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Closing the Gap Between Sustainability Strategy and Execution

The SSC Team June 2, 2016 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives. 

The implication is obvious — strategists and executors must work together better to bridge these two worlds. It's common sense. Unfortunately, it's far from common practice. What typically happens is an awkward hand-off between the two. In the worst cases the strategists adopt an elitist, disconnected mindset: We're the idea people, someone else will make it happen. They don't bother to truly understand what it takes to implement the ideas. They don't engage the executors early and ask, "How will this actually work?" The executors contribute to the trouble as well. Often they don't truly understand the thinking behind the strategy. They take it at face value and don't ask enough tough questions.

-- Doug Sundheim, Harvard Business Review

We've been reading a long list of awesome leadership articles lately--and this one, Closing the Chasm Between Strategy and Execution  is one that we keep coming back to. Why? Because one of the biggest challenges in sustainability consulting is helping client jump from developing a sustainability strategy to actually implementing the plan.

We highly recommend that you read the whole article (and the comments--many of which highlight additional angles to the problem), but we'd like to solely focus on the qualities of great strategists and executors. (And in many cases, the same person is playing both sides of the field, so he or she needs to think about the full list!)

THE BEST SUSTAINABILITY STRATEGISTS BELIEVE:

  • If I can't see and articulate how we're actually going to make this strategy work, it probably won't work. 
  • While it's painful to integrate execution planning into my strategizing, it's even more painful to watch my strategies fail. 
  • Sounding smart is overrated. Doing smart is where the real value lies. 
  • I'm just as responsible for strong execution as the executor is. 

THE BEST SUSTAINABILITY EXECUTORS BELIEVE: 

  • I need to be involved in the strategy process early -- even if that means I have to artfully push my way into it. 
  • I need to be perceived as relevant and valuable to the strategy process. 
  • I need to know the "whys" behind the strategy. 
  • I'm just as responsible for strong strategy as the strategist is 

If you're stuck somewhere between sustainability strategy and implementation, consider which of these beliefs aren't rock solid within your team. And start shoring them up--because otherwise, everyone will become dissatisfied. 

A final parting thought from Sundheim: You can see a clear thread of responsibility running throughout all the beliefs above. Not responsibility for a given task, but rather responsibility for the not-given tasks — the messy spots in the middle where it's not clear who should own something. The best strategists, executors, and leaders stand up and say, "I'm responsible for it" even if it isn't in their job description. It's doubly powerful when both strategists and executors do this, meeting in the middle. That's true collaborative leadership. When these spots go unwatched, un-owned, and unaddressed, they bring down projects and eventually whole companies. 

If you liked this article, sign up for our monthly e-newsletter, where we curate the best insight about sustainability leadership, change management, and employee engagement.

Closing the Gap Between Sustainability Strategy and Execution

The SSC Team June 2, 2016 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives. 

The implication is obvious — strategists and executors must work together better to bridge these two worlds. It's common sense. Unfortunately, it's far from common practice. What typically happens is an awkward hand-off between the two. In the worst cases the strategists adopt an elitist, disconnected mindset: We're the idea people, someone else will make it happen. They don't bother to truly understand what it takes to implement the ideas. They don't engage the executors early and ask, "How will this actually work?" The executors contribute to the trouble as well. Often they don't truly understand the thinking behind the strategy. They take it at face value and don't ask enough tough questions.

-- Doug Sundheim, Harvard Business Review

We've been reading a long list of awesome leadership articles lately--and this one, Closing the Chasm Between Strategy and Execution  is one that we keep coming back to. Why? Because one of the biggest challenges in sustainability consulting is helping client jump from developing a sustainability strategy to actually implementing the plan.

We highly recommend that you read the whole article (and the comments--many of which highlight additional angles to the problem), but we'd like to solely focus on the qualities of great strategists and executors. (And in many cases, the same person is playing both sides of the field, so he or she needs to think about the full list!)

THE BEST SUSTAINABILITY STRATEGISTS BELIEVE:

  • If I can't see and articulate how we're actually going to make this strategy work, it probably won't work. 
  • While it's painful to integrate execution planning into my strategizing, it's even more painful to watch my strategies fail. 
  • Sounding smart is overrated. Doing smart is where the real value lies. 
  • I'm just as responsible for strong execution as the executor is. 

THE BEST SUSTAINABILITY EXECUTORS BELIEVE: 

  • I need to be involved in the strategy process early -- even if that means I have to artfully push my way into it. 
  • I need to be perceived as relevant and valuable to the strategy process. 
  • I need to know the "whys" behind the strategy. 
  • I'm just as responsible for strong strategy as the strategist is 

If you're stuck somewhere between sustainability strategy and implementation, consider which of these beliefs aren't rock solid within your team. And start shoring them up--because otherwise, everyone will become dissatisfied. 

A final parting thought from Sundheim: You can see a clear thread of responsibility running throughout all the beliefs above. Not responsibility for a given task, but rather responsibility for the not-given tasks — the messy spots in the middle where it's not clear who should own something. The best strategists, executors, and leaders stand up and say, "I'm responsible for it" even if it isn't in their job description. It's doubly powerful when both strategists and executors do this, meeting in the middle. That's true collaborative leadership. When these spots go unwatched, un-owned, and unaddressed, they bring down projects and eventually whole companies. 

If you liked this article, sign up for our monthly e-newsletter, where we curate the best insight about sustainability leadership, change management, and employee engagement.

Why “Going Green” is Worth the Effort

The SSC Team May 26, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

SSC President, Jennifer Woofter, was featured in an article about the corporate benefits of sustainability.

“As manufacturers begin to unravel the complexities of corporate social responsibility, they’re finding that it’s made up of much more than simply going green.'...Despite this, many manufacturers are taking CSR seriously because of the litany of influences they do face — not least of which is pressure from their big customer and business partners, who are increasingly viewing CSR programs as an expectation, not an option. And from a consumer standpoint, transparency and accountability has become a significant factor in improving brand loyalty, no matter the industry.”

Woofter weighed in on the sustainability discussion by offering some key components of sustainability practices and why it’s worth the effort.

"Most suppliers and customers simply want manufacturers to take some steps forward in reducing the way their businesses infringe upon the environment or the rights of others. People don’t want, or expect, perfection,” she says. “What they want is to believe that you are doing your part to solve the problem.”

Woofter believes that, although any company can benefit by the improved reputation that comes along with a CSR program, she cautions businesses to be certain they understand the FTC guidelines on green marketing.

“While the FTC rules on green marketing can seem overwhelming, the message to manufacturers is simple: don’t make vague claims that you can’t back up,” explains Woofter.

If you're just getting started in sustainability, we have the experience and resources to ensure your programs are meaningful, manageable and strategically aligned. Contact us to talk about a green audit, the first step toward sustainability strategy.

 

Why “Going Green” is Worth the Effort

The SSC Team May 26, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

SSC President, Jennifer Woofter, was featured in an article about the corporate benefits of sustainability.

“As manufacturers begin to unravel the complexities of corporate social responsibility, they’re finding that it’s made up of much more than simply going green.'...Despite this, many manufacturers are taking CSR seriously because of the litany of influences they do face — not least of which is pressure from their big customer and business partners, who are increasingly viewing CSR programs as an expectation, not an option. And from a consumer standpoint, transparency and accountability has become a significant factor in improving brand loyalty, no matter the industry.”

Woofter weighed in on the sustainability discussion by offering some key components of sustainability practices and why it’s worth the effort.

"Most suppliers and customers simply want manufacturers to take some steps forward in reducing the way their businesses infringe upon the environment or the rights of others. People don’t want, or expect, perfection,” she says. “What they want is to believe that you are doing your part to solve the problem.”

Woofter believes that, although any company can benefit by the improved reputation that comes along with a CSR program, she cautions businesses to be certain they understand the FTC guidelines on green marketing.

“While the FTC rules on green marketing can seem overwhelming, the message to manufacturers is simple: don’t make vague claims that you can’t back up,” explains Woofter.

If you're just getting started in sustainability, we have the experience and resources to ensure your programs are meaningful, manageable and strategically aligned. Contact us to talk about a green audit, the first step toward sustainability strategy.

 

Sustainability Strategy Isn’t a Checklist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How Do Sustainability Reports Change Over Time?

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

Enjoy this post from the SSC blog archives. 

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

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

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

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

 

Three Steps to a Credible Sustainability Strategy

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

Enjoy this post from the SSC blog archives. 

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

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

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

Step 1: Create a clear strategy statement:

Step 2: Develop realistic and substantial programs: 

Step 3: Reporting! Share performance metrics:

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


Don’t get caught – Create a calendar to manage sustainability deadlines

The SSC Team December 29, 2015 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Another new year is fast approaching. Soon it will be time to start looking back on last year's sustainability performance, assessing, reporting, and making plans. But now is the time for looking forward, and the time for making those New Year's resolutions. Here's one: work smarter in 2016. Check out this post from the SSC archives with one smart idea. 

In March 2012, 29 companies got caught shirking their sustainability commitments. Could you be next?

In this 3-minute video, SSC President Jennifer Woofter explains the challenge of managing corporate sustainability obligations, and an easy solution for keeping abreast of all the sustainability deadlines that loom throughout the year.

If you'd like help cataloging your company's sustainability obligations into an effective project management format that will keep you ahead of the deadline, please contact Strategic Sustainability Consulting today. One of our sustainability consultants will walk you through the options that will work best for your situation.

If your investors are assessing your climate risk, shouldn’t you be?

The SSC Team November 12, 2015 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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This summer, 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.

More evidence that you should wait to act on sustainability

The SSC Team October 22, 2015 Tags: , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the blog archives. 

We wrote, “Why You Should Wait to Act On Sustainability” for Environmental Leader. The comments were...interesting, and showed that there was a lot of disagreement about the premise to move more slowly and thoughtfully on corporate sustainability initiatives. But we're sticking to our guns- and we’re very pleased to see more evidence that supports our position.

In the Inc. article, “How to Make Better Decisions: Slow Down”, author Jessica Stillman provides a great round-up of some of the best thinking and ideas regarding fast vs. slow decision-making. Here are some of the highlights:

In their new book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, brothers and academics Chip (of Stanford Graduate School of Business) and Dan Heath (of Duke) explore how to eliminate biases and improve the quality of our decisions. One of the biggest decision-making mistakes they tackle is our tendency not to waffle but to decide too quickly. Stanford's Re:Think newsletter explains that the authors devote a considerable portion of the book to the idea of widening your options, advice that may seem at odds with the very definition of decision making. 

This is huge insight for sustainability practitioners, who should remember that one of the best ways to widen your options is to engage with stakeholders along the value chain. Don't just ask your green team to come up with great ideas -- ask your suppliers, your customers, your contractors, and your investors. 

The goal, in other words, isn't to go fast and eliminate options. It's to slow down and add them. So how do you accomplish this? The key, the authors say, is taking the time to gather information and alternatives. Using devil’s advocates, asking people who have solved similar problems, gathering relevant statistics, and soliciting the advice of friends and family members can all help.

While you're gathering all of this information, it can be helpful to have a structured process in order to capture insights for later review. After all, it's easy to lose track of who said what, emerging themes and where they are coming from, and ideas worth following up on. So take some time BEFORE you begin your decision-making process to think about how you will engage, and how you'll manage the inflow of information.

You might object that today's market moves too fast for such lollygagging. But Heath replies that considering less information rarely actually saves time, either because we make bad decisions (and then stick with the path we've chosen long after we should abandon it) or because we waste time anyway waffling over limited data and alternatives.

Yes! Based upon our sustainability consulting experience, we have found that taking the time to gather lots of options has allowed our clients to make confident decisions and execute them fully -- rather than make half-cocked initiatives that get only partial support or just lip service.

The Heath brothers aren't the only people warning leaders not to be seduced by quick decision making, of course. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman wrote a whole best-selling book on the limitations of quick thinking called, appropriately, Thinking, Fast and Slow. If you haven't picked it up yet, it's well worth a read in full and is packed with examples of how our knee-jerk decision-making machinery can lead us astray, as well as techniques to short-circuit bias. But for the quick-and-dirty summary, look to Harvard Business Review, which offers this article on one technique, the premortem, and another article by Kahneman himself outlining the basics of why quick decision making is often bad decision making

So what do you think? Leave a comment here, or join the conversation on Twitter