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How to Earn Respect as a Sustainability Leader

The SSC Team March 13, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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When trying to lead a sustainability program from the inside, you may find that getting internal buy-in from your peers, managers and executives is the toughest part of the job. This is especially true when sustainability and CSR don’t get a lot of respect as a corporate priority.

Consider the situation from nay-sayers perspectives, though, and you can begin to see why sustainability (and you) aren’t favorites at work:

  • The CFO may be thinking: why was sustainability “forced” on my, and why does it always seem to be spending more money than it saves?
  • The COO may be thinking: have CSR programs really delivered anything meaningful to the company, or is it just a feel-good initiative that’s taking people away from their “real” jobs?
  • Department heads may be thinking: Do sustainability people do anything except for harp about recycling all the time?
  • The Director of Communications may be thinking: I just want to tell a good story. Why do the sustainability managers always want to bring up our weaknesses?

The industry, the corporate culture, the history of the company’s performance, the physical location, and many other factors may contribute to how your co-workers, subordinates, and leadership view the role of the sustainability leader.

In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat, a security software company, gives some solid advice about earning respect inside a corporate culture.

Sustainability leaders may want to pay special attention to Whitehurst’s advice.

  • Show passion for the purpose of your organization and constantly drive interest in it. Even though you may have a TON of ideas on how your company can quickly change and make significant environmental gains, you should frame those ideas and the positive change they can create in language that speaks to the purpose of the organization itself. If internal stakeholders see sustainability programs as strengthening the business as a whole, and not just some ancillary reporting department, they will begin to respect sustainability’s role in the organization.
  • Demonstrate confidence. You may be asking employees who are not under your direct supervision to make changes to purchasing habits, reporting protocols, and behavior. You need to ask them with respect and confidence. Conveying confidence for a program that is supported up the chain-of-command will help establish you – and the programs you are implementing – will encourage others to follow your lead.
  • Engage your people. One of the biggest complaints about sustainability may stem from the top-down approach to change. Of course, you’re gathering the data, interpreting the reports, and making recommendations – but those who have to change because of a recommendation may come to see your role as an arbitrary rule imposer. As you look at programs and policies that affect department function or employee behavior, ask for input, ideas, and thoughts about how to implement change. You may get some great ideas from unexpected places.
  • Don’t be a know-it-all. You may know a bit about sustainability, but you probably don’t know a lot about the detailed work of the different functional areas in your company. By showing passion for shared company goals and values, being confident in your own role, and engaging people in different areas of the company, you will begin to build a positive reputation. But, you may also misstep. By “owning up” as Whitehurst says, you should frankly address when something doesn’t go as planned and help the team build a work-around together.

Managing sustainability is a difficult role in many corporate systems as sustainability is not a supervisory, but more of an advisory, department. This makes it even more important to earn respect with internal stakeholders. By doing so, you will really see the full effects of sustainability programs and help integrate sustainability into the fabric of the company’s culture.

Working on a tough sustainability project where internal stakeholders are pushing back? Let us know in the comments. 

Sustainability Strategy Isn’t a Checklist

The SSC Team February 8, 2018 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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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 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 to Improve Client Outreach

The SSC Team February 6, 2018 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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You may think that your work in the world of sustainability puts you in a totally unique industry. But think again! You may not like the idea of equating your work with work in sales, however a lot of the elements of a sales role overlap sustainability.

 

Just think — if you need to convince an internal audience that it is worth investing in sustainable efforts, aren’t you selling them on it? Or, as a consultant, you’re constantly selling your expertise? With that in mind, here are some tips from sales pros — and some things you definitely want to avoid when you are trying to engage a new client.

 

Focus on trust. Out of the gate you can’t just throw tons of new (and possibly expensive) ideas right out of the gate. First you need to establish a relationship, which will allow you to build trust. Then when you present a strategic plan the listener will be more likely to be confident in your agenda.

 

How can you create this trust? Jeff Haden offered three great suggestions in his recent post on Inc. about taking this step. First you need to learn about your contact and their business or organizational obstacles. If you don’t understand their unique challenges and values, how can you create a strategy that will make sense to them?

 

Find common ground. The best way to connect with a potential client is through a mutual connection. Research has shown that a buyer is five times more likely to engage with a sales person if they connected through a mutual acquaintance. Five times more likely! You can easily translate that from sales to your sustainability business — always look for a common professional connection.

 

And for in-house common ground? Look for opportunities to collaborate on their projects before pushing hard for someone to immediately jump on board your project. The old adage, “make it their idea” works well when selling to co-workers across departments.

 

The last tip seems like a no brainer — demonstrate expertise and knowledge in your industry. You may get in the door, but your potential client is probably not going to sign onto any strategy you create unless they believe you really know what you are talking about. Be confident and show that you are tuned into their business and the best ways to make sustainable adjustments in their industry.

 

As an internal sustainability manager or advocate, it might be helpful to bring in an expert for a workshop to better explain what sustainability is from a position of experience. This may answer a lot of questions for everyone on the team, and give you some insight on what next steps you need to take as well.

 

With those guidelines in mind, let’s take a look at some of behaviors you want to avoid while selling:  

 

Do not blame others if your performance declines. Your plans aren’t being accepted? You aren’t growing your client base? Before you start casting the blame on someone else, take a real look at what former clients, supervisors, or colleagues are saying about your work. Have things changed?

 

As a consultant, even if you’ve found one super, amazing client, don’t neglect your other work. Remember do not put all your eggs in one basket. Client needs change, relationships change, and you can’t focus all your attention on only one company or you could end up with nothing.

 

You probably don’t want to get too political. If you take a stance make sure it is in line with your brand as a consultant or in line with the corporate values. Try to keep your personal feelings in check, and think about the brand you’re selling before make politically motivated statements. 

The Obstacles with Sustainability Strategy

The SSC Team January 4, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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After you set up a sustainability strategy for a client, does it feel like they end up standing in their own way? Here you have a business that asked you to create a plan, but when it is presented they are hesitant to take the necessary steps to implement one or all of your ideas?

 

Talk about frustrating! Recently the Harvard Business Review talked about the challenges of navigating the politics of innovation and honestly the same concepts can be applied to sustainability strategy. So how can we leap over those hurdles that are getting in the way of a positive end result?

 

Here are the tips Brian Uzzi shared:

 

1. Anticipate Resistance
While the client may be clamoring to “be innovative” or incorporate “creative, new ideas” they may also not actually have the resources necessary to implement them in the long run. While the need for funds or time (or both) may cause resistance initially, you can present how your idea(s) is new, creative and won’t be stealing resources from an on-going project. This should help encourage clients to be more willing to implement your plan.

 

2. Unmask Political Motives

While it may seem clear to you that some kind of internal, political factors are getting in the way of sustainable changes, often the real reasons may not come to the forefront. The clients may present issues —cost, time, complexity — that are publically acceptable but are just covers for underlying factors. Maybe the client sees that the change may impact them in a way they don’t find positive. Or they feel like there isn’t enough data to support making adjustments. To move past issues that may not even be made clear to you, might require expanding your network and bringing more people on board to gain support to move forward.

 

3. Find the right champion

That’s where tip three comes into play. You may need another player within the organization — perhaps someone very senior — who will buy into the sustainable efforts you plan to implement. With them on board, it will likely be less challenging to convince others that there is merit to what you are proposing. However, you may need more than management support to seal the deal.

 

4. Secure social proof

So people wanted to make their office more sustainable, but they haven’t seen hard data that supports it will be effective. But since that evidence won’t be available until they implement the plan what are you going to do? Here’s where social impact can come into play. At the end of the day if enough people believe something, it doesn’t really matter how many facts we have, that social pressure is likely to be enough. If you can inspire some support within the larger team it is likely to lead to more support and implementation of your plan from the higher ups. If people in the office want to reduce waste and lessen their footprint, their desire is likely to impact others in the office.

 

Implementing your strategy may end up taking as much (or more!) work than creating it. But if you can approach the challenge with awareness, hopefully each project can be accomplished without a lot of added stressors. 

How to Set Carbon Reduction Goals

The SSC Team February 16, 2017 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

Based on a presentation by the EPA, we picked up some great nuggets of advice for companies seeking to establish credible and meaningful carbon reduction goals.

KEY COMPONENTS OF A CREDIBLE GHG REDUCTION STRATEGY:

  • Begin with a corporate-wide GHG inventory (base year) of Scope 1 and 2 emissions, with Scope 3 emissions included if relevant to the goal. Annual tracking and reporting of progress is a must!
  • Build an emissions inventory plan, which institutionalizes progress and ensures high quality data. Make sure you know where the data is coming from, who is responsible for managing it, and where (and why) assumptions are being made.
  • Determine a GHG reduction goal, based on a complete and verified inventory. While independent, 3rd party-verification is best, it can be expensive. Consider beginning with an internal auditing and assurance process.

WHAT MAKES A STRONG CARBON REDUCTION GOAL?

  • Absolute reductions are important--don't just rely on efficiency improvements to lower carbon-per-product, carbon-per-revenue, or carbon-per employee trends.
  • Consider your company's goals against projected GHG performance in your sector--are you aligned with industry expectations? (And if you are wildly different from your peers, do you have a good reason as to why you are different?)
  • Goals should be achievable within 10-12 years--ambitious enough to need a decade to execute, but not so lofty as to lose touch with reality.
  • Public commitment from a company's executive leadership adds credibility and gravitas to the goal!
  • Make it specific to your company's operations, and beyond "business as usual".

ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS WHEN SETTING CARBON REDUCTION GOALS:

  • Align your goals with what science tells us is necessary for climate-balance. For example, the IPCC recommends reductions of 20-30% by 2020, and 80% by 2050 (from 1990 levels).
  • Frequently review your emissions inventory for completeness, accuracy, and relevance. Determining your carbon footprint boundaries and data sources isn't a one-time process. It should evolve as your company evolves.

Want more information? Check out our carbon footprinting and CDP Reporting services, and download our white paper on the impact of employee commuting on your company's carbon footprint!

Is your sustainability strategy too complicated?

The SSC Team January 3, 2017 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

 Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

You can't be all things to all people, and neither can an effective sustainability strategy. Companies that try to do everything (such as go carbon neutral, hire local, move to 100% telecommuting, redesign products to be zero waste, offer vegan lunch options in the cafeteria, install a rooftop garden, and retrofit the building) lack the focus to make truly meaningful change.

Instead, companies having the most effective sustainability plans are usually laser sharp in their sustainability strategy -- identifying just a couple of key leverage points to guide all subsequent sustainability decisions. That's what we recommend to clients (cover your bases, but choose to excel in one area at a time). 

But even with a straightforward and strategic sustainability plan, sometimes the message to stakeholders gets muddled. So how do you know if you are telling a simple and compelling sustainability story? In a recent article in Fast Company, The 10 Questions Every Brand Should Ask To Ensure It's Simple Enough, author Margaret Molloy gave some great insight. (While she is talking about branding, we think it applies equally well to sustainability communications.) 

Below, we've amended the 10 questions that Molloy poses in order to present them in a sustainability context.

  • Is senior leadership committed to providing a simpler sustainability story?
  • Do I know what our brand’s sustainability purpose is, and is it articulated in a simple, memorable, and inspiring way?
  • Do we have the tools in place to get everyone to consistently deliver on our sustainability purpose?
  • Have we made it as simple as possible to innovate at our company?
  • Is our brand deeply focused on what drives sustainability preference within the market?
  • Are our sustainability messages in sync with the customer experience?
  • Do customers share our view of who we are and what we want to be?
  • Are the sustainability aspects of our products and services clear and easy to navigate?
  • Do we know the sustainability issues where simplicity would be most appreciated and inspire greater loyalty?
  • Do we have a simple road map for the customer journey?

We recommend you read Molloy's entire article for additional insight. It really got us thinking...and we bet it will spark a discussion around your office's water cooler, too.

Thanks to 2degrees for publishing the article on their website!

Need more information on creating a good sustainability strategy?  Read our white paper, Sustainability Change Management:  We've Had the Green Audit, Now What?

 

Is your sustainability story too complicated?

The SSC Team October 20, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

You can't be all things to all people, and neither can an effective sustainability strategy. Companies that try to do everything (such as go carbon neutral, hire local, move to 100% telecommuting, redesign products to be zero waste, offer vegan lunch options in the cafeteria, install a rooftop garden, and retrofit the building) lack the focus to make truly meaningful change.

Instead, companies having the most effective sustainability plans are usually laser sharp in their sustainability strategy -- identifying just a couple of key leverage points to guide all subsequent sustainability decisions. That's what we recommend to clients (cover your bases, but choose to excel in one area at a time). 

But even with a straightforward and strategic sustainability plan, sometimes the message to stakeholders gets muddled. So how do you know if you are telling a simple and compelling sustainability story? In a recent article in Fast Company, The 10 Questions Every Brand Should Ask To Ensure It's Simple Enough, author Margaret Molloy gave some great insight. (While she is talking about branding, we think it applies equally well to sustainability communications.) 

Below, we've amended the 10 questions that Molloy poses in order to present them in a sustainability context.

•  Is senior leadership committed to providing a simpler sustainability story?

•  Do I know what our brand’s sustainability purpose is, and is it articulated in a simple, memorable, and inspiring way?

•  Do we have the tools in place to get everyone to consistently deliver on our sustainability purpose?

•  Have we made it as simple as possible to innovate at our company?

•  Is our brand deeply focused on what drives sustainability preference within the market?

•  Are our sustainability messages in sync with the customer experience?

•  Do customers share our view of who we are and what we want to be?

•  Are the sustainability aspects of our products and services clear and easy to navigate?

•  Do we know the sustainability issues where simplicity would be most appreciated and inspire greater loyalty?

•  Do we have a simple road map for the customer journey?

We recommend you read Molloy's entire article for additional insight. It really got us thinking...and we bet it will spark a discussion around your office's water cooler, too.

Thanks to 2degrees for publishing the article on their website!

Need more information on creating a good sustainability strategy?  Read our white paper, Sustainability Change Management:  We've Had the Green Audit, Now What?

The Trouble with Reducing Air Travel-Related Emissions

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

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

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

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

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

AIR TRAVEL IS CONNECTED TO IMPORTANT EMPLOYEE PERKS

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

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

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

GROWING TELEWORK CAN MEAN INCREASED AIR TRAVEL

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

THE COST OF VIRTUAL MEETINGS IS STILL SIGNIFICANT

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

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

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

The Trouble with Reducing Air Travel-Related Emissions

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

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

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

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

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

AIR TRAVEL IS CONNECTED TO IMPORTANT EMPLOYEE PERKS

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

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

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

GROWING TELEWORK CAN MEAN INCREASED AIR TRAVEL

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

THE COST OF VIRTUAL MEETINGS IS STILL SIGNIFICANT

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

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

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

Test Your Company’s Strategic Sustainability Alignment

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

Integrating sustainability deeply into core business strategy is the only way to build a truly sustainable business.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review broke down the three elements of business alignment: defined long-term purpose, strategic effectiveness, and organizational effectiveness.

Your purpose is your direction - an aspiration to achieve something greater in the world. Strategic effectiveness includes the steps and plans taken to achieve that greater purpose. Organizational effectiveness is the technical, human, physical, and capital resources and capabilities a company has to support the strategy.

As organizations continue to face growing risk posed by climate change, there are many ways they are responding. Some companies “greenwash” or come perilously close, stating sustainability goals in a purpose/mission statement or misleading through relatively meaningless or deceptive sustainability "reports," while not assigning any strategic or organizational resources into actual progress toward a more sustainable business model.

A few organizations develop strategic plans that include aspirational goals and benchmarks along sustainability metrics, but then don’t ever fund the work (think, government).

Other organizations invest money in organizational effectiveness, like focusing heavily on waste reduction to save money and achieving a semblance of sustainable performance as a byproduct of that work, but likely not making any real progress toward reducing impact in a more meaningful way or aspiring for overall organizational sustainability.

Many companies are somewhere in the middle, picking and choosing where to aspire, plan, and invest resources, but alignment is missing across the business as a whole.

Fully integrating sustainability in all three of these areas – purpose, strategy, and organizational effectiveness/resources – is the only way to truly create a sustainable business. And, if you follow the logic of the article’s authors, this will result in a successful business as well.

Are you ready to start on the path of creating a meaningful sustainability strategy?