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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.

More Risk Management News: Special Offer from Stephen Bushnell + Associates

Tara Hughes January 23, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , Stephen Bushnell + Associates No comments
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Risk Management and Sustainability, Together Again

Tara Hughes January 23, 2015 Tags: , , , , Stephen Bushnell + Associates No comments

by Stephen Bushnell, Stephen Bushnell + Associates

Karl Bodmer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Karl Bodmer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Imagine a Plains Indian, on horseback, surrounded by tens of thousands of stampeding, 2000 pound beasts. The horse and bison are moving at literally breakneck speeds. He hunts with only a crude bow and arrow and has very little protective equipment. The brave fully understands the risks and through long years of training and shared tribal wisdom has mitigated them. He is an expert risk manager. He has to be if he wants to see the sun rise tomorrow.

The Plains Indians were also experts on sustainability. They only hunted when they needed food. When they killed a buffalo, they used every part of it, wasting nothing. They made tepee coverings, bedding, clothes, moccasins, and robes from the hide. The hair was used for rope and halters, the hoofs for rattles. The horns were used to make dishes and spoons and ladles. They made glues, toys, drums, belts, shields, boats, needles, thread and more from the carcass. And they ate very, very well.

Over the years this connection between risk management and sustainability faded. Each evolved differently, risk management gaining in importance as mankind entered the industrial and technological eras. Sustainability de-emphasized as we believed in the seemingly endless bounty of nature.

Today we face hard realities about the availability and cost of capital, natural, human and financial. Citizens, business people and governments have to make very hard decisions about how to run their lives and operations, design and construct the built environment and plan for the future. Sustainability has come back into style to help shape the economic, human and environmental decisions that must be made. Risk management has evolved into “Enterprise Risk Management” as it now considers managing risk but also maximizing opportunity.

Clearly, just like the Plains Indians, we need to integrate risk management and sustainability as we face our challenges. From living healthy lives to running a profitable business to responding to finite natural resources and dangerous climate change we face risks and opportunities that are best addressed in a framework that combines risk management and sustainable practices.

The sustainable risk management process has several distinct steps:

  • Identify exposures to loss and opportunities. Ideally done in a charrette format, engage your experts and key stakeholders in an ongoing identification of the risks you face and the opportunities you strive for. Consider your physical and financial realities, your history, culture and operating environment. Brainstorm, reminisce about the future (more on this in a future blog) and construct scenarios. You’ll compile a “risk register” and an “opportunity manifest”, point in time summaries of risks and the opportunities. As you analyze the frequency and severity of the risks and the criticality and difficulty of the opportunities to identify those ones with the biggest impacts.
  • Consider the techniques to manage risk and maximize opportunity. There are several classic risk management techniques; avoidance, mitigation, adaptation, transfer (usually contractually or to an insurance company) and retention. Each has financial implications, advantages and drawbacks which you should map. Achieving opportunities begins with identifying and removing barriers. A SWOT (Strength/Weakness/Opportunity/Threat) analysis is helpful. You might also consider a variety of ways to finance the activities needed to realize the opportunity.
  • Select the best combination of techniques based on effectiveness and cost. Rarely does a single technique do the job. For risk you will often mitigate some aspects of the risk and then insure it. You may also retain part of the risk if your insurance policy has a deductible. The mitigation plan you select could generate new opportunities. Think about how energy efficient buildings mitigate financial risks of operating costs. As you remove barriers to opportunities you may be creating new risks that must be managed. If you perform green renovations to your building you create a financial risk that can affect the anticipate payback. Risk and opportunity are really two sides of the same coin.
  • Monitor progress and make mid course corrections. Pretty basic management practices.

Risk and sustainability have always been intertwined. When humans deemphasized sustainability in times of perceived abundance we unwittingly increased the risks we face today and tomorrow. As the environment degrades, natural capital is stressed and the climate becomes unfriendly we will find the answers and actions we must take through the sustainable risk management process. Like the Plains Indians we will act to manage risk and become more sustainable to improve the quality of our lives and those of future generations.

About the author: Stephen Bushnell is a highly experienced insurance and risk management professional with more than 40 years of leadership experience at various property & casualty insurers. Steve is widely recognized as a risk-focused expert on green buildings, sustainable manufacturing and operations, and the broader business, economic and risk management implications of climate, energy and other sustainability challenges.

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Stephen Bushnell + Associates advises property owners and managers, public entities, manufacturers and other enterprises on the enterprise risk management best practices to enhance green buildings and sustainable operations.