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The limits of national politics in driving renewable energy

The SSC Team January 24, 2017 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

A lot of people in the sustainability field, whether as consultants, advocates, or managers are asking themselves: How will the new presidential administration in the U.S. affect the “green” economy?

In the months leading up to his inauguration, the incoming president called climate change a “hoax,” announced plans to dismantle the EPA, and vocally denounced U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Accords.

Although it is disconcerting, dangerous, and misinformed to marginalize global climate change, we are fairly certain that corporations engaging in meaningful sustainability strategy, renewable energy innovation, and green investing across global markets will continue to rise.

Business itself is driving much of the demand for renewables. Consumers want sustainable products. Innovators are always looking for the newest mousetrap. And in our wired world, innovation means more energy efficiency across industries from national defense to personal electronics to keep costs down and power up.

The Renewable Energy Sector Will Continue to Grow

In fact, three of the incoming cabinet members have already distanced themselves from the official White House positions. The marketplace and our international partners and competitors are seeing the advantages of investing in renewable energy, from decreased energy dependency to creating new jobs.

Whether or not the president changes his mind on climate change or sustainability, the market will continue to drive us toward a greener future. Sustainability is the driver of innovation in 2017, and there’s no going back on that. 

The Business Case for Sustainability

The SSC Team January 12, 2017 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives. 

Each year we try and start fresh, assuming that our potential clients may be learning about sustainability strategy from a practical implementation standpoint for the very first time.

Even though this post is from our archives, this webinar presented by, SSC President Jennifer Woofter called "The Business Case for Sustainability" presented to the DC chapter of Net Impact a few years back is a great primer on  how to identify, calculate, and prioritize social and environmental benefits to organizations.

We recorded the session, and you can watch it here! 

Some people still think that implementing sustainability might be great for the company's image, but bad for its bottom line. Nothing could be further from the truth, and you will learn how sustainability makes both Sense and Cents. 

Over the course of the webinar we will identify key areas where "going green" can pay off, calculate basic savings opportunities for energy, water, transportation and other issues, and understand basic financial models for calculating return on investment (ROI). We will also discuss how to value a company's reputation, brand image, and stakeholder relationships, as well as how to reduce certain costs borne by the company. We will focus on the following areas and demonstrate with real-life case studies: 

  • Economic: Promoting business excellence and maintaining the highest ethical standards 
  • Social: Engaging with community and exemplifying corporate responsibility 
  • Environmental: Employing green building practices and minimizing carbon emissions

 If you found this webinar helpful, you may also want to check out our white paper, Sustainability Through the Value Chain.  For a complimentary conversation about the topics in the webinar or white paper, please contact us.

Sustainability Progress Check: Manufacturing Firms in the Architecture and Engineering Industry – Sustainability Lessons from ArchitectureBoston Expo (ABX)

The SSC Team January 5, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

In November, we headed out to ArchitectureBoston Expo (ABX) to get the pulse on sustainability from the perspective of architects, engineers, builders, contractors, manufacturers, and other AEC professionals. We spoke to dozens of representatives from the more than 400 exhibitors about sustainability programs, sustainability strategy, and what they think of it all.

Our conversations resulted in two really great questions:

Additionally, we took extra time and conducted a survey specifically targeted at companies that manufacture products (as opposed to service providers and distributors) used in the AEC field to delve deeper into what types of companies are doing what types of sustainability programs and why.

We gathered survey results from 30 manufacturers ranging in size from 1-10 employees to 550+ employees to gauge their sustainability performance and pressure from stakeholders. Exactly ⅓ of the respondents are doing little to no work in sustainability - not tracking any metrics other than those required by law and, in most cases, offering LEED credits. On the flip side, ⅓ have completed full sustainability reports and many had done EPDs, HPDs, and/or LCAs or carbon footprints for their core business. The remaining ⅓ was - obviously - somewhere in the middle, having a largely uncoordinated sustainability program that has been pieced together based on stakeholder pressure - certifications, submitting energy or water or supply chain data based on customer requests.

Essentially, the industry seemed evenly split with regard to tracking sustainability information, but as predicted, the companies with the most employees and most visible global brands are doing the most work and completing more comprehensive analysis - and seeing financial returns on their sustainability efforts. The larger the company, the more resources to dedicate to sustainability, the more they benefit.

However, companies across the board reported that they were feeling pressure from stakeholders - whether architects or builders or developers - to report more thoroughly on sustainability. More than 42 percent of respondents said they have been asked for carbon footprint data, LCA, and/or HPDs/EPDs in the past year. Nearly 30 percent of respondents have been asked for specific data points - water use, supply chain certifications, energy use, and/or waste information. An additional 7 percent have been asked by shareholders or clients for a full sustainability report.

Although stakeholders are asking for information, very few draw hard lines when the information isn’t readily available, with companies noting that the frequency of being asked for the information is increasing, but they have yet to feel a negative effect for not having the information on hand.

The question is: When will the critical tipping point be reached when an LCA or EPD or HPD be required as a standard part of an RFP for a major construction project, and will the ⅔ of companies with little to no comprehensive data be ready in time to be competitive on the project?

The average GRI-compliant sustainability report, an HPD or EPD, or a comprehensive, third-party verified life-cycle assessment can take more than six months to complete, start to finish. And the investment in a sustainability project for a small to medium sized manufacturing firm can range from tens of thousands of dollars to 10-times that amount...

So what should your company do? 

We believe it’s time for companies to build a sustainability reporting strategy into the overall operating budget so all of the reporting mechanisms and comprehensive data are on-hand when that critical tipping point is reached.

The next questions are:

  • What type of reporting should your business be focused on?
  • What should you budget for sustainability?
  • How do you use the sustainability tools to your competitive advantage?

Luckily, with more than 10 years’ experience in the field, we can answer all of these questions for you in less than it cost to attend ABX in the first place.

We encourage all of our potential clients to invest in training for their employees so they understand the advantages of strategic sustainability implementation, the material issues for the industry segment you compete in, what your peers are doing, and how you can take a leadership role in sustainability through effective planning.

Instead of engaging us for a year-long life-cycle assessment project, when you really just need an EPD or to start your first annual sustainability report, take advantage of our 1-Day Sustainability Assessment and Rapid-Decision Making Workshop. For a fraction of the cost of your sustainability program, we will guide you and your team through

  • Sustainability 101
  • Give you our recommendations for the best-course for your company
  • Facilitate a rapid-decision making discussion to further narrow down a path forward that meets your company's needs, budget, resources, and goals. 

We'd love to hear from you! Check out our full service offerings and submit a contact form and we'll be happy to schedule a 15-minute phone call to help you clarify next steps on your sustainability journey.

 

 

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?

 

3 Ways to Engage Suppliers on Sustainability

The SSC Team November 15, 2016 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

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.

 

A Deeper Look at Sustainable Supply Chain Challenges

The SSC Team November 8, 2016 Tags: , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

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.

 

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?

EPA and Waste Management Webinar Recap: Putting a Price Tag On Emissions Reduction

The SSC Team August 16, 2016 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Last Tuesday, GreenBiz hosted the first in a two part webinar series on the emissions impact of recycling and Sustainable Materials Management (SMM).

SMM can be generally described as active management of a product’s life cycle to reach sustainability aims.

The webinar began with an overview of the EPA’s work on SMM/LCA advocacy. Essentially, the EPA sees its role as advancing LCA and SMM as integral business practices. Because LCA and supply-chain work is so crucial to truly moving the bar on reducing emissions, it’s heartening to know that the EPA has made this a priority in their policy, oversight, and research work.

From lifecycle to the trash

After the EPA presentation, the talk shifted from life-cycle studies directly to the end of the life cycle and the work of Waste Management, the American comprehensive waste and environmental services company. Waste Management has undertaken a massive effort calculate the actual dollar cost of reducing emissions waste by method of disposal.

As a side note, the presenters did not do a great job of clearly making this transition from LCA work to emissions reduction cost calculating. But, it seems that the overall point was two-fold:

1.     Most organizations look at their carbon footprint – which is business operations – and what comes up most commonly is that the largest emissions source for most businesses is energy use. So, companies focus on energy reductions initiatives, essentially passing their product emissions - natural resources, product use, and product disposal –  onto suppliers and consumers. This needs to stop. More organization need to look up and down a product’s life cycle to really engineer, source and plan in ways that reduce the overall impact of the entire product to move the bar on sustainability.

2.     As organizations begin to engineer products with a focus on SMM, it would be helpful to know the GHG emissions resulting in end of life (i.e. GHG emissions of landfilling versus single-stream recycling) and the cost in real dollars of each of the processing methods. That’s where Waste Management stepped in.

Waste Management’s work calculating the price of reducing GHGs in the waste management industry delivers a cost per ton of GHG emissions through various waste processing techniques. (The most reduction for the lowest cost goes to – residential and commercial single-stream recycling!)

The Waste Management process, prioritization, and graphical representation on how they calculated cost/benefit is pretty fantastic. Definitely consider downloading the slides.

But questions remain.

How can organizations and policymakers work to reduce the cost of the other types of GHG emissions reduction technologies (e.g. anaerobic digesters)? Is there talk about subsidizing them? How can businesses be incentivized to use materials that can be sent into the low-emissions/low-cost single-stream recycling category and/or eliminate materials that can’t? Is there talk about banning certain materials? Are there waste processing technologies that need research funding that provide low-cost emissions reduction?  

Calculating cost and cost benefit is important from an engineering standpoint, but only if your organization is somehow incentivized or driven to engineer with the life cycle in mind. Without pressure – regulatory or otherwise- companies are still largely driven by the biggest incentive of all: producing products for the lowest actual cost and passing any environmental costs onto the planet, via the consumer.

Listen to the recap here, and log in today at 1pm Eastern for the second webcast, Setting Goals: Have We Reached the Limits of Recycling?, where presenters look at SMM through waste reduction efforts and give guidance on how to set effective waste reduction and recycling goals.

Are you ready to take a more advanced approach to understanding and reducing impact through a product life-cycle assessment? Check out our LCA overview information and contact us for a brief discussion of the benefits and challenges. 

 

Best of the Blog for July 2016

The SSC Team July 28, 2016 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Each month, we highlight some of our more popular content on the SSC blog!

In case you missed them, here's a round-up of our most popular blog posts from this past month. These are the articles that received the most attention from our online audience. Check them out! 

  1. Free Learning Resources for Aspiring Sustainability Professionals
  2. Welcoming the New ASTM Standards
  3. Test Your Company's Strategic Sustainability Alignment
  4. Best Practices for Virtual Teams
  5. Closing the Gap Between Sustainability Strategy and Execution

If you like an article, please consider sharing it online via your favorite social media platform. Helping us grow our audience is the #1 way you can show your support for the work that we do.

Turning a Profit on Sustainability: Are Target, Ikea, Nike, and Unilever Just Engaging in Greenwashing 2.0?

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

For the past few years, global consultancies GlobeScan and SustainAbility have surveyed 900 sustainability professionals to evaluate which companies have best integrated sustainability into their corporate strategy.

Not surprising, Unilever held the top spot again for the sixth straight year for its leading-edge sustainability performance and strategy. Joining Unilever on the list were a number of high profile consumer brands, like Patagonia, IKEA, Tesla, Coca-Cola, and Nike, among others.

These companies, and others including Target, Whole Foods, and GE, are making loads of money through their sales of legitimately sustainable products and/or practices.

But let’s not put them on a pedestal just yet. Just because a company is strategic, and just because a billion-dollar portion of their income comes from sustainably produced products, does not mean they are even close to being truly sustainable – with sustainability defined as mitigating the social and environmental effects of their business operations throughout the entire product life cycle, from corporate management, to production, waste, distribution, operations, and disposal.

There are a number of the problems in confusing sustainable products with sustainable companies.

First, there are the temporal tradeoffs in sustainability.

Second, there is the idea that segmenting a business from its products, and declaring that business sustainable is somehow possible. Holding up organizations against a better framework of measure is needed, and providing more transparency on sustainability metrics should be mandated to help educate consumers, not just market to them.

Similar to the recent changes in the nutritional labeling practices to educate consumers on their actual sugar consumption, the emergence of a better way than a “survey of how sustainability consultants feel” or even jargon-filled GRI reports buried on a corporate website, needs to become the norm.

Certifying organizations need to talk about what percentage of a business must be sustainable for the entire organization to be considered sustainable. Can companies make chemicals for agriculture that help reduce water, and chemicals for warfare and still be considered sustainable? Can a manufacturer make one line of sustainable home goods, yet deliver products with a 3-year lifespan and no ability to be recycled and still be sustainable? Can a retail outlet sell reusable water bottles and Styrofoam cups in the same store and still be considered a model for consumer sustainability?

In the end, we know as sustainability consultants and professionals that, even though Unilever is the model for integration of sustainable practices in their business, and even though we love what Patagonia and IKEA and others are doing to make meaningful changes for environmental and social good, we are a long way from true “sustainability.”

Many of these consumer brands continue to capitalize on the consumer desire for “green” products, and are still pushing the cyclical, disposable, must-have-the-latest-trend consumerist behaviors that result in waste.  

Unless an organization is net zero or net negative, then it really cannot be considered “sustainable.” And as consultants, professionals, marketers, and executives, if we continue to pat each other on the back too loudly for our sustainable milestones, or sustainable strategies, or sustainable product lines, we may confuse consumers into believing our work is nearly finished.