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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.

Four Ways Summer Interns Can Advance Your Corporate Sustainability

The SSC Team March 17, 2015 Tags: , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

With internship season right around the corner, we thought we would share this article Jennifer Woofter wrote for Environmental Leader in 2012. Enjoy:

Here are four projects that you can easily assign to summer staff. These “intern-ready tasks” require no fancy software or specialized training — just the ability to move freely around your facility and observe current practices.

In general, each project will take about 2 weeks to execute (including planning, analysis, and debriefing) and require little planning. So even if you hadn’t thought about it until now, there’s still plenty of time to squeeze in a couple of them before the summer runs out!

Project One: Lighting Analysis

Want to know how much electricity you could save by retrofitting your office, warehouse, factory, or other facilities? You’ll need to start by understanding your current lighting profile — including what kind of lights are currently used, how often (and for what duration) they are used, and their energy impact. Have an intern (or group of interns) survey your facility and assemble a spreadsheet.

Once your intern has collected a robust lighting spreadsheet, you’ll be able to prioritize efforts and determine the impact of switching to newer lighting (e.g. by upgrading your overhead florescent tubing to more efficient versions), where lighting should be eliminated (e.g. unnecessary incandescent desk lamps), and the cost savings associated with any of the changes under consideration. Some of this preliminary analysis may be done by your summer interns, but we recommend that they work in close supervision with facility staff to keep them on the right track.

Project Two: Paper Chase

There are many reasons to reduce paper use in your office — cost savings, better accessibility, increased security, less clutter, and (of course) saving trees. But before you issue a mandate to “use less paper” it’s helpful to know exactly how much paper is being used, how it’s being used, and how long it’s being used (before it’s thrown away). You can turn this into a scavenger hunt, if you approach it right.

Start with the purchasing records to figure out how much paper (including copy paper, envelopes, stationary, post-it notes, invoices, etc.) is used each year. Be sure to include third-party printed documents such as annual reports, brochures, or sales materials that might never actually pass through your office but are part of your “paper footprint” nonetheless. Make a note of the paper manufacturer, the percentage of recycled content, other “green” attributes (such as “processed chlorine free”), and the cost per unit.

Then, figure out how and when that paper is used. How much paper is used for “corporate” things — like printing annual reports? How much is used by individual employees — such as printing out emails or documents for editing? Is the accounting department sucking up eighty-five % of the paper, or are they e-doc pros that can serve as inspiration for the rest of the company? How much paper is used in meetings — does everyone bring a copy of the 10-page agenda, or can it simply be emailed ahead of time and shared on the LCD projector?

Once you’ve got a good baseline, you’ll be well-equipped to go on a paper-busting bonanza. And more importantly: you’ll be able to target your initiative at the right people and the right paper types.

Project Three: Mail Review

Sit your interns down in the mail room for a week and ask them to collect information on your current mail systems. For starters, ask them to classify each type of incoming and outgoing mail, and the number of items falling into each category. For example, under incoming mail you might have: billing/invoices, personal correspondence, catalogs, priority envelopes, boxes/packages, and “junk.”

While the interns are conducting their initial tally, they can also be investigating opportunities to consolidate mailings (maybe you don’t need 50 copies of the Staples office supplies catalog!) or switch to electronic formats. For example, if you find that the mailroom sends out priority envelopes 50 times a week (at $5.15 a pop) for contract signatures, you’ll have added financial justification for pushing that e-signature solution.

Project Four: Waste Audit

If your interns are ready to get their hands dirty, consider doing a waste audit. Set aside your office waste for a week in a safe place. Then spread the waste and sort it into key categories such as landfill, food, mixed recycling, Styrofoam, paper, and cardboard.  Next weigh each category and tally the results in a spreadsheet. You can run a variety of calculations on the raw data, but at a minimum you can determine: how much waste you generate in an average week, what your waste stream looks like, what percentage of that waste is currently recycled, and what percentage of that waste could be (but is not) recycled.

It’s grubby work, and there are a number of safety precautions that should be implemented before you turn your interns loose with a pitchfork and a bag of garbage. So make sure that you do your research and take time to set up the area, prep your interns, and explain the process ahead of time.

Short on Time or Staff? Here are Eleven Quick Tasks Perfect for Interns:

  1. Investigate food composting options available in your area
  2. Research local green business networking opportunities
  3. Enter previous years’ utility data into EPA’s Portfolio Manager tool
  4. Research sustainability conferences that might be worth attending and why
  5. Create signs to remind people to turn off the lights when they leave a room, make double-sided copies in the copy room, etc.
  6. Research local “green” tax incentives, rebates, grants, credits, and deductions
  7. Conduct a brown bag lunch to share ideas on how the company can “go green”
  8. Pull together some examples/templates for sustainability-related policies (like green purchasing)
  9. Research greener kitchen options (like getting rid of paper plates and upgrading to permanent cutlery)
  10. Research and put together a “green plan” for next year’s summer interns
  11. Compare “greener” office product pricing against current purchasing practices

Interested in finding job within the field of sustainability? Read about some of the common mistakes job seekers make.

3 Stupid Mistakes that Sustainability Job Seekers Make

The SSC Team March 10, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

In 2011, Jennifer Woofter wrote an article for Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series focusing on some mistake people make when looking for a sustainability job. We thought that her article had so much good information that it was worth another share! Enjoy:

In the course of running a boutique sustainability consulting firm, I get a lot of inquiries about jobs in sustainability. Some people want to know if I’m hiring, others want an informational interview to understand the sustainability job market in general, and yet others want to hear all about how I started my company in hopes that they will walk away with an idea of how to blaze an entrepreneurial trail through the industry.

After seeing the same blunders again and again and again, I thought it might be helpful to put together a short list of common mistakes that will blow your chances of getting a job in the sustainability profession.

Mistake #1: Leading with Your Passion

In the piles of emails and letters that I get every week from sustainability job seekers, more than half of them use some form of the word “passion”. Here are a couple of excerpts from cover letters/bios I’ve received in the last week:

“My passions for renewable energy and sustainable development have driven my success…”

“I am passionate about helping companies create cultures that support and inspire their employees and community.”

“In my last corporate role I initiated corporate sustainability initiatives, mostly fueled by my own passion…”

Here is a hint: passion isn’t a selling point, it’s the minimum requirement to ride this sustainability roller coaster. We are ALL passionate about sustainability, and we’ll assume you are too. (Because honestly, who applying for a job in sustainability isn’t passionate about it?)

Yes, it’s great to be enthusiastic – but when EVERYONE is passionate about a topic, it no longer becomes something that makes you stand out. When I see a cover letter with the word “passion” in the first paragraph, it automatically gets put into the “no thanks” pile. Why?

Here is what leading with your “passion” says to me:

  • You have mostly enthusiasm, rather than experience.
  • You don’t have any hard skills to bring to the table.
  • You are emotional, not practical

If you are one of those people with “passion” in your cover letter, you might be arguing with me right now—insisting that you do have practical skills, that you are results-oriented, and that you have the right kind of experience to excel in a sustainability job. And you might be right—but I’ll never know because you are hiding those elements (the ones that will REALLY get you the job) under a obfuscating cloud of enthusiasm.

Solution: be enthusiastic—but let that excitement show through your discussion of your skills, your experience, and your approach to working on sustainability projects.

Mistake #2: Trying a Buckshot Approach

Don’t just shoot off a resume and cover letter to every sustainability job that comes across your computer screen. Please, please, please show a little restraint. For one thing, you will forever be on my hiring blacklist if you send me a cover letter addressed to the WRONG COMPANY because in your hurry the copy-and-paste job got a little sloppy. (I wish I could say that this happens only rarely.)

Even if you don’t make an obvious mistake like that one, let me assure you that it is easy to spot a “buckshot” approach to sustainability job seeking. The same generic resume, the same boring cover letter. It’s a waste of your time. You need to switch from shotgun to sniper mode.

The individuals that have gotten my attention are able to instantly demonstrate that they know my company, understand how they fit into the larger sustainability industry, and are familiar enough with me to avoid my hot button issues. (For example, on the “about Jennifer” page of my website, I clearly state that I hate when people use the term “passion” when talking about sustainability.)

DO YOUR HOMEWORK BEFORE YOU APPLY. I know this is a no-brainer, but I’m pretty sure that every job-hunting advice column continues to include this recommendation because people just don’t get it. You need to be able to demonstrate, at a minimum, the following things:

  • You understand the organization’s approach to sustainability (treehugger vs. techie geek, antagonistic advocate vs. industry partner, “right thing to do” vs. “drives innovation”, environmental sustainability vs. triple bottom line, etc.)
  • You have skills that meet their needs (e.g. don’t spout off about your experience in renewable energy when talking to a sustainable forestry outfit unless you have a stellar reason for doing so, but don’t make the opposite mistake of leaving your skill set vague.)
  • You fit in their organizational culture (you love that it’s a small company, or you thrive in teams, or you love the challenge of working with big, bad companies facing a swatch of sustainability issues)

If you can’t answer those questions, then you haven’t done enough homework. If this information isn’t readily available, you’re going to have to do some digging. Check out their executives LinkedIn profiles, stalk their Facebook page, follow their Twitter stream (be a dear and RT once in a while—it flatters the ego and shows that you can contribute to spreading the word). Exhaust your network until you find someone who can tell you about what it’s really like to work there, what kind of projects have been keeping people busy, and what the internal atmosphere is like.

I hope that it goes without saying that you need to do this research BEFORE you make an official inquiry about a job there…you need to come to the table totally prepared. The executives on the receiving end of your attention need to feel like you already belong there, that you are ready to come onboard immediately, and that you’ll fit right in with the team. The best way to do this is to be so knowledgeable about the organization that you really DO seem like one of the team before you walk in the door.

Yeah, it’s going to take a LOT more time than you may want to spend. But if you can narrow down the number of potential organizations that you want to work for (by avoiding that buckshot approach), you’ll have more time to spend on your short-list of the most relevant and exciting prospects.

Mistake #3: Not Following Directions

This is an easy one, with an easy solution. FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS. If the website says no phone calls, then don’t call. If they say only the applicants selected for an interview will be contacted, then don’t harass the poor HR manager about whether or not you have been chosen. I know, it’s so tempting to just break all the rules and go after the job you want (and I’m ashamed to see other job advice and career counselors recommending breaking the rules) but I promise, it doesn’t work.

(You probably know someone, or have heard a story about someone who broke the rules and by showing persistence got the job. This is the exception to the rule, and it has the unfortunate effect of making lots of people think that they too can be the exception to the rule.)

By not following directions in the job seeking process, you are essentially telling me that you won’t respect my organization’s rules, policies, and procedures. In effect, you place your own desires above the success of my company. And yikes, that is not a person I want to spend my time talking to—let alone a person I want to hire.

However, that doesn’t mean that you are powerless. Here are three examples of how people successfully got around my company’s rules for contacting us about informational interviews, internships, and full time positions.

  • Use someone in my network as an “in”. If you can get introduced to me through one of my colleagues, there is a MUCH better chance that I’ll agree to have coffee with you. Even if I’m not at all interested, I feel a sense of obligation to my network—and once you have me in your grasp, you can unleash your sustainability magnetism and make me forget all about my reluctance.
  • Run into me at an event. Through my company’s blog, e-newsletter, my Twitter account, and our Facebook group, you can pretty much figure out where I’m going to be. And since I hate standing awkwardly alone, a public event is a great place to corner me and chat me up about your sustainability goals.
  • Offer to do me a favor. Can you introduce me to someone that I might want to meet? Connect me to an organization that might want my services? Get my company free publicity? The sad truth is that the job seeking process is very one-sided. You take, and I give (or at least, that’s the way it feels on this side of the equation). If you can help even that balance, I’ll be more amenable to seeing how I can help you.

I’m sure there are other common mistakes, but these three are the ones that push my buttons the most frequently. Talking to other organizations, I fear I’m not alone. So do us all a favor (including yourself) and take a harsh look at your job-search process and see if you are committing any of these mistakes. They are easy to rectify, and will drastically improve your chance of landing your next position in the sustainability industry.

What do you think about the "mistakes" Jennifer mentioned? Let us know in the comments below!

7 Options for Dealing with Sustainability Naysayers

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

By: Alexandra Kueller

Imagine this: you want to start working on a new sustainability project for your company, but in order to get approval, you need to first convince your boss, who happens to be a sustainability naysayer. How many times has this happened to you? Once? Twice? More than you can count?

As much as we sustainability professionals like to think that everybody will hop on board with sustainability, we know that is not always the case. When dealing with sustainability opposition, the best strategy is probably not saying “listen to me because I know I’m right,” but to instead learn how to properly handle the situation. 

Entrepreneur wrote an article talking about how to deal with a demanding, difficult customer, and we thought those seven strategies applied nicely to dealing with sustainability naysayers:

1. Listen patiently.

When talking with someone who might not be 100% on board with sustainability, let them explain why. Maybe there is a specific reason they’re not jumping for joy when it comes to sustainability, and if you hear them out, it creates a better chance of working through the problem.

2. Show empathy.

As you’re listening patiently, be sure to show empathy. Perhaps this sustainability naysayer has had a bad experience with a sustainability project, and that is what’s holding them back. Be attentive and empathetic; make it clear that you care about their concerns. Try to understand where their sustainability difficulties are coming from.

3. Lower the voice and slow down speech.

It happens all the time: when talking about something you love and care about with someone who does not see eye to eye, you can start to talk fast and your voice slowly creeps higher. If you’re trying to talk about a potential sustainability project with someone who just doesn't understand, remember to slow down and lower your voice. When you talk in a fast, hurried manner, you seem frantic and out of control, so now is your chance to demonstrate that you are in control of the situation and there is nothing to fear.

4. Imagine an audience.

If you find yourself getting frustrated when talking to a sustainability naysayer, imagine that you are talking to an audience. Picture that the room is filled with your sustainability team as your trying to pitch a potential project. How would you feel if your coworkers saw you get angry with someone because they didn't have the same view on sustainability as you? This tactic can help create a buffer to allow you to clear your mind.

5. Be wrong to be right.

Be open to what your opposition is saying. Yes, you might be trying your hardest to convince the sustainability naysayer to be open to a new sustainability project, but hear what they have to say about what is holding them back, and don’t be afraid to agree! If they say they are concerned about how much a potential project could cost, tell them you understand, and this can lead to a more open discussion of how to handle cost.

6. Demonstrate emotional control.

Emotions are contagious, and that’s why it’s important to demonstrate emotional control. If talking with someone who might not see eye to eye on sustainability, it is important to make sure everyone’s emotions stay in line.  It’s hard trying to convince someone that is angry that sustainability is the way to go, so try and be as calm as you can and de-escalate the situation.

7. It's not personal.

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that someone who might not be excited about sustainability is not a personal attack on you. Often times, people aren’t 100% on board with sustainability because of other reasons, such as the way a company might be moving in another direction or there might not be enough money to fund all of the sustainability projects. Remember: you are dealing with a business issue, not a personal one.

How do YOU handle sustainability naysayers? Let us know in the comments below or on twitter!


Why You Should NOT Act Immediately on Sustainability

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

A few years ago we published an article focusing on why it's better to initially step back rather than immediately acting on sustainability, and we thought it is worth another share. Enjoy:

Sustainability is a huge, complex, and daunting challenge. And a growing number of companies feel a sense of urgency to do something – anything – to show their stakeholders that they are paying attention. But in the rush to appear responsive, you may be missing the boat. We recently came across the Harvard Business Journal article, “Act Fast, but Not Necessarily First.” Author Frank Partnoy makes a compelling case for more deliberate decision-making, saying:

Speed is killing our decisions. The crush of technology forces us to snap react. We blink, when we should think. E-mail, social media, and 24-hour news are relentless. Our time cycle gets faster every day. Yet as our decision-making accelerates, long-term strategy becomes even more crucial. Those of us who find time to step back and think about the big picture, even for a few minutes, have a major advantage. If every one else moves too quickly, we can win by going slow.

Partnoy goes on to discuss the OODA decision-making framework developed by renowned American fighter pilot John Boyd. OODA – which stands for observe, orient, decide, and act – is a process that out-thinks and outmaneuvers opponents and competitors not by acting first, but by waiting for opponents to act first. While you can argue that there is no "opponent" in sustainability (we're all part of the problem *and* the solution), there are some really important lessons in the OODA framework that can benefit companies pursuing a sustainability agenda.

Before we jump in, however, let's review the general application of OODA to business decision-making from Frank Partnoy:

In general, we make better decisions when we minimize the time it takes to decide and act — so that we can spend more time observing and orienting. The same applies in business. The faster we can execute a decision, the more time we free up to understand the task, gather information, and analyze the issues. If we require too much time to decide or act, we are forced to finish observing and orienting earlier. And if we act too quickly, we might respond to a problem that changes or even goes away before the deadline.

Here are the four steps to the OODA framework, with our comments on how they apply to sustainability:

1. Observe

From Partnoy: The first step of any good decision is to take in information. What are opponents doing? How are they superior or weaker? Are there relative drawbacks to your product or service? This first step is the easiest one to ignore under time pressure. But it is the anchor to good decision-making. Great leaders assess how the winds are changing before they set sail. So the first step is simple: what do you see?

For Sustainability: What are the big issues driving our sustainability impacts? What are the global, regional, and industry trends that impact our operations and our supply chains? What are customers asking for and how are those requests changing? Where do we stand now with regard to carbon emissions, water use, stakeholder engagement, transparency, human rights, and product responsibility? Do we know where we have good data, and where we are making assumptions?

2. Orient

From Partnoy: Once you have gathered the relevant information, the next step is to process it and position yourself for a decision. Orientation means becoming aware of the implications of what you are seeing. How important are particular strengths and weaknesses? Where is the open water? The second step also gets lost when time is tight. Yet without a proper orientation, a business will head off in the wrong direction.

For Sustainability: Who are our most important stakeholders, and what sustainability issues do they care about? How do they think about sustainability -- as an environmental issue? A quality issue? A competitiveness issue? A cost-savings issue? Where are the biggest hot-spots of opportunity for us? What trade-offs are we willing to make? What are we absolutely NOT willing to compromise?

3. Decide

From Partnoy: Finally, once a manager has gathered information and understands the key questions (who, what, when, and where), it is time to make a choice. Notice that this step is distinct from action. It is purely mental, the moment before implementation. For the third step, it is important to make a confident, firm move. This decision is not the first — nor will it be the last. There will be time to adjust later. Remember, the enemy is watching.

For Sustainability: Choose a focus area and get started. Remember, sustainability is too big to tackle at once, and trying to do it all means you won't make big progress on anything. It makes more sense to dive into a specific area (like establishing good data management systems, or revamping a production process, or going all-out on paper reduction in the office) and do it well, then build on that momentum to tackle the next thing. Just remember to use the insight you've gathered in step one: observe and step two: orient to choose a meaningful focus area.

4. Act

From Partnoy: Finally, every business person understands the importance of execution. Once a decision has been made, it should be implemented in the most efficient, straightforward manner. Don't look back. The fourth step is not the final one. Once it is complete, go back to step one: observe. Don't second-guess. Instead, assess. How quickly do you need to change your product cycle? Are your customers changing? What information do you need? Ask these questions, and then look.

For Sustainability: Make sure you have appropriate resources allocated for execution and implementation. Don't skimp. Then do it -- right away. Don't hesitate. And then, once you've acted, look back and assess your progress. What worked? What didn't? What lessons can be learned for the next round of OODA?

What do you think about using OODA for sustainability decision-making? Leave a comment here, or join the conversation on Twitter (@jenniferwoofter).

A Tale of Two Sustainability Reports – Part 2

The SSC Team February 17, 2015 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

Two weeks ago, we featured an article that highlighted sustainability reports from two of our clients: Chicken of the Sea and PureCircle. Both companies made great strides towards their 2020 sustainability goals and we wanted to feature their achievements.

This week, we wanted to do more of a comparison between the two companies. With both companies operating in the food industry – Chicken of the Sea with canned fish products and PureCircle with stevia – we thought this would be a great opportunity to see how close the companies (and the reports) compare within the same industry!

Chicken of the Sea 

Chicken of the Sea specializes in…

…producing a wide variety of seafood that ranges from frozen to refrigerated to cans, pouches, and cups. While Chicken of the Sea is known for their tuna products, they also produce other seafood items that include oysters, crabmeat, clams, salmon, sardines, shrimp, and more.

Their services relate to sustainability because…

…over-fishing in oceans is becoming a more prominent issue, especially regarding tuna. Chicken of the Sea is doing their best to make sure they are not only responsibly harvesting tuna, but also making sure that their production line is as sustainable as can be. 

These were their sustainability goals:
Chicken of the Sea has five main focus areas for the 2020 goals (against 2012 baseline):

  • Energy – reduce electricity and natural gas use by 20% each
  • Waste – reduce landfill waste by 30%
  • Water – reduce water use by 15%
  • Health & Safety – maintain/reduce safety incidents
  • Supply Chain – audit 90% of seafood procurement spend

 In 2013, Chicken of the Sea saw major strides towards a lot of their goals, but there were three focus areas that really stood out: waste, water, and health & safety. Chicken of the Sea saw a 27.8% reduction in waste, a 12.8% reduction in water use, and a 40% lower incident rate than the previous year, staying on par with their goal.


PureCircle specializes in…

…producing and innovating the next generation of stevia to be used as sweeteners for the food and beverage industry that help support a natural and healthy lifestyle, such as low and no-calorie sweeteners.

Their services relate to sustainability because…

…even though this is PureCircle’s first sustainability report, sustainability has been engrained in their businesses practices since the beginning. From their operations to their social commitments, PureCircle has made sure to be socially and environmentally responsible by having sustainability policies in place. 

These were their sustainability goals:

On the environmental side, PureCircle has four main 2020 goals (against 2011 baseline):

  • Reduce carbon intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce energy intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce water intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Eliminate waste across farming and processing operations with zero waste to landfill

So far, PureCircle is on course to meet all of their goals, with one goal – energy intensity – already exceeding the original goal by reducing intensity by 42%.

On the social side of PureCircle’s sustainability goals, the company hopes to:

  • Support 100,000 small-scale farmers with sustainable agriculture policies
  • Ensure 100% traceability from gate to individual farm

PureCircle is working and engaging with small-scale farmers on issues such as food security, biodiversity, waste reduction, and fertilizer application to help improve not only the stevia plants, but to enrich the lives of the farmers as well.

Regardless of whether it was the first or third report, what makes both of these sustainability reports strong is the incorporation of a materiality assessment. By completing the assessment, both companies were able to see what is not only what is considered important to the company, but also to their stakeholders, allowing each company to tailor their reports to fit their needs the best.

Curious about how a SSC sustainability report might look like? Check out our previous reports here!

A Tale of Two Sustainability Reports

The SSC Team February 5, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

Imagine our excitement when we discovered that not one, but two of our clients in the food industry were releasing their sustainability reports on the same day. This got us thinking, How can comparing these two reports help our community? We discovered that the patterns and differences can be translated across industries to help you understand what makes a good sustainability report whether it is your first time or third.

Chicken of the Sea is the nation's leading producer of packaged seafood, producing tuna, salmon, shrimp and more, and they are published their third report. PureCircle is a producer of stevia and natural sweeteners for the global food and beverage market, and they just published their first report.

Below we explore the highlights of the two reports:

Chicken of the Sea

In their third year of reporting, Chicken of the Sea continued to make progress towards their 2020 sustainability goals (2012 baseline). Chicken of the Sea has five main focus areas for their 2020 goals:

  • Energy – reduce electricity and natural gas use by 20% each
  • Waste – reduce landfill waste by 30%
  • Water – reduce water use by 15%
  • Health & Safety – maintain/reduce safety incidents
  • Supply Chain – audit 90% of seafood procurement spend

In 2013, Chicken of the Sea saw major strides towards a lot of their goals, but there were three focus areas that really stood out: waste, water, and health & safety.

Chicken of the Sea made a concerted effort in 2013 to reduce waste that went into the landfill, and it paid off nicely: Chicken of the Sea saw a 27.8% reduction in waste. Not only did the waste focus area see a huge reduction, but so did the water focus area as well. With the goal of 15% reduction, Chicken of the Sea reduced water use by 12.8% by installing new water-saving technology. Finally, Chicken of the Sea saw a 40% lower incident rate than the previous year, staying on par with their goal.


Even though this is PureCircle’s first sustainability report, sustainability has been engrained in their business practices since the beginning. This past year, though, they wanted to increase their transparency. Their first report did an excellent job at outlining their environmental and social commitments, and how those commitments align with their 2020 Sustainability Intensity Goals.

On the environmental side, PureCircle has four main 2020 goals (against 2011 baseline):

  • Reduce carbon intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce energy intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce water intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Eliminate waste across farming and processing operations with zero waste to landfill

So far, PureCircle is on course to meet all of their goals, with one goal (energy intensity) already exceeding the original goal by reducing intensity by 42%.

On the social side of PureCircle’s sustainability goals, the company hopes to:

  • Support 100,000 small-scale farmers with sustainable agriculture policies
  • Ensure 100% traceability from gate to individual farm

PureCircle is working and engaging with small-scale farmers on issues such as food security, biodiversity, waste reduction, and fertilizer application to help improve not only the stevia plants, but to enrich the lives of the farmers as well.

Curious about how a SSC sustainability report might look like? Check out our previous reports here!

How Chipotle Is Giving Consumers Exactly What They Want: Authenticity

The SSC Team January 27, 2015 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

Honesty is the best policy, right? According to customers, the answer is yes. Public relations and communications firm Cohn & Wolfe conducted a study on authentic brands by company to see consumers are demanding. In fact, the top three qualities or behaviors that people want to see from big companies are communicating honestly about products and services, not letting customers down, and acting with integrity all times.

Fast Company then asked people in the United States and 11 other major markets what they wish to see from brands, and do you know what was on the bottom of the list? Innovation, great products, and having a popular brand.

Chipotle is taking note of all of these points: the Mexican-food chain recently announced that they will stop serving pork at hundreds of their locations when one of their suppliers violated Chipotle’s standards. So how exactly is Chipotle giving their customers authenticity? They are becoming a great model for big brands in the 21st century:

Embrace Authenticity

Companies often have a set of standards and values they hold themselves (and their suppliers) to, but how are consumers to know if a company follows these values? Brands need to be honest and show they are acting with integrity. With Chipotle announcing that they are cutting one of their main protein toppings from some of their stores, they indicated they are not afraid to show that they uphold their standards.

Transparency for the Modern World

Ever since the economic crash, more people are cynical about corporations’ behavior and motives - only 3% of Americans think big businesses are honest and transparent! Companies can no longer afford to hide behind the curtain with more and more people calling for transparency, and Chipotle knows this and is being honest about their product.

Digital Everything

We live in a digital world. People are always connected, which makes it easier for information to be seen by the masses, and it means that both good and bad information about a company can quickly spread. A company cannot wait and hope a bad piece of information will never go public, but instead they need to embrace the digital side and come forward with the information. While Chipotle’s announcement about no longer serving pork might not be “bad” information, it does indicate that the company is embracing the digital world and is not letting anyone beat them to the punch.

Should more companies follow in Chipotle’s footsteps of providing more transparency and authenticity? Let us know in the comments below and join the conversation on twitter!