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4 Mistakes That Are Holding Back Your Company’s Sustainability

The SSC Team July 21, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller Take a step back and examine your company’s sustainability. Is your company moving forward with its sustainability goals and initiatives? Or do you feel like your company could be doing more? If you identify with the latter, there might be some simple mistakes being made that is causing this problem. Introduced in the Fast Company article “4 Business Decision-Makings Mistakes Are Holding You Back”, Romi Stein discusses common mistakes companies have made and how it has hurt them. Wanting to put a sustainability twist on the points discussed in that article, we have highlighted ways that these mistakes could be causing your sustainability initiatives some harm:

Failure to Learn

Have you ever been to a conference or event where an older person - someone with years of experience and knowledge - got on stage and lectured everyone about the "right way to do sustainability"? Did you then subsequently think to yourself, "but isn't there more than one way to do sustainability?" That's because there is! The field of sustainability is always changing, in the sense that new information and research is always being published. We are always finding better ways to track emissions and inventive ways to report sustainability initiatives, so there is no need to exclaim that there is a right way for sustainability. If someone isn't willing to learn new ways of approaching sustainability, they appear too entrenched in the past, and soon their sustainability will be too.

Failure to Anticipate

It’s the end of July, which means a lot of companies have either submitted their CDP reports for 2014 or are making their final edits. But more than likely there are companies that are scrambling to put together a year’s worth of emissions data and sustainability initiatives. Sustainability, like any field or industry, has annual deadlines – whether set by the company or by other organizations. CDP and UNGC have deadlines to submit their reports, and many companies aim to publish their sustainability report around the same time every year. If a company does not anticipate these deadlines, that often means other sustainability work gets pushed to the side just to make sure the reports go out on time.

Failure to Adapt

Over the past few years, there has been a big push to bring materiality to sustainability, and slowly, companies are doing so. But what happens if your company doesn’t change and adapt to materiality or every other new trend? How much of an impact could that have? Nothing in sustainability stays the same for long, which can make it difficult to tell what’s important to focus on. New reporting standards are released, new trends emerge, but there are instances where reporting standards account for these trends. With GRI’s G4 iteration, it plays up the importance of materiality and how companies should build their annual reports around it. If your company is ignoring materiality, it can look like they don’t take sustainability seriously.

Failure to Execute

One of the biggest ways to hold back a company's sustainability is by them simply failing to execute their sustainability plan. This could happen for a variety of reasons: your company isn't allocating the same resources to sustainability that it once did; you forgot to keep up with data tracking throughout the year; more pressing, non-sustainability related projects pop up. No matter what your job, in whatever industry, this is going to happen - it's an inevitable part of having a job. But what will make the difference is how you react when facing these issues. Does your company just ignore all sustainability-related initiatives for the rest of the year, or are they doing something to make sure they are sticking to their plan? Think your company could be a little more sustainable? Find out how to get your company moving towards sustainability here.

Grow Your Sustainability Consultancy Business by Speaking Your Client’s Language

The SSC Team July 7, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this blog from the SSC archives: So, you know all about your prospective client and you’ve decided on the strongest business case for sustainability for their situation. Now it’s time to win them over and solidify the relationship with a smashing proposal or pitch.

1) Don’t think of a pitch as a sell, think of it as an educational opportunity

Don’t worry so much about whether or not the client is going to hire you at the time you are meeting with them. Instead, treat it like a customized webinar or mini-conference where you are showcasing your knowledge about sustainability, the realities of where the economy is heading, their specific opportunities in relation to sustainability, and what they will need to do to get ahead and effectively adopt sustainability in their corporate strategic framework. You are just showing them the raw ingredients, while keeping a hold of the recipe. 

2) Start at the very beginning, a very good place to start

So, you know all about sustainability. And you know all about your prospective client. Unfortunately, your audience, be it the CEO or a mid-level executive, may not know much more about sustainability than “I think it costs a lot, but everybody seems to be doing it.” Clear that up right away with a brief definition of strategic sustainability – use the definition you use for your own consultancy. Make sure the client know that sustainability is a business framework, not a philanthropic or public relations gesture. Drop a few names, too – Wal-Mart, GE, Nike, Rio Tinto, Toyota. It doesn’t hurt for your client to know that they are joining the ranks of commerce’s elite.

3) Stress the long term and a future of change

“Fundamentally, corporate sustainability is about exploring the next way your company will be successful, because almost all the things you currently rely on -- energy, supply chain, consumers, investors, regulation -- are going to change,” said David Bent from the non-profit sustainability organization Forum for the Future in a blog series for Greenbiz.com. Changing times demand that companies factor in future risks, such as rising energy prices, increased regulation, and pressure from consumers, into their strategic plans. Since many of these future risks and market changes are going to stem from environmental and social concerns, integrating sustainability principles into the corporate framework now, to address these issues now, isn’t just a “cost” to the business, it’s an investment in the future risk management. “You can’t predict ‘the’ future, but you had better be prepared for possible futures with a portfolio of strategies – and a business case – that ‘future-proof the company’ by diversifying your risk going forward,” advises Gil Friend, founder and CEO of Natural Logic. You must stress this fact to prospective clients – they will probably have to become sustainable eventually, but they might as well make some money doing it proactively instead of reactively. Just be sure to avoid scare tactics or pressure. The fact is: the world is changing, and change can be good.

4) Look to frame sustainability as a driver for innovation and opportunity

Find examples of “play-to-win” organizations that have used sustainability to tap into new opportunities (destroying the competition in the process) to help sell the concept. Companies are inherently competitive, but often are mired in a “compliance mentality.” Remind your audience that business is a battlefield; you might be able to tap into that competitive spirit. Use what you know about the company’s competitors or industry to highlight how the sustainability program may get them ahead of the game.

5) Present the client’s customized business case in a language that everyone can understand – shareholder value

It’s meat and potatoes time. You’ve briefly discussed sustainability, the risk of not acting, and the opportunity gained by taking action. Next is what they’ve all been waiting for – the business case. At this point, be fairly specific about what you feel the key “value drivers” of a sustainability program will be for this specific organization. First, present the business case. For example, an engineering firm with a zillion vacancies on its “careers” page and a reputation of an ‘old boys club’ may benefit from a sustainability program stressing competitive advantage – a program that will help its recruitment program, shape its industry, and help it become an early mover on new and emerging areas for growth (like green design, perhaps). Second, present the projected investment (in time and money) and the estimated return on investment (ROI). According to Friend, the business case has to provide a clear ROI in the financial, operational, and strategic dimensions. But be clear that ROI in sustainability isn’t only about short-term dollars and cents. When you are talking about elements like “recruitment” and “industry shaping,” be sure to clarify that these, albeit not short-term financial returns, are “indirect” returns. While direct returns include costs (lighting retrofits or waste-reduction), indirect returns ( impacts on brand reputational value, employee productivity and retention, product quality, community goodwill, etc.) can open companies to new business as much as any marketing plan while helping reduce risk. For an in-depth discussion on costing for sustainability, check out the book Making Sustainability Work by Marc Epstein. Third, use statistics, examples, graphics, and best practices, briefly but effectively, to back up your claims on how your proposed programs can directly affect shareholder value through direct and indirect returns. Finally, give the client a path on how a sustainability program for this value driver might be incorporated into their organizational framework.

6) Don’t frighten them off

Although you may have made an amazing pitch with ROI analysis that just can’t be denied, a client may still balk. “But we don’t have $150,000 for a lighting retrofit, even if we know it will save us $300,000 over the next six years…” Yes, it may be ideal if you could tackle each value driver head on, re-write the strategic plan, and reorganize the company, but, more likely, the financial minds at your prospect’s firm are going to be reluctant to loosen the purse strings. To help ease them into the process (and help you begin to form a long, trusting relationship), break it down into steps. Begin with saying, “Now that I’ve presented the strategic sustainability framework that will eventually deliver the most value to your organization, let’s talk about where we begin. Every journey starts with a series of small steps…” At this point, have one or two programs that will work as small but effective pilot programs for this broader sustainability plan. Try to find the one or two manageable programs with the lowest-hanging, least expensive fruit, and suggest that the client give them a try first. The pilots will help you build credibility with the CFO’s office, as well as awareness throughout the rest of the organization. Hopefully by achieving documented success with the first few pilot programs, the company will continue to draw on your services to expand into the more complex strategic development of their sustainability program (that you were the architect of).

7) Be straightforward about the business relationship

Once you’ve delivered the presentation (no more than an hour of their time) and have some concrete offerings available for them (green audits, waste audits, pilot ‘Green Team’ programs, stakeholder engagement initiatives, or whatever your other pilot programs were) be ready for questions. Know how long each program will take and what it may cost if they suddenly want to go whole hog. Be prepared to answer detailed questions about customer service, your ‘next steps’ in project development, your experience, your resources, costs of your service, as well as costs directly to them (retrofits, training investments, life-cycle-analyses, etc.) and the overall estimated ROI for each suggested program. Instead of spending your time trying to convince the client through testimonials of how great you are, just do what you do best: consult them. Show them what you know and use examples from research or from your past experience to illustrate how they, too, can meet their goals, transform their business, reduce their risk, and increase shareholder value through sustainability. You are simply the person with the tools to help them get the process started. Find out how you can become a better sustainability leader in one of our latest blogs.

Greening Your Non-Profit from the Inside Out

The SSC Team June 25, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this blog post from the SSC archives: Why is environmental responsibility important to an organization’s bottom line?  What are key impacts?  What does your organization’s carbon footprint look like?  Where should you begin?  These questions and more are addressed in an excellent resource that is easy-to-use and only a download away.  If you work for a non-profit or if you have non-profit clients, this is something that you will want to take a look at. “Greening Your Non-Profit from the Inside Out: A NeighborWorks® Guide for Community Development Organizations” essentially serves as a handbook that was designed to provide community development organizations with an easy-to-use resource for taking the first steps towards “going green”. Using the results of the sustainability action plans from 2008, NeighborWorks developed a manual and online course entitled “Greening Your Nonprofit Business” in 2009. The manual, produced in conjunction with Strategic Sustainability Consulting, is available free online to all network organizations and to the broader community development field to help them take steps toward environmental sustainability. The manual has been downloaded 24,000+ times since its publication in 2009, making it one of the most popular downloads on www.nw.org.  Once you start to skim you’ll quickly realize why it’s a top download and how it is still relevant today. It begins with a general introduction to the topic of environmental sustainability and prepares you for the following chapters that dive into specific green action items to get you started.  Divided into eleven “green” topics ranging from energy efficiency to customer communication, each section provides a wealth of information.  Statistics, case studies, recommendations, and other resources will help you to understand the environmental impacts of each topic and how to go about minimizing that impact in a simple, cost-effective way.  Because there is no “one size fits all” solution to going green, the manual includes website links to some of the best organizations working on the issue—where you can find a solution tailored to fit your circumstances.  This information is organized so that you can quickly find the information you need. In case you didn’t already know, we partner and work with NeighborWorks on a lot of different projects and have found their dual mission to be a perfect match for what we have to offer as well.  NeighborWorks America is the country’s leader in affordable housing and community development, working to create opportunities for lower-income people to live in affordable homes in safe, sustainable neighborhoods that are healthy places for families to grow.  NeighborWorks commits to being a leader with its network in employing and promoting equitable, green and sustainable practices for the long-term benefit of the environment so that people can live and work in healthy, ecologically friendly, and affordable places.  Learn more here and download the manual today! Find out how you can become a better sustainability leader in one of our latest blogs.