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

The SSC Team March 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 February.

How to Improve Client Outreach

 

The Four Big Social Media Mistakes Your Company Is Probably Making

 

Straight Talk with the CEO to get Better Sustainability Results

 

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Straight talk with the CEO to get better sustainability results

The SSC Team February 26, 2018 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives. 

 

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 February 8, 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 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

How to Improve Client Outreach

The SSC Team February 6, 2018 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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You may think that your work in the world of sustainability puts you in a totally unique industry. But think again! You may not like the idea of equating your work with work in sales, however a lot of the elements of a sales role overlap sustainability.

 

Just think — if you need to convince an internal audience that it is worth investing in sustainable efforts, aren’t you selling them on it? Or, as a consultant, you’re constantly selling your expertise? With that in mind, here are some tips from sales pros — and some things you definitely want to avoid when you are trying to engage a new client.

 

Focus on trust. Out of the gate you can’t just throw tons of new (and possibly expensive) ideas right out of the gate. First you need to establish a relationship, which will allow you to build trust. Then when you present a strategic plan the listener will be more likely to be confident in your agenda.

 

How can you create this trust? Jeff Haden offered three great suggestions in his recent post on Inc. about taking this step. First you need to learn about your contact and their business or organizational obstacles. If you don’t understand their unique challenges and values, how can you create a strategy that will make sense to them?

 

Find common ground. The best way to connect with a potential client is through a mutual connection. Research has shown that a buyer is five times more likely to engage with a sales person if they connected through a mutual acquaintance. Five times more likely! You can easily translate that from sales to your sustainability business — always look for a common professional connection.

 

And for in-house common ground? Look for opportunities to collaborate on their projects before pushing hard for someone to immediately jump on board your project. The old adage, “make it their idea” works well when selling to co-workers across departments.

 

The last tip seems like a no brainer — demonstrate expertise and knowledge in your industry. You may get in the door, but your potential client is probably not going to sign onto any strategy you create unless they believe you really know what you are talking about. Be confident and show that you are tuned into their business and the best ways to make sustainable adjustments in their industry.

 

As an internal sustainability manager or advocate, it might be helpful to bring in an expert for a workshop to better explain what sustainability is from a position of experience. This may answer a lot of questions for everyone on the team, and give you some insight on what next steps you need to take as well.

 

With those guidelines in mind, let’s take a look at some of behaviors you want to avoid while selling:  

 

Do not blame others if your performance declines. Your plans aren’t being accepted? You aren’t growing your client base? Before you start casting the blame on someone else, take a real look at what former clients, supervisors, or colleagues are saying about your work. Have things changed?

 

As a consultant, even if you’ve found one super, amazing client, don’t neglect your other work. Remember do not put all your eggs in one basket. Client needs change, relationships change, and you can’t focus all your attention on only one company or you could end up with nothing.

 

You probably don’t want to get too political. If you take a stance make sure it is in line with your brand as a consultant or in line with the corporate values. Try to keep your personal feelings in check, and think about the brand you’re selling before make politically motivated statements. 

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!