Strategy and CommitmentBefore a company can begin their sustainability journey, they must first have some sort of sustainability strategy, right? And if that strategy is weak, how strong will a company's goals be? How well will the company show executives that sustainability is necessary? What this section hopes to capture is how well a company is addressing environmental sustainability at a governance level. A leading company in this sector will have a sustainability strategy that is aligned across departments and integrated into corporate strategy, has defined comprehensive and aggressive goals, incorporates executives from all relevant parts of the business, and more. The Strategy and Commitment sector has five different dimensions:
- Materiality/Risk Identification
- Governance & Executive Engagement
People and ToolsSustainability cannot happen without people. Whether the people are stakeholders or employees, sustainability is a collaborative process that needs to have everyone involved from the beginning. While the people involved in your sustainability process is important, so are the tools you use. If you don't have the right set of tools and the right people, your company might be falling short in terms of their sustainability. According to RILA, in order to be leading this sector, a company must demonstrate that they have a dedicated team to creating and investing in sustainable innovations, incorporate feedback from key stakeholders into sustainability strategy, provide a collaborative forum for employees to engage in, and more. The People and Tools sector has four different dimensions:
- Stakeholder Engagement
- Employee Engagement
- Funding Mechanisms
- Business Innovation Mechanisms
VisibilityYou have your sustainability strategy in place and have assembled a team of employees that have the right set of tools to tackle sustainability, so what's next? Choosing sustainability metrics focused on all material aspects. Using 3rd-party standards in your sustainability reporting. Having sustainability be a focus in marketing campaigns. Partner with other organizations to continue to identify room for improvement. These are just some of the ways RILA says companies can become better sustainability leaders while promoting their sustainability. The Visibility sector has five different dimensions:
- Metrics & Measurement
- Reporting & Communicating
- Point-of-Purchase Consumer Education
- Marketing Campaigns
- Collaborative Involvement
By: Alexandra Kueller
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.
With internship season right around the corner, we thought we would share this article Jennifer Woofter wrote for Environmental Leader in 2012. Enjoy:
Here are four projects that you can easily assign to summer staff. These “intern-ready tasks” require no fancy software or specialized training — just the ability to move freely around your facility and observe current practices.
In general, each project will take about 2 weeks to execute (including planning, analysis, and debriefing) and require little planning. So even if you hadn’t thought about it until now, there’s still plenty of time to squeeze in a couple of them before the summer runs out!
Project One: Lighting Analysis
Want to know how much electricity you could save by retrofitting your office, warehouse, factory, or other facilities? You’ll need to start by understanding your current lighting profile — including what kind of lights are currently used, how often (and for what duration) they are used, and their energy impact. Have an intern (or group of interns) survey your facility and assemble a spreadsheet.
Once your intern has collected a robust lighting spreadsheet, you’ll be able to prioritize efforts and determine the impact of switching to newer lighting (e.g. by upgrading your overhead florescent tubing to more efficient versions), where lighting should be eliminated (e.g. unnecessary incandescent desk lamps), and the cost savings associated with any of the changes under consideration. Some of this preliminary analysis may be done by your summer interns, but we recommend that they work in close supervision with facility staff to keep them on the right track.
Project Two: Paper Chase
There are many reasons to reduce paper use in your office — cost savings, better accessibility, increased security, less clutter, and (of course) saving trees. But before you issue a mandate to “use less paper” it’s helpful to know exactly how much paper is being used, how it’s being used, and how long it’s being used (before it’s thrown away). You can turn this into a scavenger hunt, if you approach it right.
Start with the purchasing records to figure out how much paper (including copy paper, envelopes, stationary, post-it notes, invoices, etc.) is used each year. Be sure to include third-party printed documents such as annual reports, brochures, or sales materials that might never actually pass through your office but are part of your “paper footprint” nonetheless. Make a note of the paper manufacturer, the percentage of recycled content, other “green” attributes (such as “processed chlorine free”), and the cost per unit.
Then, figure out how and when that paper is used. How much paper is used for “corporate” things — like printing annual reports? How much is used by individual employees — such as printing out emails or documents for editing? Is the accounting department sucking up eighty-five % of the paper, or are they e-doc pros that can serve as inspiration for the rest of the company? How much paper is used in meetings — does everyone bring a copy of the 10-page agenda, or can it simply be emailed ahead of time and shared on the LCD projector?
Once you’ve got a good baseline, you’ll be well-equipped to go on a paper-busting bonanza. And more importantly: you’ll be able to target your initiative at the right people and the right paper types.
Project Three: Mail Review
Sit your interns down in the mail room for a week and ask them to collect information on your current mail systems. For starters, ask them to classify each type of incoming and outgoing mail, and the number of items falling into each category. For example, under incoming mail you might have: billing/invoices, personal correspondence, catalogs, priority envelopes, boxes/packages, and “junk.”
While the interns are conducting their initial tally, they can also be investigating opportunities to consolidate mailings (maybe you don’t need 50 copies of the Staples office supplies catalog!) or switch to electronic formats. For example, if you find that the mailroom sends out priority envelopes 50 times a week (at $5.15 a pop) for contract signatures, you’ll have added financial justification for pushing that e-signature solution.
Project Four: Waste Audit
If your interns are ready to get their hands dirty, consider doing a waste audit. Set aside your office waste for a week in a safe place. Then spread the waste and sort it into key categories such as landfill, food, mixed recycling, Styrofoam, paper, and cardboard. Next weigh each category and tally the results in a spreadsheet. You can run a variety of calculations on the raw data, but at a minimum you can determine: how much waste you generate in an average week, what your waste stream looks like, what percentage of that waste is currently recycled, and what percentage of that waste could be (but is not) recycled.
It’s grubby work, and there are a number of safety precautions that should be implemented before you turn your interns loose with a pitchfork and a bag of garbage. So make sure that you do your research and take time to set up the area, prep your interns, and explain the process ahead of time.
Short on Time or Staff? Here are Eleven Quick Tasks Perfect for Interns:
- Investigate food composting options available in your area
- Research local green business networking opportunities
- Enter previous years’ utility data into EPA’s Portfolio Manager tool
- Research sustainability conferences that might be worth attending and why
- Create signs to remind people to turn off the lights when they leave a room, make double-sided copies in the copy room, etc.
- Research local “green” tax incentives, rebates, grants, credits, and deductions
- Conduct a brown bag lunch to share ideas on how the company can “go green”
- Pull together some examples/templates for sustainability-related policies (like green purchasing)
- Research greener kitchen options (like getting rid of paper plates and upgrading to permanent cutlery)
- Research and put together a “green plan” for next year’s summer interns
- Compare “greener” office product pricing against current purchasing practices
Interested in finding job within the field of sustainability? Read about some of the common mistakes job seekers make.
In 2011, Jennifer Woofter wrote an article for Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series focusing on some mistake people make when looking for a sustainability job. We thought that her article had so much good information that it was worth another share! Enjoy:
In the course of running a boutique sustainability consulting firm, I get a lot of inquiries about jobs in sustainability. Some people want to know if I’m hiring, others want an informational interview to understand the sustainability job market in general, and yet others want to hear all about how I started my company in hopes that they will walk away with an idea of how to blaze an entrepreneurial trail through the industry.
After seeing the same blunders again and again and again, I thought it might be helpful to put together a short list of common mistakes that will blow your chances of getting a job in the sustainability profession.
Mistake #1: Leading with Your Passion
In the piles of emails and letters that I get every week from sustainability job seekers, more than half of them use some form of the word “passion”. Here are a couple of excerpts from cover letters/bios I’ve received in the last week:
“My passions for renewable energy and sustainable development have driven my success…”
“I am passionate about helping companies create cultures that support and inspire their employees and community.”
“In my last corporate role I initiated corporate sustainability initiatives, mostly fueled by my own passion…”
Here is a hint: passion isn’t a selling point, it’s the minimum requirement to ride this sustainability roller coaster. We are ALL passionate about sustainability, and we’ll assume you are too. (Because honestly, who applying for a job in sustainability isn’t passionate about it?)
Yes, it’s great to be enthusiastic – but when EVERYONE is passionate about a topic, it no longer becomes something that makes you stand out. When I see a cover letter with the word “passion” in the first paragraph, it automatically gets put into the “no thanks” pile. Why?
Here is what leading with your “passion” says to me:
- You have mostly enthusiasm, rather than experience.
- You don’t have any hard skills to bring to the table.
- You are emotional, not practical
If you are one of those people with “passion” in your cover letter, you might be arguing with me right now—insisting that you do have practical skills, that you are results-oriented, and that you have the right kind of experience to excel in a sustainability job. And you might be right—but I’ll never know because you are hiding those elements (the ones that will REALLY get you the job) under a obfuscating cloud of enthusiasm.
Solution: be enthusiastic—but let that excitement show through your discussion of your skills, your experience, and your approach to working on sustainability projects.
Mistake #2: Trying a Buckshot Approach
Don’t just shoot off a resume and cover letter to every sustainability job that comes across your computer screen. Please, please, please show a little restraint. For one thing, you will forever be on my hiring blacklist if you send me a cover letter addressed to the WRONG COMPANY because in your hurry the copy-and-paste job got a little sloppy. (I wish I could say that this happens only rarely.)
Even if you don’t make an obvious mistake like that one, let me assure you that it is easy to spot a “buckshot” approach to sustainability job seeking. The same generic resume, the same boring cover letter. It’s a waste of your time. You need to switch from shotgun to sniper mode.
The individuals that have gotten my attention are able to instantly demonstrate that they know my company, understand how they fit into the larger sustainability industry, and are familiar enough with me to avoid my hot button issues. (For example, on the “about Jennifer” page of my website, I clearly state that I hate when people use the term “passion” when talking about sustainability.)
DO YOUR HOMEWORK BEFORE YOU APPLY. I know this is a no-brainer, but I’m pretty sure that every job-hunting advice column continues to include this recommendation because people just don’t get it. You need to be able to demonstrate, at a minimum, the following things:
- You understand the organization’s approach to sustainability (treehugger vs. techie geek, antagonistic advocate vs. industry partner, “right thing to do” vs. “drives innovation”, environmental sustainability vs. triple bottom line, etc.)
- You have skills that meet their needs (e.g. don’t spout off about your experience in renewable energy when talking to a sustainable forestry outfit unless you have a stellar reason for doing so, but don’t make the opposite mistake of leaving your skill set vague.)
- You fit in their organizational culture (you love that it’s a small company, or you thrive in teams, or you love the challenge of working with big, bad companies facing a swatch of sustainability issues)
If you can’t answer those questions, then you haven’t done enough homework. If this information isn’t readily available, you’re going to have to do some digging. Check out their executives LinkedIn profiles, stalk their Facebook page, follow their Twitter stream (be a dear and RT once in a while—it flatters the ego and shows that you can contribute to spreading the word). Exhaust your network until you find someone who can tell you about what it’s really like to work there, what kind of projects have been keeping people busy, and what the internal atmosphere is like.
I hope that it goes without saying that you need to do this research BEFORE you make an official inquiry about a job there…you need to come to the table totally prepared. The executives on the receiving end of your attention need to feel like you already belong there, that you are ready to come onboard immediately, and that you’ll fit right in with the team. The best way to do this is to be so knowledgeable about the organization that you really DO seem like one of the team before you walk in the door.
Yeah, it’s going to take a LOT more time than you may want to spend. But if you can narrow down the number of potential organizations that you want to work for (by avoiding that buckshot approach), you’ll have more time to spend on your short-list of the most relevant and exciting prospects.
Mistake #3: Not Following Directions
This is an easy one, with an easy solution. FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS. If the website says no phone calls, then don’t call. If they say only the applicants selected for an interview will be contacted, then don’t harass the poor HR manager about whether or not you have been chosen. I know, it’s so tempting to just break all the rules and go after the job you want (and I’m ashamed to see other job advice and career counselors recommending breaking the rules) but I promise, it doesn’t work.
(You probably know someone, or have heard a story about someone who broke the rules and by showing persistence got the job. This is the exception to the rule, and it has the unfortunate effect of making lots of people think that they too can be the exception to the rule.)
By not following directions in the job seeking process, you are essentially telling me that you won’t respect my organization’s rules, policies, and procedures. In effect, you place your own desires above the success of my company. And yikes, that is not a person I want to spend my time talking to—let alone a person I want to hire.
However, that doesn’t mean that you are powerless. Here are three examples of how people successfully got around my company’s rules for contacting us about informational interviews, internships, and full time positions.
- Use someone in my network as an “in”. If you can get introduced to me through one of my colleagues, there is a MUCH better chance that I’ll agree to have coffee with you. Even if I’m not at all interested, I feel a sense of obligation to my network—and once you have me in your grasp, you can unleash your sustainability magnetism and make me forget all about my reluctance.
- Run into me at an event. Through my company’s blog, e-newsletter, my Twitter account, and our Facebook group, you can pretty much figure out where I’m going to be. And since I hate standing awkwardly alone, a public event is a great place to corner me and chat me up about your sustainability goals.
- Offer to do me a favor. Can you introduce me to someone that I might want to meet? Connect me to an organization that might want my services? Get my company free publicity? The sad truth is that the job seeking process is very one-sided. You take, and I give (or at least, that’s the way it feels on this side of the equation). If you can help even that balance, I’ll be more amenable to seeing how I can help you.
I’m sure there are other common mistakes, but these three are the ones that push my buttons the most frequently. Talking to other organizations, I fear I’m not alone. So do us all a favor (including yourself) and take a harsh look at your job-search process and see if you are committing any of these mistakes. They are easy to rectify, and will drastically improve your chance of landing your next position in the sustainability industry.
What do you think about the "mistakes" Jennifer mentioned? Let us know in the comments below!
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!
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!