HIRING FOR SUSTAINABILITY

This article looks into the hiring process and how it can be used to advance sustainability.

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The hiring process is not something that probably comes to mind immediately when you think about sustainability at a corporate level. But the hiring process is key to developing a workforce that are capable of dealing with change and share the company’s passion for sustainability.

If you want to be a purposeful business, you will need employees who share this common purpose and vision.

This can be done in a number of ways.

One way is to infuse purpose into job descriptions. By rewriting job requirements with purpose in mind, this will automatically draw purposeful candidates towards your business and screen candidates who are looking for something different. But this is far from a formality.

Another way is to make sure that you are evaluating candidates for their purpose in interviews. This can often be sidestepped and the focus can be on competency and experience. But it is imperative to drill down into how purposeful a candidate is in the interview process.

The last way, is to raise the bar for purpose required for executive level positions. These will be the leaders, who drive purpose throughout the business, so it is important that they display exceptionally high levels of passion and purpose for sustainability. Without this, sustainability can exist in a paper form only and not in real life.

What you need to know

This article looked into the hiring process and how it can be used to advance sustainability.

A business is just a group of people who come together to achieve a shared goal. The hiring process is instrumental to making sure that that shared goal is sustainability.

I would definitely recommend that businesses implement the actions contained within this article to accelerate sustainability within their organisation.

Steve Jobs said that “people with passion can change the world.” So, you absolutely must be screening for passion and purpose during the hiring process.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. How do you think the hiring process can impact sustainability?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT POLAR BEARS

This article looks into effective marketing strategies employed by sustainability leaders and why corporate messages about polar bears don’t have their intended effect.

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This is based upon observations extracted from Green Giants: How Smart Companies Turn Sustainability Into Billion-Dollar Businesses by Freya Williams. This is an excellent book and I highly recommend that you buy a copy and read it.

She has a great quotation on page 182 which you can find below.

The mainstream, eco messages about polar bears will never beat ones about personal health, status, prosperity or happiness. Make it about people first, not the planet.”

Freya works as a CEO for Futerra in the USA. They are known for their effective approach towards sustainability communications. I would say with the above quote that Freya has hit the nail on the head.

The mentioning of polar bears, ice caps or other attempts to guilt trip consumers into buying items will never develop a product’s appeal among the masses. These concepts are too abstract to drive most consumers towards making a buying decision. It may work for the very small group of extreme environmental activists. But this group will tend to source out sustainable products anyway, regardless of the marketing. A very aggressive, guilt laden campaign will alienate the masses, for whom sustainability, whilst no doubt important, is not a top priority.

Companies should focus on people, their goals, their aspirations and their dreams in life. Explain to them how your product makes them a better version of themselves.

We have explained what’s wrong, what words should companies use to get it right?

On pages 190-191 Freya has an excellent breakdown of the most frequently used words by a number of sustainability leaders. Her findings are intriguing and go as follows.

Tesla’s top-used words are forward-looking, long-distance, cost, energy, fast, and performance. It never uses green and only rarely sustainable.

Nike’s words are design, innovation, performance, movement/motion, and technology; sustainability is in the top 10, but green is second from the bottom.

Unilever is a heavy user of sustainable—after all, it’s in the name of its plan—but the rest of its language includes children, life, future, open, and world.

Whole Foods leads with responsible and then uses fresh, health, new, pesticides, protect, and transparent.

In its Ecomagination communication, power, technology, and solutions dominate GE’s vocabulary.

These companies have developed a lexicon which has stayed far away from the clichés of polar bears and other aspects of environmental degradation. Rather they focus on positive aspects of their own products and sell those features as much as they possibly can.

Judging by the fact that almost all of these companies are performing well in the marketplace both in terms of sustainability and in terms of their business success, I would say that it has been a pretty good strategy.

What you need to know

This article looked into effective marketing strategies employed by sustainability leaders. We also looked into why corporate messages about polar bears don’t have their intended effect.

We looked into some observations drawn from the excellent book Green Giants by Freya Williams.

We looked into how sustainability is not a top priority for the masses and so communications need a more human approach and to focus on things that are important to the majority of people.

We looked into the language used by sustainability leaders, who prioritise selling the benefits of their products that people like and avoid clichés as much as they possibly can.

Overall the use of polar bears and other similar communication techniques should be avoided at all costs. Businesses should sell a product that makes consumers lives better. It should save them money, last longer, be better. Focus on these benefits, not clichés.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think makes a sustainability communications campaign effective?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

WHY ZERO-BASED TARGETS ARE SO POWERFUL

This article looks into zero-based targets and why they are so powerful. It follows on from last week’s article on the circular economy and why inertia plays such a prominent role in blocking progress towards circular business models.

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Oftentimes the things which stall progress are not technological or environmental factors. But they are to do with factors internal to organisations and related to any biases and preconceptions that individuals may have.

The first example of why zero-based targets are so powerful comes from Gareth Kane. Gareth has a great blog and a video series which you can find via the link below.

Is zero waste really possible?

Using the example of transitioning to zero waste, Gareth explains that zero is the ultimate stretch goal. It is a powerful number that can inspire an organisation. Gareth also explains that the zero-based target needs to be understood within the context of the organisation. He mentions that if perfection is not possible, but a 98% reduction is made, that is still amazing. Gareth also explains that it requires a language change, away from talking about waste towards talking about resources and materials. I agree with Gareth wholeheartedly there. The overall takeaway from using a zero-based target for waste is that it is about a mindset change.

The second example for why zero-based targets are so powerful comes from Steve Howard. In his Ted Talk which you can find via the link below, he sets out his case.

Steve Howard: Let’s go all-in on selling sustainability

He uses the example from his time at IKEA where they decided to go all in on sustainability, by only selling LED lights and removing all other inferior versions. He also mentions about how 100% can be easier, as if you have a 90% target, everyone in the business finds a way of being in the 10%. Having a 100% or 0% target makes it clear of the direction of travel and the ultimate destination.

The third example of why zero-based targets are so powerful comes from John Elkington. In his book The Zeronauts he opens with the statement that: “the Zeronauts are a new breed of innovator, determined to drive problems such as carbon, waste, toxics, and poverty to zero.

He goes onto mention that: “the power of zero has been trumpeted in various areas of business, notably in relation to zero defects.” It seems sensible after total quality management approaches had such incredible success for Japanese companies, that zero-based approached could bring a new dynamism to sustainability.

For more information I would definitely recommend reading John Elkington’s book The Zeronauts, or you can find out more by watching the video below.

John Elkington on ‘The Zeronauts – A new breed of leaders’

What you need to know

This article looked into zero-based targets and why they are so powerful.

We looked at an example from Gareth Kane which related to zero waste. We looked at an example from Steve Howard which was to do with IKEA and we looked at an example in John Elkington’s book The Zeronauts.

The overall takeaway is that zero-based targets force businesses to think differently and to make different priorities and choices. They also force middle managers to act differently, when pressures on time and for results can mean that sustainability gets side lined. Zero-based targets draw a line in the sand and point towards a positive forward direction. They force businesses away from a mindset that aims for incremental achievements towards one that looks for breakthrough successes.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think about zero-based targets?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

 

HOW TO OVERCOME THE MAIN BARRIER TO THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY

This article looks into the main barrier to the circular economy and how it can be overcome.

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Talk about the circular economy and circular economy business models has become commonplace. However, the translation of these bold ideals into practice has not happened in a widespread fashion.

That is in part because unlike sustainability where companies can make small cuts to their carbon footprint and tout this as a huge success. Transitioning to a circular economy business model requires a fundamental reappraisal and rewiring of how the business creates value. This is its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

But it is possible, even for big companies to become more circular. As the Fast Company article which you can find via the link below makes clear, there are businesses that have managed to overcome the barriers to the circular economy and achieve economic and environmental successes. It is not as difficult as it is perceived to be.

If These Giant Companies Can Switch To The Circular Economy, So Can Anyone

The main barrier that was identified was not technological, it was not environmental and it had nothing to do with the laws of thermodynamics. It was inertia.

Inertia was identified as the main factor which is preventing businesses from becoming more circular and keeping them trapped in a take, make, waste frame of thinking.

This however can be overcome, but it takes time. It needs a focus on communication to employees, customers and if it is a public company the shareholders.

These communications need to change the way these stakeholders think and make them comfortable with the company operating in new, more circular ways.

It helps if there is a line drawn in the sand, where everyone acknowledges that business as usual is not an option and that a new, more circular strategy is what is called for.

It was not included in the Fast Company article, but executive level buy in and support is a necessity for a circular transition to take place. It requires too much of a business transformation for this to be entrusted solely to the sustainability or corporate responsibility team. It is about creating a different kind of business, one capable of sustaining itself with a world population significantly larger than we have now and with higher levels of affluence and consumption than we have now.

What you need to know

This article looked into the main barrier to the circular economy and how it can be overcome.

We looked into how rhetoric around the circular economy has not translated into reality.

We looked into how inertia presents a significant barrier to the circular economy.

But through communication, this barrier is not insurmountable and it can be overcome.

Transitioning from a take, make, waste way of operating to a circular economy business model is tough. Which is why it is currently only the preserve of the most farsighted businesses.

But if more businesses were to lift their time horizons from quarters to years and decades, they would see a global population growing exponentially with affluence and consumption among the new global middle class exploding. Current ways of operating are simply unsustainable and more circular ways are called for.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to increase the take up of circular approaches amongst businesses?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

HOW TO CONDUCT A CORPORATE ECOSYSTEM SERVICES REVIEW

This article explains how businesses interested in the ecosystem services framework can conduct a corporate ecosystem services review.

Last week’s article looked at the relationship between business and ecosystem services more broadly. You can find this via the link below.

ECOSYSTEM SERVICES & BUSINESS

What is clear is that all businesses, even service sector businesses depend on ecosystem services in some way. Businesses contribute towards ecosystem degradation which interrupts the flow of ecosystem services.

The best literature that I have come across on how to conduct a corporate ecosystem services review was written by Hanson et al in 2012. This paper which you can find via the link below sets out the clear steps for any business to audit their dependence on ecosystem services.

The Corporate Ecosystem Services Review

The ecosystem services review consists of five steps. These are shown in the image below.

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1. Select the scope

In this step businesses need to choose the scope within which to conduct the review. This could be a business unit, a product, a particular market, an infrastructure project, a major supplier, or a major customer segment.

Depending of the type of business a key decision needs to be made whether or not to look at a company’s own operations, or to the activities of its suppliers. Another option would be to look at the impact that the customers have on ecosystem services whilst they are using the product.

2. Identify priority ecosystem services

In this step businesses need to systematically evaluate their dependence and impact on ecosystem services. The key is to determine which are a high priority. These will be ones which are highly relevant to corporate performance and for which no readily available substitutes are available either at all or without incurring prohibitive costs.

In this step it is a good idea to engage the key corporate stakeholders. They can explain which ecosystem services they value. This can help to create a shortlist of critical services for the company to consider its impact on and dependence upon.

3. Analyse trends in priority services

In this step businesses need to research and evaluate the condition and trends in the priority ecosystem services that they identified in step 2 as well as the underlying drivers of these trends.

In this step it is a good idea to reach out to subject matter experts who have deep knowledge related to the services. Interview experts early on. These experts can quickly summarise trends, identify critical drivers and pinpoint the most relevant data sources.

4. Identify business risks and opportunities

In this step businesses need to identify and evaluate the business risks and opportunities that might arise due to trends in the priority ecosystem services.

In this step it is wise to have a business opportunity mindset switched on at all times. This is a corporate ecosystem services review, so businesses should look for opportunities to provide new products or services that help others businesses to mitigate their impact on ecosystems or adapt to declining ecosystem services.

5. Develop strategies

In this final step businesses should outline strategies for managing the risks and opportunities that they have identified in the previous 4 steps.

These could be internal changes related to the way the company operates.

These could be working more collaboratively with other businesses to solve some of the problems identified or engaging with NGO’s proactively.

These could also be engaging with policy makers to look for ways that the business community and national governments can work together to help protect and enhance flows of ecosystem services.

What you need to know

This article explained how businesses who are interested in the ecosystem services framework can conduct a corporate ecosystem services review.

We looked into the paper by Hanson et al, which sets out a clear methodology for how this can be done.

Businesses should be interested in ecosystem services if they are dependent on or impact upon these services.

Businesses should be interested because these impacts and dependencies create risks. Ecosystem degradation also presents opportunities for farsighted businesses who are smart enough to realise that this cannot continue forever and create solutions for addressing these problems

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think about the corporate ecosystem services review methodology?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

ECOSYSTEM SERVICES & BUSINESS

This article looks into the ecosystem services concept and its relation to businesses. The ecosystem services concept emerged out of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment which ran from 2001-2005.

This was the largest audit ever conducted of the state of the world’s ecosystems. The study which involved thousands of researchers from around the world painted a stark picture of decline across the world’s ecosystems in the previous 50 years.

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Their research revealed that 15 out of the 24 ecosystems they evaluated had been degraded.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. The emergence of the ecosystem services framework is a major outcome of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

A simple definition of ecosystem services, is that they are the benefits that people obtain from ecosystems.

Businesses make use of ecosystem services in a variety of ways depending upon their business model and the type of sector that they operate in.

But what is clear, is that all businesses to a greater or lesser degree depend on ecosystem services. This is interesting because businesses are contributing to ecosystem degradation, which leads to a decline in quantity and quality of these ecosystem services.

If markets were functioning correctly. This would not be happening. Businesses therefore are falling to make the connection between healthy ecosystems, ecosystem services and their bottom line.

There are some businesses like Puma who have gone very public with their commitment to environmental profit and loss accounting. But I would say that on the whole ecosystem services do not get the attention they deserve in the business community.

What you need to know

This article looked into the ecosystem services concept and its relation to businesses.

We looked into the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the ecosystem services framework which emerged out of it.

We looked into how businesses depend on but degrade ecosystem services, but are also well placed to support them.

Unfortunately, there is yet to be a breakthrough of the ecosystem services framework by businesses.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to increase the use of the ecosystem services framework by businesses?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

SUSTAINABILITY – FROM NICE TO HAVE TO MUST HAVE

This article looks into sustainability and its journey from a nice to have to a must have for businesses.

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Sustainability can sometimes be put in the category of a nice to have activity. Important, but something to only receive attention after all other business-related problems have been solved. What this means in practice, is that businesses who utilise this philosophy make meagre progress on social and environmental issues. This is because there are always other incoming issues which are prioritised instead.

This is a shame and is caused by a mindset which sees sustainability as a luxury and something that will cost them money. As we will see shortly, simply by changing this mindset can see businesses use sustainability to create value.

Another example of mistaken thinking is to see sustainability as a communications or public relations device. There is no doubt that sustainability makes for excellent marketing collateral. It is disappointing therefore that so many sustainability communications are dull, turgid and devoid of any motivational or inspirational content.

Emphasis needs to be placed on actual sustainability progress. If more emphasis is placed on the hyping of mediocre gains than it is on getting businesses to use less energy and water and producing less waste, then this can be considered to be greenwashing. For more information on greenwashing please see the article below.

GREENWASHING & SUSTAINABILITY

I am minded to reference a great paper released in 2014 by McKinsey & Company. The paper by Sheila Bonini and Steven Swartz sets out in clear detail that the era of seeing sustainability as a nice to have is over and that a focus on social and environmental parameters delivers real economic results for businesses. You can find the article via the link below.

Profits with purpose: How organizing for sustainability can benefit the bottom line

They point to a growing body of evidence which indicates that sustainability initiatives can help to create profits and business opportunities.

They reveal that leading companies pursue sustainability because it has a material financial impact. Not because of any public relations or communications requirements. Even though many genuine communications opportunities may emanate from their efforts.

Their work also includes the well written quotation below. One that for a long time I was proud to display as a pinned Tweet on my Twitter feed.

Sustainability is a long-distance journey; the evidence is growing that it is one worth taking

A major outcome of their study which extensively searched the literature as well as original surveys was the following. Their conclusion is that sustainability programs are not only strongly correlated with good financial performance but also play a role in creating it.

With evidence like this coming from a respected organisation such as McKinsey & Company, the era of sustainability being seen as a nice to have activity has surely come to an end.

Their study also included an important revelation on why some businesses achieve success while others have mediocre progress on sustainability. They revealed that to succeed, sustainability efforts need to be an organisational priority, with clear support from leadership. Executive level buy is instrumental to progress on social and environmental areas.

What you need to know

This article looked into sustainability and its journey from a nice to have to a must have for businesses.

We looked into how sustainability can be marginalised and pushed to the back of the list of organisational priorities at some companies. It can also be seen purely as a reputation management tool. Both of these attitudes lead to chronic under performance on sustainability.

We looked into a well-researched paper by McKinsey & Company which points out that sustainability is not something that adds costs and complexity to businesses, but is something that creates value and opens up business opportunities.

Overall sustainability has moved from a nice to have to a must have, with executive level buy in propelling companies to perform strongly not just in economic aspects, but in social and environmental aspects too.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think about sustainability and its move from being a nice to have to a must have?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby