Strategic Sustainability Consulting’s Blog

News, Views, and Updates from SSC

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

Posted in business case, news, resources, trends, workplace | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

NEWS: Update from the World Water Forum

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on March 19, 2009

Dispatch from SSC President Jennifer Woofter

The 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul, Turkey, is in full swing. Keynotes, lectures, workshops, networking events, receptions – you name it, it’s here. But the real action seems to be in the streets, where the protests by global activists have the police in a frenzy.

The groups are a motley crowd of human rights activists, non-governmental organizations, and government representatives (the UN “water czar” was reportedly joining the protests) – all of whom have come together to protest the commoditization of water (rather than the treatment of water as a human right). To be fair, the forum does discuss issues of privatization, technology, adaptation, and human rights – but critics say it favors the business world at the expense of those living at the bottom of the pyramid.

News reports say that somewhere between 150 and 300 people were in Monday’s protest, waving signs and banners, and chanting. They were met “forcefully” by riot police who used tear gas to disperse the group. Some protesters were also captured on camera using slings to propel rocks at the police. At least 15 people were held for questioning, and one policeman was injured. Some of the participants (ostensibly the peaceful protestors who were not involved with the rock-throwing) made it back to the forum for the afternoon session and vociferously voiced their protest at rough handling by police.

The police are not apologizing, the Water Forum officials have responded by saying that there are official ways to participate and voice disagreement (that does not, I suspect, involve waving banners on the street), and more protests are in the works. Word on the street is that the location of the protests will be moved, since the stifling police presence makes marching to the conference center impossible. Look in the coming days for protests at hotels where high-ranking officials retreat to discuss policy matters.

As for me, I’ve been advised to avoid certain parts of the city since protests can flare up at any time and the police are taking their responsibilities to protect the city’s honor very seriously. But with more than 27,000 people participating in the World Water Forum, avoiding a crowd in Istanbul this week is easier said than done.

Posted in events, human rights, news | 1 Comment »

VIEWS: SSC at the World Water Forum

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on March 17, 2009

Dispatch from SSC President Jennifer Woofter

I arrived in Istanbul yesterday afternoon for the 5th World Water Forum (and what I also hope will be a little vacation). Grabbing a taxi from the airport to the hotel where I’m staying, the evidence of the conference is everywhere – from the oh-so-very-efficient customs and passport control to the conference signs and banners attached to virtually every streetlight and traffic light in the city. (There are also millions of flags, posters, and banners concerning the upcoming March 29 local elections – but that’s another story altogether).

The conference attendees are everywhere you turn, speaking in a dozen languages and all gesturing emphatically. Water, it seems, is an issue that everyone from GIS Analysts to the Crown Prince of Japan (who gave this morning’s keynote) can get excited about. The city is literally buzzing with enthusiasm, and the rest of the week looks to be more of the same.

Ironically, even as I type this brief update from my hotel room, I’m sipping on bottled water. It’s unfortunate that the city’s municipal water is questionable (either overly chlorinated, or not chlorinated enough, and while probably fine no one wants to take that chance), and so everyone chugs down artificially cheap and yet oh-so-environmentally-toxic bottled water. Providing safe and clean drinking water to Istanbul’s 12.6 million residents is going to continue to be a challenge, especially considering the city’s aging infrastructure and rapid growth. It will be interesting to see how the conference addresses the realities of its host city’s situation.

If you are in Istanbul for the conference, send me an email (jennifer@sustainabilityconsulting.com). We’ll grab a coffee and share notes!

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EVENTS: Sustainable MBA Classes at Bainbridge Graduate Institute

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on March 10, 2009

The Bainbridge Graduate Institute (www.bgiedu.org) is now enrolling students for the fall. BGI offers an MBA in Sustainable Business and is considered a leader in the field. BGI combines the rigors of a traditional MBA program while infusing sustainability and social justice into every class and assignment.

BGI’s mission is to prepare students from diverse backgrounds to build enterprises that are financially successful, socially responsible and environmentally sustainable.

BGI attracts and serves students from across North America. Students meet monthly, for a long weekend, at a LEED gold-certified educational facility on Bainbridge Island, just outside Seattle.

Posted in events | 1 Comment »

VIEWS: Why I Support The Employee Free Choice Act

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on March 6, 2009

by Jennifer Woofter, President of SSC

There has been a lot of talk about the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a piece of legislation that would make it easier for workers to form a union in their workplace. In a nutshell, passage of EFCA would allow employees to start a union through a “majority sign-up”, speed up contract negotiations by introducing a mediation and arbitration process, and increase penalties against employers who violate labor laws. EFCA recently passed in the House of Representatives, but remains up for debate in the Senate. In the meantime, it seems like everyone has an opinion.

As a small business owner focusing on sustainability and social responsibility issues, I have one too. At a time when foreclosure rates are staggeringly high, even as CEOs receive millions in salary, bonuses, stock options, and other perks, it’s hard to believe that giving more power to the worker is a bad idea. On the other hand, as a CEO myself (albeit one that didn’t get a swanky package to our local country club or use of a company jet) I’m not exactly a patsy for the labor movement either. It’s exactly my middle-of-the-road stance that made me consider the Employee Free Choice Act so carefully.

The decline in unions over the last three decades can be linked to lower wages, fewer health benefits, and perhaps even the current economic crisis. For pro-union groups, EFCA is a panacea to cure all that is wrong with the corporate system. As freechoiceact.org puts it, EFCA “can restore the balance, giving more workers a chance to form unions and get better health care, job security and benefits—and an opportunity to pursue their dreams.” Push through EFCA, these groups promise, and we’ll see a stronger middle class, more income equality between the “average worker” and her CEO, and greater fairness in the workplace.

Anti-union groups have a starkly different message, and oppose the legislation for three key reasons. The first claim is that EFCA actually takes away workers’ rights by replacing secret ballot voting with publicly signed “check card” campaigns. (What they fail to mention, incidentally, is that workers actually get to choose whether to forego an election in favor of the more expedient majority authorization process. For this reason, I tend to cast aside this protest as a canard by anti-union groups trying to cast themselves as protecting worker rights.)

The second complaint centers on the idea of mandatory arbitration. EFCA provides that either employers or employees may request mediation, and eventually seek binding arbitration if no agreement on a first contract has been reached after 90 days of bargaining. Opponents of EFCA claim that mandatory binding arbitration provides motivation for either a union or employer to engage in bad faith bargaining until the end of the negotiating period. This is a reasonable point to make, and worth considering. At the same time, it’s worth asking if binding mandatory arbitration is a better alternative that then current system, where employers can delay negotiating almost indefinitely, hiring consultants (often the lawyers who write anti-EFCA editorials) that teach them how to stall and prolong the bargaining process. Even when found guilty of bad faith bargaining, the penalty for these companies is usually to “resume bargaining”. For a company that is successfully stalling the union efforts, this penalty does not even equate to a slap on the wrist. Suddenly, a faster contract process—even at the risk of binding arbitration—doesn’t seem so bad.

The final point that anti-union groups make is that EFCA mandates tougher penalties for employers who are found to violate labor laws, but leaves the penalties for violations by union organizers untouched. In my book, this is the strongest criticism of the Employee Free Choice Act. Unions clearly aren’t perfect, and there have been instances of intimidation and coercion tactics from organizers that rival the worst of the “one-on-one informational meetings” held so often by employers facing a union drive. But in an era when 82% of employers faced with organizing campaigns hire exorbitantly paid union-busting consultants and when only 38% of new unions are able to finalize a contract with management within a year of their certification—well, my sympathies have to remain with the worker.

The blatant anti-union rhetoric is at an all-time high, and not just by the usual “bad guys” of steel mills and coal mines. Don’t believe me? You can listen yourself to a recorded telephone conference call from October 17, hosted by Bank of America and led by Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus. In the hour-long phone call, obtained by the Huffington Post, Mr. Marcus raged against EFCA, saying that its passage would turn America “into France”. He called for companies to send millions of dollars to anti-EFCA congressional candidates and stated that CEOs at companies not getting involved in opposing EFCA “should be shot”. Not to put too fine a point on it, he claimed these CEOS should be “thrown out of their goddamn jobs.”

Now, I’m not upset with Mr. Marcus, whose claim that he could have been on a “350 foot boat out in the Mediterranean” instead of on that expletive-laced phone call says a lot about his ability to separate his personal life from the economy, which he frames as “a disaster, a total absolute disaster”. What irritates me is that the call was hosted by Bank of America, who just three days earlier had received $25 billion in federal bailout funds. At least one other bailout recipient, AIG, also had a representative present on the call.

The fact that companies like Bank of America and AIG are participating in calls like this one—which can hardly be described as a thoughtful look at the issue—tells me that anti-labor sentiment is present throughout big business. To be fair, neither company has formally come out against EFCA, and Bank of America at least discussed the pros and cons of EFCA in a research document released two weeks after that call. But for me, it’s about the attitude.

It’s not just the traditional blue collar industries that feel it’s necessary to demonize unions and limit worker rights—it’s managers at your bank down the street. Given the fact that companies receiving billions in bailout money are simultaneously soliciting ideas on how to best funnel money to organizations and candidates opposing EFCA—well, that tells me the system of oversight and accountability is broken.

Unions aren’t perfect, but they offer a voice to employees who have too often been left out of the conversation. At the end of the day, I support EFCA because I believe every employee—from the CEO to the janitor—has a stake in the success of our companies. When we all get a place at the table, we have the best chance of creating a marketplace that succeeds. If you disagree, and think that our current system is working, I’d be happy to hear your thoughts. You can reach me on my yacht off the coast of France.

Jennifer Woofter is the president of Strategic Sustainability Consulting, a firm that helps organizations address their social and environmental impacts. She does not own a yacht.

Posted in employees, views | Leave a Comment »

EVENTS: Webinar – “Creating a Climate Change Strategy” on April 8, 2009

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on March 4, 2009

How are companies being held accountable for their carbon footprints? What are leading organizations doing to create a forward-looking climate change strategy? If you are a company just starting with a climate change strategy, where should you devote your time and effort? Join us for a call with Wood Turner, Executive Director at Climate Counts, an organization that scores companies annually on the basis of their voluntary climate actions and then publicizes those results to help consumers make carbon-sensitive buying decisions.

In this 60-minute presentation, you’ll learn about:
– The methodology behind the Climate Counts scorecard
– The power of climate benchmarking in motivating corporate action
– The most important climate change actions for “newbie” companies
– Emerging issues on the corporate climate responsibility front

The webinar is hosted by Jennifer K. Woofter, president of Strategic Sustainability Consulting (SSC). In the past three years, SSC has grown from a 1-person start-up to a consultancy drawing on more than 330 sustainability experts.

Cost: Free

Sign-Up on Our Website: http://www.sustainabilityconsulting.com (click Events)

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JOBS: Summer 2009 Internships at SSC

Posted by dbuhrau on February 24, 2009

Strategic Sustainability Consulting (SSC) is a Washington, DC-based company that provides organizations with the tools and expertise needed to actively manage their social and environmental impacts. We specialize in helping under-resourced organizations implement sustainable solutions usually reserved for large, multinational companies. Please visit our website at http://www.sustainabilityconsulting.com for more information about our products and services.

These internships are for 15-25 hours/week for June 15, 2009 – August 14, 2009, and may be conducted remotely (although DC-based interns are preferred). A small stipend may be offered, along with a performance-based bonus. This is a great opportunity for individuals with an interest in getting into the sustainability consulting field, but who can’t make a full-time commitment.

If you believe you might be a good fit with our objectives (see below), please send your CV and a cover letter to denise@sustainabilityconsulting.com, indicating the position for which you’d like to be considered. We will accept inquiries through March 27, 2009, with initial interviews on a rolling basis. Please be prepared to provide two writing samples and a list of references. NO PHONE CALLS PLEASE.

Research Interns:
We’re looking for 4-6 research interns to help on a variety of sustainability topics.The SSC Research Interns will work closely with lead consultants to provide background material for ongoing consulting projects. Past assignments have included working on client “Green Office Audit” projects, researching stakeholder engagement in the mining industry, creating case studies on “green” supply chains, and developing surveys for employee satisfaction. If you have strong research and analysis skills, and can quickly gather and summarize data into its salient points, this is a great opportunity to dabble in a variety of sustainability topics.

Marketing/Communications Interns:
We’re looking for a Marketing/Communications intern to help on a variety of sustainability topics. We’re looking for an enthusiastic, creative, and sensible person to assist with a range of communications projects. This is a position ideally suited to a graduate student (or mid-career changer) with a degree in communications, public relations, marketing, or related fields. Advanced undergraduate students are also encouraged to apply. Depending on skills and interests, intern projects may include:

– Assistance with media outreach and press relations
– Supporting the production and dissemination of SSC press materials, company statements and positions, and core messages
– Identification and development of news opportunities for positioning SSC
– Helping to retain business relationships
– Writing and editing reports and white papers

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EVENTS: Upcoming SSC Green Auditor Certification Training in May 2009

Posted by dbuhrau on February 13, 2009

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Want to help organizations figure out how to “go green”? Have a passion for sustainability but no formal audit training? Join us for a 3-day training event and become a certified SSC Green Auditor! We’ll provide you with everything you need to successfully guide a client through a Green Audit.

Using SSC’s proprietary methodology and tools, you will learn how to:

  • Determine employees’ attitudes and awareness about “going green”
  • Calculate your client’s carbon footprint
  • Assess your client’s environmental strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement
  • Provide relevant, cost-effective, and impactful green recommendation

After you complete the certification, you will:

  • Walk away with a host of tactical tools (surveys, spreadsheets, calculators, report templates) to make green audits a simple, consistent process
  • Get access to SSC’s collection of green recommendations and results (for example, show your clients how their carbon footprint compares to other similar organizations)
  • Be authorized to use the SSC Green Audit methodology and tools to conduct your own client engagements, with licensing fees paid to SSC on a per-client basis
  • Receive free support from SSC staff, to help when questions come up
  • Be listed on the SSC website as a certified SSC Green Auditor, and receive a “Certified SSC Green Auditor” logo to use on your own materials
  • Receive preferential status when SSC contracts with local sustainability consultants

Program details:

  • Date: May 27 – May 29, 2009
  • Location: Washington, DC (specific details to follow)
  • Cost: $2,500 per person (discounts available for groups)
  • Length of certification: 1-year (annual recertification optional)

Are you right for this certification program?

This program is designed for people with a strong working knowledge of environmental issues, who are looking for a green audit methodology that will provide clear, concise, and compelling results for their clients. You should be comfortable with concepts like (but not limited to) climate change, waste/recycling, water management, ISO 14001, and sustainability reporting. Participants have probably read The Ecology of Commerce and Natural Capitalism, and can confidently answer simple questions about “green” workplaces. To ensure only the highest quality SSC Green Auditors, we reserve the right to limit access to the certification program.

To learn more about the certification program, send an email to info@sustainabilityconsulting.com and tell us more about yourself. To register, go to our website at http://www.sustainabilityconsulting.com and go to our events page–click forward to May and choose “register now”.

Posted in events, news, Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

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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VIEWS: SSC Thoughts on Virtual Interns

Posted by Jennifer Woofter on January 16, 2009

This week, SSC President Jennifer Woofter was interviewed by The Examiner on what makes a successful virtual intern. If you are thinking about applying for one of these positions (especially with us!), we hope you’ll take the time to review the article, which focuses on the do’s and don’ts of virtual internships:

“When we interview for virtual internship positions, we are really looking for two things. First, interns need to be self-starters. Because they won’t be in our office each day, I need to know that they will be diligent with deadlines, make good use of their time and come back to me if they have the ability to take on additional projects,” said Woofter. “Second, we’re looking for good communicators—we rely on Web conferences, e-mails and phone calls to manage the internship process, and it’s important that interns be able to clearly tell me what’s working and where they need more help and guidance.”

Read the entire article here.

Posted in consulting, employees, views, workplace | Leave a Comment »