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3 Observations from RILA’s Retail Sustainability Management Report

The SSC Team September 17, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

This past spring, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) announced their brand new Retail Sustainability Management Maturity Matrix, which hopes to be a tool that will be used by retail executives, individual companies, and industry-wide to help companies become more sustainable. Fast-forward to September 2015, and RILA just released their Retail Sustainability Management Report that uses that matrix to analyze sustainability initiatives from over 50,000 RILA member companies.

Taking the 27 dimensions related to sustainability management RILA has identified from seven key sectors, the report looks at where a lot of the companies rank: are they starting, just standard, excelling, leading, or at the next practice already. RILA presents their key findings from each dimension, then provides resources for companies to reach the next level, case studies to look over, and how to get involved on a greater scale.

Here are three observations that really stood out to us:

What comprises a retail-based sustainability team?

RILA offered a breakdown of how many retailer’s sustainability teams look like, and over 50% of those surveyed indicated that there is one person or no full time employee dedicated to sustainability (and a surprising 10% of companies have 10 or more people working on sustainability full time). Often times, the sustainability team will set the sustainability goals for the company, but almost a quarter of the retailers said they do not have sustainability goals. And in terms of budgeting for sustainability, almost 75% of companies said their budget either stayed the same or increased over the past year.

The leaders are well ahead of the pack

When looking at how the retailers did across all dimensions, it becomes apparent most companies are falling firmly in the "standard" category (or rather a 2 on a 1-5 scale). But the leading companies aren't just one or two steps higher, they are already at the "next practice" level (or a 5 on a 1-5 scale). Looking at all of the dimensions, over half the time the leading company was getting top marks - only in 4 dimensions was the leading retailer at the "excelling" level (or a 3 on a 1-5 scale). Leading companies obviously know what they're doing when it comes to sustainability, so now there needs to be an effort to get everyone else up to their level.

A shift to the supply chain

Overall, the supply chain section was one of the weakest, with many companies falling between the “starting” and “standard" category, but as retailers begin to solidify their internal sustainability, there is a growing focus on supply chain sustainability. Companies have started to engage suppliers about various sustainability issues, such as the need to reduce energy and water.

Looking to start a new sustainability project but need to gain support? Find out ways to gain that support for your new project or idea here!

How Sustainability Practitioners Should Give Feedback

The SSC Team September 15, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this article from the SSC blog archives:

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.

Looking to start a new sustainability project but need to gain support? Find out ways to gain that support for your new project or idea here!

Supporting Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build Initiative

The SSC Team September 10, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

At Strategic Sustainability Consulting, we are huge supporters of paying it forward and giving back to the global community. One of the ways that we give back is by supporting Habitat for Humanity. We are proud of the efforts they put forward to provide homes for those in need, and we are always excited when they are able to build sustainable, energy-efficient housing!

Recently, a close friend of SSC, Roya Khaleeli, mentioned she was participating in Habitat for Humanity's Women Build initiative, and wanting to get involved in some capacity ourselves, we donated some money to Women Build. Women Build aims to bring over 13,000 women together from around the world to allow women-only teams build over 2,300 homes together. This is a wonderful opportunity for women to not only help give back to their communities, but it also empowers them with new skills they might not have had before.

We are eager to see the amazing results from the upcoming Women Build events, and we are excited to hear how these women are changing the lives of others.

What Sustainability Practitioners Need to Know About Water

The SSC Team September 8, 2015 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this article from the SSC blog archives:

While carbon emissions management and reporting tend to be the first "big picture" sustainability issues that companies tackle, water is poised to become "the next big thing" in terms of corporate sustainability risk management. As always, we're staying on top of it--culling through the best resources and guides to help our clients effectively tackle the issue.

Because we love to share- and don't want to re-create the wheel- here are three articles that bring home the most important tools, concepts, and frameworks related to corporate water management. Enjoy!

The four pillars of water risk assessment 

In this economic climate and as part of our natural lives we are all familiar with undertaking risk assessments in our everyday professional and personal existence; from the most basic travel decisions ensuring punctuality, to the most comprehensive health and safety issues ensuring the safety of our colleagues in the workplace.

How far away is a standardised approach to water reporting? 

With corporate awareness of water-related risk growing exponentially, so the demand for a standard means of measuring and reporting water usage increases. Katharine Earley explores current practice in benchmarking usage at a global level, and examines the tools and guidelines available to companies as they unravel the complex web of their water footprint. 

Reporting water risks: A step-by-step guide 

An increasing number of companies are experiencing detrimental water-related business impacts, including operational or supply chain disruptions and property damage from flooding, to name a few. These impacts can be costly -- in 2011 they cost some companies up to $200 million -- and have caught the attention of investors around the world. To make the reporting process easier, WRI has aligned its Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas with CDP’s water questionnaire. 

If you are interested in corporate water management, you'll love our free white paper Every Last Drop: Water and the Sustainable Business. Got another water resource to share? Leave a comment, or talk to us on Twitter (@jenniferwoofter).

What Sustainability Practitioners Need to Know About Water

The SSC Team September 8, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this article from the SSC blog archives: While carbon emissions management and reporting tend to be the first "big picture" sustainability issues that companies tackle, water is poised to become "the next big thing" in terms of corporate sustainability risk management. As always, we're staying on top of it--culling through the best resources and guides to help our clients effectively tackle the issue. Because we love to share- and don't want to re-create the wheel- here are three articles that bring home the most important tools, concepts, and frameworks related to corporate water management. Enjoy!

The four pillars of water risk assessment

In this economic climate and as part of our natural lives we are all familiar with undertaking risk assessments in our everyday professional and personal existence; from the most basic travel decisions ensuring punctuality, to the most comprehensive health and safety issues ensuring the safety of our colleagues in the workplace.

How far away is a standardised approach to water reporting? 

With corporate awareness of water-related risk growing exponentially, so the demand for a standard means of measuring and reporting water usage increases. Katharine Earley explores current practice in benchmarking usage at a global level, and examines the tools and guidelines available to companies as they unravel the complex web of their water footprint.

Reporting water risks: A step-by-step guide

An increasing number of companies are experiencing detrimental water-related business impacts, including operational or supply chain disruptions and property damage from flooding, to name a few. These impacts can be costly -- in 2011 they cost some companies up to $200 million -- and have caught the attention of investors around the world. To make the reporting process easier, WRI has aligned its Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas with CDP’s water questionnaire. If you are interested in corporate water management, you'll love our free white paper Every Last Drop: Water and the Sustainable Business. Got another water resource to share? Leave a comment, or talk to us on Twitter (@jenniferwoofter).

6 Ways to Gain Support for Your New Sustainability Project

The SSC Team September 3, 2015 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

You’re a member of your company’s sustainability team, and you just thought of a brand new sustainability project for your company to undertake. This project will not only help better the environment, but also help save the company money! But what’s the hold up? Often, like many other new projects and ideas, sustainability-related projects get lost in the shuffle.  

In a Harvard Business Review article called “A Guide to Winning Support for Your New Idea or Project", author Rebecca Knight discusses several ways you can win support and get people on board for your new project. We decided to add a sustainability twist to her idea and help you find new ways to gain momentum for your new sustainability project.

1. Understand What’s Motivating You

If you want to successfully pitch and sell your new idea, be sure you are able to explain why. If you want your company to undertake a carbon footprint, it’s a good idea to have a response that goes beyond “it can help the environment in the long run.” Identify why you think your company should invest resources into a carbon footprint and be able to articulate those thoughts.

2. Think Small

Sure, it would be great if every company could have a top-to-bottom sustainability makeover, but unfortunately that’s not the reality. Business still have actual businesses to run and can’t throw an endless supply of resources to the sustainability team. Think small, and try to get as specific as possible. The more precise you are with your goals and outcomes, the better chance you have to get people to respond. It’s much easier to dismiss a large, lofty goal than something that seems more tangible.

3. Gather Feedback

You might think that proposing a materiality assessment is a great idea, but what do your coworkers think? If you find yourself with colleagues who might have interest in the idea, present it in an informal manner, such as “What do you think of our company going through a materiality assessment?” You’ll be able to quickly hear any concerns or questions they might have, allowing you to tighten up your plan to make sure it is a sure-fire success.

4. Sell, Sell, Sell

As Knight mentions in her article, selling your idea is more of a campaign than a singular event. If you want your company to undergo a life cycle assessment, bring up the idea – often. This is when you need to market your idea and get as many people on board as you can. Make your coworkers understand what a life cycle assessment is and why it’s important for your company to complete one; try to get as much agreement as you can.

5. Propose a Pilot

Perhaps you have initial support for your idea of publishing an annual sustainability report, but there’s still some pushback. Instead of having an “all or nothing” mentality, suggest writing a rough skeleton outline of a sustainability report. This way people can get a better sense of what a report would look like, and it’s a fairly low time commitment. And if the sustainability report isn’t approved, minimal resources were wasted.

6. Don’t Get Discouraged

No matter what type of work you are doing, any time someone doesn’t approve of a new project or idea you suggested, it’s easy to get discouraged. Instead, gather feedback. Was your idea for a waste audit shot down because of budgeting reasons or rather your bosses needed some more time to think on it? Just because your project wasn’t accepted initially doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance to complete your waste audit in the future. Keep your head up and continue to advocate for sustainability projects within your company.

Are simple mistakes holding back your sustainability? Find out how to correct those mistakes here!

Carbon Risk Assessment in the Financial Sector

The SSC Team August 4, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Mirele B. Goldsmith

How can financial institutions and individuals factor climate change into their decisions about investments?  This question was considered at a meeting hosted by Moody’s Investors Service on Paving the Road to Paris COP21: Discussing Carbon Risk Assessment Strategies on July 27, 2015.  (The list of speakers may be found here.)

Those of us focused on sustainability are well aware that over time climate change will impact every aspect of the economy.  The finance sector is facing this fact now that governments are beginning to introduce regulation requiring disclosure of the risks that climate change poses to investors. At the meeting there was a lot of talk about France, where legislation has just been proposed to require disclosure of climate risk.  China is also considering legislation.  The European Union already requires pension funds to consider climate risk.  The SEC requires that companies disclose material risks from climate change, although the speakers described this requirement as “toothless.” 

What risks could climate change pose to financial returns?   The most obvious risk is that companies will be impacted physically (operator risks) and investors will bear the costs. The risk that seems to be most on the minds of experts is changes in policy.  As one speaker put it, “it is becoming more expensive to pollute.”  Changes in technology which may make businesses obsolete or lead to falling prices are another risk.  And there are reputational risks.

Much of the meeting focused on just how the financial risks of climate change can be quantified.  The two big sources of uncertainty are first, that we don’t know how much and what kinds of actions will be taken to mitigate climate change.  And second, we don’t know how much the climate will change.  Risk projections are usually informed by past experience, but there is no historical data that can be used to build and test models of climate risk.

The speakers presented several tools that are designed to help investors at various levels incorporate climate into their risk assessments.  Speakers from the World Resources Institute and UNEP Finance Initiative gave an overview of their Carbon Asset Risk Discussion Framework.  The framework, which provides questions to ask but no answers, provides a structured approach to assess exposure to climate risk, valuate, and manage it.  Mercer has released a report on Investing in a Time of Climate Change that is meant to help investors assess their portfolios using four climate-risk factors to assess exposure under four possible climate scenarios.  Mercer’s approach is more user-friendly because it provides answers based on assumptions about how investments in certain sectors and regions will be impacted under specific scenarios.  However, given how much is unknown, this approach obviously requires making a lot of assumptions.  2 Degrees Investing Initiative has worked with UNEP Inquiry and CDC Climat Research to produce a review of various approaches to carbon risk assessment: Financial Risk and the Transition to a Low Carbon Economy.  The Bloomberg Carbon Risk Valuation Tool (available to Bloomberg subscribers) was also mentioned in passing.

This meeting was focused on technical questions about how to assess climate risk in order to protect financial institutions and individual investors. However the speakers also alluded to the critical need to mobilize the influence of financial markets to accelerate action to mitigate climate change.   On this point, speaker after speaker emphasized the issue of the difference in time horizons for investment decisions and the major risks to investments from climate change.  Most investment decisions are made for 2-10 years, while these experts expect to see major impacts on investments from climate change only in 25-30 years.  In order to leverage the power of markets to address climate change something will have to change.

Mirele B. Goldsmith is an environmental psychologist, program evaluator, and activist.  She is an expert in how to change human behavior – the key to solving environmental problems and building a sustainable future.  Mirele’s clients include community-based organizations, associations, and businesses, that are engaging employees, tenants, board members, and constituents, in saving energy, reducing waste, educating about sustainability, and advocating for change.  Mirele is a certified SSC Green Auditor and the principal of Green Strides Consulting.

Carbon Risk Assessment in the Financial Sector

The SSC Team August 4, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Mirele B. Goldsmith How can financial institutions and individuals factor climate change into their decisions about investments?  This question was considered at a meeting hosted by Moody’s Investors Service on Paving the Road to Paris COP21: Discussing Carbon Risk Assessment Strategies on July 27, 2015.  (The list of speakers may be found here.) Those of us focused on sustainability are well aware that over time climate change will impact every aspect of the economy.  The finance sector is facing this fact now that governments are beginning to introduce regulation requiring disclosure of the risks that climate change poses to investors. At the meeting there was a lot of talk about France, where legislation has just been proposed to require disclosure of climate risk.  China is also considering legislation.  The European Union already requires pension funds to consider climate risk.  The SEC requires that companies disclose material risks from climate change, although the speakers described this requirement as “toothless.” What risks could climate change pose to financial returns?   The most obvious risk is that companies will be impacted physically (operator risks) and investors will bear the costs. The risk that seems to be most on the minds of experts is changes in policy.  As one speaker put it, “it is becoming more expensive to pollute.”  Changes in technology which may make businesses obsolete or lead to falling prices are another risk.  And there are reputational risks. Much of the meeting focused on just how the financial risks of climate change can be quantified.  The two big sources of uncertainty are first, that we don’t know how much and what kinds of actions will be taken to mitigate climate change.  And second, we don’t know how much the climate will change.  Risk projections are usually informed by past experience, but there is no historical data that can be used to build and test models of climate risk. The speakers presented several tools that are designed to help investors at various levels incorporate climate into their risk assessments.  Speakers from the World Resources Institute and UNEP Finance Initiative gave an overview of their Carbon Asset Risk Discussion Framework.  The framework, which provides questions to ask but no answers, provides a structured approach to assess exposure to climate risk, valuate, and manage it.  Mercer has released a report on Investing in a Time of Climate Change that is meant to help investors assess their portfolios using four climate-risk factors to assess exposure under four possible climate scenarios.  Mercer’s approach is more user-friendly because it provides answers based on assumptions about how investments in certain sectors and regions will be impacted under specific scenarios.  However, given how much is unknown, this approach obviously requires making a lot of assumptions.  2 Degrees Investing Initiative has worked with UNEP Inquiry and CDC Climat Research to produce a review of various approaches to carbon risk assessment: Financial Risk and the Transition to a Low Carbon Economy.  The Bloomberg Carbon Risk Valuation Tool (available to Bloomberg subscribers) was also mentioned in passing. This meeting was focused on technical questions about how to assess climate risk in order to protect financial institutions and individual investors. However the speakers also alluded to the critical need to mobilize the influence of financial markets to accelerate action to mitigate climate change.   On this point, speaker after speaker emphasized the issue of the difference in time horizons for investment decisions and the major risks to investments from climate change.  Most investment decisions are made for 2-10 years, while these experts expect to see major impacts on investments from climate change only in 25-30 years.  In order to leverage the power of markets to address climate change something will have to change. Mirele B. Goldsmith is an environmental psychologist, program evaluator, and activist.  She is an expert in how to change human behavior – the key to solving environmental problems and building a sustainable future.  Mirele’s clients include community-based organizations, associations, and businesses, that are engaging employees, tenants, board members, and constituents, in saving energy, reducing waste, educating about sustainability, and advocating for change.  Mirele is a certified SSC Green Auditor and the principal of Green Strides Consulting.

4 Mistakes That Are Holding Back Your Company’s Sustainability

The SSC Team July 21, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller Take a step back and examine your company’s sustainability. Is your company moving forward with its sustainability goals and initiatives? Or do you feel like your company could be doing more? If you identify with the latter, there might be some simple mistakes being made that is causing this problem. Introduced in the Fast Company article “4 Business Decision-Makings Mistakes Are Holding You Back”, Romi Stein discusses common mistakes companies have made and how it has hurt them. Wanting to put a sustainability twist on the points discussed in that article, we have highlighted ways that these mistakes could be causing your sustainability initiatives some harm:

Failure to Learn

Have you ever been to a conference or event where an older person - someone with years of experience and knowledge - got on stage and lectured everyone about the "right way to do sustainability"? Did you then subsequently think to yourself, "but isn't there more than one way to do sustainability?" That's because there is! The field of sustainability is always changing, in the sense that new information and research is always being published. We are always finding better ways to track emissions and inventive ways to report sustainability initiatives, so there is no need to exclaim that there is a right way for sustainability. If someone isn't willing to learn new ways of approaching sustainability, they appear too entrenched in the past, and soon their sustainability will be too.

Failure to Anticipate

It’s the end of July, which means a lot of companies have either submitted their CDP reports for 2014 or are making their final edits. But more than likely there are companies that are scrambling to put together a year’s worth of emissions data and sustainability initiatives. Sustainability, like any field or industry, has annual deadlines – whether set by the company or by other organizations. CDP and UNGC have deadlines to submit their reports, and many companies aim to publish their sustainability report around the same time every year. If a company does not anticipate these deadlines, that often means other sustainability work gets pushed to the side just to make sure the reports go out on time.

Failure to Adapt

Over the past few years, there has been a big push to bring materiality to sustainability, and slowly, companies are doing so. But what happens if your company doesn’t change and adapt to materiality or every other new trend? How much of an impact could that have? Nothing in sustainability stays the same for long, which can make it difficult to tell what’s important to focus on. New reporting standards are released, new trends emerge, but there are instances where reporting standards account for these trends. With GRI’s G4 iteration, it plays up the importance of materiality and how companies should build their annual reports around it. If your company is ignoring materiality, it can look like they don’t take sustainability seriously.

Failure to Execute

One of the biggest ways to hold back a company's sustainability is by them simply failing to execute their sustainability plan. This could happen for a variety of reasons: your company isn't allocating the same resources to sustainability that it once did; you forgot to keep up with data tracking throughout the year; more pressing, non-sustainability related projects pop up. No matter what your job, in whatever industry, this is going to happen - it's an inevitable part of having a job. But what will make the difference is how you react when facing these issues. Does your company just ignore all sustainability-related initiatives for the rest of the year, or are they doing something to make sure they are sticking to their plan? Think your company could be a little more sustainable? Find out how to get your company moving towards sustainability here.

How to Get Your Company Moving Towards Sustainability

The SSC Team July 9, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably have noticed that “sustainability” is one of the biggest buzzwords today, especially within companies. Everyone is trying to be the most sustainable or have the best sustainability initiatives or be the most innovative. But what are you to do if you notice your company is lagging behind? Just ask. Thomas Smale, whose article “7 Reasons Why 'Just Ask' Is the Best Negotiation Tactic” was published on the Entrepreneur website, discusses how asking a direct question can lead you to effective negotiation. Keeping Smale’s points in mind, we added a little sustainability twist to help your company move towards sustainability.

1. Get a firm “yes” or “no”

Start by asking a direct question. “Has our company ever been involved in sustainability?” “Is sustainability something important to the company?” Get a feel for the climate and begin to lay your groundwork.

2. Provide information

When talking with your boss about sustainability, come prepared. Maybe you want to start small and implement office recycling. Research the cost, benefits, implementation time, etc. so when you talk to your boss, you can paint a better picture to allow them to understand every aspect of your request.

3. Get the negotiation back on track

Every conversation and negotiation can get off track. If you notice that happening, ask a more personal question related to sustainability, such as, “Do you have any concerns about having a sustainability strategy in the office?”

4. Gather missing information

You’ve done research on your end, and you’re ready to talk to your boss about sustainability. But even the most prepared people don’t have all of the information. By asking direct questions, you can start to fill in gaps on why sustainability isn’t a big priority in the office.

5. Get other people involved in the discussion

By asking a question, you’ve now cornered your boss into having a conversation about sustainability. From there, they might know other people who are interested in the topic as well. If you don’t ignite the conversation, you might now know where it could lead!

6. Come to a firm agreement

The right questions can lead you to a firm agreement. Find out if there are any resources that will allow you begin small sustainability-related projects around the office or see if you can present this topic to more people in a few weeks. Looking for ways to become a better sustainability consultant? Check out our blog post that talks about 8 steps to improving as a sustainability consultant!