Tag <span class=Sustainability" src="/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/cropped-office-building-secondary-1.jpg">

Tag Sustainability

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.

Five of the Best Sustainable Packaging Resources

The SSC Team May 5, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this blog post from the SSC archives: There is a TON of really annoying packaging getting in the way of sustainability. (And here is a list of 12 great examples, just in case you needed a refresher.) To combat the problem, we're rounding up a list of our favorite smart packaging resources:

1. Consumer Goods Forum

In November 2011, the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) released its, “Global Protocol on Packaging Sustainability (GPPS).” The 74-page guide on packaging sustainability not only aims to help companies reduce their carbon footprint but also serves as a step in the right direction to increase efficiency and effective communication by creating a common language that consists of a framework and a measurement system. (Read our complete review here.)

2. "Cut the Wrap!" White Paper

Cut the Wrap! Packaging Waste and Strategies for Mitigation and Reduction” is one of our most popular white papers, and for good reason.  Packaging waste is an issue that affects almost all businesses, from food and beverage to electronics. Unfortunately most of the materials used in packaging is discarded in ever-growing landfills or burnt, causing severe pollution. This paper explores the various ways businesses can reduce or even eliminate their packaging waste, make smarter and more sustainable packaging choices, and utilize packaging alternatives.

3. Sustainable Packaging Coalition

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) is an industry working group dedicated to a more robust environmental vision for packaging. Through strong member support, an informed and science-based approach, supply chain collaborations and continuous outreach, SPC endeavors to build packaging systems that encourage economic prosperity and a sustainable flow of materials.  The SPC makes available a broad range of publications and resources to further the vision and ever-evolving implementation of sustainable packaging.


COMPASS (Comparative Packaging Assessment) is online design software that allows packaging designers and engineers to assess the human and environmental impacts of their package designs using a life cycle approach. COMPASS helps packaging designers make more informed material selections and design decisions by providing quick visual guidance on a common set of environmental indicators.  COMPASS provides consistently modeled data sets for USA, Canada and Europe as well as tailored for materials and processes used for packaging to allow reliable apples-to-apples comparisons of multiple scenarios. In addition, regionalized solid waste modeling provides a waste profile of each scenario to help understand the end-of-life (EoL) implications of packaging designs.

5. “Balance: Efficiency or Sustainability?

This article by Katherine O’Dea is a great article on the current "sustainable packaging" debate. "A couple of weeks ago, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) released a report titled, “Sustainable Packaging, Myth or Reality.” It seems, however, the report doesn’t really debate the myth or reality question, but jumps right to the conclusion that “sustainable packaging is dead” and is being replaced by “efficient packaging.” How fortunate that would be for the “business as usual” crowd if it were true. But, having worked in the sustainability field for 20 years with a good deal of focus on sustainability in packaging for the past five years, I think PwC got it wrong." (Read the whole article here.) What are some of your favorite sustainable packaging resources? Leave a comment or join the conversation with SSC President Jennifer Woofter on Twitter (@jenniferwoofter).

Workplace Movement Toward Environmental Sustainability – Pt. 1

The SSC Team April 28, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller Last week 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. Today we are focusing on three of the seven sectors that are featured in the Matrix. 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.

Strategy and Commitment

Before a company can begin their sustainability journey, they must first have some sort of sustainability strategy, right? And if that strategy is weak, how strong will a company's goals be? How well will the company show executives that sustainability is necessary? What this section hopes to capture is how well a company is addressing environmental sustainability at a governance level. A leading company in this sector will have a sustainability strategy that is aligned across departments and integrated into corporate strategy, has defined comprehensive and aggressive goals, incorporates executives from all relevant parts of the business, and more. The Strategy and Commitment sector has five different dimensions:
  • Strategy
  • Materiality/Risk Identification
  • Goals
  • Governance & Executive Engagement
  • Incentives

People and Tools

Sustainability cannot happen without people. Whether the people are stakeholders or employees, sustainability is a collaborative process that needs to have everyone involved from the beginning. While the people involved in your sustainability process is important, so are the tools you use. If you don't have the right set of tools and the right people, your company might be falling short in terms of their sustainability. According to RILA, in order to be leading this sector, a company must demonstrate that they have a dedicated team to creating and investing in sustainable innovations, incorporate feedback from key stakeholders into sustainability strategy, provide a collaborative forum for employees to engage in, and more. The People and Tools sector has four different dimensions:
  • Stakeholder Engagement
  • Employee Engagement
  • Funding Mechanisms
  • Business Innovation Mechanisms


You have your sustainability strategy in place and have assembled a team of employees that have the right set of tools to tackle sustainability, so what's next? Choosing sustainability metrics focused on all material aspects. Using 3rd-party standards in your sustainability reporting. Having sustainability be a focus in marketing campaigns. Partner with other organizations to continue to identify room for improvement. These are just some of the ways RILA says companies can become better sustainability leaders while promoting their sustainability. The Visibility sector has five different dimensions:
  • Metrics & Measurement
  • Reporting & Communicating
  • Point-of-Purchase Consumer Education
  • Marketing Campaigns
  • Collaborative Involvement
Last fall we attended the annual RILA Sustainability Conference. Read about some of our thoughts on the conference here.

Choosing Sustainability Management Software for Your Business

The SSC Team April 23, 2015 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

This article was written as an expansion of our white paper “Choosing Sustainability Management Software for your Business” published in July 2011.  If you’re looking for information on how to make your software selection, check out the full article.  If you just want to make sense of this particular topic, keep reading. Enjoy:

Now that you’ve decided to purchase sustainability software, an important related decision is whether or not you want to do the implementation work in-house or if you want to bring on a consultant to help out.  Making the right decision will be critical to your overall project success as well as impact the total cost of ownership for your solution.  And depending on your specific situation, either answer can be the right answer.  This article covers four key considerations:  Culture, Cost, Capabilities and Confidence.


Your business culture is an important first consideration.  Either you are consultant friendly or you prefer to do projects internally.  Making a decision that fits your culture and is consistent with your values will be important throughout the project.  That’s not to say that you might not go in the other direction for a specific project, or even choose a hybrid approach to delivery; just be true to yourself, as that will contribute to project morale for the entire team regardless of who signs their paycheck.  

A hybrid approach may provide the best of both cultures for you without offending the purists on either side.  Bring in specific subject matter expertise that you don’t already have in-house and then match it up with the right internal members of your Green Team to deliver the project.  On a high performing team, your consultants should be looking to train the internal employees on all the ins and outs of the system so that eventually your people can take over and run with the operational system. A good consultant instills confidence that they provide specialized expertise and trust that you will feel comfortable to call on them for further assistance in the future, instead of keeping them on the project unnecessarily for extended or prolonged periods of time.


After culture, cost is a major factor in the DIY vs. consultant decision.  For many firms – large or small – the preliminary inclination is to try and do the work internally.  The general premise is that it will be cheaper to use people that you already are paying because there is no additional cash out of pocket like there would be with an external consultant.  Consultants seemingly come with a high, upfront, fixed cost as your employee costs are already embedded in your budget.  Don’t forget to account for the “opportunity cost” of your internal employees – after all, they would be working on something else valuable for your firm if they weren’t picked for this project.

Beyond the opportunity cost consideration, looking only at the incremental expense doesn’t address an important aspect of choosing your own internal people to do the work: Do they actually have time?  Presumably, all of your existing employees have a “day job” that brings them to work every day.  Some of them are probably even doing two or three different jobs during a regular workday.  Determining if you actually have the available slack time within your existing team members is an important determination.  After all, if you’re on a deadline and your employees just can’t carve out enough time to meet that target, it may end up costing you more money to bring consultants in later than it would have if you had engaged them at the start of your project.  If you engage them in the beginning, the consultants are competing for your business; if you wait to bring them in until later in the project, they know you are hiring them to help bail you out so the leverage has shifted into their favor.

A final cost consideration when hiring a consultant (or going the “cheaper” internal route) is that “you get what you pay for.”  This can be taken as advice that the lowest cost doesn’t always provide you with the best result – nor for that matter does the highest cost.  Just make sure that the cost is right for the work being performed and for your situation.  That brings me to the second aspect of “you get what you pay for” – which is to MAKE SURE you get what you paid for.  Pay your consultant based on their delivery of the results you are looking for on the project, not just because they send you an invoice.  If possible, get a consultant to sign up for a risk-reward component to their payment so that they will be incentivized to do a better job since some of their compensation is on the line.


One of the primary reasons to hire a consultant is that they have the necessary skills and/or expertise to perform the software implementation that you may not already have in-house.  Beyond the skills that they bring to the table, a consultant should also bring some other benefits to make a strong business case for hiring them.  Your consultant should bring the necessary tools, techniques, and methodologies to the table that their consultancy uses and which you don’t have.  This may be as simple as them showing up with their own laptops and software licenses that you don’t need to pay for, or them having the necessary data gathering systems to pull in all the info you need for your new sustainability software platform. 

As consultants, you are also expecting them to bring prior experience to the table.  Whether or not they’ve worked on a project exactly like what you are asking them to perform, you should be able to get veteran individual consultants and/or teams of consultants to come help you out.  And by teams, we don’t mean the kind where the senior partner sells the deal and then you don’t see him again except when he stops by infrequently to check on the team of freshly minted MBA’s that he’s actually assigned to your project.  We mean the kind of team where your senior (and junior) consultants are actively engaged on a daily basis to help you get the project done quickly and effectively – i.e. on time and on budget.

In addition to experience, your consultant may be able to offer a cost advantage, especially if their firm is already doing business with you and you can get any sort of bulk discount.  The discount opportunity may extend to software and/or hardware purchases as well since they may be able to aggregate purchases across multiple clients.  This discount opportunity may also arise if you are able to hire your software vendor as the implementation consultant.  While this may raise some concerns about “the fox guarding the hen house”, it may help keep your costs down. 


There’s an old adage in the software industry: “No one ever got fired for hiring IBM.”  While this is generally an explanation of why you should hire a bigger firm over a smaller firm, it also illustrates the importance of having confidence in your choice.  Regardless of whether you feel the need for a big firm with vast resources, or if you prefer a smaller firm that provides a more personalized experience, the most important factor for you is that you find a good consultant that you can trust.  They should have a proven track record, have a solid network of resources they can draw on (regardless of whether they are internal or external to the consulting firm), and be able to instill the necessary confidence in you that they will deliver.  If they can’t do that, then you shouldn’t hire them.  If they’re the best solution to your need however, then by all means, hire away!

Now that you’ve read this article, tell us what you think!  And be sure to check out the full white paper.

Introducing RILA’s 2015 Retail Sustainability Management Maturity Index

The SSC Team April 21, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) recently announced their brand new Retail Sustainability Management Maturity Matrix. The Matrix, which is based on Deloitte and RILA’s knowledge of the retail industry and its sustainability programs, hopes to be a tool that will be used by sustainability executives, individual companies, and industry-wide.

(Although this matrix is designed with the retail industry in mind, we think that it has a wide applicability beyond just the retail sector.)

While there are many aspects of sustainability, the Matrix focuses specifically on environmental sustainability. The Matrix has seven sectors that helps break down the different components of environmental sustainability:

  1. Strategy & Commitment
  2. People & Tools
  3. Visibility
  4. Retail Operations
  5. Supply Chain
  6. Products
  7. Environmental Issues

Each sector is then broken down by dimensions, and each dimension is ranked by five categories: starting, standard, excelling, leading, and next practice. RILA acknowledges that only a few companies are in the “leading” category, but hopes that over the next few years more companies can get to that level. The main goal of the Matrix is to identify all of the possible pathways to strong environmental sustainability.

Here are some of the ways the Matrix can be useful:

  • Identifying and assessing the maturity of your sustainability program and opportunities for improvement
  • Helping to facilitate conversations about your sustainability program’s development
  • Finding ways to access for funding for your sustainability program
  • Training employees to have more sustainability responsibility
  • Allowing internal, external evaluation of your program’s perception, gaps it might have

It’s RILA’s goal to use the Matrix to benchmark the industry in 2015, while annually updating the matrix.

Over the course of the next two weeks, we will be further breaking down the Matrix by sector to get a more in-depth look at how the Matrix will work.

Last fall we took an in-depth look at SSC's peer benchmarking system that we used against the athletic wear industry. Catch up here.

How Sustainability is Saving Chinese Textile Mills Money

The SSC Team April 16, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

It’s no secret that China is not an environmentally progressive country. Beijing is plagued by air pollution, over 100 cities are facing water scarcity issues, almost a third of China’s rivers are too polluted for human contact, and to top it all off, as a nation China is one of the highest emitters of carbon dioxide. 

One of China’s largest polluters are their textile producers. Responsible for roughly 50% of the world’s fabrics, textile manufacturing is a very environmentally un-friendly process that results in high energy and water use. The industry is responsible for the being the third largest dischargers of wastewater and the second largest user of chemicals in China. 

All hope is not lost, though. With the help of the National Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Clean By Design program, Chinese textile manufacturing facilities are using green tactics to not only reduce energy and water consumption, but also help them save money as well.

The NRDC recently released a report stating that the 33 textile mills that are using the Clean By Design program are saving an estimated $14.7 million annually. By going after the “low-hanging fruit” – the low-cost, easy to implement projects – the textile manufacturers are helping to make a strong business case for sustainability.

Here are some of the ways the Chinese textile mills have not only reduced their environmental impact, but also saved money along the way:

Electricity Reductions

10 of the 33 textile mills went after projects that helped reduce electricity consumption. While the average reduction was only 4%, some of the more impactful projects yielded a 9% reduction with over $21,000 in annual savings. As a bonus, this project paid for itself in only a month!

Water Reuse

31 mills implemented 53 projects that resulted in an average of 9% water savings, with some of the top mills reducing water consumption by 20%. A lot of the reuse efforts focused on targeting process water and grey water, because those tended to yield the largest and most cost-effected reductions. Some mills installed a water treatment process, and that initial investment of $7,600 paid for itself in three months.

Energy Recovery

Through 173 projects that focused on electricity reduction, every participating mill saw an average reduction of 6%, with the top mills seeing a 10% reduction in energy. A majority of the projects saw efforts to recover heat from exhaust gas, water, and oil due to the fact that they produced that largest, most cost-effective reductions: a $500,000 investment yielded roughly $650,000 in annual returns.

Looking for ways to reduce your company's carbon footprint? Learn more by checking out our white paper!

10 Steps to Building a Better Business Case

The SSC Team April 9, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

This article was written as an expansion of our white paper “Choosing Sustainability Management Software for your Business” published in July 2011. Enjoy:

As part of your decision making process, you need to make a business case – in financial terms (and maybe some softer measures) – in order to make sure you that you are on the right track.  The outline below should help guide your thought process in fleshing out what the benefits might be for your firm.

1. What’s your overall strategy?  

Is it a cost savings approach?  Do you want to just provide better reporting to stakeholders?  Or are you generating revenue from a green product line and therefore need to track how green it is?

2. What can you actually measure?  

Are you saving labor/time?  Do you have fewer errors and better data quality?  Is it a reduction in risk of losses due to litigation?  Or are you able to increase sales revenue by having better data on your environmental impact?

3. What are the baseline values for those metrics?  

It might take a 100 hours per month of staff time to produce your current report.  Maybe you average $50K in legal fees yearly.  Or you are currently selling $100K per month in your new product line.

4. What supporting research do you have?  

This could be clear internal documentation of your baseline metrics as well as competitive research on your competitors, your region, your industry, etc.  This research will tell you how your data in number 2 and 3 above stacks up against a larger pool of data.

5. What incremental percentage change do you expect to drive in your metrics?  

You should be able to estimate this based on your answer to number 4.  Are you going to be 5% better yearly?  10% lower yearly?  50% higher monthly?  Just make sure you document your assumptions on how big a percentage change you are going to drive, which direction that change is in and what time period that change will cover – i.e. monthly metric, yearly metric etc. Does the change all happen in the first year or does it happen steadily for the entire period of your business case? 

6. What volume change in your metrics results from the incremental percentage change?  

Does a 5% decrease in labor hours equate to 5 hours a month or 500 hours a month?  You need to be able to convert from percentage to number.

7. Translate your percentage/number value into a monetary amount.

Now you have to put on your quantitative hat as you churn through the numbers.  This is where you weed out the quantitative benefits from the qualitative benefits.  Both are desirable, but you want to be able to show the monetary value that you are going to save or earn as a result of your purchase.

8. Decide how you are going to measure it.

You know what you are measuring, how much it is going to change and what your end result is expected to be.  Now you need to determine how you are actually going to measure your progress from start to finish.  If you can’t put a firm description around how you are going to specifically measure the change – i.e. maybe your product revenue will increase for reasons besides its greenness – then you’ve found a soft benefit.  It’s still worth tracking, but you may need to share some of your business case benefit with another department or project.  If you’ve got a very specific way to track your benefit realization, then you’ve found a hard benefit.  The hard benefits, are the kinds that your accountants will like – try to get as many of these on your list as you can.

9. Write it up. 

You’ll need to present your business case benefits to somebody – whether it is your bank when asking for a loan to purchase the software, or to your executives to convince them to support your purchase decision.  Tell them why your purchase is going to be a big success for the company, how much it will contribute to their triple bottom line, and how you are going to come back in a year or three and show them how well things went. 

10. Measure it.

After you implement the software, you have to go back and do the things you said you were going to do in number 9.  Many companies don’t actually close the loop today with projects – they just move on to the next thing and go on their way.  If you want successful business results, it all comes down to measuring it, if you want to manage it.

Now that you’ve read this article, tell us what you think!  And be sure to check out the full white paper.

Sustainability Consulting: One Size Does Not Fit All

The SSC Team March 31, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Here is a blog entry from the early days of the SSC blog. Enjoy!

To remain competitive in an increasingly global marketplace, companies of all shapes and sizes and from different industries and sectors are introducing sustainability programs to gain a competitive advantage. Companies are expected to react to these changing dynamics and to address the changing consumer preferences for environmentally and socially sustainable products and services. The ideas of corporate social responsibility and sustainability are no longer fringe issues or passing trends, but are topping the list of strategic issues of executive management at Fortune 500 companies. Most multinational firms have incorporated some sort of sustainability initiative within operations, such as ethical sourcing, measuring and reducing carbon usage and recycling initiatives. 

However, small- and medium-size companies are in a unique situation when it comes to sustainability. These firms don’t necessarily have the time, money or other resources to lead a full-blown, comprehensive sustainability program. Because of these differences, it is important to realize that sustainability consulting cannot be a “one size fits all” approach. What works for a Fortune 100 company most likely will not be a good fit for a small business. This is why it’s so important to hire consultants that really understand the process of developing and implementing sustainability programs, the resources available and constraints to expect, as well as the stakeholder “buy-in” necessary to execute a successful sustainability strategy for a small- or medium-size company. With these pieces in place, professional sustainability consultants can successfully navigate companies through the sustainability arena. 

Sustainability consultants must remain flexible and adaptable, and should be competent in assessing the feasibility of programs and identify long-term opportunities and constraints. Consultants should recognize that a company typically cannot make one isolated change without addressing the impact of that change on other issues in the business. This “results-oriented” thinking ignores the complexity of execution and implementation of programs and does not provide opportunities for the necessary reflection and evaluation of the sustainability initiatives.

One of the key factors contributing to success of a sustainability plan is the level of collaboration and engagement among employees and other stakeholders during the planning process. This balance of top-down and bottom-up planning increases the likelihood of the plan gaining support and advocacy from stakeholders during the implementation phase. Finally, consultants should work with companies to plan long-term sustainability programs that are tied into business objectives, which will deliver a more integrated approach to sustainability. This is critical, as most “knee-jerk” programs that are not well-thought out, planned or executed have not proven to be very successful or sustainable.

Feeling like your sustainability plan isn't getting as much attention as it deserves? Read about how to fix that here!

6 Reasons Your Sustainability Innovation Is Failing

The SSC Team March 24, 2015 Tags: , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

In 2013, Jennifer Woofter wrote an article for Environmental Leader that highlighted some ways your sustainability innovation might be failing. We thought that the article was worth another share. Enjoy!

For the last few weeks, I’ve been participating in Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizationsa course by David A. Owens of Vanderbilt University. It’s a Coursera class, which means that it’s free and open to the public — and it’s huge (with tens of thousands of students “in attendance”). I’m fascinated by the topic of strategic innovation, and naturally want to apply the concepts to my own field of study: sustainability.

And here is the question I’m wrestling with: why is innovation not getting us closer to global sustainability? Climate change, water scarcity, and biodiversity loss—for all the brilliant advances in “green” processes, products, and services, we’re still losing the battle.

But why? Or at least, why is it taking so long?

In particular, I find Owen’s analysis of common innovation hurdles to be a great aid to my quest to understand why current innovation efforts don’t seem to be making a significant dent in our global sustainability problems.

Owen argues that hurdles to innovation can come from six different places. I’ve listed them below, along with my own comments about how they apply specifically to sustainability challenges.

Individuals Don’t Have the Mindset

Are individuals regularly challenged to think differently and challenge assumptions? This holds true for corporate employees, government drones, and stay-at-home moms. How often do any of us really stop and think about why we are doing the things that we’re doing, how they might be done differently, and our role in the larger “system”. Without an innovation mindset at the individual level, we’ll never come up with enough ideas to throw into the mix.

Example: The “average” employees. For most of us, life in the American workforce isn’t a hotbed of sustainability innovation. We get our jobs done, hope for a promotion, and struggle to maintain work/life balance. Rarely do we really wrestle with how to creatively disrupt our daily tasks with sustainable innovation.

The Group’s Culture Doesn’t Support Risk

Maybe individuals have great ideas, but the ideas are killed while still “tiny sweet things” because they are deemed too risky, too expensive, too disruptive, or just too crazy. It might be the boss crushing your dream, or simply a group culture that doesn’t encourage exploring bold new ideas.

Example: The last time your Green Team took a “great idea” to your boss, only to have it shut down because it was too expensive or time consuming. (But definitely go ahead with those cute stickers reminding people to turn off their lights!)

Your Organization Isn’t Structured to Move Ideas through to Production

Even if an innovative idea gets internal group support, the organization (company, government, household, or community) may hold it back. In a company, this is often because there is no clear path for moving an idea through the corporate hierarchy, and the brilliant innovative idea flounders in no-man’s land.

Example: You’ve got an idea to shift your manufacturing plant over to renewable energy using an awesome new program offered by your utility company. But you’re a middle manager, and no one can decide who “owns” the process—facilities, finance, production, or legal—so your idea sits in limbo until the new program’s funds expire.

The Market Doesn’t See Value in Your Innovation

The idea is solid, and the sustainability benefits are tremendous. There’s just one problem: no one wants to adopt your innovation. If you can’t get your innovation diffused through society (or your customer base), your brilliant idea won’t get the traction it needs to scale.

Example: Loud snack food packaging. Need I say more? 

Society Doesn’t Accept Your Idea as Legitimate

The common example given about “societal illegitimacy” is human cloning: a fascinating innovation, but not particularly ethical (or so say the UN and various other governing bodies). The key concept here is that innovation must be seen as palatable — if not to the masses, then at least to the target audience you seek to change.

Example: I love the Zero Waste Home. This is a family that has radically shifted their lifestyle so that they generate zero waste. EVERY aspect of their lives aligns with this principle (they don’t even have a garbage can, just a tiny recycling box for the curb!). Now, this is certainly innovative, but I think we can agree that (at least for 99.99% of society) this is not a palatable lifestyle. 

The Technology Isn’t There

Even if everything else is in alignment, we often need technology to help us achieve the innovation. The technology must be available and feasible, meaning it can’t be too complex, too expensive, or too restricted to use in practical applications.

Example: Space solar power. It is definitely innovative, but the cost of the technology prevents it from being a realistic solution to today’s reliance on fossil fuels.

In many cases, there will be a combination of innovation obstacles preventing us from moving closer to sustainability. Sadly, these aren’t simple solutions to solve. (Just try building and deploying a space solar power array.) So where does that leave us?

Three thoughts come to mind:

First, if you are an individual employee with a great sustainability idea, it can be helpful (for your mental health, if nothing else) to preemptively identify where you are likely to hit a roadblock.

Second, if you are an organization looking for great sustainability ideas that will reduce your environmental impacts and save you boatloads of money, don’t just expect employees to come up with great ideas. Make sure you create an atmosphere that embraces risk (or at least enjoys exploring bold ideas), as well as delineates a clear path to help get those bold ideas into practice.

Third, take the time to understand your stakeholder preferences. Will your customers buy in? Is it legitimate and palatable to your target audience? What assumptions are you making, and how can you test them before launching into full scale innovation production.

The intersection of innovation and sustainability is a hot topic these days, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you think is the biggest obstacle to sustainable innovation in today’s world? Leave a comment or join in the conversation on Twitter!

9 Reasons Your Sustainability Communications Fail

The SSC Team March 19, 2015 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

Sustainability leaders have to talk - a lot. Sometimes they speak at conferences, other times they speak to clients, or they might even write a guest article for a website. Regardless of the audience or platform, if you're in sustainability, you have to communicate. But every so often communications can fail.

What happens when you do notice that you're not getting your sustainability message across? Fast Company published an article that highlighted 9 different ways a leader's communication might be stalling. We thought that the reasons mentioned in the article also work perfectly for sustainability communications.

1. Distrust Versus Trust

Have you ever found yourself talking to someone who is not 100% on board with sustainability, and you instantly go on the defensive? Instead of distrusting the person you're talking to right off the bat, try trusting them. When you open up, communications can go a lot further.

2. Monologue Versus Collaboration

You're speaking to a room full of people, and you find yourself talking non-stop. Take a moment and look at the crowd. How engaged are they? Do you see people doing head nods? It's very easy to get carried away when speaking, because you want to get your point across, but collaboration goes a long way. Engage with the audience and see what happens!

3. Complexity Versus Simplicity

The sustainability field loves their acronyms. GHG. LCA. GRI. CDP. SASB. IIRC. The list goes on and on. While many people within sustainability might know what you're talking about when mentioning these words, but you don't always know who is in your audience. Simplicity is key; don't get carried away with industry lingo.

4. Insensitivity Versus Tact

When talking about sustainability, the conversation can often mention climate change. Unfortunately, climate change is still a politically-charged topic, and people can get turned off when listening to someone speak about it. You don't have to avoid the topic completely, but be smart and tactful about how you approach certain topics.

5. Achievement Versus Potential

You might have a handful of published reports under your belt and a countless number of speaking opportunities, but that doesn't mean you can rest on your laurels. You might think you know the best way to deliver a presentation, but listen and look to the people around. There is always room to grow and improve the way you communicate sustainability.

6. Dilution Versus Distinction

You find yourself trying to convince a client that it's important to publish a sustainability report, and in order to prove your point, you keep going on and on with a variety of anecdotes and facts. Stop diluting your point and cut to the chase. If you keep dragging out your reason why, the client may lose interest! Clear through the clutter, and lay out the key facts.

7. Generalization Versus Specificity

It's very easy when writing sustainability plans, reports, etc. to become very generic with your statements. "X company cares deeply about the environment." "X company works very hard at recycling." Instead of just spouting off platitudes, get specific. How has a company achieved their recycling goals? What sets a company apart from others when it comes to environmental care? Make your communications meaningful.

8. Logic Versus Emotion

There is a time for logic and a time for emotion when it comes to communication, but what happens when you don't recognize the right place to use these two tactics? If you're trying to motivate a crowd at a conference to get excited about sustainability, tap in on emotion, but if you're speaking to a client about a potential project, use logic.

9. Distortion Versus Perspective

The sustainability field is ever-changing, and no one can remain an expert forever. Don't write an article acting like you know everything about sustainability, or don't give a presentation where you come off as being better than everyone else. With new information and research always being published, sometimes you should take a back seat and learn from your peers. After all, no one likes listening to a know-it-all.

Is your sustainability plan failing to get attention? Here are 7 different ways to improve that.