The Secret Step to Effective Carbon Management - Clarify Your Goals

Carbon management is always important, so we thought this blog entry from 2013 was worth another share! Enjoy:

When it comes to managing your company's carbon emissions, it can be difficult to know where to start. Should you send out an email reminding employees to turn off their computers each night? Start researching the more than 80 different carbon accounting software options? Gather your executive team around the board room table to talk about 5-year goals? Hire a consultant? Set aside three days to read through the international standards for carbon accounting and reporting?

If you're not careful, you can end up spinning your wheels and getting nowhere fast. 

To help you avoid that ignoble end, we've put together a blog series that outlines our 6-step process for helping clients develop a carbon management program. While the level of time and effort required for each step will depend on the size of your organization and your industry, all organizations should follow basically the same path. 

Clarify your goals. This is the very first thing you need to do, and often the most-overlooked. Being crystal clear on your goals for emissions management allows you to:

Be a more effective internal salesman. 

When you need to convince your executive team to provide additional support (in terms of budget or simply more of their attention and encouragement), it will be essential to have a compelling "pitch". 

Choose the appropriate team.

Carbon management will require support from facilities management, purchasing, finance, communications, and human resources. Knowing the scope and shape of your goals will help you decide who needs to be on your carbon management team. 

Designate a carbon leader

Carbon management is a interdisciplinary effort, and you'll need to choose someone to navigate the intra-office politics, collect and vet the data, draft and edit communications, and prioritize competing initiatives. Seniority is not important (although it can be helpful) -- the key is that you need to choose someone with excellent interpersonal skills and a special affinity for juggling multiple projects at the same time.

Stay focused

Later on in the process, when you have to make tough decisions about which eco-initiative to prioritize, you will find it invaluable to be able to compare projects against your program goals. 

Do you find your sustainability communications failing? Here are 9 reasons that might be happening.

6 Reasons Your Sustainability Innovation Is Failing

In 2013, Jennifer Woofter wrote an article for Environmental Leader that highlighted some ways your sustainability innovation might be failing. We thought that the article was worth another share. Enjoy!

For the last few weeks, I’ve been participating in Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizationsa course by David A. Owens of Vanderbilt University. It’s a Coursera class, which means that it’s free and open to the public — and it’s huge (with tens of thousands of students “in attendance”). I’m fascinated by the topic of strategic innovation, and naturally want to apply the concepts to my own field of study: sustainability.

And here is the question I’m wrestling with: why is innovation not getting us closer to global sustainability? Climate change, water scarcity, and biodiversity loss—for all the brilliant advances in “green” processes, products, and services, we’re still losing the battle.

But why? Or at least, why is it taking so long?

In particular, I find Owen’s analysis of common innovation hurdles to be a great aid to my quest to understand why current innovation efforts don’t seem to be making a significant dent in our global sustainability problems.

Owen argues that hurdles to innovation can come from six different places. I’ve listed them below, along with my own comments about how they apply specifically to sustainability challenges.

Individuals Don’t Have the Mindset

Are individuals regularly challenged to think differently and challenge assumptions? This holds true for corporate employees, government drones, and stay-at-home moms. How often do any of us really stop and think about why we are doing the things that we’re doing, how they might be done differently, and our role in the larger “system”. Without an innovation mindset at the individual level, we’ll never come up with enough ideas to throw into the mix.

Example: The “average” employees. For most of us, life in the American workforce isn’t a hotbed of sustainability innovation. We get our jobs done, hope for a promotion, and struggle to maintain work/life balance. Rarely do we really wrestle with how to creatively disrupt our daily tasks with sustainable innovation.

The Group’s Culture Doesn’t Support Risk

Maybe individuals have great ideas, but the ideas are killed while still “tiny sweet things” because they are deemed too risky, too expensive, too disruptive, or just too crazy. It might be the boss crushing your dream, or simply a group culture that doesn’t encourage exploring bold new ideas.

Example: The last time your Green Team took a “great idea” to your boss, only to have it shut down because it was too expensive or time consuming. (But definitely go ahead with those cute stickers reminding people to turn off their lights!)

Your Organization Isn’t Structured to Move Ideas through to Production

Even if an innovative idea gets internal group support, the organization (company, government, household, or community) may hold it back. In a company, this is often because there is no clear path for moving an idea through the corporate hierarchy, and the brilliant innovative idea flounders in no-man’s land.

Example: You’ve got an idea to shift your manufacturing plant over to renewable energy using an awesome new program offered by your utility company. But you’re a middle manager, and no one can decide who “owns” the process—facilities, finance, production, or legal—so your idea sits in limbo until the new program’s funds expire.

The Market Doesn’t See Value in Your Innovation

The idea is solid, and the sustainability benefits are tremendous. There’s just one problem: no one wants to adopt your innovation. If you can’t get your innovation diffused through society (or your customer base), your brilliant idea won’t get the traction it needs to scale.

Example: Loud snack food packaging. Need I say more? 

Society Doesn’t Accept Your Idea as Legitimate

The common example given about “societal illegitimacy” is human cloning: a fascinating innovation, but not particularly ethical (or so say the UN and various other governing bodies). The key concept here is that innovation must be seen as palatable — if not to the masses, then at least to the target audience you seek to change.

Example: I love the Zero Waste Home. This is a family that has radically shifted their lifestyle so that they generate zero waste. EVERY aspect of their lives aligns with this principle (they don’t even have a garbage can, just a tiny recycling box for the curb!). Now, this is certainly innovative, but I think we can agree that (at least for 99.99% of society) this is not a palatable lifestyle. 

The Technology Isn’t There

Even if everything else is in alignment, we often need technology to help us achieve the innovation. The technology must be available and feasible, meaning it can’t be too complex, too expensive, or too restricted to use in practical applications.

Example: Space solar power. It is definitely innovative, but the cost of the technology prevents it from being a realistic solution to today’s reliance on fossil fuels.

In many cases, there will be a combination of innovation obstacles preventing us from moving closer to sustainability. Sadly, these aren’t simple solutions to solve. (Just try building and deploying a space solar power array.) So where does that leave us?

Three thoughts come to mind:

First, if you are an individual employee with a great sustainability idea, it can be helpful (for your mental health, if nothing else) to preemptively identify where you are likely to hit a roadblock.

Second, if you are an organization looking for great sustainability ideas that will reduce your environmental impacts and save you boatloads of money, don’t just expect employees to come up with great ideas. Make sure you create an atmosphere that embraces risk (or at least enjoys exploring bold ideas), as well as delineates a clear path to help get those bold ideas into practice.

Third, take the time to understand your stakeholder preferences. Will your customers buy in? Is it legitimate and palatable to your target audience? What assumptions are you making, and how can you test them before launching into full scale innovation production.

The intersection of innovation and sustainability is a hot topic these days, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you think is the biggest obstacle to sustainable innovation in today’s world? Leave a comment or join in the conversation on Twitter!

9 Reasons Your Sustainability Communications Fail

By: Alexandra Kueller

Sustainability leaders have to talk - a lot. Sometimes they speak at conferences, other times they speak to clients, or they might even write a guest article for a website. Regardless of the audience or platform, if you're in sustainability, you have to communicate. But every so often communications can fail.

What happens when you do notice that you're not getting your sustainability message across? Fast Company published an article that highlighted 9 different ways a leader's communication might be stalling. We thought that the reasons mentioned in the article also work perfectly for sustainability communications.

1. Distrust Versus Trust

Have you ever found yourself talking to someone who is not 100% on board with sustainability, and you instantly go on the defensive? Instead of distrusting the person you're talking to right off the bat, try trusting them. When you open up, communications can go a lot further.

2. Monologue Versus Collaboration

You're speaking to a room full of people, and you find yourself talking non-stop. Take a moment and look at the crowd. How engaged are they? Do you see people doing head nods? It's very easy to get carried away when speaking, because you want to get your point across, but collaboration goes a long way. Engage with the audience and see what happens!

3. Complexity Versus Simplicity

The sustainability field loves their acronyms. GHG. LCA. GRI. CDP. SASB. IIRC. The list goes on and on. While many people within sustainability might know what you're talking about when mentioning these words, but you don't always know who is in your audience. Simplicity is key; don't get carried away with industry lingo.

4. Insensitivity Versus Tact

When talking about sustainability, the conversation can often mention climate change. Unfortunately, climate change is still a politically-charged topic, and people can get turned off when listening to someone speak about it. You don't have to avoid the topic completely, but be smart and tactful about how you approach certain topics.

5. Achievement Versus Potential

You might have a handful of published reports under your belt and a countless number of speaking opportunities, but that doesn't mean you can rest on your laurels. You might think you know the best way to deliver a presentation, but listen and look to the people around. There is always room to grow and improve the way you communicate sustainability.

6. Dilution Versus Distinction

You find yourself trying to convince a client that it's important to publish a sustainability report, and in order to prove your point, you keep going on and on with a variety of anecdotes and facts. Stop diluting your point and cut to the chase. If you keep dragging out your reason why, the client may lose interest! Clear through the clutter, and lay out the key facts.

7. Generalization Versus Specificity

It's very easy when writing sustainability plans, reports, etc. to become very generic with your statements. "X company cares deeply about the environment." "X company works very hard at recycling." Instead of just spouting off platitudes, get specific. How has a company achieved their recycling goals? What sets a company apart from others when it comes to environmental care? Make your communications meaningful.

8. Logic Versus Emotion

There is a time for logic and a time for emotion when it comes to communication, but what happens when you don't recognize the right place to use these two tactics? If you're trying to motivate a crowd at a conference to get excited about sustainability, tap in on emotion, but if you're speaking to a client about a potential project, use logic.

9. Distortion Versus Perspective

The sustainability field is ever-changing, and no one can remain an expert forever. Don't write an article acting like you know everything about sustainability, or don't give a presentation where you come off as being better than everyone else. With new information and research always being published, sometimes you should take a back seat and learn from your peers. After all, no one likes listening to a know-it-all.

Is your sustainability plan failing to get attention? Here are 7 different ways to improve that.