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Future of the FSC: What Happens When Manufacturers Reject Certification? Sustainability Lessons from ArchitectureBoston Expo (ABX)

The SSC Team December 22, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Last month, we headed out to ArchitectureBoston Expo (ABX) to get the pulse on sustainability from the perspective of architects, engineers, builders, contractors, manufacturers, and other AEC professionals. We spoke to dozens of representatives from the more than 400 exhibitors about sustainability programs, sustainability strategy, and what they think of it all.

Our conversations resulted in two really great questions:

Additionally, we took extra time and conducted a survey specifically targeted at companies that manufacture products (as opposed to service providers and distributors) used in the AEC field to delve deeper into what types of companies are doing what types of sustainability programs and why. Come back on Thursday to see what we’ve learned!

Future of the FSC: What Happens When Manufacturers Reject Certification?

Many of the manufacturing companies we spoke with manufactured some sort of wood product for the built space. Either importing wood from other continents or harvesting here in the United States and Canada, almost all of them said that they were “FSC Certified.”

But there’s a catch.

Nearly all of the company representatives, once they understood we weren’t potential clients and we just wanted to discuss sustainability certifications, immediately had a lot more to say.

One of the company representatives said, “We’re not renewing our FSC certification next year.”

Another said, “Yeah, we are FSC Certified, but we really don’t need to be.”

Another said, “I just don’t think FSC Certification is going to be around in a couple of years. We’re spending money on something to put on our labels or our website that fundamentally doesn’t change how we manage the forests we harvest from anyway.”

His point, like many was that most FSC Certified and non-FSC certified companies selling (specifically) hardwood products understand that sustainable forest management is the only way to not drive yourself out of business.

They have to manage the forest well. Replant. Use every bit of byproduct to maximize efficiency and profits. And the FSC Certification doesn’t change any of that, it just costs money to certify to doing something they would do regardless. Most companies in this industry sector must demonstrating best practice so they go out of business like the Once-ler and his Truffula trees.

What’s next for wood?

It will be interesting to see if the FSC Certification does fade away, but what will be more interesting is to see what’s next in the cutting-edge of sustainability from the wood products segment. Is importing South American hardwood or South African hardwood preferable to a material that is made from North American hardwood (assuming we live in North America)? Are there going to be wood substitutes that are more sustainable to manufacture from a life-cycle perspective? What metric does the FSC Certification miss that can actually demonstrate how different wood products companies are impacting the environment?

If the FSC is out, then something else needs to step in

Wood, in and of itself, isn’t a “renewable resource.” Active forestry management practices need to be in place to “renew” the resource, and there is always room for improvement.

Are you in the wood products industry and are thinking of giving up on FSC Certification? Tell us why in the comments.

Check back for Part 3 in our ABX series in January: What should your manufacturing company be doing right now to improve environmental and social impact? 

Don’t “Adapt” to Environmental Trends, Changes and Regulations, Prepare for Them

The SSC Team November 22, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Was Microsoft ready for mobile computing? Nope. But they didn’t need to be because they were busy preparing for cloud computing. Was Google+ the next gen social media powerhouse. Nope. But it didn’t need to be because they were preparing to pretty much become synonymous with “the Internet” through unprecedented search, advertising, subscription, and cloud-based tools (not to mention Google X).  

Business analysis often write snappy articles about how certain giants “failed” to take advantage of market opportunities, but they’re often looking at the short term view. Companies like IBM, Google, Microsoft, Union Pacific, Disney, Wal-Mart and so many others, are already thinking about their next thing, not just “the next big thing.”

“The truth is that once you find yourself in a position where you need to adapt, it’s usually too late,” said business consultant Greg Satell in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review.

Build a Better Business

Take the focus of being “agile” and “ready for the next trend,” and start focusing on developing a product, system, or service that is better than anything available – and be absolutely certain to be a leader on sustainability issues today. Don’t wait, or it’s too late.

Lead on Sustainability

Many firms approach sustainability as a checkbox. Don’t. Even if the pressure to develop a policy is coming from clients or regulators, develop a strategic sustainability policy and then just do one extra thing to advance beyond the baseline.

Maybe that one extra thing is writing in a lobbying effort toward an environmental regulation that will help give your firm a competitive advantage because you’re already doing so well in that area. Maybe that one extra thing is, not just reporting on emissions, but taking a small step in reducing them – lighting retrofits, solar panels, telecommuting programs. Maybe that one extra thing is engaging in a peer benchmarking study to see how far your organization needs to reach to get to the front of the pack.

As climate change effects become more acute and the global community begins to coalesce around ways to work together to make progress on combating it, don’t get caught playing catch up.

“Business that focus on solving big problems and are willing to invest in them for years —or even decades — can get a lot of other things wrong,” said Satell.

Climate change is a “big problem,” so get to solving it. It will be profitable for your firm and the planet itself. 

Viewpoint: As African economies grow, regulators, investors, and corporations need to put sustainability first

The SSC Team October 25, 2016 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

A recent analysis in the Harvard Business Review paints a fairly rosy picture for economic growth up and across the African continent. When controlling for the drop in revenue from oil-rich African countries and disruption from the Arab Spring movement, other economic sectors maintained a 4%+ growth rate over the past five years.

Growth coupled with a rapid urbanization rate, increasing workforce size, accelerating technology access, and abundant resources all mean that the “continent still offers promising opportunities for global investors and businesses.”

The article asserts that, “to unlock growth, companies should look for opportunities in six sectors that we find have ‘white space’— wholesale and retail, food and agri-processing, health care, financial services, light manufacturing, and construction. All these sectors are characterized by high growth, high profitability, and low consolidation.”

To continue, the authors do make note that political and economic stability play major roles in how the continent will move forward. But there is no mention of how global, national, regional, and governments should also pay close attention to – and set policy and precedent for – how a 4%+ economic growth rate, booming population, and tens of millions of households entering the consumer class should be regulated in terms of mitigating the effects on the environment.

Yes, to unlock growth, companies should be looking at Africa – specifically these six sectors – and governments should be paying close attention to prevent exploitation of the new working and consumer classes. Yet, everyone should also be committed to making sure this new African future is sustainable as well.  

Tackling sustainability, and adding sustainability in as a factor for African development in assessments like the one published, pressing global multinational companies to ensure all African initiatives have robust sustainability elements, designing programs to help African-based companies gain immediate and relevant access to sustainability strategic planning tools and best practices, including African leaders in important conversations and protocols as global climate accords are developed, and essentially not reinventing the wheel.

As we see Asian countries struggling to reduce emissions generated by decades of providing a cheap-labor market driven by coal power, the international business community and government leaders need to ensure sustainability is directly integrated into Africa’s path for industrial development – helping build a green Africa starting today.

Turning a Profit on Sustainability: Are Target, Ikea, Nike, and Unilever Just Engaging in Greenwashing 2.0?

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

For the past few years, global consultancies GlobeScan and SustainAbility have surveyed 900 sustainability professionals to evaluate which companies have best integrated sustainability into their corporate strategy.

Not surprising, Unilever held the top spot again for the sixth straight year for its leading-edge sustainability performance and strategy. Joining Unilever on the list were a number of high profile consumer brands, like Patagonia, IKEA, Tesla, Coca-Cola, and Nike, among others.

These companies, and others including Target, Whole Foods, and GE, are making loads of money through their sales of legitimately sustainable products and/or practices.

But let’s not put them on a pedestal just yet. Just because a company is strategic, and just because a billion-dollar portion of their income comes from sustainably produced products, does not mean they are even close to being truly sustainable – with sustainability defined as mitigating the social and environmental effects of their business operations throughout the entire product life cycle, from corporate management, to production, waste, distribution, operations, and disposal.

There are a number of the problems in confusing sustainable products with sustainable companies.

First, there are the temporal tradeoffs in sustainability.

Second, there is the idea that segmenting a business from its products, and declaring that business sustainable is somehow possible. Holding up organizations against a better framework of measure is needed, and providing more transparency on sustainability metrics should be mandated to help educate consumers, not just market to them.

Similar to the recent changes in the nutritional labeling practices to educate consumers on their actual sugar consumption, the emergence of a better way than a “survey of how sustainability consultants feel” or even jargon-filled GRI reports buried on a corporate website, needs to become the norm.

Certifying organizations need to talk about what percentage of a business must be sustainable for the entire organization to be considered sustainable. Can companies make chemicals for agriculture that help reduce water, and chemicals for warfare and still be considered sustainable? Can a manufacturer make one line of sustainable home goods, yet deliver products with a 3-year lifespan and no ability to be recycled and still be sustainable? Can a retail outlet sell reusable water bottles and Styrofoam cups in the same store and still be considered a model for consumer sustainability?

In the end, we know as sustainability consultants and professionals that, even though Unilever is the model for integration of sustainable practices in their business, and even though we love what Patagonia and IKEA and others are doing to make meaningful changes for environmental and social good, we are a long way from true “sustainability.”

Many of these consumer brands continue to capitalize on the consumer desire for “green” products, and are still pushing the cyclical, disposable, must-have-the-latest-trend consumerist behaviors that result in waste.  

Unless an organization is net zero or net negative, then it really cannot be considered “sustainable.” And as consultants, professionals, marketers, and executives, if we continue to pat each other on the back too loudly for our sustainable milestones, or sustainable strategies, or sustainable product lines, we may confuse consumers into believing our work is nearly finished. 

Turning a Profit on Sustainability: Are Target, Ikea, Nike, and Unilever Just Engaging in Greenwashing 2.0?

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

For the past few years, global consultancies GlobeScan and SustainAbility have surveyed 900 sustainability professionals to evaluate which companies have best integrated sustainability into their corporate strategy.

Not surprising, Unilever held the top spot again for the sixth straight year for its leading-edge sustainability performance and strategy. Joining Unilever on the list were a number of high profile consumer brands, like Patagonia, IKEA, Tesla, Coca-Cola, and Nike, among others.

These companies, and others including Target, Whole Foods, and GE, are making loads of money through their sales of legitimately sustainable products and/or practices.

But let’s not put them on a pedestal just yet. Just because a company is strategic, and just because a billion-dollar portion of their income comes from sustainably produced products, does not mean they are even close to being truly sustainable – with sustainability defined as mitigating the social and environmental effects of their business operations throughout the entire product life cycle, from corporate management, to production, waste, distribution, operations, and disposal.

There are a number of the problems in confusing sustainable products with sustainable companies.

First, there are the temporal tradeoffs in sustainability.

Second, there is the idea that segmenting a business from its products, and declaring that business sustainable is somehow possible. Holding up organizations against a better framework of measure is needed, and providing more transparency on sustainability metrics should be mandated to help educate consumers, not just market to them.

Similar to the recent changes in the nutritional labeling practices to educate consumers on their actual sugar consumption, the emergence of a better way than a “survey of how sustainability consultants feel” or even jargon-filled GRI reports buried on a corporate website, needs to become the norm.

Certifying organizations need to talk about what percentage of a business must be sustainable for the entire organization to be considered sustainable. Can companies make chemicals for agriculture that help reduce water, and chemicals for warfare and still be considered sustainable? Can a manufacturer make one line of sustainable home goods, yet deliver products with a 3-year lifespan and no ability to be recycled and still be sustainable? Can a retail outlet sell reusable water bottles and Styrofoam cups in the same store and still be considered a model for consumer sustainability?

In the end, we know as sustainability consultants and professionals that, even though Unilever is the model for integration of sustainable practices in their business, and even though we love what Patagonia and IKEA and others are doing to make meaningful changes for environmental and social good, we are a long way from true “sustainability.”

Many of these consumer brands continue to capitalize on the consumer desire for “green” products, and are still pushing the cyclical, disposable, must-have-the-latest-trend consumerist behaviors that result in waste.  

Unless an organization is net zero or net negative, then it really cannot be considered “sustainable.” And as consultants, professionals, marketers, and executives, if we continue to pat each other on the back too loudly for our sustainable milestones, or sustainable strategies, or sustainable product lines, we may confuse consumers into believing our work is nearly finished. 

TED Talks Sustainability: Michael Metcalfe: Financing the Fight Against Climate Change

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

Nothing inspires us like a good TED talk, and here’s one of our favorites. Enjoy it!

About the speaker: Michael Metcalfe is not a climate change expert, he’s a senior managing director and head of global macro strategy at a leading financial firm, State Street Global markets. Metcalfe’s team helps clients make smart investment decisions, not “green” decisions, so his take on financing the fight against climate change is worth a listen.  

About the talk: In 2008, following the global financial crisis, governments across the world issued an unprecedented $250 billion worth of international currency to stop the collapse of the world’s biggest banks, and save the global economy. In this TED talk, financial expert Michael Metcalfe suggests that we can follow the same unconventional steps to fund the fight against climate change and build a global commitment to a green future.

 

TED Talks Sustainability: Michael Metcalfe: Financing the Fight Against Climate Change

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

Nothing inspires us like a good TED talk, and here’s one of our favorites. Enjoy it!

About the speaker: Michael Metcalfe is not a climate change expert, he’s a senior managing director and head of global macro strategy at a leading financial firm, State Street Global markets. Metcalfe’s team helps clients make smart investment decisions, not “green” decisions, so his take on financing the fight against climate change is worth a listen.  

About the talk: In 2008, following the global financial crisis, governments across the world issued an unprecedented $250 billion worth of international currency to stop the collapse of the world’s biggest banks, and save the global economy. In this TED talk, financial expert Michael Metcalfe suggests that we can follow the same unconventional steps to fund the fight against climate change and build a global commitment to a green future.

 

The End of Sustainability Reporting As You Know It

The SSC Team May 17, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

The sustainability report is in a transformational time. Companies collecting data and publishing well-designed, static PDF files (or still printing reports on glossy paper), will soon find themselves behind the curve.

The Global Reporting Initiative’s latest report, The Next Era of Corporate Disclosure: Digital, Responsible, Interactive questions the framework of the sustainability reporting process, asking tough questions about the presentation, quality, and availability of sustainability data being published.

The GRI report is both a roadmap and a prediction for how sustainability reporting will continue to change in the coming years, pushing organizations toward even more clarity, transparency, and responsiveness.

Instead of static information produced on an annual “look-back” basis, organizations will provide detailed information in dynamic, interactive digital formats on an ongoing basis. Stakeholders will be able to analyze and interact with data in more meaningful ways, pushing companies toward more environmentally and socially responsible decisions, with immediacy.

The GRI report is an exciting step, and just the first in GRI’s Sustainability and Reporting 2025 project aimed at “unlock[ing] the full value of sustainability performance data for decision makers,” said GRI chief executive Michael Meehan.

What does this mean for your 2016 sustainability report? 

As the landscape of sustainability reporting shifts, companies can prepare now in a few meaningful ways:

  1. Commit to sustainability as part of a meaningful corporate strategy, not just as a response to pressure. 
  2. Start with a materiality assessment to consider all impacts and their relative positions.
  3. Publish digitally, with a focus on clear information and accessible data.
  4. Seek third-party verification to validate findings.
  5. Avoid “filler” information that misleads or distracts from central social and environmental reporting issues.

At SSC, we are already incorporating many of these practices into our clients’ sustainability reports: conducting materiality assessments, publishing reports digitally with downloadable data that can be manipulated, and following a standardized reporting methodology to ensure information is presented in a standardized way.

We look forward to a future where sustainability disclosure is less about data reporting and more about collective decision-making, driving whole industries and societies toward meaningful change on social and environmental metrics. 

Are you ready for a next-generation sustainability report? Reach out to discuss sustainability strategy, disclosure, and meaningful progress on reducing social and environmental impact. 

The End of Sustainability Reporting As You Know It

The SSC Team May 17, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

The sustainability report is in a transformational time. Companies collecting data and publishing well-designed, static PDF files (or still printing reports on glossy paper), will soon find themselves behind the curve.

The Global Reporting Initiative’s latest report, The Next Era of Corporate Disclosure: Digital, Responsible, Interactive questions the framework of the sustainability reporting process, asking tough questions about the presentation, quality, and availability of sustainability data being published.

The GRI report is both a roadmap and a prediction for how sustainability reporting will continue to change in the coming years, pushing organizations toward even more clarity, transparency, and responsiveness.

Instead of static information produced on an annual “look-back” basis, organizations will provide detailed information in dynamic, interactive digital formats on an ongoing basis. Stakeholders will be able to analyze and interact with data in more meaningful ways, pushing companies toward more environmentally and socially responsible decisions, with immediacy.

The GRI report is an exciting step, and just the first in GRI’s Sustainability and Reporting 2025 project aimed at “unlock[ing] the full value of sustainability performance data for decision makers,” said GRI chief executive Michael Meehan.

What does this mean for your 2016 sustainability report? 

As the landscape of sustainability reporting shifts, companies can prepare now in a few meaningful ways:

  1. Commit to sustainability as part of a meaningful corporate strategy, not just as a response to pressure. 
  2. Start with a materiality assessment to consider all impacts and their relative positions.
  3. Publish digitally, with a focus on clear information and accessible data.
  4. Seek third-party verification to validate findings.
  5. Avoid “filler” information that misleads or distracts from central social and environmental reporting issues.

At SSC, we are already incorporating many of these practices into our clients’ sustainability reports: conducting materiality assessments, publishing reports digitally with downloadable data that can be manipulated, and following a standardized reporting methodology to ensure information is presented in a standardized way.

We look forward to a future where sustainability disclosure is less about data reporting and more about collective decision-making, driving whole industries and societies toward meaningful change on social and environmental metrics. 

Are you ready for a next-generation sustainability report? Reach out to discuss sustainability strategy, disclosure, and meaningful progress on reducing social and environmental impact. 

If LeBron Drove a Prius, Would You? Celebrity Endorsements for Green Products

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

Athletes and celebrities have been pitching consumer products for what seems like … ever. But instead of pushing tennis shoes and Cadillacs, what if athletes and celebrities were pushing hybrids, smart thermostats, energy-efficient light bulbs- or pushing the idea of not purchasing anything at all?

An entrepreneur in New Zealand has centered an entire business model, Project LiteFoot, around getting the nation’s most famous athletes and sports clubs to compete (naturally) in a carbon footprint reduction contest, effectually modeling behavior and encouraging green purchasing habits of their biggest fans. They’re seeing results in New Zealand, but would it work in the U.S.?

Maybe. We definitely have a celebrity-focused culture. Elle is already tracking our “greenist” celebrities. And we do love our athletes. Already the EPA is working with sport organizations to “green” the in-game experience and SXSW hosted a ‘greening the big game’ session at its annual conference.

But are these activities leading to meaningful behavior changes for U.S. consumers? Or is this just a waste-reduction/waste-diversion effort benefitting teams and facilities, but not filtering into consumer behavior?

At this point, the potential of green products marketed by celebrities – promoting lasting green behavior – remains untapped here in the U.S. 

It’s exciting to see club-level and league-level activities moving toward waste reduction and energy efficiency at the massive spectacles of our sporting events, but using celebrity endorsements to mainstream the idea of adopting green technology could be a big boost in getting the “average” person into the “eco” column.

Have you seen a great celebrity endorsement that could help mainstream green purchasing? Let us know in the comments.