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Becoming a Better Sustainability Consultant: Understanding Your Client’s Industry

The SSC Team April 5, 2018 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Do you often wonder how you could become a better sustainability consultant? Check out Strategic Sustainability Consulting President Jennifer Woofter’s monthly tip to help you gain knowledge that will better help you serve your clients. After listening to this month’s tip about focusing on the unique industry of each client, we invite you to share your questions in the comments below.

https://youtu.be/YfA9C7455FU

 

Sustainability Consulting Round-Up: Best of Our Blog from March 2018

The SSC Team April 3, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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We try to post a new blog at least once a week, just to share our insights into the world of sustainability strategy and what it takes to be a sustainability consultant or professional today. Here are our most-read posts from March.

 

The Importance of Creating a Diverse Work Team

 

How to Earn the Respect as a Sustainability Leader

 

How Does HR Fit into Sustainability?

 

Free Learning Resources for Aspiring Sustainability Professionals

 

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There is Room to Grow for Suppliers Tackling Sustainability

The SSC Team March 27, 2018 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Let’s start with the positive news. When it comes to implementing more sustainable sourcing practices, a recently published Stanford University study, which focused on large global suppliers, found that more than 50% of the companies reviewed have been implementing these practices. Not surprisingly companies with valuable brands (and therefore a more vocal customer base) were the most likely to be utilizing sustainable practices.

 

But Cassandra Sweet notes in There’s Room for Progress on Tackling Sustainability Through the Supply Chain, that while this is great news, the study also found that companies lower down the supply chain — where changes to their social and environmental practices would be more beneficial — have been less likely to implement sustainable practices.

 

To complete their research, 449 publicly traded companies from a variety of sectors were examined in order to evaluate the extent to which their efforts were going to impact the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. And from this evaluation, it was clear that progress is being made. This portion of the study was focused on industry giants like L’Oreal and Coca-Cola Co. who, among others, have been making big adjustments. These include training their suppliers to help reduce or reuse plastic packaging, address climate change and promote sustainable production among other areas. Coca-Cola Co. has also been providing training to the farmers who supply them in order to help promote sustainable agriculture, gender equity, and fair working conditions.

 

With this good news, we now need to focus our attention on non-consumer-facing companies who haven’ t been as committed to implementing sustainable practices yet. Unfortunately supply-chain sustainable implementations aren’t as likely to drive change at a global scale unless a lot more companies start to utilize sustainable sourcing practices. Sweet raises the important issue that these practices need to be strong, verifiable, address a broad set of sustainability issues and reach all tiers of global supply chains.

 

Here’s the thing, so many companies are going half in when it comes to making sustainable changes. An example that Sweet highlights is when a company focuses on ensuring that one product ingredient is sustainably sourced, without paying any attention to other ingredients. Or by making sure that the packaging of a product is made from recycled materials, but at the same time the product contained within that packaging is not sustainably sourced.

 

Do you feel like your company is falling into this gray zone and could do better? If so, you will benefit from connecting with a sustainability consultant. You might be struggling to understand the complex world of corporate social responsibility, wondering how you can translate your values into actions, and unsure how to prioritize your social and environmental initiatives, but we can help! At Strategic Sustainability Consulting we can work with you to kick off your sustainability journey and help you understand the strengths, challenges, and best-fit sustainability strategy for your company, in your industry, to meet your stakeholder needs, right now. 

How Does HR Fit into Sustainability?

The SSC Team March 20, 2018 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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If you work in Human Resources, you may not have spent a lot of time thinking about sustainability. It is someone else’s responsibility, right? Wrong. Ellen Weinreb recently wrote that being an ‘employer of choice’ is synonymous with sustainability. She believes that the HR team plays a critical role in forming “green teams” and encouraging employee engagement on environmental and other sustainability issues.

 

In his piece on the role that HR plays in sustainability strategy, John McGuire outlines a few starting points for strengthening the relationship between HR and sustainability. For example, McGuire notes that an HR professional must help to embed and operationalize a sustainable strategy into the workplace culture. This can mean a number of things such as providing trainings and development sessions to get team members to understand and invest in green changes; offering incentives and recognition for sustainability achievements; setting policies that encourage employee cooperation and involvement with the company’s environmental objectives — the list goes on. But a stumbling block for some HR employees — and other members of your company — can be a lack of understanding when it comes to the term sustainability.

 

Steve Wilkins, HR manager for FedEx Express, believes that “sustainability” is an overused and hard to define word, making implementing a sustainability strategy challenging. Wilkins does have some tips to help your HR department get past this hurdle when it comes to getting a sustainability strategy up and running. There are three key areas that he finds vital to the process — communications, education and motivation.

 

Communications is a huge factor in any office — whether in person or via email. Wilkins suggests connecting with the employees via an internal newsletter that highlights eco-achievements as well as setting up volunteer opportunities and encouraging small green changes like turning off unused lights. By highlighting your company’s commitment to innovative changes, you can show your team that you are focused on creating a positive impact on the workforce.

 

Clearly no one can be on board with a strategy they don’t understand, so you have to make sure you educate the members of your team about the impact your company has on the environment. And about the ways you want to reduce that impact and how they can be a part of it. A sense of common purpose will help keep your team committed and lead to a productive and empowered staff.

 

Susan Winterberg wrote earlier this year about how the highest-ranking factor of what makes a corporation just is providing employees with a good job. One of the central factors to making that happen is aligning a company’s values, commitments and actions. An increase in internal collaboration will greatly improve sustainable efforts, staff involvement in the process and commitment from your company to making green changes.

 

And as McGuire noted motivation is key so providing rewards, recognition and responsibilities to your employees can help them feel even more invested in the sustainability process. Remember, sustainability strategy is not a PR opportunity, but is something that needs to be incorporated into a business's overarching objectives. All organizations should be accountable for their actions and work to integrate environmental practices into everyday business life.

How to Earn Respect as a Sustainability Leader

The SSC Team March 13, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives

When trying to lead a sustainability program from the inside, you may find that getting internal buy-in from your peers, managers and executives is the toughest part of the job. This is especially true when sustainability and CSR don’t get a lot of respect as a corporate priority.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Creating a Diverse Sustainability Team

The SSC Team March 6, 2018 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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We talk a lot about diversity these days, but how can we truly make it a priority in our workplaces? Sustainability is about striving for a better world and a better world is an inclusive one. So whether you are a start up or a Fortune 500 company you need to strive to build a diverse company. Here’s the thing — this is not just good for your team, it’s good for your bottom line.

 

Harvard Business Review surveyed more than 1,700 companies from eight countries and found that there was a statistically significant relationship between diversity and innovation outcomes in all countries examined. Also those innovative companies unsurprisingly turned out to be more profitable, too.

 

In her 2016 piece, The Challenges of Diversity in Sustainability Leadership, Anya Khalamayzer highlighted the need for green-focused businesses and nonprofits to rethink they way they build diversity in leadership positions. As Khalamayzer points out the goal of environmental stewardship is preserving a diversity of ecosystems, cultures and natural resources. So it only makes sense that organizations pledging to protect the planet’s resources should reflect the diversity needed to solve the world’s big, interconnected problems.

 

“We need diversity to happen at all levels of environmental efforts, starting with the hiring process," said Whitney Tome, executive director of Green 2.0, an organization advancing racial diversity across mainstream environmental foundations and government agencies.

 

Leela Srinivasan, Chief Marketing Officer at Lever, has six ideas that can help yield results when it comes to fostering diversity in your workplace. First you have to get real about how diverse and inclusive your company is. Look, you can recruit all the diverse talent you want, but if they don’t feel comfortable in the office environment it isn’t going to work out. Make sure you create conditions where employees from all backgrounds can feel empowered to do their best work.

 

To really get started in this process you need to objectively analyze your current situation — how diverse do you consider the last five individuals promoted in terms of gender, ethnicity and background? Ask the same question of your last five hires. If there haven’t been many recent promotions or new team members added to your organization consider the last raises, bonuses or rewards that were distributed. Then consider the last five people who left your organization — is there any commonality in their background? Any patterns that emerge when you evaluate these questions can provide you with a starting point and areas where you need to prioritize your focus.

 

Next make sure your team interviews people consistently and objectively. Here’s the thing, even though hiring is really important for success, most companies seem to spend little time, effort or resources to train employees about making objective hiring decisions. And here’s the thing, whether we want to admit it or not, each of us has some bias about the world around us. Implementing some thoughtful guidelines can help to minimize the impact of that bias, or at least make us more aware of it. We all know that you want people to join your team who feel like a good fit, but if you constantly select people “just like us” your workplace could become a monoculture and your creativity and ability to succeed will be stifled. So utilize an application tracking system, a standard questionnaire and/or interview kits to help candidates be evaluated in a consistent way.

 

Does the world outside of your office understand your commitment to a diverse team? If you have people on your staff who may consider themselves to be in the minority you should ask if they are comfortable being featured in a company blog or to share their positive feelings about working for your company on sites like LinkedIn or Medium.  If this isn’t an option yet, demonstrate your commitment to the community — attend local meetings that address diversity issues or arrange volunteer opportunities that will expose your team to a more diverse population. If your website includes people — one your team or clients — make sure that you highlight individuals who represent other groups.

 

Everyone has to participate. There are different ways you can do this, but your office environment will not be more diverse unless your team is onboard and open. You can engage in company-wide discussions to help foster inclusion and celebrate differences. You can create employee resource groups to provide networking and social opportunities to underrepresented groups, however you have to be careful that the dialogue remains open and doesn’t cause important conversations to be help behind closed doors. The end goal is that the most successful inclusion activities will foster a mutual sense of belonging amongst everyone — whether they are in the majority or minority. And remember, it isn’t just about special activities. You need to make sure that the everyday experience is inclusive. Here is Buffer’s guide to inclusive language for startups and tech companies, take a look and think about the language utilized in your company each day.

 

Here’s the thing, you may have to be proactive in building your diverse team. If you get 25 applications for a position and every one comes from a white millennial male, you may want to put in a little more work to garner a more diverse slate of potential candidates. However as you start approaching individuals you think may be a good fit, remember you are looking for a diverse AND talented team. Do not approach a potential candidate merely because they would increase the diversity at your company.

 

Most importantly? Don’t wait! The early you implement these strategies into your hiring process, the more likely you are to garner and maintain a diverse team. This is a commitment for the long term so get to it! There is no time like the present.

The Four Big Social Media Mistakes Your Company Is Probably Making

The SSC Team February 20, 2018 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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While the vast majority of large and mid-sized businesses have been engaging in social media outreach as part of their marketing strategy for at least five years, nearly half are unable to pinpoint any impact this marketing has had on their bottom line.

Recently the Harvard Business Review ran The Basic Social Media Mistakes Companies Still Make, which notes that although 97% of Fortune 500 companies are on LinkedIn, 84% are on Facebook, and 86% are on Twitter, many brands entered the social media realm without a clear strategy. And without any strategy, you’re going to end up with a lot more mistakes than success. You may not be running at Fortune 500 company, but your sustainability business can certainly learn from their mistakes.

MISTAKE #1: Creating a Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn account and setting goals for increasing “the numbers of likes, comments and shares.” It may seem promising, but “likes,” comments and shares are probably not worth much to your income. If you don’t connect your social media actions to broader business goals from the beginning, your return on investment (ROI) becomes elusive, and social media becomes an end unto itself.

MISTAKE #2: Limiting brand preference. This means focusing entirely on Facebook or Instagram or whatever social media channel you feel is the most popular instead of implementing a multichannel outreach strategy. Looking back to the Fortune 500 companies, only 66% are using YouTube, 45% are on Instagram, 36% have corporate blogs, and even less are on Pinterest (a mere 33%). If your business choses not engage other platforms, you could miss out on valuable business opportunities.

Research by Millward Brown Digital found that 93% of Pinterest users planned purchases on the platform and 87% actually made a purchase after seeing a product they liked. Utilizing a platform like Snapchat might be the ideal way to reach millennials and Instagram has played an integral role in helping to lift sales for multiple brands. Super important stat: business that have prioritized blogging are 13 times more likely to receive positive ROI.

MISTAKE #3: Only pushing information out.  While you need to engage your customers with stories that evoke emotions, solve their problems and help brighten their day, the best — and most underutilized tool — is responding to your customers. Replies to comments — even negative comments — can help bolster the image of your brand. And engaging lets your customers know you are listening.

So how do you make social media work for your business? Let’s start by basing your social strategy on business objectives — not just gaining more followers or “likes” — follow up on that by thinking about who your target market is, what social media platforms will best reach that group, and the tools and metrics that can help you achieve those goals. Focusing on increasing brand awareness for a certain age range during a specific time frame? That is an actual business goal, one you can achieve!

And when you are considering which platforms to utilize, remember more is not always better. If a social media outlet doesn’t seem to vibe with your business objectives, it might be better to post less or even close that account.

MISTAKE #4: Not tracking analytics. There are a number of social media options when it comes to analytics, so take the time to research those options and find what makes the most sense for your business. If you can see where your efforts are working (and where they are not making much impact) it will help you focus your attention in the areas that are improving your bottom line.

Social media and sustainability go hand in hand. Utilizing the right social media channels will give your company the chance to expand engagement, transparency, rethink societal roles, and more.

 

Looking for an example? Take Toms, the shoe company – Toms has utilized social media to promote initiatives such as One for One. And once a year they have a One Day Without Shoes campaign which last year provided shoes to over 27,000 children.

Establishing a social media strategy that is business oriented may seem overwhelming, but if you take a step back and remember to take your business goals and target market into consideration, it will be much easier to prove you are seeing ROI via your social media activities. Not just a few more thumbs up each day

Sustainability Strategy Isn’t a Checklist

The SSC Team February 8, 2018 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Improve Client Outreach

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Sustainability Consulting Round-Up: Best of Our Blog from January 2018

The SSC Team February 1, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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We try to post a new blog at least once a week, just to share our insights into the world of sustainability strategy and what it takes to be a sustainability consultant or professional today. Here are our most-read posts from November.

 

The Obstacles with Sustainability Strategy

 

Creating Partnerships Can Be Useful for Your Company

 

Is Vanpooling a Good Choice for Your Company?

 

 

 

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