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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.

A Tale of Two Sustainability Reports – Part 2

The SSC Team February 17, 2015 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

Two weeks ago, we featured an article that highlighted sustainability reports from two of our clients: Chicken of the Sea and PureCircle. Both companies made great strides towards their 2020 sustainability goals and we wanted to feature their achievements.

This week, we wanted to do more of a comparison between the two companies. With both companies operating in the food industry – Chicken of the Sea with canned fish products and PureCircle with stevia – we thought this would be a great opportunity to see how close the companies (and the reports) compare within the same industry!

Chicken of the Sea 

Chicken of the Sea specializes in…

…producing a wide variety of seafood that ranges from frozen to refrigerated to cans, pouches, and cups. While Chicken of the Sea is known for their tuna products, they also produce other seafood items that include oysters, crabmeat, clams, salmon, sardines, shrimp, and more.

Their services relate to sustainability because…

…over-fishing in oceans is becoming a more prominent issue, especially regarding tuna. Chicken of the Sea is doing their best to make sure they are not only responsibly harvesting tuna, but also making sure that their production line is as sustainable as can be. 

These were their sustainability goals:
Chicken of the Sea has five main focus areas for the 2020 goals (against 2012 baseline):

  • Energy – reduce electricity and natural gas use by 20% each
  • Waste – reduce landfill waste by 30%
  • Water – reduce water use by 15%
  • Health & Safety – maintain/reduce safety incidents
  • Supply Chain – audit 90% of seafood procurement spend

 In 2013, Chicken of the Sea saw major strides towards a lot of their goals, but there were three focus areas that really stood out: waste, water, and health & safety. Chicken of the Sea saw a 27.8% reduction in waste, a 12.8% reduction in water use, and a 40% lower incident rate than the previous year, staying on par with their goal.

PureCircle 

PureCircle specializes in…

…producing and innovating the next generation of stevia to be used as sweeteners for the food and beverage industry that help support a natural and healthy lifestyle, such as low and no-calorie sweeteners.

Their services relate to sustainability because…

…even though this is PureCircle’s first sustainability report, sustainability has been engrained in their businesses practices since the beginning. From their operations to their social commitments, PureCircle has made sure to be socially and environmentally responsible by having sustainability policies in place. 

These were their sustainability goals:

On the environmental side, PureCircle has four main 2020 goals (against 2011 baseline):

  • Reduce carbon intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce energy intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce water intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Eliminate waste across farming and processing operations with zero waste to landfill

So far, PureCircle is on course to meet all of their goals, with one goal – energy intensity – already exceeding the original goal by reducing intensity by 42%.

On the social side of PureCircle’s sustainability goals, the company hopes to:

  • Support 100,000 small-scale farmers with sustainable agriculture policies
  • Ensure 100% traceability from gate to individual farm

PureCircle is working and engaging with small-scale farmers on issues such as food security, biodiversity, waste reduction, and fertilizer application to help improve not only the stevia plants, but to enrich the lives of the farmers as well.

Regardless of whether it was the first or third report, what makes both of these sustainability reports strong is the incorporation of a materiality assessment. By completing the assessment, both companies were able to see what is not only what is considered important to the company, but also to their stakeholders, allowing each company to tailor their reports to fit their needs the best.

Curious about how a SSC sustainability report might look like? Check out our previous reports here!

How to Engage Employees in your Carbon Management Strategy

The SSC Team February 10, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

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

If your CEO walked down the hallways of your organization and popped his or her head into a dozen offices, how many people would be able to answer these questions?

  • What are the key business activities driving our carbon footprint?
  • How has our carbon footprint changed over the last five years?
  • How is your department contributing to our corporate emissions profile?

If you're like 99% of other businesses, you probably have not been engaging employees on the issues of climate change, carbon emissions, and greenhouse gas reduction. At least -- not in a meaningful way. If the main answer you get from employees is, "we turn off the lights and shut down our computers at night," you are missing the boat. There is a much bigger role for employees to play and by fully engaging them on the topic, your organization can reap big benefits.

There are dozens of articles and guides on how to engage employees in sustainability -- and we've listed some of the best below. What we want to talk about today, however, are the three things that MUST be present in order for people to change their behavior. Want to get people on board with your carbon reduction goals? Can't figure out why staff can't remember to shut off the lights when they leave? Keen to encourage more "out of the box" thinking around carbon management? Here's what they need:

1. Motivation

Employees need to have a reason to participate. Because not all people are motivated by the same things, smart companies must provide multiple "motivators." Some of our favorites:

Create simple prompts -- put up signs, posters, and quick tips where they are highly visible. This can be in the hallways, on the company intranet, or in regular email communications.
Use social pressure -- studies have shown that people are more likely to participate in a workplace initiative if a colleague asks them to do it. Consider having "carbon leaders" spread throughout the company that can encourage engagement in a 1-on-1 setting.
Appeal to emotion and identity -- tie your plea into larger themes and values. For some companies, carbon management will be a natural fit with their core values (e.g. people at Google seem to naturally resonate with "green" themes). Other companies will make it more about the individual employee.

2. Ability

Staff needs the skills, confidence, and knowledge required to contribute. With any initiative, during the planning phase you need to ask yourself these questions:

Do people know what is expected of them? How will we ensure that employees are educated about the initiative and their role in it?
Do we need to provide training to specific personnel in order for this initiative to be effective? Who needs a higher level of knowledge to help it run smoothly?
Do people have the self-confidence to engage? What kind of encouragement or support do we need to provide so that people enthusiastically participate with the knowledge that they can do the job well?

3. Opportunity

Workers need the resources, relationships, and environmental conditions that allow their engagement to flourish. There are three general strategies that work here:

Empower employees: Involve them in project governance. Let on-the-ground employees determine project goals, strategies, and the tools needed to do the job. Be transparent through all areas of the project, so that everyone participating can see how it's progressing in real time. 
Strengthen social capital: Get people from different areas of the company together, both in large groups (i.e. weak ties) and smaller, more intimate ways (i.e. building bonds). When people build relationships across the organization, they are more likely to see opportunities to contribute to your carbon management initiatives.
Change the environment: Move people around, relocate the recycling bins, allow once-a-week telecommuting. Get people out of their usual workday rut and see what happens!

Want more?

Here are some of our favorite employee engagement resources:

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

A Tale of Two Sustainability Reports

The SSC Team February 5, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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By: Alexandra Kueller

Imagine our excitement when we discovered that not one, but two of our clients in the food industry were releasing their sustainability reports on the same day. This got us thinking, How can comparing these two reports help our community? We discovered that the patterns and differences can be translated across industries to help you understand what makes a good sustainability report whether it is your first time or third.

Chicken of the Sea is the nation's leading producer of packaged seafood, producing tuna, salmon, shrimp and more, and they are published their third report. PureCircle is a producer of stevia and natural sweeteners for the global food and beverage market, and they just published their first report.

Below we explore the highlights of the two reports:

Chicken of the Sea

In their third year of reporting, Chicken of the Sea continued to make progress towards their 2020 sustainability goals (2012 baseline). Chicken of the Sea has five main focus areas for their 2020 goals:

  • Energy – reduce electricity and natural gas use by 20% each
  • Waste – reduce landfill waste by 30%
  • Water – reduce water use by 15%
  • Health & Safety – maintain/reduce safety incidents
  • Supply Chain – audit 90% of seafood procurement spend

In 2013, Chicken of the Sea saw major strides towards a lot of their goals, but there were three focus areas that really stood out: waste, water, and health & safety.

Chicken of the Sea made a concerted effort in 2013 to reduce waste that went into the landfill, and it paid off nicely: Chicken of the Sea saw a 27.8% reduction in waste. Not only did the waste focus area see a huge reduction, but so did the water focus area as well. With the goal of 15% reduction, Chicken of the Sea reduced water use by 12.8% by installing new water-saving technology. Finally, Chicken of the Sea saw a 40% lower incident rate than the previous year, staying on par with their goal.

PureCircle

Even though this is PureCircle’s first sustainability report, sustainability has been engrained in their business practices since the beginning. This past year, though, they wanted to increase their transparency. Their first report did an excellent job at outlining their environmental and social commitments, and how those commitments align with their 2020 Sustainability Intensity Goals.

On the environmental side, PureCircle has four main 2020 goals (against 2011 baseline):

  • Reduce carbon intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce energy intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce water intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Eliminate waste across farming and processing operations with zero waste to landfill

So far, PureCircle is on course to meet all of their goals, with one goal (energy intensity) already exceeding the original goal by reducing intensity by 42%.

On the social side of PureCircle’s sustainability goals, the company hopes to:

  • Support 100,000 small-scale farmers with sustainable agriculture policies
  • Ensure 100% traceability from gate to individual farm

PureCircle is working and engaging with small-scale farmers on issues such as food security, biodiversity, waste reduction, and fertilizer application to help improve not only the stevia plants, but to enrich the lives of the farmers as well.

Curious about how a SSC sustainability report might look like? Check out our previous reports here!

4 Keys to Thinking about the Future of Sustainability

The SSC Team February 3, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Here is a blog entry from last year that we thought would be worth another look. Enjoy!

At SSC, we often look to thought leaders and successful CEOs to give us inspiration and we are rarely disappointed in what we find.  In the Harvard Business Review article, Four Keys to Thinking About the Future, author Jeffrey Gedmin offers four ideas to help leaders see into the future. We thought his points below were great, and applied them to sustainability strategy and planning.

1. ENHANCE YOUR POWER OF OBSERVATION.

"For starters, be empirical and always be sure you’re working with the fullest data set possible when making judgments and discerning trends. Careful listening, a lost art in today’s culture of certitude and compulsive pontificating, can help us distinguish the signal from the noise."

Listen to your stakeholders -- both your supporters and your critics. Listen to the language they are using. Investigate their claims.  Ask them for clarification when you don't fully understand what they are saying, and make them be specific. You don't have to respond to every request or complaint that you get, but having an open mind will allow you to spot trends and notice opportunities you might otherwise miss.

2. APPRECIATE THE VALUE OF BEING (A LITTLE) ASOCIAL.

"I’m convinced that a company culture that encourages curiosity is vitally important... Curiosity keeps us learning and helps us, like the virtue of patience, to see the hidden, or understand the unexplained."

Don't put all your eggs in one basket -- experiment, pilot, and test sustainability initiatives in small increments. Find a risk level that's comfortable for you and play around a bit. Ask the question "why?"... a lot.  Find ways to help your colleagues get curious about sustainability and its impact on their job functions.

3. STUDY HISTORY.

"I think you study history to study human nature, the human condition, and human behavior. This is the realm of patterns, but also — frustratingly and fascinatingly — of infinite complexity and unpredictability."

Revisit the sustainability initiatives that failed or were rejected by management and ask some questions. What are the systemic factors that are keeping your sustainability strategy from reaching its full potential? What lessons from other departments and initiatives can inform your approach? Are there examples that you can draw on from other industries, or other parts of your supply chain? Sustainability challenges are rarely unique, and in most cases you can find answers (or parts of answers) if you look around and notice who's been in a similar situation before.

4. LEARN TO DEAL WITH AMBIGUITY.

"Whether it’s nature or nurture, most of us seem hard-wired to sort the world into simple binary choices. Alas, there’s often lots of grey out there."

What impact is climate change going to have on your business? How is a growing income disparity going to affect your market share? When will tighter regulation on your supply chain partners start impacting your pricing model? You will find that the true answer to these questions is, "I don't know." Sustainability is so complex that it is often impossible to accurately predict the future. So effective sustainability leaders must learn to successfully deal with ambiguity. Using systems thinking, applying sustainability principles ("reduce reliance on fossil fuels") rather than prescriptive rules ("install solar") will help sustainability leaders stay flexible and open to the best opportunities when they present themselves down the road.

Thanks to Environmental Leader for publishing a version of this article on their website!

SSC helps companies develop sustainability strategies that are relevant today, AND sets a course for the future. If you'd like some assistance creating or refining your sustainability roadmap, please contact us. We'd love to help.

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.