Saturday, December 30, 2006

RESOURCE: The Benefits of Employee Volunteer Programs

Employee volunteer programs are a great way to boost employee morale and enhance your organization's reputation in the local community. Today, more than 90% of Fortune 500 companies have employee volunteer programs, and an increasing number of small and medium size businesses are discovering the myriad benefits that these initiatives can have.

So if you're thinking about developing an employee volunteer program, or want to make sure you're getting the most of your existing programs, consider the following:

Aligning volunteerism with your business mission.

There is absolutely no reason that employee volunteerism can't grow organically—driven by staff interests. And if you have employees asking for company support for a 5K charity run, a bake sale, or a clothing drive for the homeless, then go for it.

But if you're in the process of developing a volunteer program from the ground up, make sure the program is aligned with your business's mission. From a marketing standpoint, it's a smart decision—and it can give your employees a chance to use their business skills for good. For example:

¨ If you are a bank, set up an employee volunteer program where staff provide financial advice to low income women, or provide victims of domestic violence with advice on how to become financially self-sufficient.

¨ If you are a restaurant, consider ways to donate your left-over food to a homeless shelter. Or arrange to have employees deliver meals to families with a seriously-ill child in the hospital.

¨ If you are in a hi-tech firm, develop a mentoring program to encourage minorities to pursue engineering degrees. Talk to a local high school or community college and see if there are ways to match students with employees for short 2-4 week after-school projects.

Generating employee participation.

One thing that drives me crazy is companies who tout their great employee volunteer programs, but provide little incentive to those staff that choose to pursue volunteer opportunities. It's great when workers are willing to go the extra mile for a good cause, but companies—with very little effort—can make it easier to do the right thing. Try the following:

¨ Give employees paid time off to volunteer. Allowing employees to take an afternoon (or even a full day) every month to pursue volunteer activities is probably the most effective incentive to increase employee volunteerism.

¨ Recognize employee volunteerism with awards. A little recognition goes a long way, and publicly recognizing employees who contribute back to the local community is a great way to showcase their efforts. Make it part of your quarterly report to shareholders, or a component of your annual holiday party.

¨ Tie it in to job descriptions and performance reviews. Encourage staff to find creative ways to give back to the community by creating financial incentives. This not only demonstrates your commitment to employee volunteerism, but also makes it easier for workers on a tight budget to rationalize time away from the job pursuing volunteer opportunities.

Tracking your progress.

Last week the Corporate Community Involvement Summit, a coalition of nonprofit organizations, announced the development of standards for corporate volunteer reporting. These standards will help to track trends, benchmark programs, and encourage better practices in employee volunteer programs. The Corporate Volunteer Reporting Standards can be used to:

¨ Establish a common baseline for benchmarking;

¨ Encourage greater corporate community involvement;

¨ Enable consistent comparisons and common reporting;

¨ Elevate the internal dialog on employee volunteer programs to communicate more effectively the internal and external corporate benefits; and

¨ Facilitate the use of better employee volunteer program practices.

Want to learn more about setting up (or improving) your employee volunteer program? Email me at for a complimentary consultation!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

RESOURCES: What's the Difference Between "Ethical" Trade and "Fair" Trade?

Making sure that your suppliers are providing your organization with socially and environmentally responsible products can be a daunting challenge. Common questions include:

  • Where can I buy environmentally friendly products at competitive prices?
  • How can I be sure that basic labor and human rights are respected by our vendors?
  • Do we have the time and resources to make sure our ethical purchasing policy is really being implemented?

And now, a new question: what's the difference between "ethical" and "fair" trade?

For the answer we go to Ergon, an independent network of labour rights, human rights and governance experts "committed to working with leading-edge organisations that are serious about addressing their responsibilities". Ergon's October 2006 newsletter explains in simple terms the difference between "ethical" and "fair" trade (check out the whole article on page 4 for a great analysis), but what you really need to know is this:

‘Ethical trade’ is commonly used to describe the work of multi-stakeholder supply chain labour standards initiatives, such as UK Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), US Fair Labor Association (FLA), Social Accountability International (which has developed the SA8000 model), and the Dutch Fair Wear Foundation. Adopting a non-premium paying, non-certification model operating in the mainstream economy, these initiatives aim to achieve incremental improvements in supply chain labour standards through the use of influence derived from trading relationships.

The ‘fair trade’ model, exemplified by Fair Trade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) or The International Fair Trade Association (IFAT), emanates from the ‘alternative trade’ movements of the 1950s and 60s. Generally speaking, it is a premium-paying, niche-market model of certification, commonly working with agricultural smallholders in developing countries, although FLO has in recent years developed a standard for hired labour, such as plantation workers. Under this model, payment to producers is determined by reference to a fixed and regularly updated commodity price and a ‘social premium’ which is invested by collective agreement of the producers.

What does this mean for your organization? In most cases, your organization will focus on "ethical" trade—developing a system where social and environmental criteria are included in a purchasing policy. A program to ensure compliance is then designed, and usually includes voluntary disclosure and/or auditing of suppliers, as well as remedial plans for those suppliers who may just need a little help. Those who continue to meet the ethical criteria receive "preferred supplier" status; those who fail to uphold basic social and environmental criteria are ultimately de-listed from approved supplier lists.

Complicated? It can be. At Strategic Sustainability Consulting, we help clients design ethical supply chain standards that are easy to manage, are cost competitive, and ensure that socially and environmentally-preferred products make it to your doorstep. If you'd like a complimentary consultation to find out more about how to implement an "ethical" trade policy, email me at for more information.

Monday, December 18, 2006

NEWS: "Carbon Neutral" Word of the Year

The New Oxford American Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2006 is Carbon Neutral.

Being carbon neutral involves calculating your total climate-damaging carbon emissions, reducing them where possible, and then balancing your remaining emissions, often by purchasing a carbon offset: paying to plant new trees or investing in “green” technologies such as solar and wind power.

For small and medium size organization, carbon offsets are the easiest way to go carbon neutral—and there are a number of "voluntary carbon markets" (think of them like stock exchanges for carbon emissions) springing up to help. According to a December 5th article in GreenBiz:

The International Emissions Trading Association and World Bank estimate that the market for carbon credits has increased to US$2.3 billion in the first nine months of 2006 and that the overall carbon market is now worth more than US$21.5 billion.

At Strategic Sustainability Consulting, we went carbon-neutral by purchasing carbon offsets from, and we've been very pleased with their service, credibility, and flexibility.

Want to learn more about carbon offsets, and if they are right for your organization? Email me at for a complimentary consultation!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

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

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 today for a complimentary consultation.

Monday, December 11, 2006

RESOURCE: HIV in the Workplace

Yesterday's Washington Post article On the Job with HIV caught my eye. It's about Jennifer Munthali, who told her boss at Catholic Relief Services (CRS) that she was HIV positive in 2004, shortly after starting her new job there.

Her manager handled the news well. But neither he nor Munthali was sure what CRS's policy was on HIV treatment. She didn't know if her insurance at the Baltimore organization would cover her. And she didn't know what policy -- if any -- CRS had on HIV and AIDS treatment and support.

I wasn't really surprised to read about Munthali's story. My experience is that very few organizations have well-developed HIV/AIDS programs. But what most organizations don't know is that there is a GREAT resource available for free!

The CDC's Business Responds to AIDS website is chock full of helpful ideas to take your organization to the next level. Just on the front page are:

And if you need a little extra help in creating an HIV/AIDS program, give Strategic Sustainability Consulting a call! We can assist your organization in developing an HIV/AIDS policy, compiling information on your current health insurance policies, conducting employee and manager training, and maintaining an ongoing system of HIV/AIDS awareness building. Email me at for a complimentary consultation and we can talk about it!

Friday, December 08, 2006

SPECIAL OFFER: Ecological Footprinting for Your Business or NGO

Strategic Sustainability Consulting is currently developing a new service for our small and medium-size clients: an office ecological footprint. As we smooth out the rough edges, we're looking for three companies/NGOs to test the service at 50% off the regular price. If you think your office might be interested, read on!

What is an ecological footprint?

According to Wikipedia: "Ecological footprint" is a metaphor used to depict the amount of land and water area a human population would hypothetically need to provide the resources required to support itself and to absorb its wastes, given prevailing technology. Footprinting is now widely used around the globe as an indicator of environmental sustainability. It can be used to measure and manage the use of resources throughout the economy. It is commonly used to explore the sustainability of individual lifestyles, goods and services, organizations, industry sectors, regions and nations.

Why would you want to measure the ecological footprint of your organization?

While ecological footprinting has typically been used to measure an individual's environmental impact, it's also now possible to apply the calculations to your organization as a whole. It's a great way to make an initial assessment of your ecological profile, and can point out areas for improvement. Plus, it's an engaging way to measure progress—commit to an annual footprint analysis and see how far you've come!

What's SSC's ecological footprint?

We'd never recommend a service that we haven't used ourselves! SSC's ecological footprint is 83.3 global acres, and if all organizations operated like SSC, we would need 1.35 planets to sustain ourselves. Comparing our results to other businesses, we're doing pretty well, but in the coming year, we'll be looking for ways to reduce our footprint even further!

Find Out More

If you are interested in hiring Strategic Sustainability Consulting to conduct an ecological footprint analysis for your organization, contact me at to discuss this special opportunity!

Monday, December 04, 2006

VIEWS: What Makes a Good Sustainability Consultant?

As I look back over the last year and a half, I'm amazed at SSC's success. We've gone from a 1-person shop to a consultant network with more than 50 professionals representing all kinds of sustainability-related expertise. As SSC continues to grow, I am particularly proud of our ability to assemble teams of consultants specifically chosen for each project—a depth that few other consultancies can match.

As we continue to add highly-qualified consultants to our network, I spend a lot of time talking with potential consultants about the state of the "sustainable consulting industry" and how they can get more involved. Just this week, I got an email this week that asked a question I hear frequently:

What skills or training do you look for in consultants? Is a Ph.D. useful or would an MBA be a better degree? Are there particular certificates, like LEED, that are useful?

I can't tell you how often that question has been posed—and how unprepared I feel to answer it. Since I'm in a position to see a lot of the trends as they happen, I thought I'd give it a shot. But first want to clear up some misconceptions:

1. You can't just be a "sustainability consultant".

This is a common mistake, especially from recent graduates who approach me with "great interest in getting into sustainability" but nothing more specific. The more I learn about sustainability, the more I realize that EVERYTHING is about sustainability: energy, waste, diversity, culture, attitude, infrastructure, transportation, community, stakeholder engagement, life cycle, product design, process flows, climate change, transparency and disclosure, human rights, unionization, accountability, and the list goes on…

One person CANNOT do it all, and the first step is to figure out where in the *big* picture you fit. Don't forget to think about your industry expertise too—in fact, I suggest that new consultants make an issue/industry matrix to help flesh out exactly where they can play in this growing field.

2. Sustainability means environmental AND social issues.

This is another problem I see a lot—people tend to divide into one group or the other. If you find that all of your expertise (and interest) lines up in one field or the other, perhaps sustainability isn't the right terminology for you. There is no shame in being an "environmental management consultant" or "energy consultant" or "social justice consultant". So be honest—are you committed (and qualified!) to work on the bridge between environmental and social issues, or are you more comfortable focusing on one area or the other?

3. Education may get you in the door, but it's experience that counts.

I have a cutting-edge graduate degree in "Strategic Leadership Towards Sustainability" from the Blekinge Institute of Technology in Karlskrona, Sweden. That looks GREAT on my resume, and I can honestly say that I learned many valuable things about sustainability that have made me a better consultant. That degree has given me a level of credibility that I didn't previously have—but it would never have been enough on its own.

I rely on my practical background in corporate social responsibility, in socially responsible investing, in ISO 9000, in shareholder advocacy, and in organizational accountability systems to run my business. So when people ask me "should I go back to school" my immediate question is: what does the rest of your resume look like? If you have years of hands-on experience, then maybe a degree is all you need. But without a significant portfolio of projects to point to, an aspiring sustainability consultant is unlikely to find another degree worth the necessary time and effort (and money!).

And now, some advice:

Consulting is a complicated business—with lots of variations. You can work for one of the "big 4" accounting firms within their burgeoning sustainability divisions if you like the sort of high-budget, business suit atmosphere those places convey. You can pair up with an NGO, many of whom are now partnering up with companies to form strategic alliances around sustainability. Or you can find a boutique consulting firm that caters to your specific expertise.

I've found that the old adage is true: discover what you love, then find a way to get paid for it. When I started Strategic Sustainability Consulting, I wasn't sure there was a market for it—I just knew that it was something I was good at, something I could be passionate about, something that was needed. The rest took care of itself.

So to all the would-be sustainability consultants out there: worry less about a particular degree or specific certification. Figure out:

  • What you're already qualified to do—sustainability touches so many things that often you don't need a radical change to get involved
  • Where the market is—are there already businesses involved in this area of sustainability?
  • What kind of work-life balance you want—how much money you expect to make, what sacrifices you're willing to make, etc.

Then—and ONLY then—are you ready to start thinking about additional schooling and training.

(But let me get off my high horse and be direct: I see green building and energy as the two fastest growing sustainability areas. So if it turns out that you're just plain excited about sustainability, look into LEED certification, renewable energy contracts, and energy efficiency auditing. Just a thought.)

Friday, December 01, 2006

RESOURCES: Get Inspired by the Experts

I'm frequently asked what books I consider to be essential background for sustainability practitioners. A few years ago I could have rattled off a handful and felt pretty good about it. For example:

  • Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, by Paul Hawken
  • Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, by Janine M. Benyus
  • The Sustainability Advantage (and the sequel, The Next Sustainability Revolution), by Bob Willard
  • Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, by William McDonough
  • Mid-Course Correction: Toward a Sustainable Enterprise: The Interface Model, by Ray Anderson

But as sustainability grows in popularity, the number of important books on the topic has increased exponentially. At any given time, I have a stack of sustainability-related books on my bedside table, and no matter how many I diligently plow through each month it seems like the list of "must-reads" just gets longer. Here are a few at the top of my list:

  • The Business Guide to Sustainability: Practical Strategies and Tools for Organizations, by Darcy Hitchcock
  • Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage, by Daniel C. Esty
  • Leading Change Toward Sustainability: A Change-Management Guide for Business, Government and Civil Society, by Bob Doppelt
  • Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century, by Alex Steffen
  • Organizational Change for Corporate Sustainability, by Dexter Dunphy

And just in case you don't have time to get through an entire book, check out these video clips—in just a few minutes you can get inspired by experts in a variety of sustainability-related fields:

  • Big Picture TV - an online media channel that streams free video clips of global leaders in sustainability. Browse a growing archive of internationally renowned names including scientists, environmentalists, politicians, journalists, academics and activists.
  • Arnold Creek Productions Video Shorts – a new series of free viewable short videos on sustainability and social responsibility. They're designed to further public awareness about sustainability and related issues of the day.

But beware—those few minutes can easily become a few hours, so plan carefully!