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What “Sustainability Consulting” Is (and Isn’t)

The SSC Team September 20, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.

In today’s marketplace, sustainability consulting is a catch-all term, used to describe multiple professions. It is important for readers to pay careful attention when an author predicts the growth of the “sustainability consulting industry” since it can be defined in so many ways.

We believe that many of the firms that claim to offer sustainability consulting services are, in fact, offering something quite different. Sometimes it is a narrower subset of services (like energy auditing); in other cases it is simply traditional services (like public relations) focused on sustainability initiatives. 

So how do we define sustainability consulting?

In general, organizations purporting to offer sustainability consulting services fall into the following broad categories.

Sustainability Strategy: these consulting firms provide planning and strategy services—usually for an entire organization or division. Sustainability strategy firms help businesses use sustainability as a lens through which to make good business decisions. Their goal is to help clients innovate, gain competitive advantage, satisfy stakeholders (especially customers), and empower employees to integrate sustainability into their day-to-day jobs. This type of firm usually has staff with extensive training in management, business administration, organizational development, and/or change management. Example: Strategic Sustainability Consulting.

Technical Support: these firms focus on one or more technical aspects of sustainability, such as green building design and construction, renewable energy and energy efficiency, waste diversion and recycling, and water and wastewater services. Rather than help the company integrate sustainability into its overall business decision-making processes, these firms tend to tackle discrete projects within a facility or division. Their staff generally has engineering or other technical degrees. Example: ERM.

Testing, Auditing and Verification: these firms provide third-party review of sustainability data—either on a corporate/facility level or a product level—and may provide assurance, auditing, or verification services. A firm in this category may exclusively cater to sustainability data (e.g. third-party assurance of a sustainability report), but will often provide non-sustainability services as well (e.g. third-party assurance of annual reports). Example: UL Environment.

Visioning and Facilitation: these firms focus on the “big picture” of sustainability, working with clients to brainstorm and create new mental models for companies, communities, and societies. These firms tend to be smaller and more radical, since the market for their services is smaller and their goal is to push the boundary of “business as usual.” The principals of these firms come from a variety of backgrounds, but often have training in facilitation techniques like Open Space, World Café, and the Art of Hosting. Example: The Natural Step.

Sustainability Marketing: these firms help clients tell their sustainability story. They range from public relations firms to graphic designers, and have varying involvement in the crafting of the story versus the delivery of the message. Staff at these firms usually has marketing, advertising, design and communications degrees. Many smaller firms in this category will focus exclusively on sustainability marketing, but larger companies will often have only one division devoted to sustainability and focus most of its effort on other communication areas. Example: J. Ottman Consulting.

Sustainability Software: one of the fastest growing areas of the sustainability marketplace is the development and sales of sustainability software—including carbon accounting, EHS management, and sustainability reporting platforms. Many of these companies offer some kind of consulting support, but it is generally related to the set-up and implementation of the sustainability software. While there is some overlap between this category and the Technical Support category, we distinguish the two because the Technical Support companies generally provide a service (e.g. an energy audit) while Sustainability Software companies generally sell a distinct product. Example: Credit360.

Check out our past blog “State of the Sustainability Consulting Industry” to learn more on the background for these findings.

TED Talk: A Wide-Angle View of the Fragile Earth

The SSC Team September 13, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Everyone loves a good TED Talk! Here’s one of our favorites:

Yann Arthus-Bertrand combines three of his projects that focus on humanity and our habitat — stunning aerial photographs from "The Earth From Above," personal interviews from around the globe featured in the web project "6 billion Others," and video footage from "Home” that documents human impact on the environment — in this highly visual overview of our earth.

VERGE: Where Technology Meets Sustainability

The SSC Team September 11, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Summer is over and it is time to get ready for the VERGE 18 conference and expo in Oakland this October. The conference is the platform for accelerating a clean economy and convenes a high-powered audience of more than 2,500 leaders who will explore scalable solutions at the intersection of technology and sustainability within three dynamic and influential markets: clean energy, transportation and mobility and the circular economy.

This year, there are three concurrent VERGE 18 conferences: VERGE Circular, VERGE Energy and VERGE Transport. Each one offers deeper, focused learning opportunities and networking experiences. 

 https://www.greenbiz.com/events/verge-conference/oakland/2018

 

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

The SSC Team September 4, 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 August.

 

Companies Collaborating Could Mean Everyone Wins

 

Are You Getting the Real Truth from Your Employees?

 

Break Your Own Sustainability Habits and then Help Employees Change

 

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Break Your Own Sustainability Habits, and Then Help Employees Change

The SSC Team August 28, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Are you searching for ways to make your office more environmentally friendly? Before declaring a moratorium on plastic bags and forcing your co-workers into a carpool schedule, take some time to look in the mirror and reflect on your own habits.

 

We are, quite literally and biologically, creatures of habit and repetition, so creating a new pattern of behavior is far from easy. Our brains love saving time by making some actions automatic, even if those actions are ultimately harmful to us or our planet. If you’re trying to get your colleagues on board with a few new, positive sustainability habits around the office, start first by taking stock of your own bad habits and serving as a role model for change.

 

Global CEO coach Sabina Nawaz stresses the importance of frequently tracking and reviewing your goals and progress when trying to form a new habit. In order to track and measure your progress, your goals must be exactly that: measurable. Trying to attack too lofty or broad of a goal can be overwhelming and may ultimately lead you to slip back into negative behaviors.

 

Consider choosing 3 small tasks that you can concretely determine if you’ve completed or not. For example, bringing in your reusable bottle, unplugging your work station at the end of the day and printing less than 30 pages per day. The Nature Conservatory and Huffington Post also have some other great suggestions for small ways to decrease energy use and waste in the office.

 

Nawaz recommends using a simple chart called the “Yes List” to quickly track whether you’ve completed the new habit each day. You can make a hard copy or keep the tracker on your mobile device to make it even more convenient. If the chart is too complicated or cumbersome, you won’t use it, so make sure the chart is quick and clean like the one below.

 

Having a visual representation of your progress will keep you motivated and also help you determine which habits you may need to adjust or the ones you’ve successfully completed, so you can introduce a new habit. 

   
  
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After you’ve successfully tracked and started to shift your own habits for a few weeks, share your chart with your colleagues as motivation for them and a proof point that change is possible! 

 

Invite them to join you on your sustainability journey and share resources so they can pick the habit that make most sense for them. 

 

 

Are You Getting the Real Truth from Your Employees?

The SSC Team August 21, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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We know that lying is a part of life. All of us have told the occasional white lie, even at work. But when it comes to managing a business how often are your employees lying and more importantly, why are they bending the truth?

 

First, let’s take a look at how often employees lie. Harvard Business Review says that according to research “20% of people tell 80% of the lies, and 80% of people account for the remaining 20%.” So, the good news is that most of your employees are probably not lying; at least not very often.

 

Let’s get to the bottom of why employees lie. The 20% telling most of the lies often don’t see anything wrong with their deceit. Normally, things are going well for our deceitful employees when they lie and they “…do it when they are feeling good or in control of things – because they get a kick out of it.” Our frequent liars are also more likely to admit their deceitful ways if confronted.

 

But what about the majority of employees who make up the remaining 20%? Frequently their lies stem from stress, poor work/life balance, pressure to fit in with peers, or a lack of timely opportunities to tell the truth.

 

If we are able to acknowledge that our employees are going to tell lies (as are we) the next question is how to eliminate, or at least minimize harm. As we know, not all lies are negatively affecting business. If two employees don’t care for each other but claim to ‘like one another’ and cooperate, well, what’s the problem?

 

If you suspect you aren’t getting the truth slow down and take a closer look at the situation. Are you being honest with employees? Do employees have frequent opportunities to offer the truth and do leaders value that feedback? Are transparency and feedback a regular part of the day-to-day operation?

 

Feedback is essential to creating highly effective teams and thriving companies. But how can you ensure you are getting truthful, constructive feedback from your employees?

 

The simple answer is to just ask them. From using Survey Monkey to utilizing regular check-ins to hear how things are going, there are many ways companies solicit feedback

 

Additionally, you need to determine how much feedback you want. There is quite a spectrum of feedback out there. We’ve all likely been solicited for feedback by our leadership only to have it fall on deaf ears as more of a formality. Additionally, we’ve all probably been asked to provide feedback only to be met by a staunch defense that leaves us feeling, somehow, in the wrong for doing what we were asked to do.

 

“One of the biggest tragedies of mankind is people holding their opinions in their heads… they’re not dealing with the things they need to deal with,” Ray Dalio, Founder and CIO of Bridgewater Associates, told Adam Grant on his podcast Work Life.

 

Bridgewater is one of the biggest hedge fund firms in the world. Its culture is founded on something Dalio calls “radical transparency,” where all employees, from top to bottom, put “every criticism, every opinion, out in the open.” The newest, lowest ranking employee is encouraged to provide feedback as high up as the CEO.

 

So, is radical transparency right for your company? Probably not to the extent Bridgewater takes it. But according to Grant “… if we want to get better at something, we should go and learn from the extreme.”

 

At the end of the day, employees lie for a variety of reasons. It is not our responsibility as leaders in the organization to discover the origin of each lie and punish the instigator.

 

Instead, we can take a closer look at ourselves as leaders and our organizational culture. This can help us to discover the optimal level of transparency that motivates our teams to be more truthful and productive. 

TED Talk Kamal Meattle: How to Grow Fresh Air

The SSC Team August 16, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Everyone loves a good TED Talk! Here’s one of our favorites

From 2009, Kamal Meattle’s TED Talk is focused on how three common houseplants used in specific spots within a home or office building, can result in measurably cleaner indoor air. With the EPA lifting strict limits on air emissions, this creative thinking toward have fresh air to breath is more necessary than ever. Meattle’s New Delhi office is filled with air-filtering plants and sustainable architecture, making it a model green business. 

United We Understand: EcoPulse 2017 Special Report

The SSC Team August 9, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives. 

White Paper: United We Understand
This special report released by GreenBiz earlier this year is centered around the idea that words have power. Are you choosing the ones that unify? Or the ones that divide?

In an age filled with divisive rhetoric, sustainability messaging can be a unifying force. Check out this report for ideas about how your company can create sustainability messages that help you connect with your consumer values.

 https://www.greenbiz.com/whitepaper/united-we-understand-eco-pulsetm-2017-special-report

5 Ways You can Promote Sustainability by Instilling Values In Your Organization

The SSC Team August 7, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives. 

 

It's a common problem in sustainability consulting: how do you get employees to pay attention to sustainability and integrate social and environmental considerations throughout their job responsibilities and daily behavior? New research in psychology has some insight, and we're diving in for a closer look at how focus on values and virtues can help drive organizational success.

In 5 Reasons You Need to Instill Values in Your Organization, Jessica Amortegui outlines the connection between good intentions and effective transformation in the workplace. "It is an old truism: employees do not turn to written statements on the company intranet for clues about how to behave--they look to each other," Amortegui writes. "If your goal is to intentionally shape the actions and interactions of employees, you know the importance of creating a 'values-based' culture. However, you also know how difficult it is to implement one."

She further adds: "For companies to truly close the chasm between their stated and lived values, they must enter the human psyche to extract excellence from the inside-out, not dictate it from outside-in. This requires organizations to pivot their approach: rather than get people to live the values, they should focus on the values that live in the people. This taps into the innate qualities that exist across mankind: human virtues."

There a lot more great information in the article (read it in its entirety here) with many helpful links to additional studies and research, but what caught our eye was how Amortegui's thinking could easily be applied to the sustainability work we do with clients. Below, we take excerpts from her list (in italics) and add our own commentary on how it applies to sustainability-oriented change management.

1. Virtues Are a Workplace Game Changer

Amortegui: Employees who feel welcome to express their authentic selves at work exhibit higher levels of organizational commitment, individual performance, and propensity to help others.

Just as Walmart found with their Personal Sustainability Projects, allowing employees to identify a sustainability-related behavior that was personally relevant and valuable was instrumental in creating corporate-wide momentum. Consider how you engage employees -- are you making it clear how "green" opportunities and expectations in the office allow them to bring their most authentic selves to the job?

2. Virtues Lead To Growth Of The Whole Person

Amortegui: The ideal company makes its best employees even better--and the least of them better than they ever thought they could be. Employees are not just looking for the best places to work. They want to join the best places to grow.  

Find ways to tie sustainability goals into personal growth opportunities. Whether it's allowing employees to practice a hands-on skill (how to build a rain barrel or the basics of composting), develop speaking skills (hosting brown-bag workshops on green topics), or engaging with senior managers (participating on the Green Team), make sure that you cultivate a clear link between the initiative itself and the opportunity it provides for participants.

3. Virtues Lead to Greater Onboarding Success

Amortegui: When companies emphasize newcomers' authentic best selves, versus an organizational identity, it contributes to greater customer satisfaction and employee retention after six months.

Start talking about the opportunities for employees to exhibit their personal values by contributing to the company's sustainability efforts from day one. Include an overview of your sustainability goals and strategy in new employee orientations.  Find out how their personal interests and virtues align with the organization and invite them to participate accordingly.

4. Virtues Improve Engagement

Amortegui: Two of the most important predictors of employee retention and satisfaction are reporting to use your top strengths at work and reporting that your manager recognizes your top strengths. 

The more that mid-level managers understand and communicate sustainability goals and priorities to their staff, the easier it will be for employees to "get" how their individual job responsibilities play into the larger picture of organizational sustainability. Provide the training and leadership needed to get managers to 1) understand, 2) communicate, and 3) recognize sustainability potential in their departments. 

5. Virtues Increase Self-Awareness

Amortegui: Organizations that realize this potent potential for human excellence will transcend their current cultures and create a greenhouse effect: shining brightness on what is best about their people while cultivating the conditions for any organizational value system to live, breathe, and flourish.

There is great knowledge within your workforce about the practical realities of achieving sustainability in the workplace, within your industry, and in your community. Companies that tap into that knowledge on a regular basis will find that they reap a myriad of rewards: enthusiasm, morale, expertise, and engagement. Why not take advantage of it!

Want to read more about employee engagement? Check out another article we wrote on the subject for 2degrees, Three Ways to Engage Non-Wired Employees.

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

Motivate Your In-House Team to Meet Your Sustainability Goals

The SSC Team July 24, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives. 

Convincing employees to work hard and work well is a millennia-old management challenge. Hundreds of studies point to proven motivational tactics, such as goal setting, feedback, and incentives, but all of these tactics can (and will) backfire.

“Chances are that you (at least sometimes) are using the wrong tools under the wrong circumstances,” writes Juliana Schroeder, a behavioral economist and psychologist.

Using feedback effectively

  • Use positive feedback to enhance personal commitment. For example, if you’re ramping up the arduous data collection process that goes along with a complex, detailed life-cycle assessment, that’s when you want to use encouraging words. We can do this!
  • Use negative feedback when you’re nearing the finish line. So data collection starts off well with everyone ready to get going and get the project done, but you get into a lull midway as the engineers and logistics folks are tired of taking your calls, that’s when you might want to roll out some stern warnings about being a team player and calling your supervisor.

Goal Setting

“Typically, a shorter distance between you and your goal is more motivating than a longer one,” writes Schroeder. “It feels within reach, and it’s easier to feel that you’re making progress. This means people should set closer targets or sub-goals.”

Using the same example from above, don’t kick off your LCA talking about the mountains of data we shall climb, instead map out with a consultant who has experience with LCA reporting a reasonable set of milestones for data collection inside of various processes identified. And when you see a big knot to untangle, break it into smaller pieces and set goals based on achieving the sub-goals.

“Focusing on the least amount of distance—either from the start or from the end of your project— is more motivating,” said Schroeder.

This means, don’t look up when you’re at the bottom, and don’t look down when you’re at the top.

Focus on the middle stages

“Research has found that people are more likely to slack off or behave unethically around the middle of a project,” said Schroeder.

Take this into consideration when project planning. If your team can quickly identify what the onerous parts of the job will be, and take on those early wince folks will still be motivated to perform well. In the middle, focus on the low-hanging fruit, like collecting the utility or transportation data or info you can get from third party vendors. If big obstacles pop up in the middle, try and work around them and save them to the end to tap into the motivation folks feel right as a project is wrapping up.

Incentives

If your company has the structure to provide incentives, don’t hesitate to use them. But don't go overboard.

“People will work harder for incentives they can get sooner—even if they are smaller than those they would get after waiting longer. The lesson here is simple: To motivate people, use immediate incentives,” said Schroeder.

If a team has a goal, structure small incentives for the manager or team member that help validate the hard work put in. Consider an extra day off for completing the work on time or a group luncheon after every major milestone.

“People also seem to value intrinsic incentives more when they are in the middle of pursuing a goal than when they have not yet started,” said Schroeder.

When working on sustainability projects, help frame the work in terms of the intrinsic benefits to the team members, to the company, and to company strategy focused on reducing environmental impact. Ideally this will already be a part of the company’s strategic plan, but capitalize on the feeling that employees have when they can take pride in working on a project that goes beyond the bottom line.

Selecting motivational tools can be complicated, especially keeping them fresh and appealing to meet the changing needs of employees. But, if you haven’t yet taken a strategic look at motivation, now is a great time to start.

Need to launch a life-cycle assessment or carbon footprint in 2018? We can guide you through the process and help keep your team motivated along the way.