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Using Sustainability to Avoid Risk

The SSC Team August 25, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this blog from the SSC archives: The evidence that sustainability can be good for business is overwhelming. Most of the case studies, examples, and analysis that has been done show positive links between a sustainable approach to environmental and social issues, and corporate profits, Thus far, the research has been primarily focused on direct operational efficiencies (like retrofitting your office lighting to save money and reduce your carbon footprint), innovation (using biomimicry to drive new product development), and productivity (ie. more engaged employees take less sick leave). However, there hasn't been as much talk about the nexus between sustainability and risk management. And for corporations operating in complex supply chains in a globally-connected economy -- well -- effective risk management can be the difference between success and failure. Below, we take a look at three articles that shed light on why companies still struggle to incorporate sustainability into their risk management practices (and vice versa).

Has sustainability become a risky business? 

This GreenBiz article by John Davies reviews a report by Ernst & Young. The key takeaway: While more companies are concerned about increased risk and the proximity of natural resource shortages, corporate risk response appears to be inadequate to address the scope and scale of some of these challenges. The free report looks at six corporate sustainability trends with a strong focus on the internal influencers of corporate performance (CEOs and boards), as well as external forces ranging from governments to shareholders and investors.

Playing It Safe Is Riskier than You Think

This article by Bill Taylor in the Harvard Business Review makes the case that "difficult and uncertain times are often the best times for organizations to separate themselves from the pack, so long as their leaders are prepared not to stand pat." While not directly about sustainability, this article certainly supports the notion that economic turmoil is no reason not to be ambitious about tackling big sustainability challenges.

Research: Why Companies Keep Getting Blind-Sided by Risk

by Mary Driscoll in the Harvard Business Review presents fascinating insight into why companies (and their executives) are not succeeding at identifying and mitigating risk. Survey findings indicate that most organizations’ leaders did indeed express concern about the impact of political turmoil, natural disasters, or extreme weather. But the findings also show that the people at the front lines of the business were hamstrung by a lack of visibility into risk. Nearly half said they lacked the resources needed to adequately assess business continuity programs at supplier sites. Many relied on the suppliers filling out perfunctory, unreliable checklists. There are some big lessons here for sustainability practitioners! Are simple mistakes holding back your sustainability? Find out how to correct those mistakes here!

Data Management Concepts for Sustainability, Pt. 4

The SSC Team August 20, 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.  Whether you like this article or not, we want to hear from YOU so that we can continue to provide the best insight for YOU, our readers…  Our series on Sustainability Software continues with “Data Management Concepts for Sustainability”.  In this article (Part 4 of 4), we’ll complete the introduction and definition of key Data Management terms (read Part 3 here).  Our end goal with this series is to enable YOU, as the Business Leader, to feel more comfortable in a technical discussion related to the various areas of Data Management, especially as related to the care and feeding of Sustainability Software packages. Being able to “talk the talk” is the best defense in the technology wilderness.  Just remember, at the basis of any technical term is a common sense business notion, and staying grounded to this notion will help keep your conversations from drifting astray.

Data Integration

Data Integration is one of the most difficult of the activities covered in this series because it involves most of the different activities working in concert with each other.  For example, it is implicit in Data Movement between systems where the Data models are different.  Suppose we have data in our Accounting system that will be used in a cost calculation algorithm (method) in our Sustainability Software.  To do this, we need to copy the Accounting data, then reshape it to conform to the load utilities for our package and proceed with the load.  This setup entails numerous subtleties including the cross referencing of the source data model in the Accounting System with the format of the import utility.  This is called Field Mapping and it’s not just an easy matching question where you can get the first few right and guess the rest.  Examples will help us here.
  • Suppose we need to deal with quantity shipment data and the target model is asking for unit prices and volumes.  We might need to deduce the carbon content per gallon from the available carbon content per fifty five gallon barrel, or just divide by 55.
  • A more complex example involves translation from the English System to the Metric System (raise your hand if you can do this without a calculator).
  • Another example would be the rules concerning the potential for rounding errors for large quantities.
  • A final classic example is how to deal with Asian names (commonly listed with the surname first) being transferred into a system with a European paradigm (where the surname is listed last).
Data Integration is expensive to build and more expensive to operate.  SaaS is a way to avoid the Integration Tax to the extent possible since it has already been built into many of the downstream systems you’ll be using.

Data Mining

Data Mining is the last major topic to be introduced.  It also involves smatterings of the others, but has a unique ad-hoc character at its essence. Suppose we have a database that describes product production events in a manufacturing setting.  Suppose also that we wish to learn more about root causes of some recurring problem that has escaped previous attempts to solve it and choose to “look at all the occurrences at once”.  Someone who is expert in the data itself, as well as all the business processes it describes could attempt to construct queries that will reveal common conditions that led to the problem occurrences.  For example, he might notice they all tend to fall in the first half hour of their respective production runs.  Further drill down might reveal they all involve late shipments from the same raw material vendor, while production runs with timely shipments from the same vendor seem to go without mishap.  This would lead us to suspect potential spoilage or lack of maturity in the late arriving material.  Data Mining is a spiral learning discipline.  One spirals in to a common cause, or spirals out to learn the nature of the Cosmos.

Conclusion

We hope that as a result of this information, albeit somewhat high-level, you’ll find a greater degree of ease in approaching Data Management problems and their solutions with any Sustainability Software package that you may be considering.   As with the rest of this series, our goal is to guide you through each of these complex topics and bring them safely toward a solution that will provide you with robust and accurate data and data management practices that will last for years to come. Now that you’ve read this article, tell us what you think!  And be sure to check out the full white paper.

Data Management Concepts for Sustainability, Pt. 1

The SSC Team August 11, 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.  Whether you like this article or not, we want to hear from YOU so that we can continue to provide the best insight for YOU, our readers…  Our series on Sustainability Software continues with “Data Management Concepts for Sustainability”.  In this article (Part 1 of 4), we’ll begin introducing and defining key Data Management terms.  Our end goal with this series is to enable YOU, as the Business Leader, to feel more comfortable in a technical discussion related to the various areas of Data Management, especially as related to the care and feeding of Sustainability Software packages. Being able to “talk the talk” is the best defense in the technology wilderness.  Just remember, at the basis of any technical term is a common sense business notion, and staying grounded to this notion will help keep your conversations from drifting astray.

Data Management

The definition provided in the Data Management Association (DAMA) Data Management Body of Knowledge (DAMA-DMBOK) is: "Data Management is the development, execution and supervision of plans, policies, programs and practices that control, protect, deliver and enhance the value of data and information assets."  This term is the most general description of the collection of activities involved with data and broadly includes all the areas that we’ll introduce in this article.  If you’re really interested in more detail, check out the DAMA site at http://www.dama.org.

Data Processing

This is another very broad term representing the collection of plans, processes, people and technology tasked with the collection of transactional data (e.g. item sales in a company's retail outlets) and the subsequent calculation of summary data that has meaning to your business such as periodic sales reports.  This includes the routine computational work performed by your company's people and computers that generate output like your monthly customer invoices or accounting reports, for example. Your Sustainability Software, in the ongoing state, would be supplied with data such as rigorous measurements of weights and volumes of raw materials and products (Collected Data) and the software installation will calculate the various indicators and reports for their respective uses (Calculated Data).  When discussing Data Processing, it is always a good grounding exercise to distinguish the Collected Data vs. Calculated Data being considered.  The two have different types of rules around them, which brings us to the next category of Data Management.

Data Governance

Data Governance is the management aspect of Data Management and has to do with identification and life cycle management of Business Rules connected with Data Management.  These rules might be driven by law, profit motivation, social norms or a myriad of other factors, but the establishment of definitions of terms and their existence in your company's soft assets is the foundation of Data Governance.  Examples of such rules include the following:
  • Meta-data Management is the collection of rules and definitions of the data elements used in your company.  It could be stored in a rigorous set of spreadsheets, or in an exotic, purpose-built system like Rochade from ASG Software.  Meta-data should have a dedicated team devoted to its maintenance and secure distribution to interested parties.  This team should include representation from both the technical side and the business side of your firm.
  • Business and technical ownership of data quality standards for things like customer mailing addresses and formulae used in reporting.
  • The clear specification of things like sales transactions and revenue classifications in the company's data streams.
  • The identification and lifecycle management of your company's master lists such as store locations, product names and their reporting rollups, and a consolidated customer contact list across all lines of business.  This activity is referred to as "Master Data Management" and has taken on a life of its own by numerous software companies and consultancies but it is based on the common sense notion to "Keep your lists straight."
Data Governance is like going to church, in that it is often postponed until there is enough confusion in the Business to make people desperate enough to try it.  It is definitely an endeavor that can start small, but requires the organization’s highest level of support.  Unlike some of the other topics presented here. Data Governance must be practiced within the confines of your corporate headquarters by your employees, perhaps augmented by technical consultants from time to time. (TO BE CONTINUED…) Now that you’ve read this article, tell us what you think!  And be sure to check out the full white paper.

Grow Your Sustainability Consultancy Business by Speaking Your Client’s Language

The SSC Team July 7, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this blog from the SSC archives: So, you know all about your prospective client and you’ve decided on the strongest business case for sustainability for their situation. Now it’s time to win them over and solidify the relationship with a smashing proposal or pitch.

1) Don’t think of a pitch as a sell, think of it as an educational opportunity

Don’t worry so much about whether or not the client is going to hire you at the time you are meeting with them. Instead, treat it like a customized webinar or mini-conference where you are showcasing your knowledge about sustainability, the realities of where the economy is heading, their specific opportunities in relation to sustainability, and what they will need to do to get ahead and effectively adopt sustainability in their corporate strategic framework. You are just showing them the raw ingredients, while keeping a hold of the recipe. 

2) Start at the very beginning, a very good place to start

So, you know all about sustainability. And you know all about your prospective client. Unfortunately, your audience, be it the CEO or a mid-level executive, may not know much more about sustainability than “I think it costs a lot, but everybody seems to be doing it.” Clear that up right away with a brief definition of strategic sustainability – use the definition you use for your own consultancy. Make sure the client know that sustainability is a business framework, not a philanthropic or public relations gesture. Drop a few names, too – Wal-Mart, GE, Nike, Rio Tinto, Toyota. It doesn’t hurt for your client to know that they are joining the ranks of commerce’s elite.

3) Stress the long term and a future of change

“Fundamentally, corporate sustainability is about exploring the next way your company will be successful, because almost all the things you currently rely on -- energy, supply chain, consumers, investors, regulation -- are going to change,” said David Bent from the non-profit sustainability organization Forum for the Future in a blog series for Greenbiz.com. Changing times demand that companies factor in future risks, such as rising energy prices, increased regulation, and pressure from consumers, into their strategic plans. Since many of these future risks and market changes are going to stem from environmental and social concerns, integrating sustainability principles into the corporate framework now, to address these issues now, isn’t just a “cost” to the business, it’s an investment in the future risk management. “You can’t predict ‘the’ future, but you had better be prepared for possible futures with a portfolio of strategies – and a business case – that ‘future-proof the company’ by diversifying your risk going forward,” advises Gil Friend, founder and CEO of Natural Logic. You must stress this fact to prospective clients – they will probably have to become sustainable eventually, but they might as well make some money doing it proactively instead of reactively. Just be sure to avoid scare tactics or pressure. The fact is: the world is changing, and change can be good.

4) Look to frame sustainability as a driver for innovation and opportunity

Find examples of “play-to-win” organizations that have used sustainability to tap into new opportunities (destroying the competition in the process) to help sell the concept. Companies are inherently competitive, but often are mired in a “compliance mentality.” Remind your audience that business is a battlefield; you might be able to tap into that competitive spirit. Use what you know about the company’s competitors or industry to highlight how the sustainability program may get them ahead of the game.

5) Present the client’s customized business case in a language that everyone can understand – shareholder value

It’s meat and potatoes time. You’ve briefly discussed sustainability, the risk of not acting, and the opportunity gained by taking action. Next is what they’ve all been waiting for – the business case. At this point, be fairly specific about what you feel the key “value drivers” of a sustainability program will be for this specific organization. First, present the business case. For example, an engineering firm with a zillion vacancies on its “careers” page and a reputation of an ‘old boys club’ may benefit from a sustainability program stressing competitive advantage – a program that will help its recruitment program, shape its industry, and help it become an early mover on new and emerging areas for growth (like green design, perhaps). Second, present the projected investment (in time and money) and the estimated return on investment (ROI). According to Friend, the business case has to provide a clear ROI in the financial, operational, and strategic dimensions. But be clear that ROI in sustainability isn’t only about short-term dollars and cents. When you are talking about elements like “recruitment” and “industry shaping,” be sure to clarify that these, albeit not short-term financial returns, are “indirect” returns. While direct returns include costs (lighting retrofits or waste-reduction), indirect returns ( impacts on brand reputational value, employee productivity and retention, product quality, community goodwill, etc.) can open companies to new business as much as any marketing plan while helping reduce risk. For an in-depth discussion on costing for sustainability, check out the book Making Sustainability Work by Marc Epstein. Third, use statistics, examples, graphics, and best practices, briefly but effectively, to back up your claims on how your proposed programs can directly affect shareholder value through direct and indirect returns. Finally, give the client a path on how a sustainability program for this value driver might be incorporated into their organizational framework.

6) Don’t frighten them off

Although you may have made an amazing pitch with ROI analysis that just can’t be denied, a client may still balk. “But we don’t have $150,000 for a lighting retrofit, even if we know it will save us $300,000 over the next six years…” Yes, it may be ideal if you could tackle each value driver head on, re-write the strategic plan, and reorganize the company, but, more likely, the financial minds at your prospect’s firm are going to be reluctant to loosen the purse strings. To help ease them into the process (and help you begin to form a long, trusting relationship), break it down into steps. Begin with saying, “Now that I’ve presented the strategic sustainability framework that will eventually deliver the most value to your organization, let’s talk about where we begin. Every journey starts with a series of small steps…” At this point, have one or two programs that will work as small but effective pilot programs for this broader sustainability plan. Try to find the one or two manageable programs with the lowest-hanging, least expensive fruit, and suggest that the client give them a try first. The pilots will help you build credibility with the CFO’s office, as well as awareness throughout the rest of the organization. Hopefully by achieving documented success with the first few pilot programs, the company will continue to draw on your services to expand into the more complex strategic development of their sustainability program (that you were the architect of).

7) Be straightforward about the business relationship

Once you’ve delivered the presentation (no more than an hour of their time) and have some concrete offerings available for them (green audits, waste audits, pilot ‘Green Team’ programs, stakeholder engagement initiatives, or whatever your other pilot programs were) be ready for questions. Know how long each program will take and what it may cost if they suddenly want to go whole hog. Be prepared to answer detailed questions about customer service, your ‘next steps’ in project development, your experience, your resources, costs of your service, as well as costs directly to them (retrofits, training investments, life-cycle-analyses, etc.) and the overall estimated ROI for each suggested program. Instead of spending your time trying to convince the client through testimonials of how great you are, just do what you do best: consult them. Show them what you know and use examples from research or from your past experience to illustrate how they, too, can meet their goals, transform their business, reduce their risk, and increase shareholder value through sustainability. You are simply the person with the tools to help them get the process started. Find out how you can become a better sustainability leader in one of our latest blogs.

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!

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!