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Grow Your Sustainability Consultancy Business by Speaking Your Client’s Language

The SSC Team July 7, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this blog from the SSC archives: So, you know all about your prospective client and you’ve decided on the strongest business case for sustainability for their situation. Now it’s time to win them over and solidify the relationship with a smashing proposal or pitch.

1) Don’t think of a pitch as a sell, think of it as an educational opportunity

Don’t worry so much about whether or not the client is going to hire you at the time you are meeting with them. Instead, treat it like a customized webinar or mini-conference where you are showcasing your knowledge about sustainability, the realities of where the economy is heading, their specific opportunities in relation to sustainability, and what they will need to do to get ahead and effectively adopt sustainability in their corporate strategic framework. You are just showing them the raw ingredients, while keeping a hold of the recipe. 

2) Start at the very beginning, a very good place to start

So, you know all about sustainability. And you know all about your prospective client. Unfortunately, your audience, be it the CEO or a mid-level executive, may not know much more about sustainability than “I think it costs a lot, but everybody seems to be doing it.” Clear that up right away with a brief definition of strategic sustainability – use the definition you use for your own consultancy. Make sure the client know that sustainability is a business framework, not a philanthropic or public relations gesture. Drop a few names, too – Wal-Mart, GE, Nike, Rio Tinto, Toyota. It doesn’t hurt for your client to know that they are joining the ranks of commerce’s elite.

3) Stress the long term and a future of change

“Fundamentally, corporate sustainability is about exploring the next way your company will be successful, because almost all the things you currently rely on -- energy, supply chain, consumers, investors, regulation -- are going to change,” said David Bent from the non-profit sustainability organization Forum for the Future in a blog series for Greenbiz.com. Changing times demand that companies factor in future risks, such as rising energy prices, increased regulation, and pressure from consumers, into their strategic plans. Since many of these future risks and market changes are going to stem from environmental and social concerns, integrating sustainability principles into the corporate framework now, to address these issues now, isn’t just a “cost” to the business, it’s an investment in the future risk management. “You can’t predict ‘the’ future, but you had better be prepared for possible futures with a portfolio of strategies – and a business case – that ‘future-proof the company’ by diversifying your risk going forward,” advises Gil Friend, founder and CEO of Natural Logic. You must stress this fact to prospective clients – they will probably have to become sustainable eventually, but they might as well make some money doing it proactively instead of reactively. Just be sure to avoid scare tactics or pressure. The fact is: the world is changing, and change can be good.

4) Look to frame sustainability as a driver for innovation and opportunity

Find examples of “play-to-win” organizations that have used sustainability to tap into new opportunities (destroying the competition in the process) to help sell the concept. Companies are inherently competitive, but often are mired in a “compliance mentality.” Remind your audience that business is a battlefield; you might be able to tap into that competitive spirit. Use what you know about the company’s competitors or industry to highlight how the sustainability program may get them ahead of the game.

5) Present the client’s customized business case in a language that everyone can understand – shareholder value

It’s meat and potatoes time. You’ve briefly discussed sustainability, the risk of not acting, and the opportunity gained by taking action. Next is what they’ve all been waiting for – the business case. At this point, be fairly specific about what you feel the key “value drivers” of a sustainability program will be for this specific organization. First, present the business case. For example, an engineering firm with a zillion vacancies on its “careers” page and a reputation of an ‘old boys club’ may benefit from a sustainability program stressing competitive advantage – a program that will help its recruitment program, shape its industry, and help it become an early mover on new and emerging areas for growth (like green design, perhaps). Second, present the projected investment (in time and money) and the estimated return on investment (ROI). According to Friend, the business case has to provide a clear ROI in the financial, operational, and strategic dimensions. But be clear that ROI in sustainability isn’t only about short-term dollars and cents. When you are talking about elements like “recruitment” and “industry shaping,” be sure to clarify that these, albeit not short-term financial returns, are “indirect” returns. While direct returns include costs (lighting retrofits or waste-reduction), indirect returns ( impacts on brand reputational value, employee productivity and retention, product quality, community goodwill, etc.) can open companies to new business as much as any marketing plan while helping reduce risk. For an in-depth discussion on costing for sustainability, check out the book Making Sustainability Work by Marc Epstein. Third, use statistics, examples, graphics, and best practices, briefly but effectively, to back up your claims on how your proposed programs can directly affect shareholder value through direct and indirect returns. Finally, give the client a path on how a sustainability program for this value driver might be incorporated into their organizational framework.

6) Don’t frighten them off

Although you may have made an amazing pitch with ROI analysis that just can’t be denied, a client may still balk. “But we don’t have $150,000 for a lighting retrofit, even if we know it will save us $300,000 over the next six years…” Yes, it may be ideal if you could tackle each value driver head on, re-write the strategic plan, and reorganize the company, but, more likely, the financial minds at your prospect’s firm are going to be reluctant to loosen the purse strings. To help ease them into the process (and help you begin to form a long, trusting relationship), break it down into steps. Begin with saying, “Now that I’ve presented the strategic sustainability framework that will eventually deliver the most value to your organization, let’s talk about where we begin. Every journey starts with a series of small steps…” At this point, have one or two programs that will work as small but effective pilot programs for this broader sustainability plan. Try to find the one or two manageable programs with the lowest-hanging, least expensive fruit, and suggest that the client give them a try first. The pilots will help you build credibility with the CFO’s office, as well as awareness throughout the rest of the organization. Hopefully by achieving documented success with the first few pilot programs, the company will continue to draw on your services to expand into the more complex strategic development of their sustainability program (that you were the architect of).

7) Be straightforward about the business relationship

Once you’ve delivered the presentation (no more than an hour of their time) and have some concrete offerings available for them (green audits, waste audits, pilot ‘Green Team’ programs, stakeholder engagement initiatives, or whatever your other pilot programs were) be ready for questions. Know how long each program will take and what it may cost if they suddenly want to go whole hog. Be prepared to answer detailed questions about customer service, your ‘next steps’ in project development, your experience, your resources, costs of your service, as well as costs directly to them (retrofits, training investments, life-cycle-analyses, etc.) and the overall estimated ROI for each suggested program. Instead of spending your time trying to convince the client through testimonials of how great you are, just do what you do best: consult them. Show them what you know and use examples from research or from your past experience to illustrate how they, too, can meet their goals, transform their business, reduce their risk, and increase shareholder value through sustainability. You are simply the person with the tools to help them get the process started. Find out how you can become a better sustainability leader in one of our latest blogs.

Growing Your Sustainability Consultancy Business

The SSC Team June 18, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this blog from the SSC archives: “Put yourself in your client’s shoes.” It’s not just another cliché. Ok, yes it is. In this case, however, it is going to make you money. According to Martin Lines, the marketing director for Nestle Professional, the most important element a consultant can have in their CSR- or sustainability-focused consultancy pitch is customization to the client’s existing business and sustainability strategy. "Agencies need to demonstrate that their solution is aligned to the client's corporate strategy,” Lines said in a presentation last year. Sounds so basic, but often consultants get it wrong – pitching ethical reasons for sustainability when a company is operating on thin margins and would be better served by efficiency and cost-saving initiatives, or pitching cost-saving initiatives when a client is more interested in building brand value and brand awareness. There is no one-size-fits-all sustainability strategy, so why would there be a one-size-fits-all sustainability pitch? Of course this means you’ll need to do your homework before meeting with prospective clients, but the extra work can pay off if the client is impressed by how much you already know about their business. Here are three steps for helping turn your presentation into profit:

1. Go online and read

Read the press releases (Is the prospect always giving money to local charity groups? They might respond to reputation-building pitches.). Google the company looking for news stories or legal troubles (Fined for improper handling of chemicals in 2009? They might benefit from an EMS plan.). Poke around in industry news, scour the website, and look at the employment opportunities. You never know where you might find a hook.

2. Know who their stakeholders are and what they want

Is the company selling primarily to one large organization (like Wal-Mart) that has sustainability at its core? If so, you’re going to need to know where the client’s client is headed. Is the company working in controversial areas, such as mining, where stakeholder engagement is going to take precedence over things like waste auditing or employee engagement? Knowing who is pushing and pulling on a client can help you find key indicators in developing a sustainability pitch.

3. Drop in to say hello

So, you’ve done a bit of homework and made a few calls, and the client seems interested. If you think this could be a big fish, take your time. Phone up your contact person and tell him or her that you’re interested in visiting the manufacturing facility, taking a tour of the HQ, or meeting virtually with a few key people to get a better idea of how to make more relevant and customized suggestions. Ask questions. Lots of questions. But don’t get in the way and don’t try to sell them anything. “Learning how to make the case for sustainability needs to be situational. I customize my ‘making a case for sustainability’ style by asking a lot of questions,” said Pauline S. Chandler, director of the MBA in sustainability at the Antioch University of New Hampshire, Keene, in a recent article on Triple Pundit. Chandler recently took 16 MBA students on facility tours at three New England businesses to illustrate how different organizations will spark different lines of questioning, which then lead to different approaches to sustainability planning. So, take a lesson from academia, and go pay your client a visit. Your pitch might benefit from the day trip. Once you’ve gathered all the information you think you need, it’s time to develop your presentation. A central tenet in getting an organization to adopt sustainability planning is making the business case for sustainability. Looking for ways to become a better sustainability consultant? Check out our blog post that talks about 8 steps to improving as a sustainability consultant!

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.

How Sustainability is Saving Chinese Textile Mills Money

The SSC Team April 16, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

It’s no secret that China is not an environmentally progressive country. Beijing is plagued by air pollution, over 100 cities are facing water scarcity issues, almost a third of China’s rivers are too polluted for human contact, and to top it all off, as a nation China is one of the highest emitters of carbon dioxide. 

One of China’s largest polluters are their textile producers. Responsible for roughly 50% of the world’s fabrics, textile manufacturing is a very environmentally un-friendly process that results in high energy and water use. The industry is responsible for the being the third largest dischargers of wastewater and the second largest user of chemicals in China. 

All hope is not lost, though. With the help of the National Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Clean By Design program, Chinese textile manufacturing facilities are using green tactics to not only reduce energy and water consumption, but also help them save money as well.

The NRDC recently released a report stating that the 33 textile mills that are using the Clean By Design program are saving an estimated $14.7 million annually. By going after the “low-hanging fruit” – the low-cost, easy to implement projects – the textile manufacturers are helping to make a strong business case for sustainability.

Here are some of the ways the Chinese textile mills have not only reduced their environmental impact, but also saved money along the way:

Electricity Reductions

10 of the 33 textile mills went after projects that helped reduce electricity consumption. While the average reduction was only 4%, some of the more impactful projects yielded a 9% reduction with over $21,000 in annual savings. As a bonus, this project paid for itself in only a month!

Water Reuse

31 mills implemented 53 projects that resulted in an average of 9% water savings, with some of the top mills reducing water consumption by 20%. A lot of the reuse efforts focused on targeting process water and grey water, because those tended to yield the largest and most cost-effected reductions. Some mills installed a water treatment process, and that initial investment of $7,600 paid for itself in three months.

Energy Recovery

Through 173 projects that focused on electricity reduction, every participating mill saw an average reduction of 6%, with the top mills seeing a 10% reduction in energy. A majority of the projects saw efforts to recover heat from exhaust gas, water, and oil due to the fact that they produced that largest, most cost-effective reductions: a $500,000 investment yielded roughly $650,000 in annual returns.

Looking for ways to reduce your company's carbon footprint? Learn more by checking out our white paper!

10 Steps to Building a Better Business Case

The SSC Team April 9, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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This article was written as an expansion of our white paper “Choosing Sustainability Management Software for your Business” published in July 2011. Enjoy:

As part of your decision making process, you need to make a business case – in financial terms (and maybe some softer measures) – in order to make sure you that you are on the right track.  The outline below should help guide your thought process in fleshing out what the benefits might be for your firm.

1. What’s your overall strategy?  

Is it a cost savings approach?  Do you want to just provide better reporting to stakeholders?  Or are you generating revenue from a green product line and therefore need to track how green it is?

2. What can you actually measure?  

Are you saving labor/time?  Do you have fewer errors and better data quality?  Is it a reduction in risk of losses due to litigation?  Or are you able to increase sales revenue by having better data on your environmental impact?

3. What are the baseline values for those metrics?  

It might take a 100 hours per month of staff time to produce your current report.  Maybe you average $50K in legal fees yearly.  Or you are currently selling $100K per month in your new product line.

4. What supporting research do you have?  

This could be clear internal documentation of your baseline metrics as well as competitive research on your competitors, your region, your industry, etc.  This research will tell you how your data in number 2 and 3 above stacks up against a larger pool of data.

5. What incremental percentage change do you expect to drive in your metrics?  

You should be able to estimate this based on your answer to number 4.  Are you going to be 5% better yearly?  10% lower yearly?  50% higher monthly?  Just make sure you document your assumptions on how big a percentage change you are going to drive, which direction that change is in and what time period that change will cover – i.e. monthly metric, yearly metric etc. Does the change all happen in the first year or does it happen steadily for the entire period of your business case? 

6. What volume change in your metrics results from the incremental percentage change?  

Does a 5% decrease in labor hours equate to 5 hours a month or 500 hours a month?  You need to be able to convert from percentage to number.

7. Translate your percentage/number value into a monetary amount.

Now you have to put on your quantitative hat as you churn through the numbers.  This is where you weed out the quantitative benefits from the qualitative benefits.  Both are desirable, but you want to be able to show the monetary value that you are going to save or earn as a result of your purchase.

8. Decide how you are going to measure it.

You know what you are measuring, how much it is going to change and what your end result is expected to be.  Now you need to determine how you are actually going to measure your progress from start to finish.  If you can’t put a firm description around how you are going to specifically measure the change – i.e. maybe your product revenue will increase for reasons besides its greenness – then you’ve found a soft benefit.  It’s still worth tracking, but you may need to share some of your business case benefit with another department or project.  If you’ve got a very specific way to track your benefit realization, then you’ve found a hard benefit.  The hard benefits, are the kinds that your accountants will like – try to get as many of these on your list as you can.

9. Write it up. 

You’ll need to present your business case benefits to somebody – whether it is your bank when asking for a loan to purchase the software, or to your executives to convince them to support your purchase decision.  Tell them why your purchase is going to be a big success for the company, how much it will contribute to their triple bottom line, and how you are going to come back in a year or three and show them how well things went. 

10. Measure it.

After you implement the software, you have to go back and do the things you said you were going to do in number 9.  Many companies don’t actually close the loop today with projects – they just move on to the next thing and go on their way.  If you want successful business results, it all comes down to measuring it, if you want to manage it.

Now that you’ve read this article, tell us what you think!  And be sure to check out the full white paper.

7 Ways to Get Attention for Your Sustainability Plan

The SSC Team March 12, 2015 Tags: , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

Your company has just put the finishing touches on their sustainability plan, and they’re ready to publish it and show the world. Just one problem: it’s now becoming commonplace for companies to only publish their annual sustainability reports, but also publish their sustainability plans. How do you make sure that your company’s sustainability plan sticks outs from the rest of them?

Harvard Business Review published an article focusing on how people can capture someone’s attention by using 7 different triggers. We thought that these triggers could not only apply to people in the workplace, but also a company’s sustainability plan. Below we explain how to take these triggers to help bring attention to your sustainability plan:

Automaticity

People like the familiar, and there is a certain familiarity to sustainability plans. There are certain words that a lot of companies put in their plans, such as “materiality” or “life cycle assessment” or “2020 goals”. By putting in these sustainability “trigger words”, they act as a jump starter for the brain and help the reader have a most instant, automatic focus on that section.

Framing

At their core, sustainability plans are similar: they help layout what a company intends to do about sustainability, but since no two companies are the exact same, neither are their sustainability plans. By framing your plan, you can help highlight what you company wants to focus primarily. If it’s a heavy focus on waste and recycling, try and tie in this theme throughout your plan.

Disruption

Yes, you want people to read your company’s sustainability plan, but how can you make sure you sustain your reader’s attention? If your plan is the same format throughout with little variance, chances are someone might not make it to the end. If you sprinkle disruptions in your sustainability plan, like a mini case study or an anecdote from someone, it will help keep people engaged.

Reward

Someone has just read through your entire sustainability plan, but then what comes next? Find a way to reward the people who have read through your plan; give them incentive to still care what your company is doing. Maybe you’ll send out condensed quarterly updates on your sustainability initiatives, or maybe you’ll allow them to make comments or suggestions about the plan.

Reputation

Experts are trusted for a reason: they are extremely knowledgeable in their field of study. If you’re making certain claims or statements in your sustainability plan from experts, don’t just cite their names, let the readers know that they’re highly knowledgeable.

Mystery

What’s great about sustainability plans is that they are just the beginning of a new journey. As much as people like to plan for long-term goals, you’ll never exactly know how much carbon you’ll reduce or how much your company will increase their recycling. Invite people to join you on this mystery as no one knows what the ending will look like!

Acknowledgement

Give credit where credit is due. Sustainability plans aren’t easy to compose, and they require a lot of help from a wide variety of people. Have a page at the end of your plan that gives thanks to everyone that has helped you along the way. It shows that you care and value those people, and who knows how they’ll repay you in the future!

Now that you have your sustainability plan, what about creating your sustainability report? Learn about the brutal truth about sustainability reporting.

How to Beta Test Your Carbon Footprint Strategy

The SSC Team February 26, 2015 Tags: , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Here is a blog from 2013 we think you would enjoy again:

We frequently get calls from prospective clients who need to develop a carbon management strategy. After a number of these calls we started to recognize a pattern, so we put together a 6-step framework that explains our approach to developing an effective carbon management strategy. 

While the level of time and effort required for each step will depend on the size of your organization and your industry (and hiring a sustainability consultant can make the process more efficient), all organizations should follow basically the same path. 

We've already covered step #1 (clarify your goals) and #2 (decide on a carbon measurement process), so today we're talking about the next step.

Once you've 1) committed to measuring your company's carbon footprint and 2) developed a process for gathering and analyzing the data, the next step is NOT full implementation! 

First you need to test your assumptions, tools, and scheduling. And the best way to work out the kinks in your process is to do a pilot test. Here's how it works:

Choose a single facility

It doesn't matter which facility, but choose one that has most of the impacts and emissions categories that you identified in Step 2. So for example, if your company manufacturers televisions, choose one of your manufacturing plants and not a small sales office. You should also choose a facility that is 1) well-run, 2) has decent data management systems in place, and 3) has a good working relationship with your team (especially with you!).

Identify your on-the-ground team

You'll need to work with someone who manages the bills (for energy, water and waste data), logistics (for direct and 3rd party shipping), human resources (for employee commuting and business travel), and operations (for key performance indicators like # of employees, $ revenue, # units produced, etc.). Make sure that they know they've been selected as a test study, and that they know what's expected of them in the coming weeks.

Send out the data request

Since this is a pilot test, we find it most useful to do a quick round of data collection using an excel spreadsheet. At this point in the game, there is no reason to set up any software or online configuration. Simply create a spreadsheet with one row for each type of data you are requesting, with columns according to the figure below. The key is to quickly determine where good records are available, where estimates need to be made, who is responsible, and where there may be gaps and/or red flags.

See what comes back -- and how long it takes

You may find that your time estimates are dramatically off. You may also find that you need to add in additional rounds of data review and quality assurance at the facility level.

Run your data through a preliminary carbon calculator

You can create your own carbon calculator using sites like Emissionfactors.com -- or use the one that your sustainability consultancy has available. (You should NOT be paying for a software subscription yet -- this is still the testing period.) See what jumps out at you. In many cases, you'll be surprised at how big your indirect impacts are -- for most of our clients we find that Scope 3 emissions account for about 75% of total carbon emissions.

Tweak your process

Now that you have a real life pilot study of your carbon footprint data collection and analysis, you're ready to finalize the process. If you find errors in your assumptions, or need to change your data collection process, now is the time. If you're happy with the results, great! Now you're ready to consider the best way to roll out the process to all facilities. In many cases, it will be asustainability software platform (and now that you know what you need, the process of choosing the right one will be much, much easier!). In other cases, it may make sense to have your IT people develop a web application for your intranet site so that people can enter their data directly into the calculator (without having to purchase a software subscription.)

Roll it out!

You're finally ready to expand your carbon footprint process to additional locations. Depending on your sense of urgency, you may choose to tackle all facilities at once, or take a phased-in approach. Whichever works best for you!

Want to learn more about reducing your carbon footprint? Check out our white paper!

5 Ways to Keep Your Sustainability Strategy on Track

The SSC Team January 20, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Be sure to check out this previously published blog entry for some inspiration to start off the new year right on track. Enjoy:

There is nothing more frustrating than seeing your company’s hard-fought sustainability strategy slip away as a result of competing priorities, disengaged employees, or an opaque bureaucracy. Don't let your efforts go to waste!  Incorporate as many of these ideas into your sustainability plan as you can to ensure that it continues to evolve and adapt (and even improve) long after the initial enthusiasm is over.

1. Frame sustainability in terms of business process and success.

The more you embed sustainability into the existing systems of your company, the more it will become business-as-usual, and thus harder to forget or ignore. If your company has a standard 3-year payback time for capital investments, then make sure your sustainability expenditures pay for themselves in less than 36 months. If your HR department has a skill categorization used for new hires, then make sure that sustainability aspects are added to the tool used by the HR managers. Make sustainability criteria part of the existing new vendor on-boarding process, rather than a separate questionnaire. And in each of these areas, make sure that you can clearly and concisely explain why sustainability adds business value. If you can't do that, you're going to have major trouble getting others on board.

2. Put sustainability into job descriptions. 

What does your sales team need to know about the company's sustainability goals? What kind of eco-design experience do product developers need? What do facilities managers need to know about LEED? What do customer service reps need to be able to explain to sustainability-minded buyers? In which sustainability reporting standards and green marketing guidelines should the marketing staff demonstrate competence? Go through each category of job descriptions--by both department and seniority level--and identify the hard and soft sustainability skills that are needed to execute and improve the company's sustainability strategy over time.

3. Put sustainability into work orders.

Embed sustainability into the way that your work gets done. Whether you call it work instructions, or a standard operating procedure--make sure that you make it explicitly clear who, where, when, why, and how sustainability should be incorporated into everyday tasks and periodic activities. But make sure that the instructions don't have sustainability jargon written all over them- instead, make it simple and clear so that the discrete components of a larger sustainability activity are broken down and inserted into the relevant business process.

4. Set corporate goals, but require business units to get involved.

Letting each department create its own sustainability strategy is like herding cats—it’s nearly impossible to get everyone headed in the same direction. Forcing business units to conform to a single set of corporate sustainability activities is also a recipe for disaster since it ignores the innate differences that appear across geographies, duties and responsibilities, and workforce demographics. Instead, opt for a hybrid approach: decide what sustainability means for the company as a whole. From there, develop three to five top sustainability goals--like reducing carbon emissions by 15 percent in five years. Then, let the individual business units create action plans to get there--using whatever means are most applicable to their unique situation. When business units take ownership over execution of the plan, they are much more likely to see it through to the end.

5. Institute a semi-annual sustainability presentation to the Board of Directors. 

Nothing creates a sense of accountability like standing before the highest governance body of your organization to report on your sustainability successes and failures. Particularly when you follow the rule #1 above (frame sustainability in terms of business success), your board will be eager to hear about how sustainability is reducing operating cost, mitigating risk, increasing revenue, opening up new markets, and improving staff recruitment and retention. Perhaps more than any other group, the Board will force you to answer the question, "what value does this bring to the company?"

If these aren't enough for you, consider adding these options as well:

  • Publish an annual sustainability report -- it's hard to step backwards once you've put yourself out there in terms of transparency and disclosure. And once you're committed to doing a report, you'll be motivated to keep it full of awesome stories, meaningful metrics, and a sense of momentum.
  • Incentivize sustainability performance -- make sure that your performance-based compensation structure (bonuses, stock awards, other perks) are linked to achieving sustainability goals. Make sure to include both short- and long-term sustainability goals, so that people are encouraged to see the big picture, rather than just the year-end goal posts.
  • Dedicate time and money to bringing in outside experts -- Outside perspective can be invaluable. Whether it's a sustainability consultant, a local government representative, or the leader of a national NGO, hearing from sustainability advocates can test your assumptions, reveal new possibilities, and validate your charted course. Get inspired, get challenged, and get re-committed!

What has your company done to keep the sustainability momentum alive and well? Share your comments below, or tell me on Twitter (@jenniferwoofter). And if you liked this article, please share it on your social media platform of choice!

Thanks to 2degrees for also publishing this article.  Read it here.

8 Questions for Sustainability Innovators

The SSC Team January 15, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Here is an article we wrote early last year, and we thought it was worth sharing again! Enjoy:

At Strategic Sustainability Consulting, we love Scott Anthony, the thought leader and managing partner of the innovation and growth consulting firm Innosight. His book, The Little Black Book of Innovation, challenged us, and we recommend it to anyone thinking about how to innovate within a company.

But enough flattery. Anthony's recent Harvard Business Review article, Eight Essential Questions for Every Corporate Innovator, got us thinking about how innovation and sustainability are a natural fit, and we wanted to share it with SSC readers.

Below, we've highlighted the questions that Anthony recommends that corporate innovators ask themselves, and then we added our thoughts below each question, from a sustainability perspective.

Identifying New Growth Opportunities

  • What problem is the customer struggling to solve?
  • Which customers can’t participate in a market because they lack skills, wealth, or convenient access to existing solutions? 

There is a huge opportunity for companies to use sustainability as a lens to enter new markets -- including the developing world. Selling to the "bottom of the pyramid" requires innovative thinking -- and companies like Unilever, Coke, and Nestle are paving the way, by using "shared value creation" to benefit the local communities in which they operate.

Identifying the Threat of Disruption

  • Where are we overshooting the market by providing features that users don’t care about and don’t want to pay for? 
  • If you were going to disrupt your company, how would you do it?

Despite a lot of wishful thinking by companies, consumers generally are not willing to pay extra for "green" features. Instead, savvy companies are using sustainability to enhance safety, quality, durability, efficiency, and value. Don't make the mistake of thinking you can get a green premium for your product -- instead focus on creating a better product or service through innovation. Being "green" is just the icing on the cake.

Designing Compelling Offerings

  • Who has already solved the problem you are trying to address? 
  • What can you do that few other companies in the world can do? 

Sustainability is a global challenge, and no single company can solve it alone. Innovators need to identify and exploit the leverage points in the system--and often those appear at the junction between entities. Public-private partnerships like the UN Global Compact, collaborations like The Sustainability Consortium, and industry groups like the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy are proving that sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Commercializing Your Idea

  • What assumption are you making that, if false, would blow your strategy up? 
  • How can you learn more affordably and efficiently? 

The world of sustainability is rapidly changing-- methodologies, regulations, best practices, frameworks, legislation, stakeholder expectations--and the work of sustainability innovators is never done. Make sure that your eyes are not so closely fixated on your prize that you miss the changing world around you. You need to continue to regularly engage with your peers, to review your risk assessment methodology, and to indulge colleagues who will play the devil's advocate. Look for partners across your value chain, and make an effort to challenge each other in your various pursuits!

Thanks to 2degrees for publishing a version of this article!  Read the 2degrees article here.

Have additional ideas on ways for sustainability leaders to innovate?  Leave a comment or join the conversation on Twitter!

4 Reasons Why Corporate Sustainability Reporting Might Be a Waste of Time

The SSC Team January 13, 2015 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

As more companies are publishing annual sustainability reports, some fear that these reports are plateauing, rather than offering more value each year. Some companies are beginning to think that producing reports are not worth the effort or money. In an article published by The Guardian last week, they stated that while sustainability reports do provide useful information, they are not being as effective as they could be.

The article provided an in-depth analysis on a report published by SustainAbility, a think tank and strategic advisory firm, examining what companies can do to help make their reports… well… not as wasteful. Below are four possible ways your company’s sustainability report might be a waste of time:

Heavy Language

No one likes reading an article or a book that is plagued with dense language and phrases, and a sustainability report is no different. All too often, reports are filled with special wording to adhere to reporting standards, or they are bogged down my technical language. While certain key phrases or words are inevitable, don’t have your entire report filled with jargon that no one is going to want to sift through.

Failing to Connect with the Audience

Your company spends countless hours putting in the effort to create a sustainability report, but for who? Who exactly is the audience your company is trying aim their report at? Tying in nicely with the previous point, if your company is structuring the report to be read by customers, but instead reads like a report intended for upper level executives, you aren't going to have readership. Be sure to remind yourself while constructing your report who your intended audience is, and be sure to not lose sight of that.

Confusing Standards and Frameworks

GRI. IIRC. SASB. These are just three examples of some of the many reporting frameworks available to companies. But how is a company supposed to choose and navigate one of these frameworks? They're all different! Should your company go with a compliance-driven approach? Or maybe they should consider a principle-driven approach or a materiality focused take on a global framework. A single framework is exhausting as is, but having so many options might lead to “framework fatigue” and possibly...

Choosing the Wrong Framework

Even if your company does end up choosing a reporting framework, it does not necessarily mean that it will be a good fit for your company. If a company is using a framework that is not best suited for them, their reports could potentially leave out a lot of valuable information. For example, Novo Nordisk recently decided to no longer follow GRI standards and instead take an “integrated reporting” approach, since they determined that would best reflect how they manage their business. 

Be sure to check out our blog post exploring how sustainability reports change over time!