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Will Technology Help Us All Get Along?

The SSC Team July 5, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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In a world that seems more divided with every passing day, the thought of finding a way to minimize conflict is incredibly appealing.

 

In the recently published Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? MIT scientists Henry Lieberman and Christopher Fry examine why there are wars, mass poverty and other social ills. Their main thesis is that our world is oversaturated with a competitive spirit and this is holding people back from cooperating and working toward solutions to the world’s major problems. But the authors also believe they have found a possible way to turn everything around — by using modern technology to address the root of the problem.

 

Lieberman and Frye believe that scarcity drives the world’s competition, but thanks to recent technological advances — think 3D printing and artificial intelligence — widespread scarcity could come to an end.

 

If so, a post-scarcity world, premised on cooperation, would emerge. Sure it sounds great, but is it actually possible?

Unfortunately we believe there are a few issues that make this concept infeasible. While new technologies can be incredibly beneficial in many ways, they are usually only available to consumers as finished products that must be exchanged for money. Lieberman and Fry’s principle ignores the fact that many of these technologies exist at the expense of other humans and environments in our global economy. The intuitive belief that technology can manifest from money alone, anthropologists tell us, is a culturally rooted notion that ignores the fact that the scarcity experienced by some is linked to the abundance enjoyed only by a few.

We have had a few decades to experience some pretty dramatic technological advances and during this time it has become clear that super-efficient technologies typically encourage an increased use of raw materials and energy, not a reduction in them. Data on the global use of energy and raw materials indicate that absolute efficiency has never occurred: both global energy use and global material use have increased threefold since the 1970s. Therefore, efficiency is better understood as a rearranging of resources expenditures, such that efficiency improvements in one end of the world economy increase resource expenditures in the other end.

 

So if we aren’t on the verge of solving the problem of our competitive society, what are the next steps we need to take in order to improve the way we take care of the global economy and the natural world?

Within each of us are two “beings:” the self-interested being that has been programmed to maximize profit and the more altruistic being who loves to communicate, work for the betterment of others and share. As Lieberman and Fry highlight, our current society is geared toward the first being and our idea of a good life is centered on monetary power. But for the betterment of all society — and our natural resources — we have to move toward the power of our inner altruist.

When it comes to this focus on technology as a way to connect in this global economy, companies need to make a better effort to recognize the environmental cost of technology. Our “digital society” is based on a material- and energy-intensive infrastructure and we must work toward minimizing the negative impacts on the lives of current and future generations by unwittingly encouraging serious environmental instability and associated social problems.

And as more interconnected commons-based businesses continue to emerge around the world, we can work to creating new forms of businesses that empower individuals. As members of this global community it is vital that we become more aware of how the abundance of some is dependent on the work of others, as well as the stability of our natural environments.

While our solutions might not be the same as Lieberman and Fry, we are heartened to think that many among us want to figure out a way to live in a less competitive, more inclusive society. It’s clear that we are connected with our fellow citizens of earth — near and far — and the only way forward is together.

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

The SSC Team July 3, 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 June.

 

Mining Companies Can Care

 

Triple Bottom Line: The Science of Good Business

 

Keeping Your Sustainability Team Engaged- Words to Live By

 

Taking the Trash to a Whole New Level

  

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Taking the Trash to a Whole New Level

The SSC Team June 28, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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While we have been recycling certain products for a long time, there have been some pretty amazing innovatinos when it comes to building products on the market. These new materials are taking the idea of a sustainable approach to building to a whole new level. Take for example the creation of luxury building materials from waste. One truly great feature of this upcycling trend is that the new materials are being developed by designers who will use them, which means that they are actually attractive as well as useful.

 

These new materials are being used as substitutes for conventional woods, plastics and stone, and often come in sheet or tile form that are ready to be cut, shaped and manipulated by architects and designers.

 

Really, a Danish company at the forefront of this movement is focused on taking used textiles and transforming them into a sheet material similar to plywood.

 

In fact, companies around the world are coming up with some pretty clever new building materials turning items as basic as bottles and as strange as dirty diapers and sanitary products into materials that can be used for construction.

 

When it comes to embracing sustainable living, those are thinking well outside the box and turning products — like the notoriously hard to recycle plastic grocery bags — into building materials are making incredible strides.  In Building with Waste, which compiles these unique new materials, the authors speculate that, in future, we could end up re-using pretty much everything. This would be pretty darn helpful since we are on track to double municipal waste output by 2025. That’s a pretty terrifying thought.

 

And it isn’t just building materials, there are products being made with carbon dioxide. Collecting CO2 from the world’s smokestacks is hard, but once it has been collected what can be done with the carbon? To address this problem, people have invented technologies that convert captured CO2 into new products — crazy in a great way, right?

 

Solutions so far have included a lot of creative ideas such as converting carbon dioxide into carbon fibers which can be used as lighter-weight alternative to metal to make products like wind turbine blades, race cars, airplanes and bicycles. A company in Calgary is combining CO2 with waste products, such as fly ash left over from burning coal or petroleum coke, to create nanoparticles that can be used as additives for concrete, plastic and coatings to enhance performance and increase efficiency.

 

These innovations and more prove that many in this world are working toward a more sustainable future. We must continue to find creative solutions for reducing waste in order to take care of our most precious resource — the earth.

Straight Talk with the CEO to Get Better Sustainability Results

The SSC Team June 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!  

TEDTalk The Business Benefits of Doing Good

The SSC Team June 21, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Everyone loves a good TED Talk! Here’s one of our favorites

In a talk from earlier this year, social impact strategist Wendy Woods explored assessing the impact the various aspects of business can have on various aspects of society, and how we can make adjustments in order to not only do less harm, but to actually improve things. Woods discusses how executives can move beyond corporate social responsibility to "total societal impact" — which will not only benefit a company's bottom line but also society at large. 

Triple Bottom Line: The Science of Good Business

The SSC Team June 14, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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We couldn’t wait to share Alexandre Magnin’s Triple Bottom Line: the Science of Good Business. Check out Magnin’s idea of looking at the triple bottom line from a scientific angle. This viewpoint can provide businesses with more insight into why integrating sustainable efforts into business operations can be a great thing for more than one reason. And it’s less than 5 minutes! Check it out.

TEDTalk 3 Creative Ways to Fix Fashion’s Waste Problem

The SSC Team April 26, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Everyone loves a good TED Talk! Here’s one of our favorites

We may all have too many clothes in our closet that we keep meaning to sort through and donate, but did you ever think about the clothes that never make it to anyone’s closet? If you thought that last season's unpurchased coats, pants and tops ended up being put to use, you’re wrong. Sadly, most of it (nearly 13 million tons each year in the United States alone) ends up in landfills. Clearly the world of fashion has a massive waste problem, and Amit Kalra wants to fix it. Here are some creative ways that he believes the industry can evolve to be more conscientious about the environment —and gain a competitive advantage at the same time.

 

Guests, Properties Need to Coordinate in Minimizing Food Waste

The SSC Team April 24, 2018 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Perhaps when you travel you are the type to throw everything for weeks in a single backpack and rough it, but it seems like most of us are falling into a dangerous mindset where going on vacation (or even attending an event) changes the rules when it comes to sustainable practices.

 

You might give in and do everything the easiest way possible because, well, you’re on vacation! What’s the big deal about buying a bottle of water everywhere you go? Or loading up your plate a little more than necessary in the morning at the hotel’s breakfast buffet only to have to throw a third of the food away? But there is so much we should be doing when traveling or attending events in order to minimize our detrimental impact on the environment — particularly as sustainability consultants!

 

Here are some areas where you can improve your personal level of waste while traveling or organizing events while at the same time encouraging your clients to make changes. First you may need to help your clients better understand the benefits that come from implementing a sustainable development strategy which incorporates people, planet and profit for long term success. Sam Trainor-Buckingham outlines that there are many practical benefits for the hospitality industry in this area.  

 

In so many travel experiences people encounter a buffet. This overstocked and overwhelming area of a hotel or cruise is, in actuality, greatly contributing to a massive food waste problem.

 

The FAO reports up to one third of food is spoiled or discarded before consumption, a terrible thing when 800 million people around the globe are considered chronically hungry.

 

We are particularly guilty of this wasteful behavior in the United States where per capita food waste has increased by ~50% since 1974, with each individual generating upwards of 220 pounds of food waste per year.

 

A recent study found that only slightly more than half the food put out in hotel buffets is actually consumed so not only is food going to waste, but hotels are wasting money by overstocking. With this info in mind, some hotels are looking to improve their offerings in order to minimize waste such as offering smaller plates, having stations with nutrition information and more.

 

But it isn’t just a hotel issue. We are a culture where food seems to be everywhere and we need to be more mindful of how we can reduce this terrible problem. Just a few weeks ago Ashley Weisman published A Step-by-Step Guide to Zero Waste Events on Greenbiz.com. Weisman issues a challenge — to make zero-waste events the new norm.

 

In order to do so you must collaborate with your venue and your vendors. With the right information, you can work to divert waste to compost and recycling. You just need to make sure you ask the correct questions, such as: What type of waste infrastructure does the venue have in place? How is food waste normally disposed of ? Where at the venue can you intercept waste between the event and the landfill? Are there compost and recycling bins in the kitchen for meal prep?

 

For zero-waste events you also need to make sure that the back of house staff is trained, which should take no more than 10-15 minutes, including time for questions. This will allow you to list what items are compostable and recyclable, explain why it matters and how their efforts will make a difference and add that responsible waste management is becoming the new normal. Just think, your event will not only have an immediate impact, but it could make an impression on vendors, the venue, the attendees and the staff who may work toward adopting similar practices for future events.

 

The bottom line is that this waste is not only hurting the environment, but it is also hurting businesses bottom lines. It’s time to work with your clients to help them improve their food offerings, the way they handle waste, and the items they chose from the start. In time, they are bound to be pleased with a reduced footprint and a reduced budget. 

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

The SSC Team April 12, 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!

TEDTalk 7 Principles for Building Better Cities

The SSC Team March 15, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Everyone loves a good TED Talk! Here’s one of our favorites

Let’s face, we are an urban world. With more than half of the world's population living in cities, and another 2.5 billion people expected to move to urban areas by 2050 we need to be giving a lot of though to the way we build. From climate change to economic vitality to our very well-being and sense of connectedness, Peter Calthorpe is at work planning these cities of the future and advocating for community design that's focused on human interaction. In his talk, he shares seven principles to help us solving sprawl while also building more sustainable cities.