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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. 

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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.  

 

 

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.  

 

 

Use a “Pitch Deck” Format for Your Sustainability Project

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

Investors and C-suite leaders are used to seeing pitch decks. They’re used to getting high-level information that is well presented, organized, and clear, and quickly analyzing it to ask the right questions.

If you bog your ideas or proposals down in data, as we sustainability professionals do love the data, you risk losing the attention of the decision makers and not winning the work or getting the green-light on your big idea.

Instead, consider crafting a pitch deck style presentation to get your idea off the ground. Entrepreneur published a 14-point checklist for investors, and we think it’s easily molded for any project-pitching presentation. Not all 14 are relevant here, but we pulled out the best ones!

1. Cover page.

If you are an outside consultant pitching a project, include personal contact information, logo, and business name to establish your identity. And even if you’re an internal employee, put your name and title on the front page (just in case someone in the board room spaces on your name. Save everyone the embarrassment).

2. Elevator pitch.

Briefly summarize the scope of the project, the goals, and the impact on the company, specifically in terms of this project’s alignment with the company’s strategy (or lack of strategy) in sustainability. Keep this part short.

3. Describe the problem.

Outline why you’re proposing this particular sustainability effort for the company in the first place, using peer benchmarking, risk profiles, and/or stakeholder pressure to demonstrate how this project is a “worthy investment.” For example, if you’re going for a life-cycle assessment for a small manufacturing firm or supplier to a major retailer, talk about supplier scorecards and stakeholder pressure.

4. Propose a solution.

Explain why this sustainability effort is the best next (or first) step toward a marked solution to the problem. Be realistic and don’t over-promise.

5. Competition.

Bring up other case studies from companies similar to the one you’re pitching and demonstrate how a project of this type has been successful to others.

12. Critical risks and challenges.

In a traditional pitch deck, you would want to “address every obstacle and stumbling block you can foresee,” but in this case use this area to demonstrate that the scope of work might grow or change based on discoveries along the way.

6. Market opportunity.

If you’re a consultant, be sure to point out what makes you different from the competition, whether it’s your extensive industry knowledge, your data collection gurus, or your long performance record.

11. Press mentions and accolades (and case studies or references).

Keep this short, but provide references or a case study that demonstrates your expertise.

9. Team (and budget).

Outline how many of the company’s employees will need to set aside time to support this project (or just the budget if you’re pitching as a consultant).

A solid presentation that is well organized and clear will get your point across quickly and give you more time to answer specific questions if the need arises.

We like to provide clear proposals to our clients to clarify and demystify the processes, benefits, application, and cost of services like life-cycle assessments and sustainability reporting. Although every company is unique, we have more than 10 years of experience delivering valuable results for a modest investment. 

Sustainability Strategy Isn’t a Checklist

The SSC Team February 9, 2016 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

There are a lot of business books out there that provide templates for business plans and checklists. And having a plan and a checklist is important for any project or start-up, but developing a business strategy or incorporating sustainability into a business strategy isn’t a series of items to check off of a “to-do list.”

Even if you went through and commissioned and then checked off an annual sustainability report, a carbon footprint, a life-cycle analysis, et cetera, there is no guarantee that your organization would even be close to executing a true sustainability strategy.

Sustainability strategy should be based on an organizational understanding of why you need to invest in assessing and reducing your environmental impact. Without understanding why, you risk wasting time and money on projects that don’t align with the overall business strategy and stakeholder needs.

After determining why sustainability is important to the organization, you should focus on materiality, or what are the most important or impactful steps the organization can make inside of a realistic timeframe or budget or deadline.

Finally, look to experts to develop a proven path forward that speaks to both the materiality and the underlying corporate strategy on this issue.

For example, if your company is a small manufacturing firm held accountable to demanding suppliers or upcoming environmental regulations, but you have no clear idea on your environmental impact, then your why may be “we need to know what we are facing so we can answer questions of our stakeholders with honesty and confidence.”

Next, is materiality – are suppliers or regulators more important? Can they be addressed through the same sustainability tool or report?

If you determine through a materiality assessment that your suppliers are the most important stakeholder group to address first, next, consider what information they are demanding, in what format, and by when. In the example case of manufacturing, this may be be collecting LCA data for a supplier scorecard or more pulling together even more thorough data for a third-party environmental or human product declaration (EPD/HPD) report.

Essentially, sustainability strategy should be tailored as carefully as marketing strategy or pricing strategy.

Company leadership should clearly understand why the sustainability efforts are integral to the success of the company, how important they are to the stakeholders who drive that success to help prioritize efforts, and which strategic path forward to take to meet stakeholder needs best.

SSC not only delivers excellent sustainability consulting services, we are focused on ensuring our clients choose the service, and level of service, that will meet their real business goals.

 

How Do Sustainability Reports Change Over Time?

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

Enjoy this post from the SSC blog archives. 

At Strategic Sustainability Consulting, we’ve been doing sustainability reporting for TEN years – one for each year that we’ve been in business. We’ve also helped a variety of clients produce their own sustainability reports. So we know the joys and pains involved – from both sides of the experience.

A few years ago, Jennifer Woofter looked back on how SSC's own sustainability report has changed over time, we thought it might be valuable to share some of those reflections based on six years of sustainability reporting. 

While each company’s experience will be different, there are some common threads that are shared among reporting organizations.

Are you interested in writing your first, sixth or tenth sustainability report? We can help.

 

Food & Beverage Industry Demonstrates How “Business Success” Can’t be Achieved Without Sustainability

The SSC Team January 14, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

The connections between increased revenue and investment in sustainability programs are complicated.

Even today, sustainability professionals continue to “make the business case” for sustainability.

It’s true that sustainability programs require an investment—in staff, in reporting, in communications, in change management—and the case for making smart investments for maximum results must continue to be made.

However, as we enter 2016, we should no longer need to make the case for sustainability itself.

Although directly linked financial benefits are sometimes difficult to identify, research suggests companies that fully integrate sustainability principles and practices into their strategic operations do outperform peers financially.

The counterargument is that these same companies are just more strategic overall, sustainability or not, so they will perform well simply because of a culture of innovation, risk mitigation, long-term planning, and thought-leadership.

Wrong.

The fact is, as we enter 2016, a company can’t even be considered a strong, strategic player without sustainability being one of its core principles. Sustainability has made it into the short list of core principles of true strategic leadership. In other words, you can’t have one without the other.

Case in Point: The Food & Beverage Industry

Pure Strategies, a sustainability consulting firm focused on the food and beverage industry, recently published results of a survey of major global food and beverage companies.

In the 2015 report, 18% more food and beverage companies, 100% of companies surveyed, are developing or implementing sustainability programs (from 82% in 2013), and 46% of the companies reported increased sales (up from 19% in 2013).

What the report tells us is:

  • More than ever before, food and beverage companies are implementing sustainability programs based on best practices of the companies that have already implemented sustainability programs
  • As the best-practice modeling increases throughout the industry, more food and beverage companies are reporting increased sales
  • The leaders of these food and beverage companies are tying industry-wide sustainability best practices directly to their increased sales

The food and beverage survey shows how sustainability, as a core strategic focus, is permeating the very operating principles of an entire industry – and a significant percentage of companies are making more money in the process.

Using food and beverage as an example, any company looking to become a long-term leader in any sector should look seriously at its approach to sustainability.

Sustainability must truly be integrated into a company’s core strategic plans, or it will likely get left behind.

If your company looking to integrate industry best practice planning into its sustainability strategy, a great place to start is with a sustainability assessment and peer benchmarking report.

 

 

 

Three Steps to a Credible Sustainability Strategy

The SSC Team January 5, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC blog archives. 

Strategic Sustainability Consulting was invited to participate in a trade association's annual board meeting a while back to discuss what they could do on the sustainability frontier.

SSC President Jennifer Woofter gave a short presentation called, “Three Steps to a Credible Sustainability Strategy.”

Since the presentation was so well received, we've put together a short recap in a series of three X minute videos. 

Step 1: Create a clear strategy statement:

Step 2: Develop realistic and substantial programs: 

Step 3: Reporting! Share performance metrics:

If your company would like to talk with a sustainability consulting expert about carbon footprinting, please contact Strategic Sustainability Consulting today!


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.