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Sustainability Consulting: One Size Does Not Fit All

The SSC Team March 31, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Here is a blog entry from the early days of the SSC blog. Enjoy!

To remain competitive in an increasingly global marketplace, companies of all shapes and sizes and from different industries and sectors are introducing sustainability programs to gain a competitive advantage. Companies are expected to react to these changing dynamics and to address the changing consumer preferences for environmentally and socially sustainable products and services. The ideas of corporate social responsibility and sustainability are no longer fringe issues or passing trends, but are topping the list of strategic issues of executive management at Fortune 500 companies. Most multinational firms have incorporated some sort of sustainability initiative within operations, such as ethical sourcing, measuring and reducing carbon usage and recycling initiatives. 

However, small- and medium-size companies are in a unique situation when it comes to sustainability. These firms don’t necessarily have the time, money or other resources to lead a full-blown, comprehensive sustainability program. Because of these differences, it is important to realize that sustainability consulting cannot be a “one size fits all” approach. What works for a Fortune 100 company most likely will not be a good fit for a small business. This is why it’s so important to hire consultants that really understand the process of developing and implementing sustainability programs, the resources available and constraints to expect, as well as the stakeholder “buy-in” necessary to execute a successful sustainability strategy for a small- or medium-size company. With these pieces in place, professional sustainability consultants can successfully navigate companies through the sustainability arena. 

Sustainability consultants must remain flexible and adaptable, and should be competent in assessing the feasibility of programs and identify long-term opportunities and constraints. Consultants should recognize that a company typically cannot make one isolated change without addressing the impact of that change on other issues in the business. This “results-oriented” thinking ignores the complexity of execution and implementation of programs and does not provide opportunities for the necessary reflection and evaluation of the sustainability initiatives.

One of the key factors contributing to success of a sustainability plan is the level of collaboration and engagement among employees and other stakeholders during the planning process. This balance of top-down and bottom-up planning increases the likelihood of the plan gaining support and advocacy from stakeholders during the implementation phase. Finally, consultants should work with companies to plan long-term sustainability programs that are tied into business objectives, which will deliver a more integrated approach to sustainability. This is critical, as most “knee-jerk” programs that are not well-thought out, planned or executed have not proven to be very successful or sustainable.

Feeling like your sustainability plan isn't getting as much attention as it deserves? Read about how to fix that here!

The Secret Step to Effective Carbon Management – Clarify Your Goals

The SSC Team March 26, 2015 Tags: , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Carbon management is always important, so we thought this blog entry from 2013 was worth another share! Enjoy:

When it comes to managing your company's carbon emissions, it can be difficult to know where to start. Should you send out an email reminding employees to turn off their computers each night? Start researching the more than 80 different carbon accounting software options? Gather your executive team around the board room table to talk about 5-year goals? Hire a consultant? Set aside three days to read through the international standards for carbon accounting and reporting?

If you're not careful, you can end up spinning your wheels and getting nowhere fast. 

To help you avoid that ignoble end, we've put together a blog series that outlines our 6-step process for helping clients develop a carbon management program. While the level of time and effort required for each step will depend on the size of your organization and your industry, all organizations should follow basically the same path. 

Clarify your goals. This is the very first thing you need to do, and often the most-overlooked. Being crystal clear on your goals for emissions management allows you to:

Be a more effective internal salesman. 

When you need to convince your executive team to provide additional support (in terms of budget or simply more of their attention and encouragement), it will be essential to have a compelling "pitch". 

Choose the appropriate team.

Carbon management will require support from facilities management, purchasing, finance, communications, and human resources. Knowing the scope and shape of your goals will help you decide who needs to be on your carbon management team. 

Designate a carbon leader

Carbon management is a interdisciplinary effort, and you'll need to choose someone to navigate the intra-office politics, collect and vet the data, draft and edit communications, and prioritize competing initiatives. Seniority is not important (although it can be helpful) -- the key is that you need to choose someone with excellent interpersonal skills and a special affinity for juggling multiple projects at the same time.

Stay focused

Later on in the process, when you have to make tough decisions about which eco-initiative to prioritize, you will find it invaluable to be able to compare projects against your program goals. 

Do you find your sustainability communications failing? Here are 9 reasons that might be happening.

9 Reasons Your Sustainability Communications Fail

The SSC Team March 19, 2015 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

Sustainability leaders have to talk - a lot. Sometimes they speak at conferences, other times they speak to clients, or they might even write a guest article for a website. Regardless of the audience or platform, if you're in sustainability, you have to communicate. But every so often communications can fail.

What happens when you do notice that you're not getting your sustainability message across? Fast Company published an article that highlighted 9 different ways a leader's communication might be stalling. We thought that the reasons mentioned in the article also work perfectly for sustainability communications.

1. Distrust Versus Trust

Have you ever found yourself talking to someone who is not 100% on board with sustainability, and you instantly go on the defensive? Instead of distrusting the person you're talking to right off the bat, try trusting them. When you open up, communications can go a lot further.

2. Monologue Versus Collaboration

You're speaking to a room full of people, and you find yourself talking non-stop. Take a moment and look at the crowd. How engaged are they? Do you see people doing head nods? It's very easy to get carried away when speaking, because you want to get your point across, but collaboration goes a long way. Engage with the audience and see what happens!

3. Complexity Versus Simplicity

The sustainability field loves their acronyms. GHG. LCA. GRI. CDP. SASB. IIRC. The list goes on and on. While many people within sustainability might know what you're talking about when mentioning these words, but you don't always know who is in your audience. Simplicity is key; don't get carried away with industry lingo.

4. Insensitivity Versus Tact

When talking about sustainability, the conversation can often mention climate change. Unfortunately, climate change is still a politically-charged topic, and people can get turned off when listening to someone speak about it. You don't have to avoid the topic completely, but be smart and tactful about how you approach certain topics.

5. Achievement Versus Potential

You might have a handful of published reports under your belt and a countless number of speaking opportunities, but that doesn't mean you can rest on your laurels. You might think you know the best way to deliver a presentation, but listen and look to the people around. There is always room to grow and improve the way you communicate sustainability.

6. Dilution Versus Distinction

You find yourself trying to convince a client that it's important to publish a sustainability report, and in order to prove your point, you keep going on and on with a variety of anecdotes and facts. Stop diluting your point and cut to the chase. If you keep dragging out your reason why, the client may lose interest! Clear through the clutter, and lay out the key facts.

7. Generalization Versus Specificity

It's very easy when writing sustainability plans, reports, etc. to become very generic with your statements. "X company cares deeply about the environment." "X company works very hard at recycling." Instead of just spouting off platitudes, get specific. How has a company achieved their recycling goals? What sets a company apart from others when it comes to environmental care? Make your communications meaningful.

8. Logic Versus Emotion

There is a time for logic and a time for emotion when it comes to communication, but what happens when you don't recognize the right place to use these two tactics? If you're trying to motivate a crowd at a conference to get excited about sustainability, tap in on emotion, but if you're speaking to a client about a potential project, use logic.

9. Distortion Versus Perspective

The sustainability field is ever-changing, and no one can remain an expert forever. Don't write an article acting like you know everything about sustainability, or don't give a presentation where you come off as being better than everyone else. With new information and research always being published, sometimes you should take a back seat and learn from your peers. After all, no one likes listening to a know-it-all.

Is your sustainability plan failing to get attention? Here are 7 different ways to improve that.

How NOT to Choose Green Team Members

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

By: Alexandra Kueller

What are some of the qualities or behaviors you look for potential green team members? Dedication? Team player? Can see the big picture? These are all great reasons why someone should be on the team, but have you thought of reasons why someone should NOT be selected for a green team?

Entrepreneur wrote an article discussing some behaviors that could lead to trouble in the long run, and we thought that these 8 behaviors and qualities could be applied to selecting green team members:

1. They’re late

Being a member of a green team is rarely ever anyone’s only responsibility and people are always busy, so it is important to have members that will not be late to allow the team to maximize all of their time.

2. They see only problems

A good member of any team should not only be able to help find a solution, but also be able to identify the problem. It is NOT helpful if a green team member is pessimistic, because teams need to work towards solutions not just focus on all the problems.

3. They’re easily distracted

Focus is key. Green teams don’t always have the luxury of meeting often or for a long duration, so it is imperative that the members are focused so they can dedicate their time to the task at hand.

4. They criticize others

Teamwork is centered on the ability to work with others. If you have a member of your green team who is spending their time criticizing the other members, work will not get done and members of your team might start to doubt themselves.

5. They rush to make judgments

Projects take time, and the first idea isn't always going to be the right one or the best one. It is important to have people on your team that will listen to all options and work to find the best solution - NOT rush to make judgments on every idea that is put on the table.

6. They’re inflexible

Meetings and plans can change last minute. You want your green team members to be able to adapt to changes, because if they can’t, then you have a member of your team that could slow you down.

7. They don’t seem particularly enthusiastic

With green teams being an extra task a person might take on, it is important that they really care about the matter at hand. If you have a member that isn't enthusiastic about the work your team is doing, it can set back the progress of the group.

8. They don’t accept their mistakes

Being a good member of any team means accepting your mistakes, and if there is someone on your green team what won't own up to their mistakes, there is a chance that they’ll just repeat those mistakes down the line.

Are you a member of a green team or looking to start one? Be sure to check out our green team toolkit!

 

7 Options for Dealing with Sustainability Naysayers

The SSC Team February 24, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

Imagine this: you want to start working on a new sustainability project for your company, but in order to get approval, you need to first convince your boss, who happens to be a sustainability naysayer. How many times has this happened to you? Once? Twice? More than you can count?

As much as we sustainability professionals like to think that everybody will hop on board with sustainability, we know that is not always the case. When dealing with sustainability opposition, the best strategy is probably not saying “listen to me because I know I’m right,” but to instead learn how to properly handle the situation. 

Entrepreneur wrote an article talking about how to deal with a demanding, difficult customer, and we thought those seven strategies applied nicely to dealing with sustainability naysayers:

1. Listen patiently.

When talking with someone who might not be 100% on board with sustainability, let them explain why. Maybe there is a specific reason they’re not jumping for joy when it comes to sustainability, and if you hear them out, it creates a better chance of working through the problem.

2. Show empathy.

As you’re listening patiently, be sure to show empathy. Perhaps this sustainability naysayer has had a bad experience with a sustainability project, and that is what’s holding them back. Be attentive and empathetic; make it clear that you care about their concerns. Try to understand where their sustainability difficulties are coming from.

3. Lower the voice and slow down speech.

It happens all the time: when talking about something you love and care about with someone who does not see eye to eye, you can start to talk fast and your voice slowly creeps higher. If you’re trying to talk about a potential sustainability project with someone who just doesn't understand, remember to slow down and lower your voice. When you talk in a fast, hurried manner, you seem frantic and out of control, so now is your chance to demonstrate that you are in control of the situation and there is nothing to fear.

4. Imagine an audience.

If you find yourself getting frustrated when talking to a sustainability naysayer, imagine that you are talking to an audience. Picture that the room is filled with your sustainability team as your trying to pitch a potential project. How would you feel if your coworkers saw you get angry with someone because they didn't have the same view on sustainability as you? This tactic can help create a buffer to allow you to clear your mind.

5. Be wrong to be right.

Be open to what your opposition is saying. Yes, you might be trying your hardest to convince the sustainability naysayer to be open to a new sustainability project, but hear what they have to say about what is holding them back, and don’t be afraid to agree! If they say they are concerned about how much a potential project could cost, tell them you understand, and this can lead to a more open discussion of how to handle cost.

6. Demonstrate emotional control.

Emotions are contagious, and that’s why it’s important to demonstrate emotional control. If talking with someone who might not see eye to eye on sustainability, it is important to make sure everyone’s emotions stay in line.  It’s hard trying to convince someone that is angry that sustainability is the way to go, so try and be as calm as you can and de-escalate the situation.

7. It's not personal.

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that someone who might not be excited about sustainability is not a personal attack on you. Often times, people aren’t 100% on board with sustainability because of other reasons, such as the way a company might be moving in another direction or there might not be enough money to fund all of the sustainability projects. Remember: you are dealing with a business issue, not a personal one.

How do YOU handle sustainability naysayers? Let us know in the comments below or on twitter!

 

A Tale of Two Sustainability Reports – Part 2

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

By: Alexandra Kueller

Two weeks ago, we featured an article that highlighted sustainability reports from two of our clients: Chicken of the Sea and PureCircle. Both companies made great strides towards their 2020 sustainability goals and we wanted to feature their achievements.

This week, we wanted to do more of a comparison between the two companies. With both companies operating in the food industry – Chicken of the Sea with canned fish products and PureCircle with stevia – we thought this would be a great opportunity to see how close the companies (and the reports) compare within the same industry!

Chicken of the Sea 

Chicken of the Sea specializes in…

…producing a wide variety of seafood that ranges from frozen to refrigerated to cans, pouches, and cups. While Chicken of the Sea is known for their tuna products, they also produce other seafood items that include oysters, crabmeat, clams, salmon, sardines, shrimp, and more.

Their services relate to sustainability because…

…over-fishing in oceans is becoming a more prominent issue, especially regarding tuna. Chicken of the Sea is doing their best to make sure they are not only responsibly harvesting tuna, but also making sure that their production line is as sustainable as can be. 

These were their sustainability goals:
Chicken of the Sea has five main focus areas for the 2020 goals (against 2012 baseline):

  • Energy – reduce electricity and natural gas use by 20% each
  • Waste – reduce landfill waste by 30%
  • Water – reduce water use by 15%
  • Health & Safety – maintain/reduce safety incidents
  • Supply Chain – audit 90% of seafood procurement spend

 In 2013, Chicken of the Sea saw major strides towards a lot of their goals, but there were three focus areas that really stood out: waste, water, and health & safety. Chicken of the Sea saw a 27.8% reduction in waste, a 12.8% reduction in water use, and a 40% lower incident rate than the previous year, staying on par with their goal.

PureCircle 

PureCircle specializes in…

…producing and innovating the next generation of stevia to be used as sweeteners for the food and beverage industry that help support a natural and healthy lifestyle, such as low and no-calorie sweeteners.

Their services relate to sustainability because…

…even though this is PureCircle’s first sustainability report, sustainability has been engrained in their businesses practices since the beginning. From their operations to their social commitments, PureCircle has made sure to be socially and environmentally responsible by having sustainability policies in place. 

These were their sustainability goals:

On the environmental side, PureCircle has four main 2020 goals (against 2011 baseline):

  • Reduce carbon intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce energy intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce water intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Eliminate waste across farming and processing operations with zero waste to landfill

So far, PureCircle is on course to meet all of their goals, with one goal – energy intensity – already exceeding the original goal by reducing intensity by 42%.

On the social side of PureCircle’s sustainability goals, the company hopes to:

  • Support 100,000 small-scale farmers with sustainable agriculture policies
  • Ensure 100% traceability from gate to individual farm

PureCircle is working and engaging with small-scale farmers on issues such as food security, biodiversity, waste reduction, and fertilizer application to help improve not only the stevia plants, but to enrich the lives of the farmers as well.

Regardless of whether it was the first or third report, what makes both of these sustainability reports strong is the incorporation of a materiality assessment. By completing the assessment, both companies were able to see what is not only what is considered important to the company, but also to their stakeholders, allowing each company to tailor their reports to fit their needs the best.

Curious about how a SSC sustainability report might look like? Check out our previous reports here!

A Tale of Two Sustainability Reports

The SSC Team February 5, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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By: Alexandra Kueller

Imagine our excitement when we discovered that not one, but two of our clients in the food industry were releasing their sustainability reports on the same day. This got us thinking, How can comparing these two reports help our community? We discovered that the patterns and differences can be translated across industries to help you understand what makes a good sustainability report whether it is your first time or third.

Chicken of the Sea is the nation's leading producer of packaged seafood, producing tuna, salmon, shrimp and more, and they are published their third report. PureCircle is a producer of stevia and natural sweeteners for the global food and beverage market, and they just published their first report.

Below we explore the highlights of the two reports:

Chicken of the Sea

In their third year of reporting, Chicken of the Sea continued to make progress towards their 2020 sustainability goals (2012 baseline). Chicken of the Sea has five main focus areas for their 2020 goals:

  • Energy – reduce electricity and natural gas use by 20% each
  • Waste – reduce landfill waste by 30%
  • Water – reduce water use by 15%
  • Health & Safety – maintain/reduce safety incidents
  • Supply Chain – audit 90% of seafood procurement spend

In 2013, Chicken of the Sea saw major strides towards a lot of their goals, but there were three focus areas that really stood out: waste, water, and health & safety.

Chicken of the Sea made a concerted effort in 2013 to reduce waste that went into the landfill, and it paid off nicely: Chicken of the Sea saw a 27.8% reduction in waste. Not only did the waste focus area see a huge reduction, but so did the water focus area as well. With the goal of 15% reduction, Chicken of the Sea reduced water use by 12.8% by installing new water-saving technology. Finally, Chicken of the Sea saw a 40% lower incident rate than the previous year, staying on par with their goal.

PureCircle

Even though this is PureCircle’s first sustainability report, sustainability has been engrained in their business practices since the beginning. This past year, though, they wanted to increase their transparency. Their first report did an excellent job at outlining their environmental and social commitments, and how those commitments align with their 2020 Sustainability Intensity Goals.

On the environmental side, PureCircle has four main 2020 goals (against 2011 baseline):

  • Reduce carbon intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce energy intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce water intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Eliminate waste across farming and processing operations with zero waste to landfill

So far, PureCircle is on course to meet all of their goals, with one goal (energy intensity) already exceeding the original goal by reducing intensity by 42%.

On the social side of PureCircle’s sustainability goals, the company hopes to:

  • Support 100,000 small-scale farmers with sustainable agriculture policies
  • Ensure 100% traceability from gate to individual farm

PureCircle is working and engaging with small-scale farmers on issues such as food security, biodiversity, waste reduction, and fertilizer application to help improve not only the stevia plants, but to enrich the lives of the farmers as well.

Curious about how a SSC sustainability report might look like? Check out our previous reports here!

4 Keys to Thinking about the Future of Sustainability

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

Here is a blog entry from last year that we thought would be worth another look. Enjoy!

At SSC, we often look to thought leaders and successful CEOs to give us inspiration and we are rarely disappointed in what we find.  In the Harvard Business Review article, Four Keys to Thinking About the Future, author Jeffrey Gedmin offers four ideas to help leaders see into the future. We thought his points below were great, and applied them to sustainability strategy and planning.

1. ENHANCE YOUR POWER OF OBSERVATION.

"For starters, be empirical and always be sure you’re working with the fullest data set possible when making judgments and discerning trends. Careful listening, a lost art in today’s culture of certitude and compulsive pontificating, can help us distinguish the signal from the noise."

Listen to your stakeholders -- both your supporters and your critics. Listen to the language they are using. Investigate their claims.  Ask them for clarification when you don't fully understand what they are saying, and make them be specific. You don't have to respond to every request or complaint that you get, but having an open mind will allow you to spot trends and notice opportunities you might otherwise miss.

2. APPRECIATE THE VALUE OF BEING (A LITTLE) ASOCIAL.

"I’m convinced that a company culture that encourages curiosity is vitally important... Curiosity keeps us learning and helps us, like the virtue of patience, to see the hidden, or understand the unexplained."

Don't put all your eggs in one basket -- experiment, pilot, and test sustainability initiatives in small increments. Find a risk level that's comfortable for you and play around a bit. Ask the question "why?"... a lot.  Find ways to help your colleagues get curious about sustainability and its impact on their job functions.

3. STUDY HISTORY.

"I think you study history to study human nature, the human condition, and human behavior. This is the realm of patterns, but also — frustratingly and fascinatingly — of infinite complexity and unpredictability."

Revisit the sustainability initiatives that failed or were rejected by management and ask some questions. What are the systemic factors that are keeping your sustainability strategy from reaching its full potential? What lessons from other departments and initiatives can inform your approach? Are there examples that you can draw on from other industries, or other parts of your supply chain? Sustainability challenges are rarely unique, and in most cases you can find answers (or parts of answers) if you look around and notice who's been in a similar situation before.

4. LEARN TO DEAL WITH AMBIGUITY.

"Whether it’s nature or nurture, most of us seem hard-wired to sort the world into simple binary choices. Alas, there’s often lots of grey out there."

What impact is climate change going to have on your business? How is a growing income disparity going to affect your market share? When will tighter regulation on your supply chain partners start impacting your pricing model? You will find that the true answer to these questions is, "I don't know." Sustainability is so complex that it is often impossible to accurately predict the future. So effective sustainability leaders must learn to successfully deal with ambiguity. Using systems thinking, applying sustainability principles ("reduce reliance on fossil fuels") rather than prescriptive rules ("install solar") will help sustainability leaders stay flexible and open to the best opportunities when they present themselves down the road.

Thanks to Environmental Leader for publishing a version of this article on their website!

SSC helps companies develop sustainability strategies that are relevant today, AND sets a course for the future. If you'd like some assistance creating or refining your sustainability roadmap, please contact us. We'd love to help.

How Chipotle Is Giving Consumers Exactly What They Want: Authenticity

The SSC Team January 27, 2015 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

Honesty is the best policy, right? According to customers, the answer is yes. Public relations and communications firm Cohn & Wolfe conducted a study on authentic brands by company to see consumers are demanding. In fact, the top three qualities or behaviors that people want to see from big companies are communicating honestly about products and services, not letting customers down, and acting with integrity all times.

Fast Company then asked people in the United States and 11 other major markets what they wish to see from brands, and do you know what was on the bottom of the list? Innovation, great products, and having a popular brand.

Chipotle is taking note of all of these points: the Mexican-food chain recently announced that they will stop serving pork at hundreds of their locations when one of their suppliers violated Chipotle’s standards. So how exactly is Chipotle giving their customers authenticity? They are becoming a great model for big brands in the 21st century:

Embrace Authenticity

Companies often have a set of standards and values they hold themselves (and their suppliers) to, but how are consumers to know if a company follows these values? Brands need to be honest and show they are acting with integrity. With Chipotle announcing that they are cutting one of their main protein toppings from some of their stores, they indicated they are not afraid to show that they uphold their standards.

Transparency for the Modern World

Ever since the economic crash, more people are cynical about corporations’ behavior and motives - only 3% of Americans think big businesses are honest and transparent! Companies can no longer afford to hide behind the curtain with more and more people calling for transparency, and Chipotle knows this and is being honest about their product.

Digital Everything

We live in a digital world. People are always connected, which makes it easier for information to be seen by the masses, and it means that both good and bad information about a company can quickly spread. A company cannot wait and hope a bad piece of information will never go public, but instead they need to embrace the digital side and come forward with the information. While Chipotle’s announcement about no longer serving pork might not be “bad” information, it does indicate that the company is embracing the digital world and is not letting anyone beat them to the punch.

Should more companies follow in Chipotle’s footsteps of providing more transparency and authenticity? Let us know in the comments below and join the conversation on twitter!