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TED Talks Sustainability: Bernie Krause: The voice of the natural world

The SSC Team September 1, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Nothing inspires us like a good TED talk, and here’s one of our favorites. Enjoy it!

About the speaker: Bernie Krause is a musician. With a resume that features Stevie Wonder and The Byrds, Krause found music in and began making history by recording the sounds of nature. Listening to the wind, the rain, the insects, the grunts and groans of animals, Krause uses natural soundscapes to analyze critical questions about how humans interact with and are altering fragile ecosystems.

About the talk: Krause discusses his 45-year journey of capturing the sounds of nature, and discovering how humans are radically alteringthe fragile ecosystems that make our planet complete. By opening our ears to “nature’s symphonies,” Krause believes humans will better connect with and fight to protect the nature around us.

 

The Secret to Getting a Green Premium

The SSC Team August 2, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives

There has been a lot of talk lately about whether or not customers are willing to pay more for green products. And just like any kind of market research, you can usually find a study to support whatever theory you're currently promoting.  

For example, in August 2013, an article from Sustainable Brands proclaimed, “50% of Global Consumers Willing to Pay More for Socially Responsible Products”. Just a few months earlier, a Harris Interactive poll said that, “78% of U.S. consumers were already buying products specifically because of their social or environmental profile”.

Not so fast. There are a number of articles that argue the opposite -- that consumers are NOT willing to pay a price premium for so-called "green" products. In September 2012, an Advertising Age article noted, “As More Marketers Go Green, Fewer Consumers Willing to Pay For It”. And perhaps most compelling, P&G's CEO flat out declared that, “consumers aren't willing to pay a green premium,” in a video hosted by the Wall Street Journal.

Why the disconnect? Turns out the devil is in the details -- it's the difference between what consumers SAY and what they really DO. Here's an excerpt from No, Consumers Will Not Pay More for Green:

“Consumers will consistently tell surveys that they are willing to pay more for socially and environmentally superior products…A major utility company, for example, surveyed rate payers asking if they would pay a small premium for ‘green electricity.’ The response was overwhelmingly ‘Yes!’ However, when the product was offered, fewer than 5% actually signed up.”

 This leaves companies in a bit of a conundrum. How do you get consumers to pony up extra money for green products? This issue is important for many reasons--innovation can be expensive, and paying better wages for laborers and higher margins for raw materials can seriously impact the profitability of a product or product line. 

So how do you do it? 

The secret might be in how you talk about the sustainability or the "green-ness" of your product or service. It's not enough to spout out key statistics or throw an eco-label on the packaging. New research suggests that it's all in the story. 

In her article, Want to Raise Prices? Tell a Better Story, Francesca Fenzi shares insight about consumer purchasing practices.  “As a business owner, you probably believe that quality is what drives consumers to buy your product. Certainly, superior execution and customer service go a long way toward making your business a success.”

Ty Monague, author of True Story: How to Combine Story and Action to Transform Your Businessbelieves that customers will pay more for a good story.  Take, for example, a 2006 experiment by New York Times magazine columnist, Rob Walker, which tested a hypothesis that stories sold products. Writers were asked to create a story that evoked human interest to accompany a handful of cheap items worth less than $5 each, such as a wooden mallet, a lost hotel key, a plastic banana. He put the objects up for sale on Ebay with the narratives- and was surprised by the results. “On average, the value of the objects rose 2,700 percent,’"wrote Montague. 

Maybe the reason that today's eco-conscious products have trouble commanding a price premium is because their social and environmental stories are communicated poorly--or worse, not at all. Unless the consumer can make a human connection to the story behind the product, it's likely going to remain at a price disadvantage and fighting it out with other traditional products in a competitive marketplace.

So the next time you think about green products--whether you are buying them or selling them--consider whether the story has been crafted in a way to appeal to your values, your history, or your humanity. Are you more willing to shell out a couple extra bucks to be part of that story?  Leave us a comment or join the conversation on Twitter!

5 Tips for Staying Motivated as a Sustainability Professional When Making a Difference Seems Overwhelming

The SSC Team January 21, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Global climate science sometimes comes head to head with policymakers and corporations in ways that make us feel like there is no way that we, as sustainability professionals, can really ‘save the world.’

It can be difficult to keep things in perspective. But we must.

If you quit, then you really have no hope of effecting change. And you’re still here, still on this planet, and you likely still need a job. So, find some internal motivation and keep going.

Here is our take on the Six Ways for Staying Motivated When You Really Want to Quit:

1. Practice looking at Things From the Other Side

If you think it’s futile to ‘keep fighting’ when change is so incremental and what is at risk in our world seems so great, look at it from a different perspective. Don’t be afraid to spend a few minutes looking back in time and celebrating some of the that have been accomplished in our world, or in your own career, to feel reenergized.

2. Identify your Intention

Are you going head-to-head with the CEO because you want to win, or because you truly believe what you’re doing will help the company achieve its goals? Look at what you hope to achieve as a sustainability professional, assess whether it lines up with what you’re actually doing, and then realign your action steps so you’re doing what you intend to do. If you have a clear intention, you’re more likely to feel motivated because you’ll feel like you’re getting somewhere.

3. Find a Different Way to do Things

If you come up against a hurdle, use some creative genius to work around it. Or just evaluate whether to reprioritize this activity. It may not be the right time to implement a certain policy in your industry, but there may be other areas you can focus on and have equal impact.

4. Lose Your Ego (and your High Horse)

Ego can get in the way of a lot of good ideas. In sustainability, a combination of ego and that sustainability, because of its focus on the lofty ‘world saving’ type goals, can immediately be off-putting.

You are likely a good person and working in sustainability is likely going to make the world a better place, overall, but focusing on that can be so self-centric that you’ll lose your motivation. Instead, go back to the first item on our list, and challenge yourself to get projects going by putting others first.

5. Beware of your Habits

Don’t get trapped by the status quo. Sustainability best practices are always rapidly changing, so get motivated by learning something new on the cutting edge of the field. Enroll in a class or learn to use a new assessment tool. You’ll likely want to run out and start working on applying the new knowledge.

6. Realize that Nothing is Perfect

Whether it’s a big project or a small one, everything we do as sustainability professionals is about incremental change that helps add up to big impact. Nothing will ever be perfect, but don’t let that hold you back. Just get up, get a project started, and then celebrate what you did accomplish.

Staring for too long at the big picture may be counterproductive in any field, but especially in sustainability. Instead, find internal motivation and understand that there are thousands of us, like-minded professionals in all sectors, who are working alongside you.

Together we will create change.

How do you stay motivated? Let us know in the comments.

Put your office paper use policy down, on paper

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

Paper is arguably one of the most important physical invention in human history. (People keep claiming “printing press,” but seriously. That’s like“car” without “wheel.”)

For all its importance, paper is capable of doing some major damage to wetlands, oceans, and forests.

According to New Leaf Paper’s recently released Life Cycle Analysis, recycled paper has a climate impact 100 times lower than virgin paper.

Recycled paper uses 75 percent less water, has no impacts on rivers or wetlands from recurring logging of large forests, and avoids the harvesting of multiple forest types.

The obvious solutions

Solve incrementally, not drastically

Making the decision to cut 40% of an organization’s paper use or increase budgets for paper by 40% probably won’t work. Instead, make it a change management effort.

Employees, department heads, and company management all need to understand the effort, be given clear direction, milestones, and goals, and feel that they are making a difference.

Here’s a sample of how you can manage the transition to using less paper: 

  • Ensure employees fully understand why you’re focusing on paper (Save the forests! Save the ocean!)
  • Ensure employees understand how much paper they’ve used in the last measurable period (A mini-paper audit, perhaps?)
  • Give department managers a monthly “paper budget” and not an all-access pass to the copy room (It’s easier to “run out of paper” at the end of each 30 days, and “get by,” than it is to conceptualize what a year’s supply of paper means. Learning to ration over time is more successful.).
  • Give each department a paper reduction goal
  • Reward and support employee efforts to reduce printing and keep costs down (money saved through paper reduction can be donated to a conservation organization).

The case for reducing paper consumption and changing the purchasing behavior is similar to all change management projects. Communicate, collect data, create an action plan with goals, and measure your success.

For help developing sustainability strategies for your organization, contact us! 

Will the UK Modern Slavery Act do any good?

The SSC Team November 5, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Late last week, the UK Parliament passed the Modern Slavery Act, a bill designed to require UK companies to report any steps they are taking to address and prevent human trafficking and modern slavery in their supply chains.

According to the Global Slavery Index, modern slavery is estimated to include more than 36 million people who work in conditions completely controlled by others. Most of these people are found deep in the supply chains of global corporations.

To comply with the Modern Slavery Act, it doesn’t mean a company will have to actually address human trafficking and modern slavery. A company simply has to report whether it has taken any steps to do so.

Therefore, if a corporation files a report indicating that it has taken no steps, it will still be in compliance with the law.

So, does this do us any good?

Overall, yes.

This act pushes corporations one step closer to connecting the process of reporting to the concrete steps of taking action.

We've seen this cause/effect hundreds of times as external pressure – supplier scorecards, stakeholder pressure, or legislation – pushes companies to report. The first report can be humbling, but the process of reporting opens up action steps, focus areas, and progress.

As companies file their first reports, some saying “no action taken.” We believe that their stakeholders will ask “why?” It is then that they will realize it is time to do an initial Social Audit, Supply Chain Analysis and/or Life Cycle Analysis.

A recent article in Huffington Post written by two CEOs speak to the effect of data:

"The vulnerability in our supply chains was in labour hire, specifically the recruitment of migrant workers from disadvantaged backgrounds. Social audits revealed that recruiters were stealing wages from workers through excessive recruitment fees and high interest loans, creating a situation of debt bondage. Upon learning of these terrible conditions, we took immediate action so that workers were paid back the fees they were owed, allowing them to earn a proper wage.”

The companies and the CEOs in question were performing social audits prior to the UK Modern Slavery Act, and were able to take action.

We believe that more companies will engage with auditors, and decisive action will be taken because of this new law.

So, yes, the Modern Slavery Act is going to do some good.  

Would stronger legislation and adoption in other countries, like the U.S., do even more good? Likely.

However, corporations can and should begin on this important work now. There is no need to wait for legislation to become a more socially and environmentally responsible organization.

Learn more about supply chain assessments and audits and how they can help your company create a system to uncover risks lurking in the supply chain. How have supply chain audits helped your organization uncover risk? Let us know in the comments!

 

Views: Basic Psychology Can Empower Energy Efficiency

The SSC Team October 15, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the blog archives:

Most people are not aware of how much energy they are using (or wasting). Many feel as though they have little control over their monthly utility bills. However, social scientists suggest that if people were made aware of 1. their power usage costs in real time; and 2. how those costs compare to their neighbors and others in similar situations, energy conservation would be enhanced because of people’s desire to outperform.

According to Scientific American, new technology may improve awareness of our energy use and help push peoples desire to conserve energy.

One example of such new technology was employed by Southern California Edison utility which gave its consumers an Ambient Orb - a ball that sits on one’s table and communicates wirelessly with the local power grid. During peak demand hours, the ball glows red. When electricity prices are lower, the ball grows green. After only a few weeks, residents using the Ambient Orb decreased their power consumption during peak periods by 40 percent.

Competition and the ability to compare energy usage with one another may encourage further saving. A study was conducted in a small California town where all residents were notified about their energy consumption in previous weeks as well as the average consumption in their neighborhoods. Included with each month’s utility bill, individual homes were given a smiley face for bellow average consumption and a frown for an above average bill. This simple expression prompted excessive users to cut back and encouraged savers to continue saving.

These examples seem to illustrate a fundamental misconception – that being more energy efficient will somehow make life more difficult or less comfortable. A more reasonable conclusion may be that comfort is relative. Meaning, some people may actually want to do their laundry late in the evening or early in the morning if they can save money.

The article articulates another simple point - knowledge is power. People should be informed about their energy use in more effective ways!

Have you seen other technology that uses positive reinforcement or active awareness to encourage more sustainable behavior? Let us know in the comments!

Dispatch from SSC summer 2009 Intern Paul Turaew

Supporting Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build Initiative

The SSC Team September 10, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

At Strategic Sustainability Consulting, we are huge supporters of paying it forward and giving back to the global community. One of the ways that we give back is by supporting Habitat for Humanity. We are proud of the efforts they put forward to provide homes for those in need, and we are always excited when they are able to build sustainable, energy-efficient housing!

Recently, a close friend of SSC, Roya Khaleeli, mentioned she was participating in Habitat for Humanity's Women Build initiative, and wanting to get involved in some capacity ourselves, we donated some money to Women Build. Women Build aims to bring over 13,000 women together from around the world to allow women-only teams build over 2,300 homes together. This is a wonderful opportunity for women to not only help give back to their communities, but it also empowers them with new skills they might not have had before.

We are eager to see the amazing results from the upcoming Women Build events, and we are excited to hear how these women are changing the lives of others.

6 Ways to Gain Support for Your New Sustainability Project

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

By: Alexandra Kueller

You’re a member of your company’s sustainability team, and you just thought of a brand new sustainability project for your company to undertake. This project will not only help better the environment, but also help save the company money! But what’s the hold up? Often, like many other new projects and ideas, sustainability-related projects get lost in the shuffle.  

In a Harvard Business Review article called “A Guide to Winning Support for Your New Idea or Project", author Rebecca Knight discusses several ways you can win support and get people on board for your new project. We decided to add a sustainability twist to her idea and help you find new ways to gain momentum for your new sustainability project.

1. Understand What’s Motivating You

If you want to successfully pitch and sell your new idea, be sure you are able to explain why. If you want your company to undertake a carbon footprint, it’s a good idea to have a response that goes beyond “it can help the environment in the long run.” Identify why you think your company should invest resources into a carbon footprint and be able to articulate those thoughts.

2. Think Small

Sure, it would be great if every company could have a top-to-bottom sustainability makeover, but unfortunately that’s not the reality. Business still have actual businesses to run and can’t throw an endless supply of resources to the sustainability team. Think small, and try to get as specific as possible. The more precise you are with your goals and outcomes, the better chance you have to get people to respond. It’s much easier to dismiss a large, lofty goal than something that seems more tangible.

3. Gather Feedback

You might think that proposing a materiality assessment is a great idea, but what do your coworkers think? If you find yourself with colleagues who might have interest in the idea, present it in an informal manner, such as “What do you think of our company going through a materiality assessment?” You’ll be able to quickly hear any concerns or questions they might have, allowing you to tighten up your plan to make sure it is a sure-fire success.

4. Sell, Sell, Sell

As Knight mentions in her article, selling your idea is more of a campaign than a singular event. If you want your company to undergo a life cycle assessment, bring up the idea – often. This is when you need to market your idea and get as many people on board as you can. Make your coworkers understand what a life cycle assessment is and why it’s important for your company to complete one; try to get as much agreement as you can.

5. Propose a Pilot

Perhaps you have initial support for your idea of publishing an annual sustainability report, but there’s still some pushback. Instead of having an “all or nothing” mentality, suggest writing a rough skeleton outline of a sustainability report. This way people can get a better sense of what a report would look like, and it’s a fairly low time commitment. And if the sustainability report isn’t approved, minimal resources were wasted.

6. Don’t Get Discouraged

No matter what type of work you are doing, any time someone doesn’t approve of a new project or idea you suggested, it’s easy to get discouraged. Instead, gather feedback. Was your idea for a waste audit shot down because of budgeting reasons or rather your bosses needed some more time to think on it? Just because your project wasn’t accepted initially doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance to complete your waste audit in the future. Keep your head up and continue to advocate for sustainability projects within your company.

Are simple mistakes holding back your sustainability? Find out how to correct those mistakes here!

8 Steps to Becoming a Better Sustainability Consultant

The SSC Team June 9, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller As I approach my one year anniversary at SSC, I’m amazed at not only how quickly the past year has flown by, but also with how much I learned the first 12 months on the job. I’ve come to learn how to craft a sustainability narrative for a company and what data to collect for carbon footprinting analysis. I’ve slowly (but surely) gotten better at client and project management. I’ve even gotten over my fear of attending conferences by myself! But none of what I’ve learned will be useful, unless I can take this new information and apply it to my long-term goals as a sustainability consultant. I recently came across an article by Jonathan Long featured on Entrepreneur called “8 Steps to Crushing Ridiculous Goals” that discussed how to achieve the goals you set for yourself, and it made me think about how I could apply these 8 steps to being a better sustainability consultant.

1. Master easy goals first

Any 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 goals

One 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 line

As 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 you

I’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 excuses

Learning 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 possibility

When 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 sacrifice

Projects 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 quit

Being 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.

Workplace Movement Toward Environmental Sustainability – Pt. 1

The SSC Team April 28, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller Last week we introduced the Retail Industry Leaders Association’s (RILA) brand new Retail Sustainability Management Maturity Matrix. The Matrix hopes to be a tool that will be used by sustainability executives, individual companies, and industry-wide. We also noted that while the Matrix is designed with the retail industry in mind, we think that is has a wide applicability beyond just the retail sector. Today we are focusing on three of the seven sectors that are featured in the Matrix. Hoping to provide a more in-depth look at how RILA hopes to benchmark across the industry in terms of environmental sustainability, we are going to look at what it would take for a company to become a leader in that sector.

Strategy and Commitment

Before 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:
  • Strategy
  • Materiality/Risk Identification
  • Goals
  • Governance & Executive Engagement
  • Incentives

People and Tools

Sustainability 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

Visibility

You 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
Last fall we attended the annual RILA Sustainability Conference. Read about some of our thoughts on the conference here.