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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!