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Greening Your Non-Profit from the Inside Out

The SSC Team June 25, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this blog post from the SSC archives: Why is environmental responsibility important to an organization’s bottom line?  What are key impacts?  What does your organization’s carbon footprint look like?  Where should you begin?  These questions and more are addressed in an excellent resource that is easy-to-use and only a download away.  If you work for a non-profit or if you have non-profit clients, this is something that you will want to take a look at. “Greening Your Non-Profit from the Inside Out: A NeighborWorks® Guide for Community Development Organizations” essentially serves as a handbook that was designed to provide community development organizations with an easy-to-use resource for taking the first steps towards “going green”. Using the results of the sustainability action plans from 2008, NeighborWorks developed a manual and online course entitled “Greening Your Nonprofit Business” in 2009. The manual, produced in conjunction with Strategic Sustainability Consulting, is available free online to all network organizations and to the broader community development field to help them take steps toward environmental sustainability. The manual has been downloaded 24,000+ times since its publication in 2009, making it one of the most popular downloads on www.nw.org.  Once you start to skim you’ll quickly realize why it’s a top download and how it is still relevant today. It begins with a general introduction to the topic of environmental sustainability and prepares you for the following chapters that dive into specific green action items to get you started.  Divided into eleven “green” topics ranging from energy efficiency to customer communication, each section provides a wealth of information.  Statistics, case studies, recommendations, and other resources will help you to understand the environmental impacts of each topic and how to go about minimizing that impact in a simple, cost-effective way.  Because there is no “one size fits all” solution to going green, the manual includes website links to some of the best organizations working on the issue—where you can find a solution tailored to fit your circumstances.  This information is organized so that you can quickly find the information you need. In case you didn’t already know, we partner and work with NeighborWorks on a lot of different projects and have found their dual mission to be a perfect match for what we have to offer as well.  NeighborWorks America is the country’s leader in affordable housing and community development, working to create opportunities for lower-income people to live in affordable homes in safe, sustainable neighborhoods that are healthy places for families to grow.  NeighborWorks commits to being a leader with its network in employing and promoting equitable, green and sustainable practices for the long-term benefit of the environment so that people can live and work in healthy, ecologically friendly, and affordable places.  Learn more here and download the manual today! Find out how you can become a better sustainability leader in one of our latest blogs.

Growing Your Sustainability Consultancy Business

The SSC Team June 18, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this blog from the SSC archives: “Put yourself in your client’s shoes.” It’s not just another cliché. Ok, yes it is. In this case, however, it is going to make you money. According to Martin Lines, the marketing director for Nestle Professional, the most important element a consultant can have in their CSR- or sustainability-focused consultancy pitch is customization to the client’s existing business and sustainability strategy. "Agencies need to demonstrate that their solution is aligned to the client's corporate strategy,” Lines said in a presentation last year. Sounds so basic, but often consultants get it wrong – pitching ethical reasons for sustainability when a company is operating on thin margins and would be better served by efficiency and cost-saving initiatives, or pitching cost-saving initiatives when a client is more interested in building brand value and brand awareness. There is no one-size-fits-all sustainability strategy, so why would there be a one-size-fits-all sustainability pitch? Of course this means you’ll need to do your homework before meeting with prospective clients, but the extra work can pay off if the client is impressed by how much you already know about their business. Here are three steps for helping turn your presentation into profit:

1. Go online and read

Read the press releases (Is the prospect always giving money to local charity groups? They might respond to reputation-building pitches.). Google the company looking for news stories or legal troubles (Fined for improper handling of chemicals in 2009? They might benefit from an EMS plan.). Poke around in industry news, scour the website, and look at the employment opportunities. You never know where you might find a hook.

2. Know who their stakeholders are and what they want

Is the company selling primarily to one large organization (like Wal-Mart) that has sustainability at its core? If so, you’re going to need to know where the client’s client is headed. Is the company working in controversial areas, such as mining, where stakeholder engagement is going to take precedence over things like waste auditing or employee engagement? Knowing who is pushing and pulling on a client can help you find key indicators in developing a sustainability pitch.

3. Drop in to say hello

So, you’ve done a bit of homework and made a few calls, and the client seems interested. If you think this could be a big fish, take your time. Phone up your contact person and tell him or her that you’re interested in visiting the manufacturing facility, taking a tour of the HQ, or meeting virtually with a few key people to get a better idea of how to make more relevant and customized suggestions. Ask questions. Lots of questions. But don’t get in the way and don’t try to sell them anything. “Learning how to make the case for sustainability needs to be situational. I customize my ‘making a case for sustainability’ style by asking a lot of questions,” said Pauline S. Chandler, director of the MBA in sustainability at the Antioch University of New Hampshire, Keene, in a recent article on Triple Pundit. Chandler recently took 16 MBA students on facility tours at three New England businesses to illustrate how different organizations will spark different lines of questioning, which then lead to different approaches to sustainability planning. So, take a lesson from academia, and go pay your client a visit. Your pitch might benefit from the day trip. Once you’ve gathered all the information you think you need, it’s time to develop your presentation. A central tenet in getting an organization to adopt sustainability planning is making the business case for sustainability. Looking for ways to become a better sustainability consultant? Check out our blog post that talks about 8 steps to improving as a sustainability consultant!

Where Are Your Sustainability Blind Spots?

The SSC Team June 16, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this article written by Jennifer Woofter that was featured on the 2Degrees website in 2013: The journey towards sustainability is a marathon--a race of a thousand steps. And whether you are on the first step or somewhere in the middle (since no one is close to the end, right?), it's likely that you have made some assumptions, used estimates, or put aside things that aren't working. That's not a bad thing -- in fact, to effectively move forward to attain such an ambitious goal you must deal with complexity and uncertainty. Otherwise, you will face "analysis paralysis". However, the risk of taking that approach is that by simplifying, focusing, and systematizing your sustainability efforts, you can inadvertently create blind spots--weaknesses that you don't know are there. Blind spots are a particularly challenging problem because it isn't easy to fix something if you don't even know that it's broken. John Dame and Jeffrey Gedmin offer Three Tips for Overcoming Your Blind Spots in Harvard Business Review. We've pulled their best quotes (in italics, below) and then added our own thoughts about how to apply their advice to sustainability practitioners.

Use a Devil's Advocate to Fight Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is a well-documented tendency for people to draw conclusions and interpret events in a way that conforms to previously held beliefs--leading to poorly reasoned decision-making based on incomplete information and judgments. (Wikipedia has a great write-up on the phenomenon here.) "When you have a theory about someone or something, test it. When you smell a contradiction – a thorny issue, an inconsistency or problem – go after it. Like the orchestral conductor, isolate it, drill deeper. When someone says – or you yourself intuit – 'that’s just an exception,' be sure it’s just that. Thoroughly examine the claim." Whether you are predisposed to believe that the CFO will never get on board with your sustainability plan, or that your fellow employees care deeply about sustainability, it's essential that you incorporate a way to test those assumptions before investing too much time and resources into a plan of action. Regularly sit down with executives to better understand their priorities and pressures. Survey employees to determine which sustainability issues are most important to them, and how they rank in comparison to other workplace concerns. Test your beliefs and predispositions. And then test some more. "Dealing with confirmation bias is about reining in your impulses and challenging your own assumptions. It’s difficult to stick to it day in and out. That’s why it’s important to have in your circle of advisers a brainy, tough-as-nails devil’s advocate who – perhaps annoyingly, but valuably – checks you constantly." If your team is big enough, incorporate a devil's advocate. If it's just you, set aside time in your schedule (or in your process) to wear the devil's advocate hat yourself. Ask questions like:
  • What are we missing?
  • What could go wrong?
  • What alternate approaches can we take?
  • What are the unintended consequences that might pop up?
Use the role of devil's advocate to surface objections that might arise from others on your team, discover better routes to success, and assess a wider range of program outcomes.

Keep a Journal to Combat Hindsight Bias

Hindsight bias is also called the "knew it all along" effect, and causes "extreme methodological problems while trying to analyze, understand, and interpret results" (Wikipedia). It makes us think that things are more predictable, simpler, and more straightforward than they really are. For a challenge as complex as sustainability, this is a major concern. Here’s one way to check hindsight bias: Keep a diary. And record minutes from important meetings...What becomes painfully clear is that we failed to predict much of anything – claims after the fact notwithstanding. While acting as a mechanism to keep us honest about our ability to forecast the future, a detailed journal provides an added bonus: additional insight into how we make decisions. Once you've been using a journal for at least several months, go back and review it to see what patterns emerge. (For example, you may find that your boss is always grumpy in October, or that you have a tendency to lose your temper after a big success.)

Hire a Diverse Staff to Eliminate Groupthink

Groupthink is is "a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an incorrect or deviant decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences." (Thanks, Wikipedia!) Fighting groupthink should start at the hiring stage. Look for people who share your basic values and purpose, but who are also tough, independent, and able to tell you what they think. Moreover: check that decisions at all levels in the company are being made on the basis of rationality, not merely flowing from authority or a tendency (however subconscious) to conform. While sustainability practitioners (in-house, or consultants) may not be in a position to control who is hired in a company, there are other ways to avoid groupthink. More importantly, make sure that you don't shut yourself off from people who don't see the world from your viewpoint. Just as many sustainability leaders bemoan the closed-minded and isolationist philosophies of climate-change deniers, we too can fall prey to "preaching to the choir" and focusing only on talking to other sustainability believers. This approach does NOT mean that you must engage and bring in people who are intentionally at loggerheads with you. But it is important to understand why people feel the way that they do, what motivates them, and what values you share with them. Take note- it not only applies to big topics (like global climate change), but also to more discrete topics (like how to approach the topic of Green IT for your next budget cycle). Make a point to intentionally solicit information from a wide variety of perspectives early on in your process--your ultimate success may depend on it. Looking for ways to become a better sustainability consultant? Check out our blog post that talks about 8 steps to improving as a sustainability consultant!

8 Steps to Becoming a Better Sustainability Consultant

The SSC Team June 9, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller As I approach my one year anniversary at SSC, I’m amazed at not only how quickly the past year has flown by, but also with how much I learned the first 12 months on the job. I’ve come to learn how to craft a sustainability narrative for a company and what data to collect for carbon footprinting analysis. I’ve slowly (but surely) gotten better at client and project management. I’ve even gotten over my fear of attending conferences by myself! But none of what I’ve learned will be useful, unless I can take this new information and apply it to my long-term goals as a sustainability consultant. I recently came across an article by Jonathan Long featured on Entrepreneur called “8 Steps to Crushing Ridiculous Goals” that discussed how to achieve the goals you set for yourself, and it made me think about how I could apply these 8 steps to being a better sustainability consultant.

1. Master easy goals first

Any project can seem daunting when you join a new company in a field you’re just starting to understand. The first few months on the job I set small goals for myself, such as “get acquainted with the waste audit spreadsheets” or “understand how to use the sustainability reporting platform”. This helped me feel more at ease in my new role and help me gain confidence going forward.

2. Break ridiculous goals down into several smaller goals

One of the first big projects I had a chance to work on from the beginning was collecting data for a client’s annual sustainability report. It was very unnerving in the beginning, but once I broke everything down into a timeline, I was able to set smaller goals, which made the overall goal much more attainable.

3. Be prepared to push hard through the finish line

As much as it would be nice to leave your work at the office, it simply isn’t practical, and I very quickly learned that sustainability consulting is no different. There are certain times during a project that will require time outside of the office to complete or quick turnarounds late at night, and by anticipating when these busy periods are, I can then better manage my time both in and out of the office.

4. Build a team of specialists around you

I’m lucky enough to work with some of the smartest and brightest people in the field. By surrounding myself with people who specialize in certain areas of sustainability consulting, I am able to learn so from them just by watching how they attack different projects.

5. Don’t stall or make excuses

Learning to juggle multiple client projects at once was an initial challenge, but I knew that I couldn’t make excuses for my shortcomings. I began to set weekly and daily deadlines for myself, and I eventually was able to better manage all my simultaneous projects.

6. Accept that failure is a possibility

When I was helping to write and edit one of my first sustainability reports, I was too nervous to write or change anything, because I didn’t want to fail. How would I ever be able to grow and learn from my experiences if I don’t take any chances? No one is perfect, and missing the mark on a project is inevitable for everyone.

7. Be prepared and willing to sacrifice

Projects pop last minute. It’s going to happen whether you can control it or not. And sometimes when this happened over the course of the past year, I’ve had to make some sacrifices. Yes, I was bummed I couldn’t go to dinner with my friends that one time, but a project had to be completed by the end of the day. Sacrifices will have to happen.

8. Don’t ever quit

Being a sustainability consultant isn’t always smooth sailing, but you can never give up. Simple enough. Find out how you can become a better sustainability leader in one of our latest blogs.

5 Habits That Might Be Stunting Your Sustainability Leadership

The SSC Team June 4, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller Sustainability is a broad term that can mean something different to each person you ask, and jobs that require sustainability leadership are no different. You might be a sustainability consultant, a CSO, head of a sustainability team, or even someone in marketing who got dumped with the task of sustainability. Each of these people will attack sustainability in a different way, but they all need good sustainability leadership. And no matter what your profession is, leadership will always be necessary. Larry Alton, wrote an article for Entrepreneur titled "5 Habits That Are Destroying Your Ability to Lead," took note and came up with a list of  bad habits leaders can acquire over time, and we decided to put our own sustainability spin on their list.

1. Isolating Yourself

It’s always tempting to go to your office, shut the door, and hammer away at a project. It can be an efficient way to get things done, right? While you might think you are just trying to be productive, you are also isolating yourself from your team members. You might be struggling to finish a carbon footprint, while trying to edit a sustainability report at the same time, but no one will know if you need help if you’re always cooped up in your office. Don’t be afraid to reach out when you need help, and be sure to keep your team members in the loop.

2. Setting Firm Direction

When it comes to sustainability, there is no “right way” to go about it. You might have a plan set for how you will report your company’s emissions data or have your 2020 goals set, but once you start moving forward, everything can change. It is easy to want to stick to what the original plan is, but don’t be stuck in the mud. Sustainability isn’t a linear path, and a good leader will know how to adapt.

3. Focusing on Day-to-Day Tasks

There are certain times of the year when sustainability professionals find themselves a bit busier than usual. It could be because you need to approve the final draft of your sustainability report and you need to make sure everything is perfect, or you could be completing a massive data collection process. Regardless of what you are doing, it becomes very easy to just focus on what needs to happen by the end of the day. The problem is that sustainability doesn’t end when a project does; sustainability is a long-term process. By only focusing on day-to-day tasks, you can lose sight on the long road ahead.

4. Making Excuses

When something doesn’t go our way, we tend to make excuses (and even if we try not to, we’re only human, after all). There are always opportunities for excuses: half of the data you need for a carbon footprint is missing, or you’re assigned over oversee a new sustainability project when you’re just someone from finance. Rise above the problem, and demonstrate why you’re a good leader.

5. Working Too Hard

You want to lead by example, so you show your coworkers how hard you work. That’s great, until you never take a break. Working long hours and skipping breaks will eventually catch up with you, whether it’s a lack of focus, increase in stress, or simply your physical health declining. No one wants to be around a leader that is constantly stressed out. Take a break every once in a while – your coworkers might thank you for it! Looking to focus your sustainability leadership? Find out how here!

Sustainable Supply Chains in Chinese Factories, Pt. 2

The SSC Team May 21, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
This is Part 2 of a two-part interview with Nate Sullivan of Efficiency Exchange, provider of sustainability software and services to manufacturers.  He highlights some of the challenges faced by Chinese factories in implementing their sustainable supply chain programs. On Tuesday, we posted a Part 1 of this interview from the SSC archives  - enjoy: SSC: How much time and effort should a supplier factory reasonably expect to spend on tracking and reporting sustainability information to their customers? Nate Sullivan: Given how hard customers are going to push them on price, we think the focus really needs to be on driving that time and effort down to zero. One of the things that really drove us to build Charge the way we did was seeing how all this compliance data was not being used to provide any value to factories -- all the time they theoretically spent gathering and vetting that information was essentially spent checking a box that didn't create any value for them. That's not the way it has to be, or should be. When factories meet sustainability requirements through Charge, they're doing it without spending any time solely on compliance -- they are spending that time figuring out how to run their factory more cost-effectively, and then as a secondary benefit that data is helping them show that they meet compliance standards. Everybody still gets what they want, but nobody is sitting there trying to figure out whether the time is well spent, because the benefits of spending it are much more direct. SSC: When done correctly, what are the bottom-line benefits that a supplier factory should see when implementing sustainability initiatives? (feel free to use EEX-specific examples!) NS: From the factory perspective, sustainability initiatives can have several possible benefits, if done right. First of all, there's reduced cost in the form of energy, water use, steam, natural gas, or whatever resource is being used less. There are some big benefits there, but obviously the "doing it right" part here is important, because factories need to be targeting the sustainability projects that make economic sense first and foremost. That's why Charge starts with energy -- we found energy costs and consumption to be something that factories could attack aggressively, reducing cost without slowing business growth. But there are opportunities in other fields, and Charge is going to add all of those to it's core capabilities. Other than cost reduction, the biggest benefit to any sustainability project is becoming more appealing to customers, and that's a big part of where we see Charge going in terms of it's relationship to buyers and brands. It's a top line benefit instead of bottom line, but the idea behind Charge's connection to retailers is ultimately to match the best suppliers to the best retailers. Charge looks at your operational data, and tells you "hey, you are currently meeting the requirements for the following potential customers", and vice versa. That introduces you to new customers who are excited to work with you, and it ties successful sustainability projects to new business and more revenue, which really changes the motivational calculus for factories. Instead of seeing sustainability as this horrible paperwork/audit driven obstacle, it becomes something factories actively seek out, because the better they operate, the more customers they can find, and the better those customers will be for the business. I think that's already the somewhat cartoonishly-optimistic perception of sustainability, especially in the west, but until EEx came around, I don't think anyone was out there building the tools and relationships necessary for that to become reality at the factory level. That's something that we are really, really excited to do for them. How is sustainability saving Chinese textile mills money? Read about it here!

Sustainable Supply Chains in Chinese Factories

The SSC Team May 19, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this 2013 interview from the SSC archives: An increasing number of companies are implementing sustainable supply chain programs. These programs usually include requests to suppliers to fill out long surveys, track and report data, and develop internal management systems to improve factory-level sustainability performance. At Strategic Sustainability Consulting, we believe that effective supply chain engagement on sustainability is critical to manage risk and leverage opportunities, but we also know that suppliers are often overwhelmed at the requests they are getting from their customers. To get some insight into the challenges facing suppliers, we recently interviewed Nate Sullivan of Efficiency Exchange (EEx). We've worked with EEx, a provider of sustainability software and services to Chinese factories, for many years, and believe they have their finger on the pulse of the Chinese supply chain. SSC: You specialize in working with Chinese factories. What are you seeing in these factories with regard to supplier questionnaires? Nate Sullivan: Supplier questionnaires and worksheets are not a new thing -- factories have seen them for decades.  They've always had to fill out spreadsheets and word documents with tons of information about their facility -- from general company information, to detailed labor practices and customized quote sheets.  However, they complain that the only ones that seem to have a real impact are the quote sheets, because they're about price, and that's ultimately what customers care about in practice.  Now they are being asked to fill out sustainability questionnaires full of data, which requires a full time job to compile and document (around 40 hours a month).  Most of the time they don't even know why the customer is asking for the data, and they say that they rarely hear much back after submitting the information.  So basically it's another hoop to jump through that doesn't appear to influence purchasing decisions, and keeps factories from focusing on what they do well -- which is making stuff. SSC: What are the biggest obstacles to effectively measuring and managing sustainability impacts (like energy, waste, and water) at the supplier factory level? NS: The biggest problem, by far, is accuracy. People really need to realize that there's a tremendous amount of bad, inaccurate data out there that is useless no matter how you look at it, because it simply doesn't reflect reality. That's almost entirely due to how and why it's collected, which is usually through required self-reporting, without any incentive for suppliers that what they provide is true. Unless you're going to sit there in every facility, forever, and actively track what's happening -- which isn't practical for any retailer we've met, no matter how big -- you simply have to find a better reason for suppliers to track and truthfully report what's going on than "because I say so." And that doesn't even address the fact that suppliers have lots of customers who all have their own elaborate set of disclosure requirements, or that factories have no idea how to measure many of the things they're asked to report. SSC: Your company, Efficiency Exchange, has developed software and services that aim to overcome these challenges. Can you explain the 3-4 most important elements that supplier factories should be looking for in sustainability programs and tools? NS: The number one thing factories should be looking for is something that helps their business. Manufacturing is a tough gig; it's not like these guys have huge margins they can afford to cut into an order to look good for potential customers. So the most important characteristic of any kind of factory facing tool is that it provides direct business value to that factory. Any investment that is going to provide that kind of value to a factory needs to be easy to use, and inexpensive not only to buy, but to operate, understand, implement, etc. In our experience, what's missing from every tool we've looked at is simplicity and clarity. There are lots of systems that are really powerful and complex, but they're usually designed to be all things to all people -- utilities, retailers, manufacturers- and anybody who could conceivably buy it, really. With any kind of typical enterprise software, you end up buying this incredibly expensive, super-capable system, and then a bunch of consulting services, training, and support on top of that.  (Then you have to) whittle it down and customize it into something that's actually useful to you. Factories don't have the time or money or expertise to deal with any of that. So any tool that's going to make sense at the factory level has to strip away all of that extra nonsense, and focus on being something that's lightweight, useful, and solves a problem right out of the box. That means it can't necessarily be all things to all people -- it has to be built specifically for factories that need help with this kind of stuff, and it has to provide that help in a really direct way. If you're a factory looking at any kind of sustainability or operational improvement tool, just stop and think about how the tool is going to affect what you do all day. Are you going to get a dashboard or a weekly report? What are you actually going to do with that? Are you going to print it out once a month and put it in a file cabinet? If so, that tool doesn't make sense for you. Anything that's going to be useful needs to go from login, all the way to the part where you're saving money, or getting new business, or removing some obstacle that slows down your growth. Everyone talks about intelligence versus just data, but "actionable intelligence" versus just intelligence is just as important of a distinction, especially for factories. Whatever tool you're investing in needs to take you from software to actually doing something inside your facility that helps your business. How is sustainability saving Chinese textile mills money? Read about it here!

Seven Questions to Focus Sustainability Leadership

The SSC Team May 12, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this 2012 article written by SSC president Jennifer Woofter that was featured in Environmental Leader: Sustainability leadership is a challenging issue I’ve seen crop up in a variety of situations recently, including:
  • Lower-level employees on a volunteer green team, trying to steer their companies down a greener path
  • Newly appointed Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) charged with the momentous task of integrating sustainability into the C-Suite
  • Sustainability consultants that have buy-in from the client’s leadership, but are struggling to push it down into individual departments
In many cases, the people involved are facing a leadership crisis. And as a result they aren’t clear about their role, able to generate momentum, or equipped to get others on board. Sometimes they are spinning their wheels, other times they are bulldozing their colleagues. They might be all talk and no action, or “all action” without an overarching story to tie everything together into a larger mission.  The list of symptoms can be endless and exhausting. I was delighted, therefore, to come across, “7 Practical Questions That Will Multiply Your Influence.” David Dye, founder and President of Trailblaze, Inc., argues that the stuff of leadership, “has nothing to do with the title that comes after your name or power to force people to act. It has everything to do with what is in your heart.” Touchy-feely sentiment aside, his seven questions resonated with me from the perspective of the sustainability leadership crisis. I’ve listed them below, along with my thoughts on each question’s pertinence to sustainability leadership. I hope that it helps to spark something in all the current and future sustainability leaders out there!

1. What do you really want?

“In the middle of a leadership crisis, nothing provides clarity like this question. What do you want to happen as a result of your leadership in this situation? Sometimes you’ll find that you’ve been acting from an entirely different set of motivations than what it is you want deep down, where it matters.” For Sustainability Leaders: Sustainability is a cross-departmental, cross-functional, cross-issue, cross-stakeholder endeavor – and the truth is that you can’t please everyone all the time. Be clear about what YOU really want out of the “sustainability leader” role. Is it to radically transform the company? Inspire the CEO? Show up the CFO? Execute the plan and make your targets? Show that going green can be profitable? Use this position as a stepping stone to another job? Be clear, specific, and honest with yourself.

2. Do you know (and are you working out of) your values and personal mission?

“Self leadership begins when you know your own values and understand your purpose – what make your heart sing and come alive in the universe. When you work from this energy, it’s naturally attractive to like-minded team members and you motivate almost without knowing it. If you haven’t done this work, I strongly encourage you to find a coach or mentor who can help you explore what matters most.” For Sustainability Leaders: Think beyond sustainability for a minute: what makes you tick? Do you love to collaborate, and work best in a meeting or team environment? Or do you love to be alone in a room, running the numbers a dozen ways to figure out the best way to optimize a process? Are you a voracious reader who thrives on big ideas? Or are you an “on the ground” details player? Understanding your values, working style, and motivation will help clarify your leadership style.

3. Are you choosing problems or trying to avoid problems?

“Solving problems is central to meaningful leadership, but many leaders fall into a trap of trying to avoid problems. We don’t get to choose whether or not we’ll have problems … but often we DO get to choose which set of problems we’ll have. Effective leaders don’t spend time trying to avoid problems. Rather, they put their energy into working on the right set of problems – the ones that get them closer to their vision. For example: Do you want the discomfort of learning how to address poor performance or do you want the discomfort of a team with poor morale and worse results? Do you prefer the pain of changing your strategy or the pain of discovering your team is no longer relevant? Do you risk vulnerability and apologize for mistakes or do you avoid taking blame and lose credibility?” For Sustainability Leaders: This is a crucial lesson that we need to learn over and over. Because sustainability is a complex issue, we can tackle it through a variety of lenses – and thus choose our problem set. Do you prefer to focus on pushing a more radical sustainability strategy and risk making no substantive progress for months, or focus on smaller, incremental steps that may not really change “business as usual”? Do you want to risk C-suite ire by pushing for ground-up employee engagement, or risk alienating lower-level employees by pushing a top-down sustainability plan? Each choice has pros and cons, so be thoughtful about which problems you choose.

4. Do you really want things to get better?

“In question #1, you looked at what you really want, deep down. Now it’s time to look at the cost. If you’re going to change things, it’s going to include risk, discomfort, being misunderstood, sacrificing other goals, etc. Are you willing to accept the consequences of pursuing your vision? If not, you can’t possibly expect your team to come along with you.” For Sustainability Leaders: If you push for a radical sustainability agenda, you may find yourself stalemated (or worse, fired) for being too aggressive. If you move more slowly, you may look back in 10 years and realize you haven’t accomplished much. Either way there are consequences for your leadership style, both for yourself and for the organization you are leading. Can you identify the risks you face as a result of your sustainability leadership? Are they acceptable? If not, what do you need to change?

5. Are you working for your team or yourself?

“Time to take a hard look in the mirror … no one will truly know the answer to this one but you. When your decisions are in your heart and your head, before you’ve given them a voice … are you filtering them through what’s best for you or best for your team? Are you saying “I” … or “we”? It’s okay to include your own well-being in your decisions (you are one of the team after all!), but if your team isn’t at the core of your leadership decisions, your credibility will quickly erode.” For Sustainability Leaders: I’d expand this question to include: whose sustainability are you working for? Is it your own (including having a job that pays the mortgage), your organization (including being profitable and competitive), or the world (including a radical transformation of our economy and social structure to account for natural and social boundaries inherent in a sustainable system). These goals aren’t totally either/or, but there are often trade-offs that need to be considered. For example, a sustainability consultant needs to consider whether they are working themselves out of a job by helping companies set up sustainability programs. (I believe that there will always be a role for sustainability consultants, but that’s another article altogether.) Sometimes, pursuing a radical sustainability agenda will NOT be in the best interest of a company – rather, a more strategic, leading-but-not-sticking-your-neck-out-too-far approach is best. Be cognizant of the trade-offs of your sustainability leadership approach. You’ll need to be able to address them with your colleagues.

6. What can I do to bring about the results I want to see?

“I love this one: it moves us from victim to leader. When you find yourself frustrated at circumstances, upset that people “just don’t get it,” or discouraged that things didn’t go as you hoped, you’ve got a choice: Bemoan the unfairness of the universe (which inspires no one!). Or look at the situation and see where you can take action. Just asking the question completely reframes the situation and can transform a gloomy attitude in seconds.” For Sustainability Leaders: This is a great question when you find yourself in a stalemate, frustrated by your lack of sustainability progress, or thwarted by a system that doesn’t seem to be moving in step with your vision. Take a different approach and ask yourself: what three actions can I do today to move the ball forward? Maybe it’s scheduling a meeting with your boss to discuss revamping your task list. Maybe it’s buying the latest sustainability book to get inspired. Or maybe it’s taking a day off to recharge your batteries.

7. Are my people better off as a result of their time with me?

“This is what James Hunter calls “the ultimate leadership test.” If the answer is yes, keep going. If the answer is no, examine the reasons why. Do you need to improve your skills? Do you need to wrestle with some of the earlier questions on the list?” For Sustainability Leaders: Sustainability isn’t just about reducing your organization’s carbon footprint or finding more eco-friendly packaging. At the end of the day, sustainability leadership is about people: are they engaged? Do they share a common vision of what the future looks like? Can they see their own individual role in the journey? Your job as a sustainability leader is to help people say yes to sustainability. So, how are you doing? What does it take to be environmentally sustainable in the retail industry? Find out here!

Workplace Movement Toward Environmental Sustainability – Pt. 2

The SSC Team May 7, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller Two weeks ago, we introduced the Retail Industry Leaders Association’s (RILA) brand new Retail Sustainability Management Maturity Matrix. The Matrix hopes to be a tool that will be used by sustainability executives, individual companies, and industry-wide. We also noted that while the Matrix is designed with the retail industry in mind, we think that is has a wide applicability beyond just the retail sector. Last week, we discussed the first three sectors that are featured in the Matrix. Today we are focusing on the final four of the seven sectors. Hoping to provide a more in-depth look at how RILA hopes to benchmark across the industry in terms of environmental sustainability, we are going to look at what it would take for a company to become a leader in that sector.

Retail Operations

Environmental sustainability extends to all aspects of a company, including their retail operations. Whether it is a store or corporate offices, a company should be putting in effort to make these areas as sustainable as possible, such as having facilities be LEED certified. Other ways to make your retail operations more "green" can include incorporating green standards for all new warehousing and participating in the ENERGY STAR program. The Retail Operations sector has three different dimensions:
  • Store/Corporate Offices
  • Warehouses/DCs
  • Data Center & Applications

Supply Chain

Supply chain sustainability might not be the first aspect of a company's sustainability plan to come to mind, but it is no less important than any other aspect. To be a leader in the retail industry when it comes to supply chain sustainability, a company must demonstrate the reduction of environmental impact through the optimization of transportation, work closely with suppliers to help improve their sustainability metrics, and be more transparent when it comes to audit statistics (e.g., percent of non-compliant factories). The Supply Chain sector has three different dimensions:
  • Transportation/Logistics
  • Supplier Engagement
  • Supply Chain Transparency & Traceability


When someone thinks of a retail organization and sustainability, often times their first thought is "how sustainable is the product?" RILA recognizes that product sustainability is a key component in a company's overall environmental sustainability and offers some suggestions on how to be a leader when it comes to making a company's product more sustainable. Some examples are using renewable energy sources during manufacturing, offering take-back services, and designing products with a "cradle to cradle" outlook. The Products sector has three different dimensions:
  • Product & Packaging Design and Development
  • Owned Manufacturing/Production
  • Product & Packaging End-Of-Life Stewardship

Environmental Issues

And finally, true environmental sustainability cannot happen if a company does not focus on the environmental issues at hand. How a company addresses these issues - energy, waste, recycling, etc. - in the context of the retail sector is telling, and some industry leaders are already paving the way. Some of these companies are implementing leading waste technologies and policies, establishing green chemistry programs that helps reduce toxins, recycling and reusing water, using alternative energies, and more. The Environmental Issues sector has four different dimensions:
  • Energy & GHG Emissions
  • Water & Wastewater
  • Waste & Recycling
  • Chemical & Toxics
Last fall we attended the annual RILA Sustainability Conference. Read about some of our thoughts on the conference here.