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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. 

TED Talks: Luciana Walkowicz of NASA – Let’s not use Mars as a backup planet

The SSC Team January 12, 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: Lucianne Walkowicz works on NASA's Kepler mission, searching for places in the universe that could support life.

About the Talk: Walkowicz spends her days looking for planets like our own, but as she does this challenging work, she us to think carefully about how we treat our own home world. In this short talk, she suggests that we stop dreaming of Mars as a place that we'll eventually move to when we've messed up Earth, and to start thinking of planetary exploration and preservation of the Earth as two sides of the same goal. As she says, "The more you look for planets like Earth, the more you appreciate our own planet."


Parent company of Puma provides detailed look at its Environmental Profit & Loss methodology

The SSC Team December 17, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

This summer, Kering, the parent company of the clothing and footwear manufacturer, Puma, not only published its EP&L, the environmental footprint of the company’s operations translated into monetary values, it published the entire methodology as an open-source tool for others to use.

The EP&L analyses the impact of Kering’s supply chain from raw materials to retail outlets and reports the impact in monetary terms.

In an article about Kering’s decision to open-source the methodology, the company’s CEO said, “Our EP&L has already served as an effective internal catalyst to drive us towards a more sustainable business model. I am convinced that an EP&L, and corporate natural capital accounting more broadly, are essential to enable companies to acknowledge the true cost on nature of doing business.”

From making the business case for sustainability to assessing carbon asset risk in monetary terms, and finally to reporting environmental results using natural capital accounting, more and more companies are moving toward currency as a way to plan, assess, and evaluate environmental performance.

This move makes sense, considering we live in the age of global capitalism.

Kering’s EP&L, along with World Bank’s WAVES initiative, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Valuation Guide, the Natural Capital Coalition, and others, provide strategies to implement natural capital accounting into the sustainability reporting process.

If your company is interested in producing a sustainability report using principles of natural capital accounting, let us know! And check out our analysis of how Puma stacks up to other athletic apparel companies.

Ask a Sustainability Consultant: What is Sustainability?

The SSC Team December 1, 2015 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SCC archives. 

We have been providing sustainability consulting services to organizations worldwide for more than a decade. But, we still find that the sustainability journey is just beginning for many. Here is a post from our archives helping define sustainability. Although the videos are oldies-but-goodies, we still see the value in these straightforward explanations. 


The answer is not always simple.  Some people think sustainability is a destination, some people think sustainability is a journey (we think it's a little bit of both).  Some people like lofty definitions, like these three: 

Meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  (Brundtland Commission)

The possibility that human and other forms of life on earth will flourish forever. (John Ehrenfeld, Professor Emeritus. MIT"

Enough - for all - forever. (African Delegate to Johannesburg (Rio+10))

We like those definitions as a rallying call to inspire people to think broadly about sustainability.  But they aren't very helpful when it comes to actually putting sustainability into action.  

For that reason, we love The Natural Step's Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development.  It is based on a scientific consensus about how our world is unsustainable, and then provides four principles that eliminate those causes of unsustainability.  This video is a quick overview:

That's the concept of sustainability that we use here at Strategic Sustainability Consulting.  But it can still be kind of vague -- difficult to put into specific operation in part because a single organization operating within society cannot, on its own, do all of the things necessary to move society toward sustainability.  That's where sustainability strategy comes in.

This video is from Tim Nash of Strategic Sustainable Investments, who is a fellow alumni of the Strategic Sustainability graduate program at Blekinge Institute of Technology in Karlskrona, Sweden (where SSC president Jennifer Woofter also graduated).  It expounds on The Natural Step Framework, and explain how strategy becomes part of the process:

So that's it.  THAT is how we define sustainability.  We believe that these four system conditions provide the foundation upon which we create a sustainable society.  And an organization operating within our current unsustainable world must create a strategy to navigate through that funnel to maximize the value it delivers while minimizing the risk of hitting the "walls of the funnel".

Agree?  Disagree?  Let us know in the comments.

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!


5 Ways to Benchmark Your Sustainability Performance

The SSC Team September 24, 2015 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
A dispatch from SSC President Jennifer Woofter As we work with clients to advance their sustainability journey, we're always looking for ways to slice and dice the information we gather. I thought it might be helpful to share some of the common ways we analyze an organization's performance:

Company Now vs. Company Then

How does the client's current performance compare against it's performance in the past (1 year ago, 5 years ago, etc.). This works best when we've been working with a client for a while and can judge how much progress has been made since our initial assessment.

Company vs. Industry Peers

We look at client performance against a representative peer group -- so for example, a midsize mining company would be compared against other midsize mining companies.

Company vs. Industry Leaders

We look at client performance against the sustainability leaders in the industry -- so we might compare a midsize mining client against the current mining constituents of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI).

Company vs. Value Chain Partners

We look at the client's performance against its key upstream suppliers and downstream customers. This analysis provides great insight into risk mapping and alignment -- is the client paying attention to the things its customers care about?

Company vs Sustainability Standard

Comparing a client's sustainability performance against other external standards (ISO 14001, GRI, CDP, SASB, DJSI, etc.) is another way to spot omissions and mis-alignment. It can also help to spot the areas where the standards overlap -- where the client may get the most bang for the buck in closing a gap. What other ways to benchmark are we missing? Let us know in the comments!

3 Observations from RILA’s Retail Sustainability Management Report

The SSC Team September 17, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

This past spring, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) announced their brand new Retail Sustainability Management Maturity Matrix, which hopes to be a tool that will be used by retail executives, individual companies, and industry-wide to help companies become more sustainable. Fast-forward to September 2015, and RILA just released their Retail Sustainability Management Report that uses that matrix to analyze sustainability initiatives from over 50,000 RILA member companies.

Taking the 27 dimensions related to sustainability management RILA has identified from seven key sectors, the report looks at where a lot of the companies rank: are they starting, just standard, excelling, leading, or at the next practice already. RILA presents their key findings from each dimension, then provides resources for companies to reach the next level, case studies to look over, and how to get involved on a greater scale.

Here are three observations that really stood out to us:

What comprises a retail-based sustainability team?

RILA offered a breakdown of how many retailer’s sustainability teams look like, and over 50% of those surveyed indicated that there is one person or no full time employee dedicated to sustainability (and a surprising 10% of companies have 10 or more people working on sustainability full time). Often times, the sustainability team will set the sustainability goals for the company, but almost a quarter of the retailers said they do not have sustainability goals. And in terms of budgeting for sustainability, almost 75% of companies said their budget either stayed the same or increased over the past year.

The leaders are well ahead of the pack

When looking at how the retailers did across all dimensions, it becomes apparent most companies are falling firmly in the "standard" category (or rather a 2 on a 1-5 scale). But the leading companies aren't just one or two steps higher, they are already at the "next practice" level (or a 5 on a 1-5 scale). Looking at all of the dimensions, over half the time the leading company was getting top marks - only in 4 dimensions was the leading retailer at the "excelling" level (or a 3 on a 1-5 scale). Leading companies obviously know what they're doing when it comes to sustainability, so now there needs to be an effort to get everyone else up to their level.

A shift to the supply chain

Overall, the supply chain section was one of the weakest, with many companies falling between the “starting” and “standard" category, but as retailers begin to solidify their internal sustainability, there is a growing focus on supply chain sustainability. Companies have started to engage suppliers about various sustainability issues, such as the need to reduce energy and water.

Looking to start a new sustainability project but need to gain support? Find out ways to gain that support for your new project or idea here!

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!

Moving Beyond Cultural Competency to Equity Literacy

The SSC Team May 14, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller Take a look at the people that make up your workplace. How diverse is the group? Are they inclusive people? How do they react when someone displays a certain bias? All of these aspects are important to any workplace, because not only can these signs be indicative of a business’s reputation, but it can also monitor the success of how well everyone within the organization works together. To help bring all of this to light, the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities and Opportunity Lynchburg hosted a workshop to show examples of how to move beyond basic cultural competency in the workplace. By the end of the session, everyone walked out of the room equipped to help take their organization to the next level of equity literacy. It’s first important to note the difference in what separates cultural competence from equity literacy:
  • Cultural Competence – you are able to get along, understand, and interact with those from other cultures and socio-economic backgrounds; your actions are rooted within your best interest
  • Cultural Proficiency – you move beyond yourself and you have a deeper knowledge and grasp of those different cultures and backgrounds that surround you; your actions are not as self-serving
  • Equity Literacy – you dig below the surface to understand where the cultural differences stem from and take action to fix injustices; your actions indicate that you want to better the problem, because that is the right thing to do and not just for yourself
So how does one go from cultural competence to cultural proficiency to equity literacy in the workplace? Here are a few steps to help get you started in the right direction:
  1. Recognize biases and inequities as they come up; start to look for the ones that are subtle
  2. Respond to the biases and inequities when they are said; don't be afraid to point them out
  3. Redress the biases and inequities in the long term; acknowledge there is a problem and don't sweep it under the rug
  4. Create and Sustain a bias-free and equitable learning environment
Remember, this process takes time, and no one is going to achieve equity literacy overnight (as much as we would like to think that’s true…). Rather it’s a stepping stone to get you to the ultimate goal of equity literacy. Last fall SSC attended a workshop that focused on the business case for diversity. Read about it here.

Introducing RILA’s 2015 Retail Sustainability Management Maturity Index

The SSC Team April 21, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) recently announced their brand new Retail Sustainability Management Maturity Matrix. The Matrix, which is based on Deloitte and RILA’s knowledge of the retail industry and its sustainability programs, hopes to be a tool that will be used by sustainability executives, individual companies, and industry-wide.

(Although this matrix is designed with the retail industry in mind, we think that it has a wide applicability beyond just the retail sector.)

While there are many aspects of sustainability, the Matrix focuses specifically on environmental sustainability. The Matrix has seven sectors that helps break down the different components of environmental sustainability:

  1. Strategy & Commitment
  2. People & Tools
  3. Visibility
  4. Retail Operations
  5. Supply Chain
  6. Products
  7. Environmental Issues

Each sector is then broken down by dimensions, and each dimension is ranked by five categories: starting, standard, excelling, leading, and next practice. RILA acknowledges that only a few companies are in the “leading” category, but hopes that over the next few years more companies can get to that level. The main goal of the Matrix is to identify all of the possible pathways to strong environmental sustainability.

Here are some of the ways the Matrix can be useful:

  • Identifying and assessing the maturity of your sustainability program and opportunities for improvement
  • Helping to facilitate conversations about your sustainability program’s development
  • Finding ways to access for funding for your sustainability program
  • Training employees to have more sustainability responsibility
  • Allowing internal, external evaluation of your program’s perception, gaps it might have

It’s RILA’s goal to use the Matrix to benchmark the industry in 2015, while annually updating the matrix.

Over the course of the next two weeks, we will be further breaking down the Matrix by sector to get a more in-depth look at how the Matrix will work.

Last fall we took an in-depth look at SSC's peer benchmarking system that we used against the athletic wear industry. Catch up here.