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The Business Case for Sustainability

The SSC Team January 12, 2017 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives. 

Each year we try and start fresh, assuming that our potential clients may be learning about sustainability strategy from a practical implementation standpoint for the very first time.

Even though this post is from our archives, this webinar presented by, SSC President Jennifer Woofter called "The Business Case for Sustainability" presented to the DC chapter of Net Impact a few years back is a great primer on  how to identify, calculate, and prioritize social and environmental benefits to organizations.

We recorded the session, and you can watch it here! 

Some people still think that implementing sustainability might be great for the company's image, but bad for its bottom line. Nothing could be further from the truth, and you will learn how sustainability makes both Sense and Cents. 

Over the course of the webinar we will identify key areas where "going green" can pay off, calculate basic savings opportunities for energy, water, transportation and other issues, and understand basic financial models for calculating return on investment (ROI). We will also discuss how to value a company's reputation, brand image, and stakeholder relationships, as well as how to reduce certain costs borne by the company. We will focus on the following areas and demonstrate with real-life case studies: 

  • Economic: Promoting business excellence and maintaining the highest ethical standards 
  • Social: Engaging with community and exemplifying corporate responsibility 
  • Environmental: Employing green building practices and minimizing carbon emissions

 If you found this webinar helpful, you may also want to check out our white paper, Sustainability Through the Value Chain.  For a complimentary conversation about the topics in the webinar or white paper, please contact us.

Is your sustainability strategy too complicated?

The SSC Team January 3, 2017 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

 Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

You can't be all things to all people, and neither can an effective sustainability strategy. Companies that try to do everything (such as go carbon neutral, hire local, move to 100% telecommuting, redesign products to be zero waste, offer vegan lunch options in the cafeteria, install a rooftop garden, and retrofit the building) lack the focus to make truly meaningful change.

Instead, companies having the most effective sustainability plans are usually laser sharp in their sustainability strategy -- identifying just a couple of key leverage points to guide all subsequent sustainability decisions. That's what we recommend to clients (cover your bases, but choose to excel in one area at a time). 

But even with a straightforward and strategic sustainability plan, sometimes the message to stakeholders gets muddled. So how do you know if you are telling a simple and compelling sustainability story? In a recent article in Fast Company, The 10 Questions Every Brand Should Ask To Ensure It's Simple Enough, author Margaret Molloy gave some great insight. (While she is talking about branding, we think it applies equally well to sustainability communications.) 

Below, we've amended the 10 questions that Molloy poses in order to present them in a sustainability context.

  • Is senior leadership committed to providing a simpler sustainability story?
  • Do I know what our brand’s sustainability purpose is, and is it articulated in a simple, memorable, and inspiring way?
  • Do we have the tools in place to get everyone to consistently deliver on our sustainability purpose?
  • Have we made it as simple as possible to innovate at our company?
  • Is our brand deeply focused on what drives sustainability preference within the market?
  • Are our sustainability messages in sync with the customer experience?
  • Do customers share our view of who we are and what we want to be?
  • Are the sustainability aspects of our products and services clear and easy to navigate?
  • Do we know the sustainability issues where simplicity would be most appreciated and inspire greater loyalty?
  • Do we have a simple road map for the customer journey?

We recommend you read Molloy's entire article for additional insight. It really got us thinking...and we bet it will spark a discussion around your office's water cooler, too.

Thanks to 2degrees for publishing the article on their website!

Need more information on creating a good sustainability strategy?  Read our white paper, Sustainability Change Management:  We've Had the Green Audit, Now What?

 

Incorporating 30 Elements of Consumer Value to Maximize Sustainability Returns

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

Occasionally we run across an article that is so jam packed with information and application to the world of corporate sustainability that we don't want to summarize a single word.

Instead, we recommend you stop what you're doing right now and read every single word of the recent article, The Elements of Value, from the September issue of the Harvard Business Review.

The article's implications for how B2C companies can position their own sustainability activities to generate consumer value are invaluable ways to approach sustainability strategy in product and service design and development. 

Yes. Mind. Blown.

Now that you're really understanding how this can truly transform your business, contact us so we can help get you on the path. The hardest part is usually the first step. We're here to help.

 

Does Sustainability Progress Require Disruption?

The SSC Team September 22, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives. 

The Harvard Business Review article, For Cross-Functional Change, a Good Disruption Helps, by author Brad Power has been percolating in our minds over the last few weeks. Strategic Sustainability Consulting has been around for almost a decade, and during that time we've asked ourselves multiple times, "why isn't society moving faster towards sustainability?" The evidence of major upheaval (climate change, income inequality, water scarcity) is indisputable and the business case (cost savings, competitive advantage, increased productivity) is well-established. So what's holding us back?

Maybe it's that we aren't feeling the pain of our unsustainability yet.

"How do you improve the whole organization, not just parts of it?" Power asks. "The uber challenge for process improvement in organizations has always been to successfully make improvements across functions. But have any sizable organizations assigned people to manage their major end-to-end processes — and actually been successful?"

While Powers isn't writing about sustainability, his message resonates. Most companies have only made modest inroads in their journey towards sustainability. Even the often heralded sustainability "leaders" recognized with awards and named to "100 Most Sustainable" lists often have only incremental improvements to showcase, spaced unevenly across their operations. 

Why is that?

"In the absence of a significant disruptive event, or obvious proof that the world is changing, the gravitational forces in organizations pull strongly towards the performance engine: functional, hierarchical, command-and-control, rigid," notes Power. "And this engine gets improved and streamlined only with small, incremental changes."

Without a doubt, disruption is coming -- via increases in unpredictable extreme weather events, or changing patterns of water availability, or political uncertainty created by unequal access to natural resources. All the evidence points to the fact that disruption is coming. We might not know exactly what form it will take, or how hard it will hit -- but it's coming and companies need to do all they can to prepare and mitigate those risks.

So what can sustainability leaders do to help prepare their companies to face the inevitable disruptions to come? Powers advises:

"...in an environment that is increasingly unpredictable and volatile, leaders must devote more resources to sensing and responding to threats and opportunities, and then must communicate to the organization what “responding” means in terms of changing the way it does its work. Without a clear and compelling, motivating case being made by leaders, successful cross-functional changes will remain few and far between."

We agree. In fact, our first question to potential clients is "how does [what you're asking us to do for you] fit into your larger sustainability strategy?" And our second question is "how confident are you that your sustainability strategy is helping you make effective decisions?" Nine times out of ten, the conversation takes a big step backward so that the issues of uncertainty, volatility, changing stakeholder expectations, and risk management can first be fully discussed. And that's a good thing.

If you need some help looking at the big sustainability picture, and what it means for your company's future, please contact us. We're happy to talk with you about how we can help!

Turning a Profit on Sustainability: Are Target, Ikea, Nike, and Unilever Just Engaging in Greenwashing 2.0?

The SSC Team July 19, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

For the past few years, global consultancies GlobeScan and SustainAbility have surveyed 900 sustainability professionals to evaluate which companies have best integrated sustainability into their corporate strategy.

Not surprising, Unilever held the top spot again for the sixth straight year for its leading-edge sustainability performance and strategy. Joining Unilever on the list were a number of high profile consumer brands, like Patagonia, IKEA, Tesla, Coca-Cola, and Nike, among others.

These companies, and others including Target, Whole Foods, and GE, are making loads of money through their sales of legitimately sustainable products and/or practices.

But let’s not put them on a pedestal just yet. Just because a company is strategic, and just because a billion-dollar portion of their income comes from sustainably produced products, does not mean they are even close to being truly sustainable – with sustainability defined as mitigating the social and environmental effects of their business operations throughout the entire product life cycle, from corporate management, to production, waste, distribution, operations, and disposal.

There are a number of the problems in confusing sustainable products with sustainable companies.

First, there are the temporal tradeoffs in sustainability.

Second, there is the idea that segmenting a business from its products, and declaring that business sustainable is somehow possible. Holding up organizations against a better framework of measure is needed, and providing more transparency on sustainability metrics should be mandated to help educate consumers, not just market to them.

Similar to the recent changes in the nutritional labeling practices to educate consumers on their actual sugar consumption, the emergence of a better way than a “survey of how sustainability consultants feel” or even jargon-filled GRI reports buried on a corporate website, needs to become the norm.

Certifying organizations need to talk about what percentage of a business must be sustainable for the entire organization to be considered sustainable. Can companies make chemicals for agriculture that help reduce water, and chemicals for warfare and still be considered sustainable? Can a manufacturer make one line of sustainable home goods, yet deliver products with a 3-year lifespan and no ability to be recycled and still be sustainable? Can a retail outlet sell reusable water bottles and Styrofoam cups in the same store and still be considered a model for consumer sustainability?

In the end, we know as sustainability consultants and professionals that, even though Unilever is the model for integration of sustainable practices in their business, and even though we love what Patagonia and IKEA and others are doing to make meaningful changes for environmental and social good, we are a long way from true “sustainability.”

Many of these consumer brands continue to capitalize on the consumer desire for “green” products, and are still pushing the cyclical, disposable, must-have-the-latest-trend consumerist behaviors that result in waste.  

Unless an organization is net zero or net negative, then it really cannot be considered “sustainable.” And as consultants, professionals, marketers, and executives, if we continue to pat each other on the back too loudly for our sustainable milestones, or sustainable strategies, or sustainable product lines, we may confuse consumers into believing our work is nearly finished. 

Turning a Profit on Sustainability: Are Target, Ikea, Nike, and Unilever Just Engaging in Greenwashing 2.0?

The SSC Team July 19, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

For the past few years, global consultancies GlobeScan and SustainAbility have surveyed 900 sustainability professionals to evaluate which companies have best integrated sustainability into their corporate strategy.

Not surprising, Unilever held the top spot again for the sixth straight year for its leading-edge sustainability performance and strategy. Joining Unilever on the list were a number of high profile consumer brands, like Patagonia, IKEA, Tesla, Coca-Cola, and Nike, among others.

These companies, and others including Target, Whole Foods, and GE, are making loads of money through their sales of legitimately sustainable products and/or practices.

But let’s not put them on a pedestal just yet. Just because a company is strategic, and just because a billion-dollar portion of their income comes from sustainably produced products, does not mean they are even close to being truly sustainable – with sustainability defined as mitigating the social and environmental effects of their business operations throughout the entire product life cycle, from corporate management, to production, waste, distribution, operations, and disposal.

There are a number of the problems in confusing sustainable products with sustainable companies.

First, there are the temporal tradeoffs in sustainability.

Second, there is the idea that segmenting a business from its products, and declaring that business sustainable is somehow possible. Holding up organizations against a better framework of measure is needed, and providing more transparency on sustainability metrics should be mandated to help educate consumers, not just market to them.

Similar to the recent changes in the nutritional labeling practices to educate consumers on their actual sugar consumption, the emergence of a better way than a “survey of how sustainability consultants feel” or even jargon-filled GRI reports buried on a corporate website, needs to become the norm.

Certifying organizations need to talk about what percentage of a business must be sustainable for the entire organization to be considered sustainable. Can companies make chemicals for agriculture that help reduce water, and chemicals for warfare and still be considered sustainable? Can a manufacturer make one line of sustainable home goods, yet deliver products with a 3-year lifespan and no ability to be recycled and still be sustainable? Can a retail outlet sell reusable water bottles and Styrofoam cups in the same store and still be considered a model for consumer sustainability?

In the end, we know as sustainability consultants and professionals that, even though Unilever is the model for integration of sustainable practices in their business, and even though we love what Patagonia and IKEA and others are doing to make meaningful changes for environmental and social good, we are a long way from true “sustainability.”

Many of these consumer brands continue to capitalize on the consumer desire for “green” products, and are still pushing the cyclical, disposable, must-have-the-latest-trend consumerist behaviors that result in waste.  

Unless an organization is net zero or net negative, then it really cannot be considered “sustainable.” And as consultants, professionals, marketers, and executives, if we continue to pat each other on the back too loudly for our sustainable milestones, or sustainable strategies, or sustainable product lines, we may confuse consumers into believing our work is nearly finished. 

Test Your Company’s Strategic Sustainability Alignment

The SSC Team June 23, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Integrating sustainability deeply into core business strategy is the only way to build a truly sustainable business.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review broke down the three elements of business alignment: defined long-term purpose, strategic effectiveness, and organizational effectiveness.

Your purpose is your direction - an aspiration to achieve something greater in the world. Strategic effectiveness includes the steps and plans taken to achieve that greater purpose. Organizational effectiveness is the technical, human, physical, and capital resources and capabilities a company has to support the strategy.

As organizations continue to face growing risk posed by climate change, there are many ways they are responding. Some companies “greenwash” or come perilously close, stating sustainability goals in a purpose/mission statement or misleading through relatively meaningless or deceptive sustainability "reports," while not assigning any strategic or organizational resources into actual progress toward a more sustainable business model.

A few organizations develop strategic plans that include aspirational goals and benchmarks along sustainability metrics, but then don’t ever fund the work (think, government).

Other organizations invest money in organizational effectiveness, like focusing heavily on waste reduction to save money and achieving a semblance of sustainable performance as a byproduct of that work, but likely not making any real progress toward reducing impact in a more meaningful way or aspiring for overall organizational sustainability.

Many companies are somewhere in the middle, picking and choosing where to aspire, plan, and invest resources, but alignment is missing across the business as a whole.

Fully integrating sustainability in all three of these areas – purpose, strategy, and organizational effectiveness/resources – is the only way to truly create a sustainable business. And, if you follow the logic of the article’s authors, this will result in a successful business as well.

Are you ready to start on the path of creating a meaningful sustainability strategy?  

Test Your Company’s Strategic Sustainability Alignment

The SSC Team June 23, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Integrating sustainability deeply into core business strategy is the only way to build a truly sustainable business.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review broke down the three elements of business alignment: defined long-term purpose, strategic effectiveness, and organizational effectiveness.

Your purpose is your direction - an aspiration to achieve something greater in the world. Strategic effectiveness includes the steps and plans taken to achieve that greater purpose. Organizational effectiveness is the technical, human, physical, and capital resources and capabilities a company has to support the strategy.

As organizations continue to face growing risk posed by climate change, there are many ways they are responding. Some companies “greenwash” or come perilously close, stating sustainability goals in a purpose/mission statement or misleading through relatively meaningless or deceptive sustainability "reports," while not assigning any strategic or organizational resources into actual progress toward a more sustainable business model.

A few organizations develop strategic plans that include aspirational goals and benchmarks along sustainability metrics, but then don’t ever fund the work (think, government).

Other organizations invest money in organizational effectiveness, like focusing heavily on waste reduction to save money and achieving a semblance of sustainable performance as a byproduct of that work, but likely not making any real progress toward reducing impact in a more meaningful way or aspiring for overall organizational sustainability.

Many companies are somewhere in the middle, picking and choosing where to aspire, plan, and invest resources, but alignment is missing across the business as a whole.

Fully integrating sustainability in all three of these areas – purpose, strategy, and organizational effectiveness/resources – is the only way to truly create a sustainable business. And, if you follow the logic of the article’s authors, this will result in a successful business as well.

Are you ready to start on the path of creating a meaningful sustainability strategy?  

The End of Sustainability Reporting As You Know It

The SSC Team May 17, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

The sustainability report is in a transformational time. Companies collecting data and publishing well-designed, static PDF files (or still printing reports on glossy paper), will soon find themselves behind the curve.

The Global Reporting Initiative’s latest report, The Next Era of Corporate Disclosure: Digital, Responsible, Interactive questions the framework of the sustainability reporting process, asking tough questions about the presentation, quality, and availability of sustainability data being published.

The GRI report is both a roadmap and a prediction for how sustainability reporting will continue to change in the coming years, pushing organizations toward even more clarity, transparency, and responsiveness.

Instead of static information produced on an annual “look-back” basis, organizations will provide detailed information in dynamic, interactive digital formats on an ongoing basis. Stakeholders will be able to analyze and interact with data in more meaningful ways, pushing companies toward more environmentally and socially responsible decisions, with immediacy.

The GRI report is an exciting step, and just the first in GRI’s Sustainability and Reporting 2025 project aimed at “unlock[ing] the full value of sustainability performance data for decision makers,” said GRI chief executive Michael Meehan.

What does this mean for your 2016 sustainability report? 

As the landscape of sustainability reporting shifts, companies can prepare now in a few meaningful ways:

  1. Commit to sustainability as part of a meaningful corporate strategy, not just as a response to pressure. 
  2. Start with a materiality assessment to consider all impacts and their relative positions.
  3. Publish digitally, with a focus on clear information and accessible data.
  4. Seek third-party verification to validate findings.
  5. Avoid “filler” information that misleads or distracts from central social and environmental reporting issues.

At SSC, we are already incorporating many of these practices into our clients’ sustainability reports: conducting materiality assessments, publishing reports digitally with downloadable data that can be manipulated, and following a standardized reporting methodology to ensure information is presented in a standardized way.

We look forward to a future where sustainability disclosure is less about data reporting and more about collective decision-making, driving whole industries and societies toward meaningful change on social and environmental metrics. 

Are you ready for a next-generation sustainability report? Reach out to discuss sustainability strategy, disclosure, and meaningful progress on reducing social and environmental impact. 

The End of Sustainability Reporting As You Know It

The SSC Team May 17, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

The sustainability report is in a transformational time. Companies collecting data and publishing well-designed, static PDF files (or still printing reports on glossy paper), will soon find themselves behind the curve.

The Global Reporting Initiative’s latest report, The Next Era of Corporate Disclosure: Digital, Responsible, Interactive questions the framework of the sustainability reporting process, asking tough questions about the presentation, quality, and availability of sustainability data being published.

The GRI report is both a roadmap and a prediction for how sustainability reporting will continue to change in the coming years, pushing organizations toward even more clarity, transparency, and responsiveness.

Instead of static information produced on an annual “look-back” basis, organizations will provide detailed information in dynamic, interactive digital formats on an ongoing basis. Stakeholders will be able to analyze and interact with data in more meaningful ways, pushing companies toward more environmentally and socially responsible decisions, with immediacy.

The GRI report is an exciting step, and just the first in GRI’s Sustainability and Reporting 2025 project aimed at “unlock[ing] the full value of sustainability performance data for decision makers,” said GRI chief executive Michael Meehan.

What does this mean for your 2016 sustainability report? 

As the landscape of sustainability reporting shifts, companies can prepare now in a few meaningful ways:

  1. Commit to sustainability as part of a meaningful corporate strategy, not just as a response to pressure. 
  2. Start with a materiality assessment to consider all impacts and their relative positions.
  3. Publish digitally, with a focus on clear information and accessible data.
  4. Seek third-party verification to validate findings.
  5. Avoid “filler” information that misleads or distracts from central social and environmental reporting issues.

At SSC, we are already incorporating many of these practices into our clients’ sustainability reports: conducting materiality assessments, publishing reports digitally with downloadable data that can be manipulated, and following a standardized reporting methodology to ensure information is presented in a standardized way.

We look forward to a future where sustainability disclosure is less about data reporting and more about collective decision-making, driving whole industries and societies toward meaningful change on social and environmental metrics. 

Are you ready for a next-generation sustainability report? Reach out to discuss sustainability strategy, disclosure, and meaningful progress on reducing social and environmental impact.