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VIEWS: SSC at the World Water Forum (Part III)

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on March 24, 2009

Dispatch from SSC President Jennifer Woofter

I’m on the flight back home after my trip to Istanbul and the World Water Forum. I’m sure that in the coming week we will hear all about the sessions, working groups, panels, and “key messages” through such excellent sites as Grist and Worldchanging (two of my favorite sustainability news outlets). I’m also sure that others’ analysis will be more insightful and pithy than mine.

But as I Istanbul, what is sticking with me is the disconnect between what *I* know about water and it’s connection with sustainability (even basic societal survival!) and how everyday people think about water. I was asked more than a dozen times by the “average” Istanbul citizen what I was doing in the city, and it often led to a discussion of water. Here’s what I heard:

Taxi Driver – don’t you think this is something that politicians are using to get people riled up? Water is not a problem. Well, maybe in 100 years. But this is not something we should be concerned with today.

Carpet Shop Employee – it’s true that clean water is difficult, but bottled water is so cheap it is not really a problem for me. Maybe it’s more of a problem in the country.

Hotel Employee – this is a problem in Africa, right? Where there is no rain? Here we get lots of rain, so drought is not something we worry about.

I think if you asked people in any major city you would probably hear the same thing: it’s a political “much ado about nothing”, it’s about my own personal access to clean drinking water, or it’s a problem in areas with drought. Very few people seemed to see the larger picture – for instance about water privatization issues, or climate change implications, or even how the price of goods and services will rise as access to clean water becomes more expensive – or impossible to obtain.

As a sustainability consultant, it’s my job to help people understand how a simple-yet-complex issue like water can have real meaning to their lives and their livelihoods. I have to wear many hats – scientist, communicator, accountant, fortuneteller… I have to balance the realities of today with the uncertainties of tomorrow. I have to find the link between the “right thing to do” (e.g. access to clean drinking water for all) and what makes “good business sense” (e.g. let’s make sure our company’s supply chain is water-efficient). It’s complicated and fascinating work – and as I leave Istanbul I’m excited to get back to the SSC office and spend some time reviewing our consulting services to ensure that water concerns are integrated into every part of our analysis and planning engagements.

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NEWS: Winning Sustainability Strategies – A Round-Up of Recent Reports

Posted by dbuhrau on March 23, 2009

Recent studies show that remote conferencing is the number one strategy for greening businesses, and that programs are much more successful when organizations put a single person in charge of sustainability efforts.

In a survey by InterCall, a conferencing solutions firm, two-thirds of the 900 employees surveyed said their companies use remote conferencing to avoid business travel and reduce the size of their carbon footprint, beating out recycling and working with greener suppliers.

Telephone conferencing is the most popular, according to the survey, with 75% of companies relying on conference calls to get the job done. But web and video technologies have improved drastically in recent years, and 63% of respondents say that they meet via the internet, while half use videoconferencing on a regular basis.

The main reason that conferencing is becoming such a popular green strategy seems to be that it’s easy and cheap. According to some survey respondents, conferencing is a behavior change that businesses can make immediately without expensive changes to their product or processes – a win-win for everybody.

And the payoffs can be significant: British Telecom, for example, cut CO2 emissions by nearly 100,000 metric tons thanks to videoconferencing, which eliminated the need for more than 860,000 face-to-face staff meetings, according to an internal company survey.

There are other popular green strategies as well, according to a survey of HR executives by human resources firm Buck Consultants. Although their respondents also cited remote conferencing as their number one strategy (at 80%), 76% set policies to conserve paper, and 68% have implemented employee wellness programs.

Teleworking is on the rise as well, according to the InterCall survey. Seventy-one percent of respondents said their companies enable employees to telecommute on a full or part-time basis and of those, 25% actively encourage the practice.

Another interesting finding in the surveys is that among companies that have established sustainability programs, those that put a single person in charge of them are much more likely to get their employees behind the effort. According to the Buck survey, in companies with at least three-quarters of their employees actively involved in green programs, 71% have appointed individual leaders whereas only 29% do not have such a leader.

Incentives programs help, too. Among companies that provide rewards to encourage green behaviors, 77% provide special employee recognition, 36% give prize incentives, and 14% offer a monetary reward.

But there is still much more that organizations can do, says Don Sanford, a managing director at Buck. Specifically, he expects to see future growth in green training programs, environmentally responsible investment options, and recruiting employees with green skills.

Finally, it’s worth noting that successful green programs can have a positive effect well beyond a company’s environmental footprint. Sanford says that many employers now recognize that green programs in the workplace can promote social responsibility among workers and help retain top talent. And for those companies that embrace conferencing technologies, they not only reduce travel costs and facilitate speedier decision-making, they can also help employees reduce travel time, increase productivity, and achieve a better work-life balance. What’s more, it frees up road space and seats on public transportation – all of which are very positive.

To view the surveys and more information, see:

Report: Sustainability Efforts Require Individual Leadership

Conferencing Tops List of Green Business Strategies, Survey Finds

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RESOURCES: Deloitte’s “The Green Gap: Avoiding Pitfalls on the Sustainability Path to Shareholder Value”

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on February 2, 2009

Senior executives at more and more companies are starting to make sustainability a top agenda item. And although different motivations are driving companies to make this move (for example, consumer interest, pending legislation, rising commodity prices, and retailer demands), many of them are facing similar challenges. In particular, how can they ensure that their sustainability efforts are going to deliver shareholder value?

The article offers nine “pitfalls” for companies to consider in their sustainability journey to shareholder value:

1) Confusion From the Start
Sustainability needs to be clearly defined so that all employees understand what it means – and does not mean – to their organization. Increasingly, accepted definitions reference the Triple Bottom Line – where companies focus on the intersection between environmental, social, and economic factors.

2) The Missing Link – Organizational DNA
In addition to a definition, a Sustainability Vision Statement must also be developed that is closely aligned with the company’s Mission Statement. This serves as a guide for strategic decision making, engages employees and stakeholders more deeply, and begins to embed sustainability into the company culture.

3) Pursuing Without Priorities
Because sustainability can impact multiple areas of a company, developing clear priorities is key. Failure to do so can dilute sustainability efforts or confuse various stakeholders. Companies should analyze operational inputs and outputs, consider stakeholder priorities, and remember the social impacts of their various business activities when establishing priorities.

4) Baseless Progress
Although 85 percent of leading consumer businesses have pursued some sort of sustainability-related initiative, many are lacking baselines against which yearly benefits can be measured. It’s one thing to say $5 million was invested in energy-saving technology, but it’s far more powerful to say that waste was reduced by 45% since 1998.

5) Lifecycle Analysis Paralysis
Lifecycle assessments can be a powerful tool, but may not be ideal for companies lacking time, resources, or technical expertise. A good alternative is to create an internal “sustainability index” to evaluate each product line based on its sustainability attributes and overall value to the company. And because different criteria have differing impacts on the firm’s sustainability achievements, the criteria should be weighted according to the company’s sustainability strategic priorities.

6) The Lone Rider
Tackling sustainability issues alone can be arduous, if not impossible. Companies should collaborate with external organizations – non-profits, NGO’s, and academic or industry groups – in order to navigate the ever-changing sustainability landscape. This will help them keep up with changing technologies, environmental and social impacts of operations, and innovative tactics to engage relevant stakeholders.

7) Lacking Leadership
As with most other major strategic issues, sustainability requires a senior executive to drive accountability, evaluate risks, overcome organizational barriers, and speak persuasively to investors and other stakeholders. Indeed, high-performing companies put a much greater emphasis on environmental and social concerns at the board level, while poorly-performing firms are more likely to have nobody in charge of sustainability issues.

8) Communicating Too Early or Not at All
When a company makes some sustainability strides, it’s tempting to want to broadcast its success to the world. But it’s critical to assess the true benefits of a company’s sustainability initiatives, products, and/or services – before announcing progress publicly – in order to prevent the risk of being accused of communicating unsubstantiated claims.

9) Betting on the Consumer
Surveys show that a growing number of consumers are becoming aware of sustainability issues and are modifying their purchasing decisions accordingly. Factors that they may consider include organic development, eco-friendly ingredients or packaging, and fair treatment of employees and suppliers. However, many consumers are also skeptical about green product claims, and it is unclear to what extent consumers will sacrifice convenience or price for sustainability. Even so, sustainability can certainly drive competitive advantage when targeting the right consumer segment.

Creating a “Pitfall-Free” Foundation

Doing the right things at the right time is critical to building a proper foundation and avoiding the above pitfalls. Building this foundation should occur in four steps:

A) Strategic Intent. First, develop a sustainability definition and link it with the organization’s mission to create a sustainability vision statement. Further, assess how sustainability will impact the enterprise’s competitive advantage and identify top priority areas.

B) Operational Strategy. Next, establish operational baselines to identify key metrics and targets as well as to compare yearly progress. Consumer products companies should analyze product portfolios with an sustainability index to identify which products support the sustainability strategy and which should be rethought. Finally, leverage external collaboration opportunities to drive more innovation in solutions.

C) Governance & Infrastructure. Identify clear roles and responsibilities, including an executive sponsor to ensure sustainability progress. He or she should establish communication protocols for both internal and external audiences, as well as tools with which to review proposed initiatives.

D) Operational Integrity. Once the previous steps are in place, employees will be equipped to generate innovative solutions that fulfill the organization’s sustainability aspirations. These initiatives should generally drive one of these five things: 1) Cost and Efficiency, 2) Revenue Enhancement, 3) Stakeholder Engagement, 4) Risk Management, and 5) Regulatory Compliance. And each strategic driver should be aligned with the proper personnel and tactics. For instance, a revenue enhancement initiative should include marketing, sales, and R&D personnel and should be designed to meet a consumer need related to sustainability.

Applicability to All-Sized Businesses

The companies that carefully build this foundation – and avoid the all-too-common pitfalls mentioned above – are the ones who will succeed in realizing environmental and social benefits while delivering shareholder value. And while this article is directed mainly at large companies, all of these guidelines apply to small and medium businesses as well – in spirit, even if not always in letter.

For example, a medium-sized business may not have a large or complex governance structure, but it’s still important for a leader, or the leader, to commit to the sustainability agenda if it’s going to succeed. Likewise, creating sustainability indexes for product portfolios may not be applicable to smaller organizations, but they should nevertheless try to establish some applicable metrics with which they can evaluate various processes and outputs in terms of their overall importance and their impact on the organization’s sustainability progress.

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BOOK REVIEW: Values-Driven Business

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on October 9, 2007

Values-Driven Business: How to Change the World, Make Money and Have Fun
Authors: Ben Cohen and Mal Warwick

What is the definition of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)? Ask 5 people and you will likely get 5 different answers. Mal Warwick and Ben Cohen’s book does not offer us a specific definition, but openly describes the unlimited options that businesses have to incorporate the various CSR values each finds uniquely important.

Perhaps your business would like to make a priority of giving back to the community or working on creating a supply chain that has minimal negative social and environmental effects, but you do not know how to get started. Maybe you are a business owner that desires to generously reward your employees, but fears it could affect your “bottom line.” Values-Driven Business inspires and encourages companies to pursue their own individual choices for CSR by sharing a number of stories from existing successful companies.

For instance, Juniper Communities, an assisted living company, built a 95-unit facility following nationally recognized building standards, resulting in a LEED certified building and revealing its commitment to a lighter footprint. Immaculate Baking not only buys the rights for the art used on its packaging for its organic goods, but was inspired to create a foundation that supports many of these artists that were more than just “struggling”, but barely surviving. Eileen Fisher, a women’s clothing company, offers a generous benefits package to its employees that includes profit sharing and $1000 per year, per employee for wellness classes and treatments.

Just as important as its stories, this book becomes an invaluable resource providing suggestions and tools a business can use to take the first step in implementing values unique to the goals of each enterprise. The authors decide to use the term Value-Driven Business in their book rather than CSR, but as explained in the preface it is a personal preference and along with a number of other common terms, can be used interchangeably.

The authors focus on the Small and Medium Based Businesses out there that are either curious about this concept or are ready to jump head first into this emerging and exciting facet of business. Whatever the goal of the reader, this book takes a step-by- step approach to encouraging enterprises to make decisions based on social, environmental and economic principles. It asks the reader critical questions such as “why are you in business?”, “are you ready to take the plunge?” and “can you make money in a values-based business?” The authors provide the guidance and tools for each individual business to answer the questions for itself.

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NEWS: Women and the Environment

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on August 1, 2007

We’re always intrigued by the interplay between social issues and environmental sustainability, and so we were especially interested in recent posts from Grist.org and Trendwatching.com about women, purchasing power, and the environment.

Consider these facts:

¨ Consulting firm A.T. Kearney estimates that women determine 80 percent of consumption, purchase 60 percent of all cars, and own 40 percent of all stocks.

¨ Women are up to 15 percent more likely than men to rate the environment a high priority.

¨ Women comprise up to two-thirds of voters who cast their ballots around environmental issues.

¨ Women are more likely than men to volunteer for and give money to environmental causes, especially related to public health.

¨ Women report both more support for environmental activists and more concern that government isn’t doing enough.

¨ Women support increased government spending for the environment, while men favor spending cuts.

According to Grist (which sites all of the following survey data), polls also show that about 68 percent of American consumers have gone green, preferring health-conscious and environmentally responsible products. “Since 90 percent of women identify themselves as the primary shoppers for their households, and women sign 80 percent of all personal checks, it’s safe to say that women are leading a quiet revolution in green consumerism.”

What does this mean for you? If you employ women or sell to women (and we know you do!), then looking at ways to be more environmentally responsible can pay dividends—not just in reduced energy costs and less waste, but also in terms of improved customer loyalty, a strong reputation, and happier employees.

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News: Can sustainability and globalization co-exist?

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on July 14, 2007

In a report released by Shell, Ford, Novo Nordisk, Vodafone, The Skoll Foundation and others, globalization and sustainability are assessed within the frame of 21st century business. The conclusion: “there is no more business as usual.” The report, entitled Raising Our Game: Can We Sustain Globalization, was released by consulting firm SustainAbility. The report illustrates four different scenarios for 2027, titling each scenarios after a card suit. The best scenario, “Hearts,” depicts a neo-renaissance of politics, economics, and sustainability coalescing homogenously.” Diamonds,” the worst scenario, depicts democratic lifestyles sweeping the globe, and destroying ecosystems and disabling decision makers and inhibiting society’s ability to respond.

The report outlines seven recommendations:

  • Plan for the unexpected
  • Focus efforts in areas of developing needs and booming populations.
  • Over time, a blended value bundle will be the norm in future business.
  • Work to increase Earth’s “immune system” through market intelligence and creation. Be a source for help.
  • Find opportunity in social and environmental issues
  • Step outside the comfort zone to find new innovations, technologies, and solutions.
  • Get involved in the politics, and find the vision, courage, and innovation to lead your company into the next business sphere.

If your organization needs help thinking through these issues, why not contact SSC for a consultation?

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NEWS: Business owners are willing to go green

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on July 8, 2007

Wells Fargo/Gallup polled 600 small-business owners and found that two-thirds would pay more for environmentally friendly goods and services. They also found that 43% of business owners polled “believed their customers would be willing to share the added cost of being environmentally-friendly.” However, 49% of owners were worried customers would not be willing to pay more for greener products and services. Still 47% of owners surveyed have already implemented greener practices/products into their business.

ArmorLite Roofing created a roofing material that was, “lightweight, durable, and used the least amount of natural resources.” Their product has been well received by clients, including state and federal governments. ArmorLite creator Frank Lane has been pleasantly surprised at the reception his product has received from consumers: “”I knew what I was doing would be important, but I didn’t realize the magnitude of importance it would have in the community and the response that we would receive.”

As consumers get more aware of their purchasing power, and the mainstream becomes more and more sustainable, don’t let your business get left behind. SSC can help your business become a sustainable enterprise.

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VIEWS: Measuring CSR

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on February 19, 2007

How do we measure corporate social responsibility? Sir Andrew Likierman, Professor of Management Practice in Accounting and Acting Dean at London Business School, recently wrote about the topic. Titled, “Acting ethically – and being able to prove it,” Likierman argues that since companies set the CSR tone, there is no agreed upon definition. Likierman believes that in order to measure success, company CSR goals must be matched against their relative successes.

Likierman has four ways to approach such measurement:

  • First, companies must link CSR goals to tangible objectives that can be met, such as the amount of money invested in internal or social programs, or by financial performance.
  • Second, measures must be actionable and linked to outcomes. They should be broken down into informative levels that can be measured against external, established measures and successes.
  • Third, measurements should be based on credible data. Measures should be clear, and based over a long period of time to ensure transparency.
  • Fourth, recognition of measurement limitations. A good measurement framework is essential for credible measurements, but it isn’t always sufficient to capture the intangible value of CSR.

We couldn’t agree more.

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NEWS: More Proof That Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Pays

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on December 14, 2006

At Strategic Sustainability Consulting, we know that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an important component of business operations. Not only do socially and environmentally responsible practices cut costs, they also increase brand awareness and customer loyalty. The proof?

Last week Golin/Harris International released its fourth national survey, Corporate Citizenship Gets Down to Business: Doing Well by Doing Good 2006.

Conducted by Change, GolinHarris’ corporate citizenship and social responsibility practice, the study reveals respondents recognize progress is being made as a growing number of companies embrace corporate citizenship as a business asset, although business still has a long way to go to meet Americans’ rising expectations for good corporate citizenship.

Change interviewed 5,000 Americans, who rated 152 brands for the GolinHarris Corporate Citizenship Index (CCI) in September, 2006. Top performers included Ben & Jerry’s, Target Corporation, Patagonia, and SC Johnson.

And even more interesting, an overwhelming two-thirds of Americans interviewed said:

— “‘Doing well by doing good’ is a savvy business strategy. Good corporate citizenship should be approached as an investment, asset and competitive advantage for business that contributes to the company’s success.” (67%)

— “Business should invest significantly more money, time, attention and resources in corporate citizenship than it does today.” (68%)

— “Corporate citizenship should be considered an essential, high priority compared to other priorities companies face and manage in running a profitable, competitive and successful business.” (68%)

The survey “reveals that good corporate citizenship can impact business results by stimulating Americans to be loyal, passionate and frequent business advocates and committed customers to brands that have earned their trust and support.”

But HOW do these companies incorporate good CSR into their day-to-day operations? The survey found:

Another common characteristic of the top performing companies on the GolinHarris CCI is their balanced, holistic approach to corporate citizenship as central to and aligned with the companies’ business goals and mainstream business activities. They’ve learned that how the organization runs its business is just as important as how much money it gives away. Authentic corporate citizenship must permeate all facets of how companies do business.

If your business hasn’t recently reviewed its CSR strategy, consider doing it now! Strategic Sustainability Consulting offers introductory sustainability assessments to review what you’re doing right and what needs a little work. Get CSR to work for you—contact me at Jennifer@sustainabilityconsulting.com today for a complimentary consultation.

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RESOURCE: Helpful Websites for Small Business CSR

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on November 24, 2006

It’s time for another list of helpful resources for small business. Enoy!

Intangibles and CSR
Source: Business for Social Responsibility (via GreenBiz)

Understanding how value is created through assets like knowledge, expertise, and operating systems — the “intangibles” — is integral to understanding how long-term wealth can be created and enhanced through strong CSR (corporate social responsibility) performance. Published in April 2006, this business brief explores the multifaceted link between a company’s “intangible assets” and CSR. The brief provides a framework for better understanding the business case for CSR.

Sustainability Engagement Boosts Financial Performance
Source: Ethical Corporation (via Greenbiz)

The research arm of a leading sustainable investment fund has produced a new report grading more than 1200 companies by their preparedness in terms of environmental and other CR issues, providing more evidence for a link between non-financial and financial performance. The research, published jointly with consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers, represents one of the most complete efforts so far to compare companies, and sectors, based on their non-financial performance.

Zero Footprint

Zerofootprint’s goal is to connect people who care about the environment for the purpose of reducing ecological footprint. The organization aims to be the world’s foremost content hub for green, linking millions of people from across the globe engaged in sustainable commerce, and helping to inform people, who want to strive toward a more sustainable lifestyle. Of particular note is the Green Events section, where readers can find environmental events in their local area.

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