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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.

 

Why “Going Green” is Worth the Effort

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

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sustainability Strategy Isn’t a Checklist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sustainability Consulting Round Up: Best of the Blog for January 2016

The SSC Team January 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. Eco-Friendly De-Icing Alternatives to Salt
  2. 5 Tips for Staying Motivated as a Sustainability Professional When Making a Difference Seems Overwhelming
  3. Growing Your Sustainability Consulting Business: Making the Case for Hiring YOU
  4. Trying to Win Sustainability Consulting Work? Referrals, Referrals, Referrals
  5. Sustainability Tools that Got Our Attention in 2015

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.

How Do Sustainability Reports Change Over Time?

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

Enjoy this post from the SSC blog archives. 

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

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

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

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

 

Food & Beverage Industry Demonstrates How “Business Success” Can’t be Achieved Without Sustainability

The SSC Team January 14, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

The connections between increased revenue and investment in sustainability programs are complicated.

Even today, sustainability professionals continue to “make the business case” for sustainability.

It’s true that sustainability programs require an investment—in staff, in reporting, in communications, in change management—and the case for making smart investments for maximum results must continue to be made.

However, as we enter 2016, we should no longer need to make the case for sustainability itself.

Although directly linked financial benefits are sometimes difficult to identify, research suggests companies that fully integrate sustainability principles and practices into their strategic operations do outperform peers financially.

The counterargument is that these same companies are just more strategic overall, sustainability or not, so they will perform well simply because of a culture of innovation, risk mitigation, long-term planning, and thought-leadership.

Wrong.

The fact is, as we enter 2016, a company can’t even be considered a strong, strategic player without sustainability being one of its core principles. Sustainability has made it into the short list of core principles of true strategic leadership. In other words, you can’t have one without the other.

Case in Point: The Food & Beverage Industry

Pure Strategies, a sustainability consulting firm focused on the food and beverage industry, recently published results of a survey of major global food and beverage companies.

In the 2015 report, 18% more food and beverage companies, 100% of companies surveyed, are developing or implementing sustainability programs (from 82% in 2013), and 46% of the companies reported increased sales (up from 19% in 2013).

What the report tells us is:

  • More than ever before, food and beverage companies are implementing sustainability programs based on best practices of the companies that have already implemented sustainability programs
  • As the best-practice modeling increases throughout the industry, more food and beverage companies are reporting increased sales
  • The leaders of these food and beverage companies are tying industry-wide sustainability best practices directly to their increased sales

The food and beverage survey shows how sustainability, as a core strategic focus, is permeating the very operating principles of an entire industry – and a significant percentage of companies are making more money in the process.

Using food and beverage as an example, any company looking to become a long-term leader in any sector should look seriously at its approach to sustainability.

Sustainability must truly be integrated into a company’s core strategic plans, or it will likely get left behind.

If your company looking to integrate industry best practice planning into its sustainability strategy, a great place to start is with a sustainability assessment and peer benchmarking report.