Feel like you don’t totally understand our ecological footprint and how we fit in on the planet? It seems so complex, but Alexandre Magnin explains it wonderfully in this six-minute cartoon. Check it out and see how we can work to reduce our footprint!
We try to post a new blog at least once a week, just to share our insights into the world of sustainability strategy and what it takes to be a sustainability consultant or professional today. Here are our most-read posts from November.
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In a rapidly evolving, globalized world, collaboration between companies has become inevitable and necessary. Corporate partnerships can create many mutually desirable outcomes, like fostering innovative and lucrative ideas, lowering overhead costs, immediately increasing available capital for project expansion, among others.
While the financial benefits of corporate collaboration have long been touted, these partnerships also have significant potential to impact our world for the greater good. Recently, several companies have banded together to form formidable forces against various environmental threats.
For example, the Fazendas São Marcelo cattle farm in Brazil has collaborated with other supplier ranches to address the significant deforestation in their area caused by cattle farming. Violaine Berger of GreenBiz describes this as a “jurisdictional approach”, as it engages stakeholders across entire regions or landscapes, rather than individual farms or businesses. By working together, suppliers can co-create joint sustainable land-use plans, which can “balance economic growth, social development and environmental protection and can attract new sources of finance” in their distinct locations.
Instead of competing, the Fazendas São Marcelo cattle farm and other farms like it, can reap the benefits of new buyers interested in satisfying consumers’ heightened demand for sustainably sourced beef, all while ensuring a long term supply for each of their businesses and helping to preserve vital ecosystems.
Similarly, the Global Salmon Initiative (GSI) challenges CEOs of salmon production and distribution companies worldwide to work together to reshape the farming industry to address a growing population and necessity for sustained food sources. The aquaculture industry faces the delicate task of satisfying an increased demand for protein, as well as producing it in a way that minimizes damage to the natural world.
The GSI allows companies to share best practices and strategize around shared sustainability challenges. They recognize that success of an individual company can in turn bolster the reputation of the entire sector. Due to this partnership, 40% of the GSI’s members have reached the rigorous ASC standard, meaning they are certified as environmentally and socially responsible producers and retailers.
Even large companies like Borealis, the world’s 8th largest plastic producer, are jumping on the sustainability collaboration train. Recently, the company partnered with other European packing corporations like Henkel and Mondi, as well as the German recycling firm APK, in attempts to solve the problem of recycling multi-layer packing. Although they are extremely popular due to their light weight and ability to extend shelf life, multilayer packages consist of layers of polyethylene, making them difficult to separate in ways necessary for reprocessing, resulting in substantial waste.
APK has suggested its its newcycling solvent-based system to separate the layers, while Mondi
has designed a low-density polyethylene and is hoping to test it on commercial products, including Henkel’s Persil detergent pods as early as next year.
Consumers are becoming more and more attuned to the ways plastics are contributing to pollution and companies are beginning to respond to meet their demands for change. By teaming up, these European corporations are able to join the ranks of socially-minded businesses doing their small part to protect our oceans.
When it comes to saving the planet, there is so much work to be done and there is no reason any one company should be trying to do it alone. Collaboration just makes sense. But why should the work stop at the environmental level?
Just as these companies did, surely strategic partnerships in other sectors should be able to address world sustainability issues like poverty, access to clean water and health care disparities. Putting competition on the back burner and prioritizing collaboration just might be the solution to our world’s biggest problems.
When it comes to sustainability, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to focus on making choices that benefit the community if you don’t actually care about the people in it. So the recent announcement by Hershey that it will be launching a Shared Goodness Program aiming to make a positive impact on people’s lives, while also meeting the demands of customers and investors, is admirable.
Here’s the thing, anyone can talk the talk, but when companies show that they can actually walk the walk it’s a call for other major corporations (and smaller businesses, too) to take note that focusing on people over profit can work.
“[We] believe – and prove – that you can be a fierce competitor in the market while operating in a compassionate way…,” said Michele Buck, Hershey’s CEO. With the Shared Goodness Promise, the company pledges to be successful in a way that makes a positive difference.
This desire to improve sustainability isn’t simply driven by wanting to be a good corporate citizen, it is also inspired by other needs such changing consumer preferences in terms of help AND sustainable knowledge. Transparency toward supply chains, packaging and responsibly sourced ingredients are also motivating companies to adjust their methods. For example, Hershey is reimagining some of its core snacks while also working to use more sustainably sourced ingredients – such as cocoa, palm oil, sugar and coconut – and providing consumers with more information by utilizing QR codes on their packaging.
And Hershey is not alone. A recent post from GreenBiz highlighted the ways in which General Mills, McDonalds and Kering are also setting credible, courageous sustainability goals.
Making bold choices when it comes to sustainability goals is not only a wise business strategy, but also a positive stewardship policy. And there are a lot of ways that businesses can move toward making more sustainable choices.
While many companies have been focused on establishing SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based), Jon Dettling the US Director for Quantis, believes that the corporate world should re-evaluate this process and instead creating SMARTER goals (Science-based, Moving the pack, Ambitious, Relevant, Timely, Earth-bound and Reaching out).
Dettling believes that meaningful sustainability goals shouldn’t be focused simply on the individual companies, but also all the partner organizations that they do work with. That means inspiring your suppliers and clients to make changes, too.
McDonald’s announced its first science-based target this year, covering restaurants, offices and supply chain. The commitment covers franchisees, which account for the bulk of McDonald’s-branded restaurants. Since McDonald’s doesn’t produce goods, they can only achieve these goals by working with supply chain partners.
General Mills’ Jeff Hanratty said, "It’s scary to share a goal with someone, and in the same sentence tell them you’re not sure how you’re going to achieve it. But this is science. We didn’t pull it out of the air, it’s what Mother Nature needs from us."
Scientific understanding and data evolve and can be relatively fluid, which means targets must be as too. McDonald’s Rachael Sherman agreed, noting that once people understand the concept, they are much more comfortable with shifting goals.
As big businesses start to embrace these sustainable movements and encourage their partner organizations to do the same, it’s a powerful opportunity to inspire other companies to make meaningful changes to the way they operate. It’s not just about saving money, it’s also about saving the world around us.
While we have been recycling certain products for a long time, there have been some pretty amazing innovatinos when it comes to building products on the market. These new materials are taking the idea of a sustainable approach to building to a whole new level. Take for example the creation of luxury building materials from waste. One truly great feature of this upcycling trend is that the new materials are being developed by designers who will use them, which means that they are actually attractive as well as useful.
These new materials are being used as substitutes for conventional woods, plastics and stone, and often come in sheet or tile form that are ready to be cut, shaped and manipulated by architects and designers.
Really, a Danish company at the forefront of this movement is focused on taking used textiles and transforming them into a sheet material similar to plywood.
In fact, companies around the world are coming up with some pretty clever new building materials turning items as basic as bottles and as strange as dirty diapers and sanitary products into materials that can be used for construction.
When it comes to embracing sustainable living, those are thinking well outside the box and turning products — like the notoriously hard to recycle plastic grocery bags — into building materials are making incredible strides. In Building with Waste, which compiles these unique new materials, the authors speculate that, in future, we could end up re-using pretty much everything. This would be pretty darn helpful since we are on track to double municipal waste output by 2025. That’s a pretty terrifying thought.
And it isn’t just building materials, there are products being made with carbon dioxide. Collecting CO2 from the world’s smokestacks is hard, but once it has been collected what can be done with the carbon? To address this problem, people have invented technologies that convert captured CO2 into new products — crazy in a great way, right?
Solutions so far have included a lot of creative ideas such as converting carbon dioxide into carbon fibers which can be used as lighter-weight alternative to metal to make products like wind turbine blades, race cars, airplanes and bicycles. A company in Calgary is combining CO2 with waste products, such as fly ash left over from burning coal or petroleum coke, to create nanoparticles that can be used as additives for concrete, plastic and coatings to enhance performance and increase efficiency.
These innovations and more prove that many in this world are working toward a more sustainable future. We must continue to find creative solutions for reducing waste in order to take care of our most precious resource — the earth.
Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.
A few summer ago, the World Resources Institute and the UNEP Finance Initiative consulted with more than 100 energy, climate, and finance experts to create a discussion framework for investors to weigh exposure to the risks of climate change.
Essentially, it is a toolkit for investors to evaluate a company based on climate risk factors not directly related to physical risk. Most investors can already pick out obvious physical risks, i.e. investing in coastal property as sea levels rise. But non-physical, climate-change effected risks are also important.
The WRI discussion framework addresses those risks, called carbon-asset risks. They include public policy, regulation, technology, unpredictable market conditions, and shifting public opinion.
This discussion framework is an excellent tool for investors to weigh risks as they choose to make investments, but we argue that companies themselves should be looking at this tool to discover their own carbon asset risks and then engaging in some deeper-level analyses and audits.
For example, the assessment recommends that investors look beyond carbon footprinting and delve deeper into company supply chain audits that may uncover risks. For example:
- Geographic location (are too many of your suppliers in the path of a super-typhoon?),
- Local regulations (are the countries your source your raw materials from looking to legislate and increase your costs?),
- Diversification in operations or production (are your products and services too dependent on fossil fuels?).
This discussion framework, while absolutely useful for investors, can also be used as a cheat sheet for your own business. Next step: Start auditing and taking action now to mitigate your climate risk.
Reducing exposure to risk is crucial, not only to become more attractive to investors, but also to become a more sustainable organization overall!
If you’re ready to start looking more deeply at your carbon asset risk, contact us to learn more about sustainability assessment and supply chain analysis.
Let’s start with the positive news. When it comes to implementing more sustainable sourcing practices, a recently published Stanford University study, which focused on large global suppliers, found that more than 50% of the companies reviewed have been implementing these practices. Not surprisingly companies with valuable brands (and therefore a more vocal customer base) were the most likely to be utilizing sustainable practices.
But Cassandra Sweet notes in There’s Room for Progress on Tackling Sustainability Through the Supply Chain, that while this is great news, the study also found that companies lower down the supply chain — where changes to their social and environmental practices would be more beneficial — have been less likely to implement sustainable practices.
To complete their research, 449 publicly traded companies from a variety of sectors were examined in order to evaluate the extent to which their efforts were going to impact the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. And from this evaluation, it was clear that progress is being made. This portion of the study was focused on industry giants like L’Oreal and Coca-Cola Co. who, among others, have been making big adjustments. These include training their suppliers to help reduce or reuse plastic packaging, address climate change and promote sustainable production among other areas. Coca-Cola Co. has also been providing training to the farmers who supply them in order to help promote sustainable agriculture, gender equity, and fair working conditions.
With this good news, we now need to focus our attention on non-consumer-facing companies who haven’ t been as committed to implementing sustainable practices yet. Unfortunately supply-chain sustainable implementations aren’t as likely to drive change at a global scale unless a lot more companies start to utilize sustainable sourcing practices. Sweet raises the important issue that these practices need to be strong, verifiable, address a broad set of sustainability issues and reach all tiers of global supply chains.
Here’s the thing, so many companies are going half in when it comes to making sustainable changes. An example that Sweet highlights is when a company focuses on ensuring that one product ingredient is sustainably sourced, without paying any attention to other ingredients. Or by making sure that the packaging of a product is made from recycled materials, but at the same time the product contained within that packaging is not sustainably sourced.
Do you feel like your company is falling into this gray zone and could do better? If so, you will benefit from connecting with a sustainability consultant. You might be struggling to understand the complex world of corporate social responsibility, wondering how you can translate your values into actions, and unsure how to prioritize your social and environmental initiatives, but we can help! At Strategic Sustainability Consulting we can work with you to kick off your sustainability journey and help you understand the strengths, challenges, and best-fit sustainability strategy for your company, in your industry, to meet your stakeholder needs, right now.
The evidence that sustainability can be good for business is overwhelming. Most of the case studies, examples, and analysis that has been done show positive links between a sustainable approach to environmental and social issues, and corporate profits, Thus far, the research has been primarily focused on direct operational efficiencies (like retrofitting your office lighting to save money and reduce your carbon footprint), innovation (using biomimicry to drive new product development), and productivity (ie. more engaged employees take less sick leave).
Over the past few years, there has been an increasing amount of discussion about the nexus between sustainability and risk management. And for corporations operating in complex supply chains in a globally-connected economy -- well -- effective risk management can be the difference between success and failure. Below, we take a look at three articles that shed light on why companies still struggle to incorporate sustainability into their risk management practices (and vice versa).
Has sustainability become a risky business? This GreenBiz article by John Davies reviews a report by Ernst & Young. The key takeaway: While more companies are concerned about increased risk and the proximity of natural resource shortages, corporate risk response appears to be inadequate to address the scope and scale of some of these challenges. The free report looks at six corporate sustainability trends with a strong focus on the internal influencers of corporate performance (CEOs and boards), as well as external forces ranging from governments to shareholders and investors.
Playing It Safe Is Riskier than You Think by Bill Taylor in the Harvard Business Review makes the case that "difficult and uncertain times are often the best times for organizations to separate themselves from the pack, so long as their leaders are prepared not to stand pat." While not directly about sustainability, this article certainly supports the notion that economic turmoil is no reason not to be ambitious about tackling big sustainability challenges.
Research: Why Companies Keep Getting Blind-Sided by Risk by Mary Driscoll in the Harvard Business Review presents fascinating insight into why companies (and their executives) are not succeeding at identifying and mitigating risk. Survey findings indicate that most organizations’ leaders did indeed express concern about the impact of political turmoil, natural disasters, or extreme weather. But the findings also show that the people at the front lines of the business were hamstrung by a lack of visibility into risk. Nearly half said they lacked the resources needed to adequately assess business continuity programs at supplier sites. Many relied on the suppliers filling out perfunctory, unreliable checklists. There are some big lessons here for sustainability practitioners!
We are focused on helping companies use a "lens of sustainability" to spot risk earlier, broaden risk response options, and more effectively mitigate risk within their operations and all along their supply chain. If this work strikes a chord with you, please get in touch with us. We'd love to hear from you!
We would like to get more involved in including sustainability initiatives during our procurement process and the selection of supplier process. We want to work with our procurement team on this. What are some of the methods other organizations and companies have used in engaging with suppliers with their sustainability initiatives?
-- Barry Enix | Buckman
The question above was posed on the 2Degrees platform for sustainability professionals. It's a great question, and one that we frequently tackle in our work with clients seeking to push sustainability beyond their direct operational boundaries.
Here's what SSC President Jennifer Woofter said:
I find that effective supplier engagement needs three components: a policy element, a program element, and performance element.
The policy element is intended to explain the expectations that you have for suppliers in the area of sustainability. A supplier code of conduct, for example, will outline which sustainability issues (labor, environment, human rights, grievance processes, health and safety, etc.) you expect suppliers to address and comply with. Inserting similar requirements into supplier contracts, RFP/RFQs, etc. will ensure that the policy has "teeth" and can be used in contract decisions.
Supply chain programs including training and capacity building -- for both the suppliers themselves, but also for your procurement staff. Do purchasing managers know what to look for in a "sustainable" supplier? Are sustainability aspects incorporated into new vendor evaluations? What kind of auditing, self-assessments, corrective actions, and negotiation tools are available on each side? Robust programs will ensure that your policy isn't just a document on a wall somewhere, but is an active expectation lived out in day-to-day decision-making.
The final component is effective performance measurement. Sustainability professionals like to say "what gets measured gets managed" and it's essential that any supplier engagement program have effective metrics. You might begin with simple measures like "how many suppliers responded to our survey" or "how many suppliers attended our sustainability training," but generally I advocate moving to more outcome-based metrics such as "how much did serious incidents decrease after suppliers participated in our safety training?" and "how many tons of carbon emissions were suppliers who engaged with us able to reduce (as compared to non-engaging supplier)?" These kind of indicators will give you a much better sense of how effective your engagement efforts are -- and give you insight into what new initiatives are most likely to give you the results you seek.
Want to see what other sustainability practitioners recommended? Read the entire discussion over at 2Degrees.
Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.
Much of our work with clients is focused on tackling complex supply chain issues, so we're always on the lookout for articles that provide a fresh perspective, challenge a deeply-held belief, or shed light on an emerging topic. Today, we're highlighting three recent articles that really caught our attention. Enjoy!
Why aren't more tech companies tracking conflict minerals? "It may sound easy at first: Simply ensure that the metals within your brand's electronics are conflict-free. In other words, make sure that none of your gold, tantalum, tin or tungsten is sourced from mines that fund armed conflict in or around the Democratic Republic of Congo." So why aren't more companies ready to comply with the May 31 reporting deadline? This article provides superb insight into the challenges.
4 ways to make your supply chain more dynamic, resilient. "How do companies create 'dynamic operations'? Four capabilities underpin this practice, giving companies the speed, responsiveness and possibility to gain a competitive advantage when they face volatility in their markets." Sustainability planning is all about mitigating uncertainty, and the four tips presented here provide much food for thought.
When Bad Things Happen to Good Supply Chains. "The modern supply chain is much larger than suppliers and customers; it also includes suppliers’ suppliers and customers’ customers. All told, it encompasses a seemingly infinite set of variables and exposures, as any single failure anywhere in the supply chain can bring operations and profits to a standstill." A great primer on how sustainability-related uncertainty can ripple through a supply chain.
Want to gain more insight into some of the challenges facing suppliers? Read our 2-part interview with Nate Sullivan of Efficiency Exchange (EEx), a provider of sustainability software and services to Chinese factories.Part 1 and Part 2.