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What “Sustainability Consulting” Is (and Isn’t)

The SSC Team September 20, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.

In today’s marketplace, sustainability consulting is a catch-all term, used to describe multiple professions. It is important for readers to pay careful attention when an author predicts the growth of the “sustainability consulting industry” since it can be defined in so many ways.

We believe that many of the firms that claim to offer sustainability consulting services are, in fact, offering something quite different. Sometimes it is a narrower subset of services (like energy auditing); in other cases it is simply traditional services (like public relations) focused on sustainability initiatives. 

So how do we define sustainability consulting?

In general, organizations purporting to offer sustainability consulting services fall into the following broad categories.

Sustainability Strategy: these consulting firms provide planning and strategy services—usually for an entire organization or division. Sustainability strategy firms help businesses use sustainability as a lens through which to make good business decisions. Their goal is to help clients innovate, gain competitive advantage, satisfy stakeholders (especially customers), and empower employees to integrate sustainability into their day-to-day jobs. This type of firm usually has staff with extensive training in management, business administration, organizational development, and/or change management. Example: Strategic Sustainability Consulting.

Technical Support: these firms focus on one or more technical aspects of sustainability, such as green building design and construction, renewable energy and energy efficiency, waste diversion and recycling, and water and wastewater services. Rather than help the company integrate sustainability into its overall business decision-making processes, these firms tend to tackle discrete projects within a facility or division. Their staff generally has engineering or other technical degrees. Example: ERM.

Testing, Auditing and Verification: these firms provide third-party review of sustainability data—either on a corporate/facility level or a product level—and may provide assurance, auditing, or verification services. A firm in this category may exclusively cater to sustainability data (e.g. third-party assurance of a sustainability report), but will often provide non-sustainability services as well (e.g. third-party assurance of annual reports). Example: UL Environment.

Visioning and Facilitation: these firms focus on the “big picture” of sustainability, working with clients to brainstorm and create new mental models for companies, communities, and societies. These firms tend to be smaller and more radical, since the market for their services is smaller and their goal is to push the boundary of “business as usual.” The principals of these firms come from a variety of backgrounds, but often have training in facilitation techniques like Open Space, World Café, and the Art of Hosting. Example: The Natural Step.

Sustainability Marketing: these firms help clients tell their sustainability story. They range from public relations firms to graphic designers, and have varying involvement in the crafting of the story versus the delivery of the message. Staff at these firms usually has marketing, advertising, design and communications degrees. Many smaller firms in this category will focus exclusively on sustainability marketing, but larger companies will often have only one division devoted to sustainability and focus most of its effort on other communication areas. Example: J. Ottman Consulting.

Sustainability Software: one of the fastest growing areas of the sustainability marketplace is the development and sales of sustainability software—including carbon accounting, EHS management, and sustainability reporting platforms. Many of these companies offer some kind of consulting support, but it is generally related to the set-up and implementation of the sustainability software. While there is some overlap between this category and the Technical Support category, we distinguish the two because the Technical Support companies generally provide a service (e.g. an energy audit) while Sustainability Software companies generally sell a distinct product. Example: Credit360.

Check out our past blog “State of the Sustainability Consulting Industry” to learn more on the background for these findings.

Break Your Own Sustainability Habits, and Then Help Employees Change

The SSC Team August 28, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Are you searching for ways to make your office more environmentally friendly? Before declaring a moratorium on plastic bags and forcing your co-workers into a carpool schedule, take some time to look in the mirror and reflect on your own habits.

 

We are, quite literally and biologically, creatures of habit and repetition, so creating a new pattern of behavior is far from easy. Our brains love saving time by making some actions automatic, even if those actions are ultimately harmful to us or our planet. If you’re trying to get your colleagues on board with a few new, positive sustainability habits around the office, start first by taking stock of your own bad habits and serving as a role model for change.

 

Global CEO coach Sabina Nawaz stresses the importance of frequently tracking and reviewing your goals and progress when trying to form a new habit. In order to track and measure your progress, your goals must be exactly that: measurable. Trying to attack too lofty or broad of a goal can be overwhelming and may ultimately lead you to slip back into negative behaviors.

 

Consider choosing 3 small tasks that you can concretely determine if you’ve completed or not. For example, bringing in your reusable bottle, unplugging your work station at the end of the day and printing less than 30 pages per day. The Nature Conservatory and Huffington Post also have some other great suggestions for small ways to decrease energy use and waste in the office.

 

Nawaz recommends using a simple chart called the “Yes List” to quickly track whether you’ve completed the new habit each day. You can make a hard copy or keep the tracker on your mobile device to make it even more convenient. If the chart is too complicated or cumbersome, you won’t use it, so make sure the chart is quick and clean like the one below.

 

Having a visual representation of your progress will keep you motivated and also help you determine which habits you may need to adjust or the ones you’ve successfully completed, so you can introduce a new habit. 

   
  
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After you’ve successfully tracked and started to shift your own habits for a few weeks, share your chart with your colleagues as motivation for them and a proof point that change is possible! 

 

Invite them to join you on your sustainability journey and share resources so they can pick the habit that make most sense for them. 

 

 

Are You Getting the Real Truth from Your Employees?

The SSC Team August 21, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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We know that lying is a part of life. All of us have told the occasional white lie, even at work. But when it comes to managing a business how often are your employees lying and more importantly, why are they bending the truth?

 

First, let’s take a look at how often employees lie. Harvard Business Review says that according to research “20% of people tell 80% of the lies, and 80% of people account for the remaining 20%.” So, the good news is that most of your employees are probably not lying; at least not very often.

 

Let’s get to the bottom of why employees lie. The 20% telling most of the lies often don’t see anything wrong with their deceit. Normally, things are going well for our deceitful employees when they lie and they “…do it when they are feeling good or in control of things – because they get a kick out of it.” Our frequent liars are also more likely to admit their deceitful ways if confronted.

 

But what about the majority of employees who make up the remaining 20%? Frequently their lies stem from stress, poor work/life balance, pressure to fit in with peers, or a lack of timely opportunities to tell the truth.

 

If we are able to acknowledge that our employees are going to tell lies (as are we) the next question is how to eliminate, or at least minimize harm. As we know, not all lies are negatively affecting business. If two employees don’t care for each other but claim to ‘like one another’ and cooperate, well, what’s the problem?

 

If you suspect you aren’t getting the truth slow down and take a closer look at the situation. Are you being honest with employees? Do employees have frequent opportunities to offer the truth and do leaders value that feedback? Are transparency and feedback a regular part of the day-to-day operation?

 

Feedback is essential to creating highly effective teams and thriving companies. But how can you ensure you are getting truthful, constructive feedback from your employees?

 

The simple answer is to just ask them. From using Survey Monkey to utilizing regular check-ins to hear how things are going, there are many ways companies solicit feedback

 

Additionally, you need to determine how much feedback you want. There is quite a spectrum of feedback out there. We’ve all likely been solicited for feedback by our leadership only to have it fall on deaf ears as more of a formality. Additionally, we’ve all probably been asked to provide feedback only to be met by a staunch defense that leaves us feeling, somehow, in the wrong for doing what we were asked to do.

 

“One of the biggest tragedies of mankind is people holding their opinions in their heads… they’re not dealing with the things they need to deal with,” Ray Dalio, Founder and CIO of Bridgewater Associates, told Adam Grant on his podcast Work Life.

 

Bridgewater is one of the biggest hedge fund firms in the world. Its culture is founded on something Dalio calls “radical transparency,” where all employees, from top to bottom, put “every criticism, every opinion, out in the open.” The newest, lowest ranking employee is encouraged to provide feedback as high up as the CEO.

 

So, is radical transparency right for your company? Probably not to the extent Bridgewater takes it. But according to Grant “… if we want to get better at something, we should go and learn from the extreme.”

 

At the end of the day, employees lie for a variety of reasons. It is not our responsibility as leaders in the organization to discover the origin of each lie and punish the instigator.

 

Instead, we can take a closer look at ourselves as leaders and our organizational culture. This can help us to discover the optimal level of transparency that motivates our teams to be more truthful and productive. 

TEDTalk The Business Benefits of Doing Good

The SSC Team June 21, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Everyone loves a good TED Talk! Here’s one of our favorites

In a talk from earlier this year, social impact strategist Wendy Woods explored assessing the impact the various aspects of business can have on various aspects of society, and how we can make adjustments in order to not only do less harm, but to actually improve things. Woods discusses how executives can move beyond corporate social responsibility to "total societal impact" — which will not only benefit a company's bottom line but also society at large. 

The Importance of Creating a Diverse Sustainability Team

The SSC Team March 6, 2018 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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We talk a lot about diversity these days, but how can we truly make it a priority in our workplaces? Sustainability is about striving for a better world and a better world is an inclusive one. So whether you are a start up or a Fortune 500 company you need to strive to build a diverse company. Here’s the thing — this is not just good for your team, it’s good for your bottom line.

 

Harvard Business Review surveyed more than 1,700 companies from eight countries and found that there was a statistically significant relationship between diversity and innovation outcomes in all countries examined. Also those innovative companies unsurprisingly turned out to be more profitable, too.

 

In her 2016 piece, The Challenges of Diversity in Sustainability Leadership, Anya Khalamayzer highlighted the need for green-focused businesses and nonprofits to rethink they way they build diversity in leadership positions. As Khalamayzer points out the goal of environmental stewardship is preserving a diversity of ecosystems, cultures and natural resources. So it only makes sense that organizations pledging to protect the planet’s resources should reflect the diversity needed to solve the world’s big, interconnected problems.

 

“We need diversity to happen at all levels of environmental efforts, starting with the hiring process," said Whitney Tome, executive director of Green 2.0, an organization advancing racial diversity across mainstream environmental foundations and government agencies.

 

Leela Srinivasan, Chief Marketing Officer at Lever, has six ideas that can help yield results when it comes to fostering diversity in your workplace. First you have to get real about how diverse and inclusive your company is. Look, you can recruit all the diverse talent you want, but if they don’t feel comfortable in the office environment it isn’t going to work out. Make sure you create conditions where employees from all backgrounds can feel empowered to do their best work.

 

To really get started in this process you need to objectively analyze your current situation — how diverse do you consider the last five individuals promoted in terms of gender, ethnicity and background? Ask the same question of your last five hires. If there haven’t been many recent promotions or new team members added to your organization consider the last raises, bonuses or rewards that were distributed. Then consider the last five people who left your organization — is there any commonality in their background? Any patterns that emerge when you evaluate these questions can provide you with a starting point and areas where you need to prioritize your focus.

 

Next make sure your team interviews people consistently and objectively. Here’s the thing, even though hiring is really important for success, most companies seem to spend little time, effort or resources to train employees about making objective hiring decisions. And here’s the thing, whether we want to admit it or not, each of us has some bias about the world around us. Implementing some thoughtful guidelines can help to minimize the impact of that bias, or at least make us more aware of it. We all know that you want people to join your team who feel like a good fit, but if you constantly select people “just like us” your workplace could become a monoculture and your creativity and ability to succeed will be stifled. So utilize an application tracking system, a standard questionnaire and/or interview kits to help candidates be evaluated in a consistent way.

 

Does the world outside of your office understand your commitment to a diverse team? If you have people on your staff who may consider themselves to be in the minority you should ask if they are comfortable being featured in a company blog or to share their positive feelings about working for your company on sites like LinkedIn or Medium.  If this isn’t an option yet, demonstrate your commitment to the community — attend local meetings that address diversity issues or arrange volunteer opportunities that will expose your team to a more diverse population. If your website includes people — one your team or clients — make sure that you highlight individuals who represent other groups.

 

Everyone has to participate. There are different ways you can do this, but your office environment will not be more diverse unless your team is onboard and open. You can engage in company-wide discussions to help foster inclusion and celebrate differences. You can create employee resource groups to provide networking and social opportunities to underrepresented groups, however you have to be careful that the dialogue remains open and doesn’t cause important conversations to be help behind closed doors. The end goal is that the most successful inclusion activities will foster a mutual sense of belonging amongst everyone — whether they are in the majority or minority. And remember, it isn’t just about special activities. You need to make sure that the everyday experience is inclusive. Here is Buffer’s guide to inclusive language for startups and tech companies, take a look and think about the language utilized in your company each day.

 

Here’s the thing, you may have to be proactive in building your diverse team. If you get 25 applications for a position and every one comes from a white millennial male, you may want to put in a little more work to garner a more diverse slate of potential candidates. However as you start approaching individuals you think may be a good fit, remember you are looking for a diverse AND talented team. Do not approach a potential candidate merely because they would increase the diversity at your company.

 

Most importantly? Don’t wait! The early you implement these strategies into your hiring process, the more likely you are to garner and maintain a diverse team. This is a commitment for the long term so get to it! There is no time like the present.

5 Ways to Promote Sustainability Through Strong Values

The SSC Team December 20, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

It's a common problem in sustainability consulting: how do you get employees to pay attention to sustainability and integrate social and environmental considerations throughout their job responsibilities and daily behavior?  New research in psychology has some insight, and we're diving in for a closer look at how focus on values and virtues can help drive organizational success.

In 5 Reasons You Need to Instill Values in Your Organization, Jessica Amortegui outlines the connection between good intentions and effective transformation in the workplace. "It is an old truism: employees do not turn to written statements on the company intranet for clues about how to behave--they look to each other," Amortegui writes. "If your goal is to intentionally shape the actions and interactions of employees, you know the importance of creating a 'values-based' culture. However, you also know how difficult it is to implement one."

She further adds: "For companies to truly close the chasm between their stated and lived values, they must enter the human psyche to extract excellence from the inside-out, not dictate it from outside-in. This requires organizations to pivot their approach: rather than get people to live the values, they should focus on the values that live in the people. This taps into the innate qualities that exist across mankind: human virtues."

There a lot more great information in the article (read it in its entirety here) with many helpful links to additional studies and research, but what caught our eye was how Amortegui's thinking could easily be applied to the sustainability work we do with clients. Below, we take excerpts from her list (in italics) and add our own commentary on how it applies to sustainability-oriented change management.

1. Virtues Are a Workplace Game Changer

Amortegui: Employees who feel welcome to express their authentic selves at work exhibit higher levels of organizational commitment, individual performance, and propensity to help others.

Just as Walmart found with their Personal Sustainability Projects, allowing employees to identify a sustainability-related behavior that was personally relevant and valuable was instrumental in creating corporate-wide momentum. Consider how you engage employees -- are you making it clear how "green" opportunities and expectations in the office allow them to bring their most authentic selves to the job?

2. Virtues Lead To Growth Of The Whole Person

Amortegui: The ideal company makes its best employees even better--and the least of them better than they ever thought they could be. Employees are not just looking for the best places to work. They want to join the best places to grow.  

Find ways to tie sustainability goals into personal growth opportunities. Whether it's allowing employees to practice a hands-on skill (how to build a rain barrel or the basics of composting), develop speaking skills (hosting brown-bag workshops on green topics), or engaging with senior managers (participating on the Green Team), make sure that you cultivate a clear link between the initiative itself and the opportunity it provides for participants.

3. Virtues Lead to Greater Onboarding Success

Amortegui: When companies emphasize newcomers' authentic best selves, versus an organizational identity, it contributes to greater customer satisfaction and employee retention after six months.

Start talking about the opportunities for employees to exhibit their personal values by contributing to the company's sustainability efforts from day one. Include an overview of your sustainability goals and strategy in new employee orientations.  Find out how their personal interests and virtues align with the organization and invite them to participate accordingly.

4. Virtues Improve Engagement

Amortegui: Two of the most important predictors of employee retention and satisfaction are reporting to use your top strengths at work and reporting that your manager recognizes your top strengths. 

The more that mid-level managers understand and communicate sustainability goals and priorities to their staff, the easier it will be for employees to "get" how their individual job responsibilities play into the larger picture of organizational sustainability. Provide the training and leadership needed to get managers to 1) understand, 2) communicate, and 3) recognize sustainability potential in their departments. 

5. Virtues Increase Self-Awareness

Amortegui: Organizations that realize this potent potential for human excellence will transcend their current cultures and create a greenhouse effect: shining brightness on what is best about their people while cultivating the conditions for any organizational value system to live, breathe, and flourish.

There is great knowledge within your workforce about the practical realities of achieving sustainability in the workplace, within your industry, and in your community. Companies that tap into that knowledge on a regular basis will find that they reap a myriad of rewards: enthusiasm, morale, expertise, and engagement. Why not take advantage of it!

Want to read more about employee engagement? Check out another article we wrote on the subject for 2degrees, Three Ways to Engage Non-Wired Employees.

Thanks to 2degrees for publishing a version of this article!

Is Vanpooling a Good Choice for Your Business?

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

Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.

We’ve found that vanpooling is a great option for companies located in rural areas when employees live in many directions. It’s particularly valuable for companies with a growing headcount, because it’s relatively easy to add a new van (while adding a new bus route is a significant commitment in terms of time and money).

There's lots of good evidence that vanpooling is good for employees and good for companies. According to Enterprise RideShare:

Vanpooling drastically reduces commuting and maintenance costs by up to $800 a month* (based on AAA mileage). Also, employees who vanpool are eligible for tax incentives  (IRS Tax Code 132(f)) and local government subsidies... People who share a ride aren't subject to the daily traffic grind, which means they arrive at work happier, more relaxed and, in turn, are more productive. Also, vanpoolers are found to be more punctual than those that drive alone. So employees who vanpool are more likely to arrive to work on time.

Check out these resources for more information.

Vanpooling: A Handbook to Help You Set Up a Program at Your Company - a PDF guide from the US Department of Transportation. While the handbook is a bit old, it is a great roadmap for setting up and managing a vanpooling program.

Vanpool Benefits: Implementing Commuter Benefits - a PDF guide from the US Environmental Protection Agency's "Best Workplace for Commuters" program. While written with an American audience in mind, all companies will find it useful for considering the financial costs and benefits of a vanpooling program.

Curious about how different commuting patterns affect your company's carbon footprint? Download our free white paper, Reducing Your Organization's Carbon Footprint: Addressing Commuter-Related Emissions.  

The Importance of a Personal Sustainability Project

The SSC Team August 18, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives. 

The business world is an ever-changing entity that is constantly being fueled by new ideas and initiatives. One of the latest initiatives is no longer just “going green,” but becoming sustainable. This means that simple recycling efforts aren’t going to be enough. Individual employees at any business can take action to work toward sustainability.

Creating a green team is one way you can send a message of your need to improve up the chain-of-command. But reflect on your personal habits that you could change for sustainability. Consider taking on a ‘Personal Sustainability Project’ or PSP that could help you achieve sustainability in your office. Encourage others to do the same! The idea behind a PSP has been explored by Mr. Adam Werbach, former Sierra Club President, in order to engage Walmart workers in sustainability. His hope was “that if we could learn how to help individuals become personally sustainable, then we might also learn how to affect the two hundred million people who shop regularly at Walmart.” While you may not be working on the scale off affecting two hundred million people, your work toward sustainability may convince others in your company to take on a PSP.
Establishing your PSP means taking on a small project that is something you really believe you can do. Do not try to take on a task that seems impossible. Rather, take on something you know may be a little difficult but something that you can make a habit over time: “Instead of overhauling someone’s lifestyle, we started by finding daily or recurring practices that can express an individual’s values … What are the qualities of a PSP? It is repeatable, inspirational, sustainable, and enjoyable (RISE). At its most basic level, it is a healthy habit. People learn to spot PSPs through self-reflection or through a group session where they can talk about their routines and identify changes they would like to make.” In a business case, a PSP should be something you can achieve that not only helps you but can also help your company work on sustainability. A great example would be to ride your bicycle to work instead of driving your car. While this may not seem like a way to help your business, think of all the areas biking to work can have an influence on:
Reducing CO2 emissions (environmental)
Getting a great workout (social)
Potentially cutting health-care costs and health-club fees (economic)

Where can you start on your road to sustainability? Our white paper, “Become a Sustainability Champion: At Any Career Level has a whole section devoted to walking you through this process and outlining a clear path forward to getting started. Examples are given for employees ranging from general office associates, to middle managers, to CEOs.

Find out myriad ways that you can become a sustainability champion! Download this complimentary white paper here.

Growing Your Sustainability Consulting Business: Making the Business Case for Hiring YOU

The SSC Team December 22, 2015 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Check out this blog from the SSC archives. 

This just in: Nearly 80 percent of global CEOs affirmed in a recent survey  that sustainability has become a part of corporate operations (survey conducted by Accenture and the United Nations Global Compact of 800 global CEOs).

This is great news! As sustainability continues to move mainstream, there should be plenty of new clients crawling out of the FSC-certified woodwork in the coming years.

But that doesn’t mean that getting work is going to be easy. According to a different survey done in partnership with the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Boston Consulting Group just last year, many companies had “not developed a business case for sustainability” and are investing many of their sustainability dollars in maintaining regulatory compliance.

What? That doesn’t make sense, does it?

It sort of does from a business-logic perspective. First, basic environmental protection laws help ensure regulators are pushing companies to clean up or be fined. Second, PR and marketing teams are spending sustainability dollars, as “going green” can help increase sales and reputational value. Then, as some efficiency cost-savings become apparent, the operations team moves in. These elements separately can all be counted toward “sustainability investment,” but that doesn’t mean the company is strategically tackling its move into sustainability by developing a true “business case.”

Why not? According to Gil Friend, founder and CEO of Natural Logic, most people are still “seeing ‘sustainability’ only as a cost, not an investment.” So, naturally they are only doing the obvious low-cost, high return on investment (ROI) sustainability things. This can be especially true for small- to medium-sized enterprises without any real knowledge of sustainability or the resources to tackle the issue strategically (i.e. your potential clients. Hint, hint.).

So the path is clear. Now that you know everything there is to know (See Part 1) about your prospective client, it’s time to develop a tailored “business case for sustainability” that will help you win business by opening client’s eyes to the opportunity that a real sustainability strategy provides. 

In Part 3 of this series, we discuss how to communicate the business case to your prospective client in terms that they will understand (read: shareholder value), but for now let’s just find the business case.

Don’t even think about hugging trees or saving rainforests. According to David Bent, head of business strategies at Forum for the Future, a nonprofit sustainable development organization based in the UK, “the ‘societal case’ does not automatically make a business case.” Yes, there is a lot of societal pressure to address social and environmental problems, but that doesn’t mean that the societal case is going to sell sustainability to a client. Generally, you should focus on what will help the client be a better, more profitable business, and present the societal and environmental benefits as icing on the sustainability cake (unless you’re really lucky and land a socially conscious client!).

Use what you know about the prospective client and pick what you think the strongest business case or cases are. The best news here is that the Forum for the Future has done the hard work for us. In early January, the organization created a table combining key elements of the most commonly used business cases for sustainability. The table, called Pathways to Value, will help you identify how to make direct links between the business strategy of the prospective client and sustainability initiative that will tie in with the client’s strategic goals. To access the chart, click here or type in http://www.forumforthefuture.org/projects/pathways-to-value.

For example, if your prospective client is in a highly regulated industry, like mining, and you learned from research that they’ve just won a contract to open a mine in an area with a large Native American population, they would have a high risk of damaging their reputation, high regulatory costs, and concerns about the license to operate. Hence, you should focus your sustainability pitch heavily on “risk reduction” elements. Yes, the company may also benefit from staff motivation and retention programs, but the biggest payoff in investing in sustainability is probably the area with the strongest business case. And the strongest business case is going to be most interesting to the client; therefore, you should concentrate your pitch on that business case.

By pitching the right product to the client, you will probably have a better chance of earning their business (and, hopefully, when your programs maximize ROI, you’ll look like a genius).

Once you have identified the key business case or cases, it is time to prepare your presentation. In order to make sure you get the most out of every minute of face time, make sure you are speaking to your client in a language that he or she understands. For more about being on the same page, check out Growing your sustainability consultancy business, Part 3: Speak your client’s language.

Enjoyed this blog post? You might want to consider the Strategic Sustainability Masterclass Series. For more information, visit our online training section.

How to earn respect as a sustainability leader

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

When trying to lead a sustainability program from the inside, you may find that getting internal buy-in from your peers, managers and executives is the toughest part of the job. This is especially true when sustainability and CSR don’t get a lot of respect as a corporate priority.

Consider the situation from nay-sayers perspectives, though, and you can begin to see why sustainability (and you) aren’t favorites at work:

  • The CFO may be thinking: why was sustainability “forced” on my, and why does it always seem to be spending more money than it saves?
  • The COO may be thinking: have CSR programs really delivered anything meaningful to the company, or is it just a feel-good initiative that’s taking people away from their “real” jobs?
  • Department heads may be thinking: Do sustainability people do anything except for harp about recycling all the time?
  • The Director of Communications may be thinking: I just want to tell a good story. Why do the sustainability managers always want to bring up our weaknesses?

The industry, the corporate culture, the history of the company’s performance, the physical location, and many other factors may contribute to how your co-workers, subordinates, and leadership view the role of the sustainability leader.

In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat, a security software company, gives some solid advice about earning respect inside a corporate culture.

Sustainability leaders may want to pay special attention to Whitehurst’s advice.

  • Show passion for the purpose of your organization and constantly drive interest in it. Even though you may have a TON of ideas on how your company can quickly change and make significant environmental gains, you should frame those ideas and the positive change they can create in language that speaks to the purpose of the organization itself. If internal stakeholders see sustainability programs as strengthening the business as a whole, and not just some ancillary reporting department, they will begin to respect sustainability’s role in the organization.
  • Demonstrate confidence. You may be asking employees who are not under your direct supervision to make changes to purchasing habits, reporting protocols, and behavior. You need to ask them with respect and confidence. Conveying confidence for a program that is supported up the chain-of-command will help establish you – and the programs you are implementing – will encourage others to follow your lead.
  • Engage your people. One of the biggest complaints about sustainability may stem from the top-down approach to change. Of course, you’re gathering the data, interpreting the reports, and making recommendations – but those who have to change because of a recommendation may come to see your role as an arbitrary rule imposer. As you look at programs and policies that affect department function or employee behavior, ask for input, ideas, and thoughts about how to implement change. You may get some great ideas from unexpected places.
  • Don’t be a know-it-all. You may know a bit about sustainability, but you probably don’t know a lot about the detailed work of the different functional areas in your company. By showing passion for shared company goals and values, being confident in your own role, and engaging people in different areas of the company, you will begin to build a positive reputation. But, you may also misstep. By “owning up” as Whitehurst says, you should frankly address when something doesn’t go as planned and help the team build a work-around together.

Managing sustainability is a difficult role in many corporate systems as sustainability is not a supervisory, but more of an advisory, department. This makes it even more important to earn respect with internal stakeholders. By doing so, you will really see the full effects of sustainability programs and help integrate sustainability into the fabric of the company’s culture.

Working on a tough sustainability project where internal stakeholders are pushing back? Let us know in the comments.