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Tag Sustainability

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. 

Welcoming the New ASTM Standards for Manufacturing Processes

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

At SSC, we have been calculating environmental impact in manufacturing processes using process flow diagramming for years. When conducting life-cycle assessments, process-flow diagramming provides a visual and a data-based representation of every input and output in a manufacturing process to achieve the most accurate results. 

But mapping manufacturing processes becomes difficult because of the wide variety of technologies, inputs, outflows, variations inside of a single facility or lack of information from upstream or downstream. Additionally, the standards and software tools used to calculate processes can vary in their accuracy and be limited in their flexibility, unable to adapt to a wide variety of industries.

Complexity is par for the course when determining environmental impact of a manufacturing process.

The newly released ASTM International standard for calculating the environmental aspects of manufacturing processes (ASTM E3012-16), developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), promises to be a step forward in guiding sustainability professionals through a systematic and more comprehensive, yet flexible, way to calculate environmental impacts based on a graphical process-flow modeling.

NIST systems engineer Kevin Lyons, who chaired the ASTM committee that developed the manufacturing sustainability standard, describes it as similar as tracking financials. “You have to gather income and expenditure data, run the numbers and then use the results to make smart process changes — savings, cutbacks, streamlining, etc. — that will optimize your monthly budget,” he said. “We designed ASTM E3012-16 to let manufacturers virtually characterize their production processes as computer models, and then, using a standardized method, “plug and play” the environmental data for each process step to visualize impacts and identify areas for improving overall sustainability of the system.”

The updated database will help standardize terminology and structure of mapping and reporting manufacturing process impact, reducing complexity in mapping manufacturing processes, and thereby helping companies fully and accurately understand environmental impacts and work toward reducing them.

Are you ready to begin your product life-cycle assessment? Contact us for a quick briefing on whether your company would benefit most from a highly detailed analysis to broad-strokes, baseline assessment. Understanding your impact may not be as big of an investment as you might think.

 

 

 

Welcoming the New ASTM Standards for Manufacturing Processes

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

At SSC, we have been calculating environmental impact in manufacturing processes using process flow diagramming for years. When conducting life-cycle assessments, process-flow diagramming provides a visual and a data-based representation of every input and output in a manufacturing process to achieve the most accurate results. 

But mapping manufacturing processes becomes difficult because of the wide variety of technologies, inputs, outflows, variations inside of a single facility or lack of information from upstream or downstream. Additionally, the standards and software tools used to calculate processes can vary in their accuracy and be limited in their flexibility, unable to adapt to a wide variety of industries.

Complexity is par for the course when determining environmental impact of a manufacturing process.

The newly released ASTM International standard for calculating the environmental aspects of manufacturing processes (ASTM E3012-16), developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), promises to be a step forward in guiding sustainability professionals through a systematic and more comprehensive, yet flexible, way to calculate environmental impacts based on a graphical process-flow modeling.

NIST systems engineer Kevin Lyons, who chaired the ASTM committee that developed the manufacturing sustainability standard, describes it as similar as tracking financials. “You have to gather income and expenditure data, run the numbers and then use the results to make smart process changes — savings, cutbacks, streamlining, etc. — that will optimize your monthly budget,” he said. “We designed ASTM E3012-16 to let manufacturers virtually characterize their production processes as computer models, and then, using a standardized method, “plug and play” the environmental data for each process step to visualize impacts and identify areas for improving overall sustainability of the system.”

The updated database will help standardize terminology and structure of mapping and reporting manufacturing process impact, reducing complexity in mapping manufacturing processes, and thereby helping companies fully and accurately understand environmental impacts and work toward reducing them.

Are you ready to begin your product life-cycle assessment? Contact us for a quick briefing on whether your company would benefit most from a highly detailed analysis to broad-strokes, baseline assessment. Understanding your impact may not be as big of an investment as you might think.

 

 

 

Best of the Blog for June 2016

The SSC Team June 30, 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. Puma, Adidas, Under Armour - Who Has the Best Sustainability Sustainability
  3. Best Practices for Virtual Teams
  4. Seven Questions to Focus Sustainability Leadership
  5. Test Your Company's Strategic Sustainability Alignment

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.

Best of the Blog for June 2016

The SSC Team June 30, 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. Puma, Adidas, Under Armour - Who Has the Best Sustainability Sustainability
  3. Best Practices for Virtual Teams
  4. Seven Questions to Focus Sustainability Leadership
  5. Test Your Company's Strategic Sustainability Alignment

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.

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?  

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?  

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.