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The Trouble with Reducing Air Travel-Related Emissions

The SSC Team July 12, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

We were delighted to be interviewed recently by Bloomberg's, Ben Elgin, on the topic of corporate air travel (and why companies are struggling to reduce air travel-related emissions). SSC President, Jennifer Woofter, was quoted in his article,  "Handshakes and Body English Vex Corporate Carbon Cutting Goals":

"Airplane travel is an environmental no-no," says Jennifer Woofter, President of Strategic Sustainability Consulting in Herndon, Virginia. "A number of our clients are struggling with this."

As with many articles, the final quote is but a smidgen of what we have to say on the topic. Since it didn't make the final cut in the Bloomberg article, we'd like to share what we know on the question of "Why are companies struggling to reduce their air travel?" 

AIR TRAVEL IS CONNECTED TO IMPORTANT EMPLOYEE PERKS

While promotions and raises may have hit the skids during the recession, one of the perks that many employees have been able to hang on to is the annual conference, training event, or trade show.

Employers need to invest in the professional development of their staff, and many workers enjoy the benefits of getting out of the office environment to learn something new, network with industry peers, or showcase their talents.

Companies can reduce air travel to a certain extent, but if even a portion of the workforce travels periodically for professional development reasons, it's going to be difficult to find additional air emissions reductions without sacrificing employee morale and engagement.

GROWING TELEWORK CAN MEAN INCREASED AIR TRAVEL

We have several clients who have dramatically increased the ability of their employees to work from home. This policy has significantly reduced employee commuting-related emissions (from driving to and from work each day) but occasionally results in more air travel when virtual workers relocate to remote areas. Instead of driving each day, they may fly into the corporate office once a month, or once a quarter. Those air miles add up quickly.

THE COST OF VIRTUAL MEETINGS IS STILL SIGNIFICANT

Let's not ignore cost. While there are a number of pretty amazing free tools (Skype and join.me are two of our favorite), companies that need high-resolution, ultra-secure video presence need to shell out a pretty penny. And it's not enough to install a videoconferencing center in your corporate office -- you also need one in each of the connecting locations. It might make sense to install a system in each of your branch offices, but what about the locations of your major suppliers, or at the headquarters of your prospective customers? Nope, that won't work -- most of the time you will still need to send people out to do business in a face-to-face setting.

Of course, the biggest roadblock is one that is covered in detail in the Bloomberg article, the fact that an electronic handshake just isn't the same as spending time in the physical presence of another person. So while we do counsel clients on how to reduce unnecessary air travel, we also face reality: most businesses will need to maintain some level of air travel and the best option is to look broadly at the entire picture (telepresence, commuting, air travel, professional development, and the sales process) and find a balanced approach that makes good business sense. 

Curious about how to better measure and manage commuting-related emissions? Download our free white paper on Reducing your Organization's Carbon Footprint:  Addressing Commuter Related Emissions. The

The Trouble with Reducing Air Travel-Related Emissions

The SSC Team July 12, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

We were delighted to be interviewed recently by Bloomberg's, Ben Elgin, on the topic of corporate air travel (and why companies are struggling to reduce air travel-related emissions). SSC President, Jennifer Woofter, was quoted in his article,  "Handshakes and Body English Vex Corporate Carbon Cutting Goals":

"Airplane travel is an environmental no-no," says Jennifer Woofter, President of Strategic Sustainability Consulting in Herndon, Virginia. "A number of our clients are struggling with this."

As with many articles, the final quote is but a smidgen of what we have to say on the topic. Since it didn't make the final cut in the Bloomberg article, we'd like to share what we know on the question of "Why are companies struggling to reduce their air travel?" 

AIR TRAVEL IS CONNECTED TO IMPORTANT EMPLOYEE PERKS

While promotions and raises may have hit the skids during the recession, one of the perks that many employees have been able to hang on to is the annual conference, training event, or trade show.

Employers need to invest in the professional development of their staff, and many workers enjoy the benefits of getting out of the office environment to learn something new, network with industry peers, or showcase their talents.

Companies can reduce air travel to a certain extent, but if even a portion of the workforce travels periodically for professional development reasons, it's going to be difficult to find additional air emissions reductions without sacrificing employee morale and engagement.

GROWING TELEWORK CAN MEAN INCREASED AIR TRAVEL

We have several clients who have dramatically increased the ability of their employees to work from home. This policy has significantly reduced employee commuting-related emissions (from driving to and from work each day) but occasionally results in more air travel when virtual workers relocate to remote areas. Instead of driving each day, they may fly into the corporate office once a month, or once a quarter. Those air miles add up quickly.

THE COST OF VIRTUAL MEETINGS IS STILL SIGNIFICANT

Let's not ignore cost. While there are a number of pretty amazing free tools (Skype and join.me are two of our favorite), companies that need high-resolution, ultra-secure video presence need to shell out a pretty penny. And it's not enough to install a videoconferencing center in your corporate office -- you also need one in each of the connecting locations. It might make sense to install a system in each of your branch offices, but what about the locations of your major suppliers, or at the headquarters of your prospective customers? Nope, that won't work -- most of the time you will still need to send people out to do business in a face-to-face setting.

Of course, the biggest roadblock is one that is covered in detail in the Bloomberg article, the fact that an electronic handshake just isn't the same as spending time in the physical presence of another person. So while we do counsel clients on how to reduce unnecessary air travel, we also face reality: most businesses will need to maintain some level of air travel and the best option is to look broadly at the entire picture (telepresence, commuting, air travel, professional development, and the sales process) and find a balanced approach that makes good business sense. 

Curious about how to better measure and manage commuting-related emissions? Download our free white paper on Reducing your Organization's Carbon Footprint:  Addressing Commuter Related Emissions. The

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?  

Can You Attract Low-Carbon-Focused Clients and Investors?

The SSC Team June 7, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

From the Fortune 500 to retail investors, corporations and individuals are looking to fund green companies and projects. Additionally, B2B companies are increasingly setting sustainability thresholds for suppliers. 

You can make your company attractive to the low-carbon marketplace in a number of ways:

Start reporting: One of the simplest ways to start on the path of attracting the green investment community is to clearly communicate your sustainability efforts and their results. If you aren’t generating a transparent, comprehensive sustainability report, then you are communicating that you do not and have not acknowledged your impact or risk in the face of climate change. By simply reporting on sustainability metrics, you are communicating that your organization is “on it.”

Seek certifications: Look to third-party certifications, in your industry or in a wider industry role, to begin building a validated sustainability strategy that follows best practices. From B-Corp certification to Energy Star (for electronics and appliances) to LEED to ….there are dozens of certifications that signal that your company is serious about following accepted sustainability standards.

Get on “a list:” There are a number of index funds put together based on corporate qualifications and certifications, or you can be added to a green stock listing. Of course, your sustainability efforts or products must be robust to qualify.

Issue green bonds: Starbucks recently made the news for issuing $500 billion in green bonds to fund its sustainability programs. Offering green bonds to investors to fund your sustainability efforts can serve two purposes: generate capital to fund larger-scale sustainability efforts and signal that you’re serious about the investment in the program.

Are you looking to improve your supplier scorecard performance and attract more green business? We have experience with dozens of supplier scorecard metrics and reporting standards to help open doors for your company.

 

Can You Attract Low-Carbon-Focused Clients and Investors?

The SSC Team June 7, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

From the Fortune 500 to retail investors, corporations and individuals are looking to fund green companies and projects. Additionally, B2B companies are increasingly setting sustainability thresholds for suppliers. 

You can make your company attractive to the low-carbon marketplace in a number of ways:

Start reporting: One of the simplest ways to start on the path of attracting the green investment community is to clearly communicate your sustainability efforts and their results. If you aren’t generating a transparent, comprehensive sustainability report, then you are communicating that you do not and have not acknowledged your impact or risk in the face of climate change. By simply reporting on sustainability metrics, you are communicating that your organization is “on it.”

Seek certifications: Look to third-party certifications, in your industry or in a wider industry role, to begin building a validated sustainability strategy that follows best practices. From B-Corp certification to Energy Star (for electronics and appliances) to LEED to ….there are dozens of certifications that signal that your company is serious about following accepted sustainability standards.

Get on “a list:” There are a number of index funds put together based on corporate qualifications and certifications, or you can be added to a green stock listing. Of course, your sustainability efforts or products must be robust to qualify.

Issue green bonds: Starbucks recently made the news for issuing $500 billion in green bonds to fund its sustainability programs. Offering green bonds to investors to fund your sustainability efforts can serve two purposes: generate capital to fund larger-scale sustainability efforts and signal that you’re serious about the investment in the program.

Are you looking to improve your supplier scorecard performance and attract more green business? We have experience with dozens of supplier scorecard metrics and reporting standards to help open doors for your company.

 

Closing the Gap Between Sustainability Strategy and Execution

The SSC Team June 2, 2016 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives. 

The implication is obvious — strategists and executors must work together better to bridge these two worlds. It's common sense. Unfortunately, it's far from common practice. What typically happens is an awkward hand-off between the two. In the worst cases the strategists adopt an elitist, disconnected mindset: We're the idea people, someone else will make it happen. They don't bother to truly understand what it takes to implement the ideas. They don't engage the executors early and ask, "How will this actually work?" The executors contribute to the trouble as well. Often they don't truly understand the thinking behind the strategy. They take it at face value and don't ask enough tough questions.

-- Doug Sundheim, Harvard Business Review

We've been reading a long list of awesome leadership articles lately--and this one, Closing the Chasm Between Strategy and Execution  is one that we keep coming back to. Why? Because one of the biggest challenges in sustainability consulting is helping client jump from developing a sustainability strategy to actually implementing the plan.

We highly recommend that you read the whole article (and the comments--many of which highlight additional angles to the problem), but we'd like to solely focus on the qualities of great strategists and executors. (And in many cases, the same person is playing both sides of the field, so he or she needs to think about the full list!)

THE BEST SUSTAINABILITY STRATEGISTS BELIEVE:

  • If I can't see and articulate how we're actually going to make this strategy work, it probably won't work. 
  • While it's painful to integrate execution planning into my strategizing, it's even more painful to watch my strategies fail. 
  • Sounding smart is overrated. Doing smart is where the real value lies. 
  • I'm just as responsible for strong execution as the executor is. 

THE BEST SUSTAINABILITY EXECUTORS BELIEVE: 

  • I need to be involved in the strategy process early -- even if that means I have to artfully push my way into it. 
  • I need to be perceived as relevant and valuable to the strategy process. 
  • I need to know the "whys" behind the strategy. 
  • I'm just as responsible for strong strategy as the strategist is 

If you're stuck somewhere between sustainability strategy and implementation, consider which of these beliefs aren't rock solid within your team. And start shoring them up--because otherwise, everyone will become dissatisfied. 

A final parting thought from Sundheim: You can see a clear thread of responsibility running throughout all the beliefs above. Not responsibility for a given task, but rather responsibility for the not-given tasks — the messy spots in the middle where it's not clear who should own something. The best strategists, executors, and leaders stand up and say, "I'm responsible for it" even if it isn't in their job description. It's doubly powerful when both strategists and executors do this, meeting in the middle. That's true collaborative leadership. When these spots go unwatched, un-owned, and unaddressed, they bring down projects and eventually whole companies. 

If you liked this article, sign up for our monthly e-newsletter, where we curate the best insight about sustainability leadership, change management, and employee engagement.

Closing the Gap Between Sustainability Strategy and Execution

The SSC Team June 2, 2016 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives. 

The implication is obvious — strategists and executors must work together better to bridge these two worlds. It's common sense. Unfortunately, it's far from common practice. What typically happens is an awkward hand-off between the two. In the worst cases the strategists adopt an elitist, disconnected mindset: We're the idea people, someone else will make it happen. They don't bother to truly understand what it takes to implement the ideas. They don't engage the executors early and ask, "How will this actually work?" The executors contribute to the trouble as well. Often they don't truly understand the thinking behind the strategy. They take it at face value and don't ask enough tough questions.

-- Doug Sundheim, Harvard Business Review

We've been reading a long list of awesome leadership articles lately--and this one, Closing the Chasm Between Strategy and Execution  is one that we keep coming back to. Why? Because one of the biggest challenges in sustainability consulting is helping client jump from developing a sustainability strategy to actually implementing the plan.

We highly recommend that you read the whole article (and the comments--many of which highlight additional angles to the problem), but we'd like to solely focus on the qualities of great strategists and executors. (And in many cases, the same person is playing both sides of the field, so he or she needs to think about the full list!)

THE BEST SUSTAINABILITY STRATEGISTS BELIEVE:

  • If I can't see and articulate how we're actually going to make this strategy work, it probably won't work. 
  • While it's painful to integrate execution planning into my strategizing, it's even more painful to watch my strategies fail. 
  • Sounding smart is overrated. Doing smart is where the real value lies. 
  • I'm just as responsible for strong execution as the executor is. 

THE BEST SUSTAINABILITY EXECUTORS BELIEVE: 

  • I need to be involved in the strategy process early -- even if that means I have to artfully push my way into it. 
  • I need to be perceived as relevant and valuable to the strategy process. 
  • I need to know the "whys" behind the strategy. 
  • I'm just as responsible for strong strategy as the strategist is 

If you're stuck somewhere between sustainability strategy and implementation, consider which of these beliefs aren't rock solid within your team. And start shoring them up--because otherwise, everyone will become dissatisfied. 

A final parting thought from Sundheim: You can see a clear thread of responsibility running throughout all the beliefs above. Not responsibility for a given task, but rather responsibility for the not-given tasks — the messy spots in the middle where it's not clear who should own something. The best strategists, executors, and leaders stand up and say, "I'm responsible for it" even if it isn't in their job description. It's doubly powerful when both strategists and executors do this, meeting in the middle. That's true collaborative leadership. When these spots go unwatched, un-owned, and unaddressed, they bring down projects and eventually whole companies. 

If you liked this article, sign up for our monthly e-newsletter, where we curate the best insight about sustainability leadership, change management, and employee engagement.

A Tool Worth Trying: “The Abundance Cycle” for Developing Your Sustainable Business Model

The SSC Team May 10, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Like a broken record, we continue to push out the message that sustainability cannot be a checklist or afterthought. Sustainability must be part of an organization’s core strategy, especially as regulators, stakeholders, and investors continue to push for meaningful progress on social and environmental impacts. 

Simultaneously, the idea that sustainability must continually justify its ROI is old news. Sustainability is profitable, check out the food and beverage industry for one example.

So why not just build the entire business strategy around a sustainability tactic? Good idea.

Building Profit Through Sustainability

We came across an interesting tool that may help existing organizations and entrepreneurs think strategically about sustainability – The Abundance Cycle, building virtuous cycles where solving ecological problems and building resilient communities opens new markets and strengthens competitive advantage.

Whether your organization needs to entirely re-think what services and products it offers, or you have experience in an industry but want to build a product or service that moves the meter on ecological or social problems, the Abundance Cycle exercise may help uncover new market potential.

Although some of the tactics, like reducing waste or increasing efficiency to reduce environmental impact are being widely employed, these and others applied in a new setting or industry may reveal truly disruptive solutions that may lead to meaningful, sustainable change.

People, Profits, Planet

We hate to rain on the parade, but in the event you do find a sweet spot through your Abundance Cycle exercise, be sure to think through the full impact of your idea.

Does your idea create a temporal exchange conundrum? Do you sacrifice one important metric in sustainability to take advantage of another. Creating a product from waste is good, but not being able to provide a safe work environment isn’t sustainable. Using biomimicry to build a better mousetrap is good, but what materials does it require? Are the materials sustainably sourced, produced, shipped, and disposed of?

Give The Abundance Cycle a try, and keep your eye on the big picture during the process.

What do you think the most and least “truly sustainable” brand case studies are in The Abundance Cycle, from a big-picture perspective? Let us know in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are Google and Amazon Underestimating Their Own Carbon Footprints?

The SSC Team March 15, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Two of the world’s leading technology companies are under fire for underestimating data centers’ carbon footprints amid claims they use an obsolete tool for calculating emissions from electricity they purchase off the power grid.  

Lux Research, an independent research and advisory firm, went after the two tech giants for using tools that make broad generalizations about power production in the regions where Google and Amazon have large data facilities – reporting that the two companies may be underestimating their carbon footprints by 42,000 MT CO2e per year and 85,000 MT CO2e per year, respectively.

It’s pretty clear that Lux is using Google’s and Amazon’s data – data based on the EPA’s Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID) – to tout its own analytical tool that estimates GHG emissions from electricity use.

What is important to note here is: the world of sustainability tools out there is rapidly moving. What you report today can be disputed tomorrow as new analytical tools, calculators, and data sets are developed.  

It’s not that eGRID is a terrible tool, or that Lux has built a surefire new solution, it’s more about choosing the right tool, at the right time, and at the right level of detail for your individual case.

Not every company needs a power-plant-by-power-plant analysis of its power sourcing, as the cost of a microscopic look at GHG emissions in this area may outweigh the overall variation in results. In other words, for many companies, the eGRID analysis would be absolutely acceptable based on moderate use of electricity in a given area as the overall data is within an acceptable margin of error.

However, power-intense companies like Google and Amazing, using vast amounts of energy, should absolutely be looking for the most refined and detailed tool to analyze power use impact. Being off by just a small percentage can represent tens of thousands of tons of CO2 being left un-reported, and more accurate data should help inform locations of future data centers to optimize clean power use.

If an organization is new to sustainability reporting, GHG calculating or meeting industry standards for environmental data, it is highly unlikely that that organization is going to be able to navigate these ever-changing waters without help.

Partnering with an experienced consulting firm like SSC, with the background knowledge and experience, to choose the best-fit reporting tool for every individual case is critical. Contact us today to talk about your carbon footprint analysis.