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 informationWhen 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 trackEvery 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 informationYou’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 discussionBy 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 agreementThe 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!
Use a Devil's Advocate to Fight Confirmation BiasConfirmation bias is a well-documented tendency for people to draw conclusions and interpret events in a way that conforms to previously held beliefs--leading to poorly reasoned decision-making based on incomplete information and judgments. (Wikipedia has a great write-up on the phenomenon here.) "When you have a theory about someone or something, test it. When you smell a contradiction – a thorny issue, an inconsistency or problem – go after it. Like the orchestral conductor, isolate it, drill deeper. When someone says – or you yourself intuit – 'that’s just an exception,' be sure it’s just that. Thoroughly examine the claim." Whether you are predisposed to believe that the CFO will never get on board with your sustainability plan, or that your fellow employees care deeply about sustainability, it's essential that you incorporate a way to test those assumptions before investing too much time and resources into a plan of action. Regularly sit down with executives to better understand their priorities and pressures. Survey employees to determine which sustainability issues are most important to them, and how they rank in comparison to other workplace concerns. Test your beliefs and predispositions. And then test some more. "Dealing with confirmation bias is about reining in your impulses and challenging your own assumptions. It’s difficult to stick to it day in and out. That’s why it’s important to have in your circle of advisers a brainy, tough-as-nails devil’s advocate who – perhaps annoyingly, but valuably – checks you constantly." If your team is big enough, incorporate a devil's advocate. If it's just you, set aside time in your schedule (or in your process) to wear the devil's advocate hat yourself. Ask questions like:
- What are we missing?
- What could go wrong?
- What alternate approaches can we take?
- What are the unintended consequences that might pop up?
Keep a Journal to Combat Hindsight BiasHindsight bias is also called the "knew it all along" effect, and causes "extreme methodological problems while trying to analyze, understand, and interpret results" (Wikipedia). It makes us think that things are more predictable, simpler, and more straightforward than they really are. For a challenge as complex as sustainability, this is a major concern. Here’s one way to check hindsight bias: Keep a diary. And record minutes from important meetings...What becomes painfully clear is that we failed to predict much of anything – claims after the fact notwithstanding. While acting as a mechanism to keep us honest about our ability to forecast the future, a detailed journal provides an added bonus: additional insight into how we make decisions. Once you've been using a journal for at least several months, go back and review it to see what patterns emerge. (For example, you may find that your boss is always grumpy in October, or that you have a tendency to lose your temper after a big success.)
Hire a Diverse Staff to Eliminate GroupthinkGroupthink is is "a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an incorrect or deviant decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences." (Thanks, Wikipedia!) Fighting groupthink should start at the hiring stage. Look for people who share your basic values and purpose, but who are also tough, independent, and able to tell you what they think. Moreover: check that decisions at all levels in the company are being made on the basis of rationality, not merely flowing from authority or a tendency (however subconscious) to conform. While sustainability practitioners (in-house, or consultants) may not be in a position to control who is hired in a company, there are other ways to avoid groupthink. More importantly, make sure that you don't shut yourself off from people who don't see the world from your viewpoint. Just as many sustainability leaders bemoan the closed-minded and isolationist philosophies of climate-change deniers, we too can fall prey to "preaching to the choir" and focusing only on talking to other sustainability believers. This approach does NOT mean that you must engage and bring in people who are intentionally at loggerheads with you. But it is important to understand why people feel the way that they do, what motivates them, and what values you share with them. Take note- it not only applies to big topics (like global climate change), but also to more discrete topics (like how to approach the topic of Green IT for your next budget cycle). Make a point to intentionally solicit information from a wide variety of perspectives early on in your process--your ultimate success may depend on it. 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!
1. Master easy goals firstAny project can seem daunting when you join a new company in a field you’re just starting to understand. The first few months on the job I set small goals for myself, such as “get acquainted with the waste audit spreadsheets” or “understand how to use the sustainability reporting platform”. This helped me feel more at ease in my new role and help me gain confidence going forward.
2. Break ridiculous goals down into several smaller goalsOne of the first big projects I had a chance to work on from the beginning was collecting data for a client’s annual sustainability report. It was very unnerving in the beginning, but once I broke everything down into a timeline, I was able to set smaller goals, which made the overall goal much more attainable.
3. Be prepared to push hard through the finish lineAs much as it would be nice to leave your work at the office, it simply isn’t practical, and I very quickly learned that sustainability consulting is no different. There are certain times during a project that will require time outside of the office to complete or quick turnarounds late at night, and by anticipating when these busy periods are, I can then better manage my time both in and out of the office.
4. Build a team of specialists around youI’m lucky enough to work with some of the smartest and brightest people in the field. By surrounding myself with people who specialize in certain areas of sustainability consulting, I am able to learn so from them just by watching how they attack different projects.
5. Don’t stall or make excusesLearning to juggle multiple client projects at once was an initial challenge, but I knew that I couldn’t make excuses for my shortcomings. I began to set weekly and daily deadlines for myself, and I eventually was able to better manage all my simultaneous projects.
6. Accept that failure is a possibilityWhen I was helping to write and edit one of my first sustainability reports, I was too nervous to write or change anything, because I didn’t want to fail. How would I ever be able to grow and learn from my experiences if I don’t take any chances? No one is perfect, and missing the mark on a project is inevitable for everyone.
7. Be prepared and willing to sacrificeProjects pop last minute. It’s going to happen whether you can control it or not. And sometimes when this happened over the course of the past year, I’ve had to make some sacrifices. Yes, I was bummed I couldn’t go to dinner with my friends that one time, but a project had to be completed by the end of the day. Sacrifices will have to happen.
8. Don’t ever quitBeing a sustainability consultant isn’t always smooth sailing, but you can never give up. Simple enough. Find out how you can become a better sustainability leader in one of our latest blogs.
1. Isolating YourselfIt’s always tempting to go to your office, shut the door, and hammer away at a project. It can be an efficient way to get things done, right? While you might think you are just trying to be productive, you are also isolating yourself from your team members. You might be struggling to finish a carbon footprint, while trying to edit a sustainability report at the same time, but no one will know if you need help if you’re always cooped up in your office. Don’t be afraid to reach out when you need help, and be sure to keep your team members in the loop.
2. Setting Firm DirectionWhen it comes to sustainability, there is no “right way” to go about it. You might have a plan set for how you will report your company’s emissions data or have your 2020 goals set, but once you start moving forward, everything can change. It is easy to want to stick to what the original plan is, but don’t be stuck in the mud. Sustainability isn’t a linear path, and a good leader will know how to adapt.
3. Focusing on Day-to-Day TasksThere are certain times of the year when sustainability professionals find themselves a bit busier than usual. It could be because you need to approve the final draft of your sustainability report and you need to make sure everything is perfect, or you could be completing a massive data collection process. Regardless of what you are doing, it becomes very easy to just focus on what needs to happen by the end of the day. The problem is that sustainability doesn’t end when a project does; sustainability is a long-term process. By only focusing on day-to-day tasks, you can lose sight on the long road ahead.
4. Making ExcusesWhen something doesn’t go our way, we tend to make excuses (and even if we try not to, we’re only human, after all). There are always opportunities for excuses: half of the data you need for a carbon footprint is missing, or you’re assigned over oversee a new sustainability project when you’re just someone from finance. Rise above the problem, and demonstrate why you’re a good leader.
5. Working Too HardYou want to lead by example, so you show your coworkers how hard you work. That’s great, until you never take a break. Working long hours and skipping breaks will eventually catch up with you, whether it’s a lack of focus, increase in stress, or simply your physical health declining. No one wants to be around a leader that is constantly stressed out. Take a break every once in a while – your coworkers might thank you for it! Looking to focus your sustainability leadership? Find out how here!
- Lower-level employees on a volunteer green team, trying to steer their companies down a greener path
- Newly appointed Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) charged with the momentous task of integrating sustainability into the C-Suite
- Sustainability consultants that have buy-in from the client’s leadership, but are struggling to push it down into individual departments
1. What do you really want?“In the middle of a leadership crisis, nothing provides clarity like this question. What do you want to happen as a result of your leadership in this situation? Sometimes you’ll find that you’ve been acting from an entirely different set of motivations than what it is you want deep down, where it matters.” For Sustainability Leaders: Sustainability is a cross-departmental, cross-functional, cross-issue, cross-stakeholder endeavor – and the truth is that you can’t please everyone all the time. Be clear about what YOU really want out of the “sustainability leader” role. Is it to radically transform the company? Inspire the CEO? Show up the CFO? Execute the plan and make your targets? Show that going green can be profitable? Use this position as a stepping stone to another job? Be clear, specific, and honest with yourself.
2. Do you know (and are you working out of) your values and personal mission?“Self leadership begins when you know your own values and understand your purpose – what make your heart sing and come alive in the universe. When you work from this energy, it’s naturally attractive to like-minded team members and you motivate almost without knowing it. If you haven’t done this work, I strongly encourage you to find a coach or mentor who can help you explore what matters most.” For Sustainability Leaders: Think beyond sustainability for a minute: what makes you tick? Do you love to collaborate, and work best in a meeting or team environment? Or do you love to be alone in a room, running the numbers a dozen ways to figure out the best way to optimize a process? Are you a voracious reader who thrives on big ideas? Or are you an “on the ground” details player? Understanding your values, working style, and motivation will help clarify your leadership style.
3. Are you choosing problems or trying to avoid problems?“Solving problems is central to meaningful leadership, but many leaders fall into a trap of trying to avoid problems. We don’t get to choose whether or not we’ll have problems … but often we DO get to choose which set of problems we’ll have. Effective leaders don’t spend time trying to avoid problems. Rather, they put their energy into working on the right set of problems – the ones that get them closer to their vision. For example: Do you want the discomfort of learning how to address poor performance or do you want the discomfort of a team with poor morale and worse results? Do you prefer the pain of changing your strategy or the pain of discovering your team is no longer relevant? Do you risk vulnerability and apologize for mistakes or do you avoid taking blame and lose credibility?” For Sustainability Leaders: This is a crucial lesson that we need to learn over and over. Because sustainability is a complex issue, we can tackle it through a variety of lenses – and thus choose our problem set. Do you prefer to focus on pushing a more radical sustainability strategy and risk making no substantive progress for months, or focus on smaller, incremental steps that may not really change “business as usual”? Do you want to risk C-suite ire by pushing for ground-up employee engagement, or risk alienating lower-level employees by pushing a top-down sustainability plan? Each choice has pros and cons, so be thoughtful about which problems you choose.
4. Do you really want things to get better?“In question #1, you looked at what you really want, deep down. Now it’s time to look at the cost. If you’re going to change things, it’s going to include risk, discomfort, being misunderstood, sacrificing other goals, etc. Are you willing to accept the consequences of pursuing your vision? If not, you can’t possibly expect your team to come along with you.” For Sustainability Leaders: If you push for a radical sustainability agenda, you may find yourself stalemated (or worse, fired) for being too aggressive. If you move more slowly, you may look back in 10 years and realize you haven’t accomplished much. Either way there are consequences for your leadership style, both for yourself and for the organization you are leading. Can you identify the risks you face as a result of your sustainability leadership? Are they acceptable? If not, what do you need to change?
5. Are you working for your team or yourself?“Time to take a hard look in the mirror … no one will truly know the answer to this one but you. When your decisions are in your heart and your head, before you’ve given them a voice … are you filtering them through what’s best for you or best for your team? Are you saying “I” … or “we”? It’s okay to include your own well-being in your decisions (you are one of the team after all!), but if your team isn’t at the core of your leadership decisions, your credibility will quickly erode.” For Sustainability Leaders: I’d expand this question to include: whose sustainability are you working for? Is it your own (including having a job that pays the mortgage), your organization (including being profitable and competitive), or the world (including a radical transformation of our economy and social structure to account for natural and social boundaries inherent in a sustainable system). These goals aren’t totally either/or, but there are often trade-offs that need to be considered. For example, a sustainability consultant needs to consider whether they are working themselves out of a job by helping companies set up sustainability programs. (I believe that there will always be a role for sustainability consultants, but that’s another article altogether.) Sometimes, pursuing a radical sustainability agenda will NOT be in the best interest of a company – rather, a more strategic, leading-but-not-sticking-your-neck-out-too-far approach is best. Be cognizant of the trade-offs of your sustainability leadership approach. You’ll need to be able to address them with your colleagues.
6. What can I do to bring about the results I want to see?“I love this one: it moves us from victim to leader. When you find yourself frustrated at circumstances, upset that people “just don’t get it,” or discouraged that things didn’t go as you hoped, you’ve got a choice: Bemoan the unfairness of the universe (which inspires no one!). Or look at the situation and see where you can take action. Just asking the question completely reframes the situation and can transform a gloomy attitude in seconds.” For Sustainability Leaders: This is a great question when you find yourself in a stalemate, frustrated by your lack of sustainability progress, or thwarted by a system that doesn’t seem to be moving in step with your vision. Take a different approach and ask yourself: what three actions can I do today to move the ball forward? Maybe it’s scheduling a meeting with your boss to discuss revamping your task list. Maybe it’s buying the latest sustainability book to get inspired. Or maybe it’s taking a day off to recharge your batteries.
7. Are my people better off as a result of their time with me?“This is what James Hunter calls “the ultimate leadership test.” If the answer is yes, keep going. If the answer is no, examine the reasons why. Do you need to improve your skills? Do you need to wrestle with some of the earlier questions on the list?” For Sustainability Leaders: Sustainability isn’t just about reducing your organization’s carbon footprint or finding more eco-friendly packaging. At the end of the day, sustainability leadership is about people: are they engaged? Do they share a common vision of what the future looks like? Can they see their own individual role in the journey? Your job as a sustainability leader is to help people say yes to sustainability. So, how are you doing? What does it take to be environmentally sustainable in the retail industry? Find out here!
Retail OperationsEnvironmental sustainability extends to all aspects of a company, including their retail operations. Whether it is a store or corporate offices, a company should be putting in effort to make these areas as sustainable as possible, such as having facilities be LEED certified. Other ways to make your retail operations more "green" can include incorporating green standards for all new warehousing and participating in the ENERGY STAR program. The Retail Operations sector has three different dimensions:
- Store/Corporate Offices
- Data Center & Applications
Supply ChainSupply chain sustainability might not be the first aspect of a company's sustainability plan to come to mind, but it is no less important than any other aspect. To be a leader in the retail industry when it comes to supply chain sustainability, a company must demonstrate the reduction of environmental impact through the optimization of transportation, work closely with suppliers to help improve their sustainability metrics, and be more transparent when it comes to audit statistics (e.g., percent of non-compliant factories). The Supply Chain sector has three different dimensions:
- Supplier Engagement
- Supply Chain Transparency & Traceability
ProductsWhen someone thinks of a retail organization and sustainability, often times their first thought is "how sustainable is the product?" RILA recognizes that product sustainability is a key component in a company's overall environmental sustainability and offers some suggestions on how to be a leader when it comes to making a company's product more sustainable. Some examples are using renewable energy sources during manufacturing, offering take-back services, and designing products with a "cradle to cradle" outlook. The Products sector has three different dimensions:
- Product & Packaging Design and Development
- Owned Manufacturing/Production
- Product & Packaging End-Of-Life Stewardship
Environmental IssuesAnd finally, true environmental sustainability cannot happen if a company does not focus on the environmental issues at hand. How a company addresses these issues - energy, waste, recycling, etc. - in the context of the retail sector is telling, and some industry leaders are already paving the way. Some of these companies are implementing leading waste technologies and policies, establishing green chemistry programs that helps reduce toxins, recycling and reusing water, using alternative energies, and more. The Environmental Issues sector has four different dimensions:
- Energy & GHG Emissions
- Water & Wastewater
- Waste & Recycling
- Chemical & Toxics
Strategy and CommitmentBefore a company can begin their sustainability journey, they must first have some sort of sustainability strategy, right? And if that strategy is weak, how strong will a company's goals be? How well will the company show executives that sustainability is necessary? What this section hopes to capture is how well a company is addressing environmental sustainability at a governance level. A leading company in this sector will have a sustainability strategy that is aligned across departments and integrated into corporate strategy, has defined comprehensive and aggressive goals, incorporates executives from all relevant parts of the business, and more. The Strategy and Commitment sector has five different dimensions:
- Materiality/Risk Identification
- Governance & Executive Engagement
People and ToolsSustainability cannot happen without people. Whether the people are stakeholders or employees, sustainability is a collaborative process that needs to have everyone involved from the beginning. While the people involved in your sustainability process is important, so are the tools you use. If you don't have the right set of tools and the right people, your company might be falling short in terms of their sustainability. According to RILA, in order to be leading this sector, a company must demonstrate that they have a dedicated team to creating and investing in sustainable innovations, incorporate feedback from key stakeholders into sustainability strategy, provide a collaborative forum for employees to engage in, and more. The People and Tools sector has four different dimensions:
- Stakeholder Engagement
- Employee Engagement
- Funding Mechanisms
- Business Innovation Mechanisms
VisibilityYou have your sustainability strategy in place and have assembled a team of employees that have the right set of tools to tackle sustainability, so what's next? Choosing sustainability metrics focused on all material aspects. Using 3rd-party standards in your sustainability reporting. Having sustainability be a focus in marketing campaigns. Partner with other organizations to continue to identify room for improvement. These are just some of the ways RILA says companies can become better sustainability leaders while promoting their sustainability. The Visibility sector has five different dimensions:
- Metrics & Measurement
- Reporting & Communicating
- Point-of-Purchase Consumer Education
- Marketing Campaigns
- Collaborative Involvement
By: Alexandra Kueller
The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) recently announced their brand new Retail Sustainability Management Maturity Matrix. The Matrix, which is based on Deloitte and RILA’s knowledge of the retail industry and its sustainability programs, hopes to be a tool that will be used by sustainability executives, individual companies, and industry-wide.
(Although this matrix is designed with the retail industry in mind, we think that it has a wide applicability beyond just the retail sector.)
While there are many aspects of sustainability, the Matrix focuses specifically on environmental sustainability. The Matrix has seven sectors that helps break down the different components of environmental sustainability:
- Strategy & Commitment
- People & Tools
- Retail Operations
- Supply Chain
- Environmental Issues
Each sector is then broken down by dimensions, and each dimension is ranked by five categories: starting, standard, excelling, leading, and next practice. RILA acknowledges that only a few companies are in the “leading” category, but hopes that over the next few years more companies can get to that level. The main goal of the Matrix is to identify all of the possible pathways to strong environmental sustainability.
Here are some of the ways the Matrix can be useful:
- Identifying and assessing the maturity of your sustainability program and opportunities for improvement
- Helping to facilitate conversations about your sustainability program’s development
- Finding ways to access for funding for your sustainability program
- Training employees to have more sustainability responsibility
- Allowing internal, external evaluation of your program’s perception, gaps it might have
It’s RILA’s goal to use the Matrix to benchmark the industry in 2015, while annually updating the matrix.
Over the course of the next two weeks, we will be further breaking down the Matrix by sector to get a more in-depth look at how the Matrix will work.
Last fall we took an in-depth look at SSC's peer benchmarking system that we used against the athletic wear industry. Catch up here.
This article was written as an expansion of our white paper “Choosing Sustainability Management Software for your Business” published in July 2011. Enjoy:
As part of your decision making process, you need to make a business case – in financial terms (and maybe some softer measures) – in order to make sure you that you are on the right track. The outline below should help guide your thought process in fleshing out what the benefits might be for your firm.
1. What’s your overall strategy?
Is it a cost savings approach? Do you want to just provide better reporting to stakeholders? Or are you generating revenue from a green product line and therefore need to track how green it is?
2. What can you actually measure?
Are you saving labor/time? Do you have fewer errors and better data quality? Is it a reduction in risk of losses due to litigation? Or are you able to increase sales revenue by having better data on your environmental impact?
3. What are the baseline values for those metrics?
It might take a 100 hours per month of staff time to produce your current report. Maybe you average $50K in legal fees yearly. Or you are currently selling $100K per month in your new product line.
4. What supporting research do you have?
This could be clear internal documentation of your baseline metrics as well as competitive research on your competitors, your region, your industry, etc. This research will tell you how your data in number 2 and 3 above stacks up against a larger pool of data.
5. What incremental percentage change do you expect to drive in your metrics?
You should be able to estimate this based on your answer to number 4. Are you going to be 5% better yearly? 10% lower yearly? 50% higher monthly? Just make sure you document your assumptions on how big a percentage change you are going to drive, which direction that change is in and what time period that change will cover – i.e. monthly metric, yearly metric etc. Does the change all happen in the first year or does it happen steadily for the entire period of your business case?
6. What volume change in your metrics results from the incremental percentage change?
Does a 5% decrease in labor hours equate to 5 hours a month or 500 hours a month? You need to be able to convert from percentage to number.
7. Translate your percentage/number value into a monetary amount.
Now you have to put on your quantitative hat as you churn through the numbers. This is where you weed out the quantitative benefits from the qualitative benefits. Both are desirable, but you want to be able to show the monetary value that you are going to save or earn as a result of your purchase.
8. Decide how you are going to measure it.
You know what you are measuring, how much it is going to change and what your end result is expected to be. Now you need to determine how you are actually going to measure your progress from start to finish. If you can’t put a firm description around how you are going to specifically measure the change – i.e. maybe your product revenue will increase for reasons besides its greenness – then you’ve found a soft benefit. It’s still worth tracking, but you may need to share some of your business case benefit with another department or project. If you’ve got a very specific way to track your benefit realization, then you’ve found a hard benefit. The hard benefits, are the kinds that your accountants will like – try to get as many of these on your list as you can.
9. Write it up.
You’ll need to present your business case benefits to somebody – whether it is your bank when asking for a loan to purchase the software, or to your executives to convince them to support your purchase decision. Tell them why your purchase is going to be a big success for the company, how much it will contribute to their triple bottom line, and how you are going to come back in a year or three and show them how well things went.
10. Measure it.
After you implement the software, you have to go back and do the things you said you were going to do in number 9. Many companies don’t actually close the loop today with projects – they just move on to the next thing and go on their way. If you want successful business results, it all comes down to measuring it, if you want to manage it.
Now that you’ve read this article, tell us what you think! And be sure to check out the full white paper.