evaluate whether to reprioritize this activity. It may not be the right time to implement a certain policy in your industry, but there may be other areas you can focus on and have equal impact.

4. Lose Your Ego (and your High Horse)

Ego can get in the way of a lot of good ideas. In sustainability, a combination of ego and that sustainability, because of its focus on the lofty ‘world saving’ type goals, can immediately be off-putting.

You are likely a good person and working in sustainability is likely going to make the world a better place, overall, but focusing on that can be so self-centric that you’ll lose your motivation. Instead, go back to the first item on our list, and challenge yourself to get projects going by putting others first.

5. Beware of your Habits

Don’t get trapped by the status quo. Sustainability best practices are always rapidly changing, so get motivated by learning something new on the cutting edge of the field. Enroll in a class or learn to use a new assessment tool. You’ll likely want to run out and start working on applying the new knowledge.

6. Realize that Nothing is Perfect

Whether it’s a big project or a small one, everything we do as sustainability professionals is about incremental change that helps add up to big impact. Nothing will ever be perfect, but don’t let that hold you back. Just get up, get a project started, and then celebrate what you did accomplish.

Staring for too long at the big picture may be counterproductive in any field, but especially in sustainability. Instead, find internal motivation and understand that there are thousands of us, like-minded professionals in all sectors, who are working alongside you.

Together we will create change.

How do you stay motivated? Let us know in the comments.