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Why the climate movement needs a Nelson Mandela

Published July 24, 2014
Why the climate movement needs a Nelson Mandela

When people think of the anti-apartheid movement, one name universally springs to mind: that of the late, great Nelson Mandela or Madiba, the South African revolutionary, philanthropist and politician. His fight began as a national issue but later came to be known and perceived as one representing global values of equity, human rights and forgiveness.

Speaking at the Global Estuaries Forum in France recently, Brice Lalonde, ambassador for climate change and special advisor on Sustainable Development to the U.N. Global Compact, called for a "Mandela for the climate movement" to rally and inspire a radical shift from individual national interests to politics and decisions favoring the planet.

In addition, Lalonde, the former French Environment Minister, called for a more holistic approach with the creation of a "planetary ambassador post" in national governments to focus on broad environmental interests of the "global commons" such as biodiversity, governance of the high seas and to deal with the impacts of climate change and its future consequences.

He indicated that climate talks to date  perhaps had been hampered by the fact that key ministers involved ultimately were required to focus on narrow national rather than global interests and that a new post with responsibility for planetary interests could be tasked with considering long-term impacts that transcended national boundaries.

Lalonde's talk came on the heels of a full day of discussion among environment experts discussing how best to manage estuaries — places where seawater and freshwater mix — and where pollution, climate change, urbanization, land reclamation, overfishing and exploitation pose major threats to their health and survival.

Brice LalondeNot only are the consequences from climate change likely to be the most diverse and unpredictable, but these "in-between areas" between land and sea do not fit an easy mold to govern. Their jurisdiction is often split between agencies tasked with managing rivers and those managing coastlines, not to mention different countries or municipalities on opposite banks.

Governments similarly were urged to work together to improve the governance and management of vulnerable estuaries such as the Nile Delta, the Seine, the Saint Lawrence, Rio de la Plata, Rotterdam, the Thames — or risk undermining some of the world’s most valuable economic and biodiversity hubs.

The Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System is a deep waterway extending 2,340 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the head of the Great Lakes in the heart of North America, and extends from Montreal to mid-Lake Erie. It includes 13 Canadian and two U.S. locks. Betty Sutton, administrator of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, spoke to its bi-national governance, saying it had been challenging to negotiate but ultimately successful.

Edouard Philippe, mayor of Le Havre in France, said governments need to regard estuaries as places for "dialogue and cooperation" rather than borders, if they are to work together to effectively balance the economic and environmental pressures and opportunities faced by estuaries.

With France also hosting the much anticipated Paris climate conference in 2015, which will mark a decisive stage in negotiations on any future international agreement on a post-Kyoto protocol 2020 regime, Lalonde was non-committal about the outcome. He commented that all the negotiators have a mandate to do something, but it was still unclear what that contribution will be. Stating that with climate change on its way and already affecting the Earth system, he commented that the issue was so important, heads of state should be the negotiators.

A common theme emerged from the meeting — new ways of managing the planet across boundaries is essential for long-term sustainability and joined-up thinking. As Mandela said, "It always seems impossible until it's done." But in the meantime, Lalonde, for one, urges countries and businesses to move forward with strong cross-border action.

Top image of the Seine in Paris by vvoe via Shutterstock


Mark Chadwick

Carbon Clear
Mark founded Carbon Clear after a career in the Internet industry. After the birth of his daughter, Mark decided to invest himself full-time into helping to leave a better world for her generation. He brings to Carbon Clear a passion for contributing to the climate change solution, strong business management experience, and an enthusiasm for growing successful entrepreneurial ventures. Mark has an MBA from London Business School and also won the Guardian Unltd Award for social entrepreneurship.

DuPont and GM's lessons for closing in on zero waste

Published July 23, 2014
DuPont and GM's lessons for closing in on zero waste

Every time something in your company's production cycle gets thrown into a trash can and ends up in a landfill, you throw out some money.

A landfill-free strategy is too costly, too challenging, and too hard to implement, you say? Check out how the experts featured in Greenbiz's recent webcast "Innovative Approaches to Recycling and Waste Reduction" did it.

GM turns rubbish into resources

"We like to say: Waste is a resource out of place," said John Bradburn, General Motors' global manager of waste reduction. 111 of GM's facilities worldwide are landfill-free. Via recycling and reuse, GM diverted 2.2 million tons of waste from landfills, the equivalent of 38 million garbage bags. Since 2000, the company reduced its non-recycled waste by 73 percent. The total waste was diminished by 43 percent from 2000 to 2010 and by 10 percent more from 2010 to 2013. "It has been a long road for us," Bradburn said.

If you think of waste as a resource out of place, you might come up with innovative ideas that not only solve your own problems but those of others as well, just as GM did. After the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, GM approached BP to help recycle booms used to prevent the spilled oil reaching the beaches. GM found a way to extract the raw materials — including the oil — from the booms and incorporated it into producing air deflectors for the Chevy Volt. 227 miles of booms were recycled that way, diverting 212,500 pounds of waste from landfill and eliminating 140 tons of CO2-equivalent emissions.

Credit: Brad Marley via YouTube

Sometimes, materials can be incorporated into new products that help the community instead of polluting its environment. 4,000 yards of sound-absorbing material for GM vehicles have been made into waterproof coats that transform into sleeping bags for the homeless in Detroit. Old battery cases from Chevy Volts have been made into nesting boxes for ducks. And steel baskets used for shipping parts from Europe to Detroit serve as raised vegetable beds for community gardens. The option was to melt the metal and get a few cents per pound for it, or do a community service, Bradburn said: "We chose the community service."

It's even possible to upcycle, to transform seemingly inferior materials into something more valuable. GM uses cardboard from shipping material to produce sound-dampening material for the headliners of the Buick Lacrosse and Verano. Old tires from GM's test facilities are mixed with plastic caps that used to be protective packing aids and together with other materials they become air and water baffles for a variety of GM vehicles. "We like to combine streams. We like to solve two or three problems at the same time," said Bradburn.

But what about the costs?

The materials that leave GM's facilities to be recycled are creating $1 billion in revenue each year, Bradburn said. "But in future we want to make it zero [materials leaving GM], because we want to consume all of our materials within our processes."

DuPont's recipe for zero waste

For chemical giant DuPont, recycling typically generates revenue as well, said David Walter, the company's global business development manager. But what is even more impressive is how little manpower and time he required to make DuPont Building Innovations department landfill-free.

14 people, none of them full-time, worked on DuPont's "Drive to Zero." No capital was required for the program. Instead the company ended up saving money, Walter said. The results were no less impressive. In 2008, DuPont Building Innovations still sent 81 million pounds of waste to landfills. The company achieved the goal of taking that number down to zero on Dec. 22, 2011.

"The last couple of pounds were very stubborn, but we knew that that was going to be the case," Walter said. And he took an important lesson away from the experiment, besides all the environmental and economic benefits: "Never underestimate the power of a dedicated group of people committed to a vision. That was a key learning for us, for sure."

Credit: DuPont via YouTube

The most important step in the beginning of the project was to thoroughly access the waste streams. That data was not readily available. "We did some deep mapping," Walter said. Why were the materials there? Where were they produced? When were they produced? After the first step, the process was guided by the EPA waste management hierarchy, with reduce and reuse as the more desirable options and recycle and energy recovery as the less desirable ones, resulting in a whole laundry list of things to do.

  1. Scrap sheet and trim ground back into first-grade material or ground into drain rock
  2. Carrier film recycled into glue
  3. Metal melted down and recast
  4. Banding melted and recast into same
  5. Pallets repaired and re-purposed
  6. Scrap wood ground into animal bedding
  7. Paper and cardboard recycled back into same

Tips from a waste management pro

GM and DuPont were optimizing their existing production processes, but even if a product is designed from scratch, the idea of a circular economy is often poorly implemented. "We are still acting very linear. We tend to pass on the problem," said Tom Carpenter, director of Waste Management Sustainability Services.

Instead, it needs to be more of a matrix approach that takes into account that all parts for the production process are interrelated. For the best results, the important questions need to be ask in the design phase of a new product already, Carpenter said: "We should be asking: What is the end of use of this material? What is the next use of this material?"

In Carpenter's opinion, it also is important to test the products in a real-life environment. Only if the material did indeed run successfully through a recycling facility can one can be sure that it is suitable. Sometimes, Carpenter said, even subtle changes, such as the use of a different coloring of a product, can make the difference between more waste going to landfills or materials finding a new life.

Top image of empty wastebasket by JOAT via Shutterstock.

Sainsbury's turns its own expired food into electricity

Published July 23, 2014
Sainsbury's turns its own expired food into electricity

Sainsbury's has today announced its Cannock, England store effectively will come off the national grid, following the installation of a direct link between the supermarket and a local anaerobic digestion plant.

The supermarket giant said that the move meant the store was being powered by the company's own food waste, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and waste costs in the process.

The project, which has been delivered in partnership with waste management giant Biffa, follows hot on the heels of the announcement that Sainsbury's has taken out a new $341 million "green" loan to finance sustainability improvements across its estate.

The move further strengthens Sainsbury's existing zero waste to landfill policy, which already sees it donate suitable food to charities or ensure that it is used for animal feed. The remaining food waste is sent to the Cannock anaerobic digestion plant, where it produces enough low-carbon power for 2,500 homes a year. However, the new addition of a dedicated 1.5km electricity cable to the Cannock store means the company is now able to directly use its own green power.

"Sainsbury's sends absolutely no waste to landfill and we're always looking for new ways to reuse and recycle," said Paul Crewe, head of sustainability at the company. "So we're delighted to be the first business ever to make use of this linkup technology, allowing our Cannock store to be powered entirely by our food waste."

Jeff Anderson, managing director of Biffa's I&C division, said the partnership underlined the attractiveness of anaerobic digestion technology to business customers.

"Biffa has provided Sainsbury's with a food collection and processing service for many years," he said. "By converting food waste to renewable energy, [Biffa] demonstrates our commitment to innovation and the environment. Biffa has a national network of dedicated food collection vehicles providing services for large and smaller customers."

Top image of Sainsbury's store by Elliott Brown via Flickr. This article first appeared at BusinessGreen.

How PECI engages employees on small projects for big impact

Published July 23, 2014
Tags: Employees, Office
How PECI engages employees on small projects for big impact

How to engage employees in the conversation about workplace sustainability? How to turn limited resources into efforts that make a real difference, are meaningful to people and are financially sustainable?

Seeking answers to these questions is my job as coordinator of sustainability and internal communications at PECI, an energy-efficiency non-profit headquartered in Portland.

Our clear advantage, as an energy-efficiency non-profit, is the personal commitment to sustainability that employees bring to the workplace. At lunchtime on any given day, people are just as likely to swap tips on container gardening as they are to comment on pop culture or sports. Every day, 29 percent of employees commute by bike and 43 percent use public transit. We’re continuously seeking ways to reduce paper consumption and divert more of our waste to compost and recycling.

So when it comes to ideas for improving our sustainability, our employees are our best resource. Last year, we came up with a new way to gather and implement those ideas.

Sustainability Kickstart

Our green team, which is responsible for creating PECI’s environmental policies and promoting employee education and community outreach, decided to allocate some of its budget to fund a Sustainability Kickstart. We designed this internal grant program to provide direct financial support and project management for new sustainability efforts. We asked for ideas that would help PECI hit the triple bottom line of People, Planet and Profit with a budget up to $1,000 per project.

To be considered, employees submitted an application describing the environmental and social/cultural benefits of their ideas, as well as costs and anticipated timelines. Applications were reviewed by a single-blind, 14-employee panel that included leaders of our green team, members of the IT department, our facilities manager and employees who work in the field, away from our main office. The group discussed and debated each idea, came back with questions for the applicants, and ultimately decided to move ahead with two projects: a bike share program and a subsidy on fresh fruit in our on-site vending services.

The winners had the responsibility to get their ideas off the ground in order to implement them. Each project was supported by a team, which made it easy to divide up tasks, hold each other accountable and maintain momentum.

The aim of the PECI Bike Share was to create a new, zero-emission transportation option for employees. We work in a dense urban environment, and many of our partners live in close proximity. Bikes provide an easy way to go to meetings — faster than buses and more convenient than hunting for street parking. The team leading this project wanted to provide an opportunity for those without a bike to use one during the day for work purposes or to check one out for the weekend for personal use.

Luckily, one team member has a background in bike repair and knew what to look for when researching a model that would be comfortable for most riders. As the project developed, we learned that there are legal considerations for using a shared bike. We worked with our legal department to create a waiver, and the team created a bike-safety video for employees to watch before they take the bikes out. As a result, we now have two company-branded bikes with lights, locks, bells and panniers. They’ve been taken to meetings, networking events, volunteer events, running errands and for leisurely lunchtime rides.

The Fresh Fruit Subsidy project aimed to promote healthy food choices. While fresh fruit had been available at the vending marketplace in our kitchen area for some time, it wasn’t exactly flying off the shelves. The idea behind this submission was two-fold. First, make people aware that fruit is available (moving it to eye-level and near other best-sellers); second, use subsidized pricing to entice people to purchase fruit over the other typical vending options. In discussing the idea, our panel wondered whether the project would help us develop a fresh-fruit habit that would last after the subsidy ends. Ultimately, they agreed that this type of experimentation is precisely what Kickstart is about — fantastic if successful, but otherwise a valuable lesson about behavior change and subsidization.

The project team worked directly with our third-party food vending service to collect data and coordinate changes to on-site displays. They enlisted the help of one of our marketing copywriters to create signs around the office to promote awareness of the changes. For four months, the price of fruit was dropped by 80 percent. As a result, we saw a 1,700 percent increase in fruit sales over historical data. Employees expressed that knowing about the fruit option helped them make healthier choices by encouraging them to purchase fruit more regularly.

After the success of the initial subsidy, our administration team elected to implement a permanent subsidy. We’ve since maintained strong fruit sales, averaging 330 pieces of fruit sold per month over an average of 13 pieces per month before the introduction of the Kickstart’s fruit subsidy. Anecdotally, we think the rise in fruit purchases has positively influenced our wastestream: when people choose fruit instead of snacks with packaging, they produce compostable waste instead of landfill.

What We Learned

Funding these small projects has proved to be a unique and relatively inexpensive way to engage our employees. Along the lines of Susan Camberis’ June article on sustainability and employee engagement, we experienced the “golden triangle” firsthand, and witnessed how “positively affecting one of the three factors (sustainability) [can], in turn, positively affect the other two (employee engagement and business results).”

We made the most of our limited resources by engaging our willing pool of environmentally mindful employees and giving them the opportunity to express what they’re most passionate about. As a result, they were active participants and helped move the organization’s sustainability efforts forward in ways that no one person can. We learned that integrating sustainability practices in the workplace is what people want. And so we’re gearing up for another Sustainability Kickstart this year.

If you find yourself thinking, “I doubt my company has as many advocates for sustainability as yours does,” let me suggest that you might be surprised. Then again, assuming that you’re right, bear in mind that it doesn’t necessarily take much to unleash plenty. And that's the whole point.

Top image: PECI staffers JJ Green and Sandy Nguyen head out for lunch using the PECI bike share (Credit: PECI.)

GreenBiz 101: The core of materiality? What matters most

By Heather Clancy
Published July 22, 2014
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Tags: Reporting & Transparency, Social Responsibility
GreenBiz 101: The core of materiality? What matters most

If you're a sustainability professional who got his or her start in environmental affairs, chemistry or toxicology, the word "materiality" probably wasn't part of your core curriculum. But the concept may be invaluable when it comes to prioritizing sustainability initiatives and communicating progress toward them — especially as awareness of these matters grows in the chief financial officer's office. With that in mind, we offer this brief accounting lesson.

What is materiality?

Practically speaking, materiality has its roots in corporate finance departments as part of generally accepted accounting principles. Here's the one-sentence definition most people throw around: "Information is material if its omission or misstatement could influence the economic decision of users taken on the basis of the financial statements."

Materiality is a guidepost for disclosure and reporting. An expense or write-off, therefore, would be considered material if the amount involved would affect how an investor or other stakeholder might value the company. A loss of $1,000 to a company with $10 million in revenue, for example, probably would be considered immaterial and unnecessary to disclose. But if the amount involved is larger — say, $100,000 or $1 million — good judgment suggests that it should be reported.

When you apply the concept of materiality beyond financials to environmental, social and governance factors, the rationale for disclosure takes on qualitative dimensions — many of which have no clear value. Often, the ESG factors are related external factors that may be a risk to revenue or income. The manner in which a beverage, food or semiconductor company reports on water conservation initiatives, for example, would differ dramatically from how these matters are considered by a financial services or construction firm.

Why is materiality increasingly relevant for sustainability reporting?

Discussions about materiality were thrust into the forefront of sustainability strategy and reporting dialogues with the release of the Global Reporting Initiative G4 framework in May 2013, which more explicitly names materiality as an integral part of sustainability reporting.

GRI's framework accounts for issues that have a "direct or indirect impact on an organization's ability to create, preserve or erode economic, environmental and social value for itself, its stakeholders and society at large." Yep, that definition covers plenty.

As already suggested, the concept of materiality is highly industry-specific. The 2013 GlobeScan/SustainAbility Issues Survey, which reflects the opinions of 881 sustainability executives from 91 countries, classifies the following as concerns that require both high levels of accountability and urgency: climate change, air pollution, access to energy, water pollution, bribery/corruption and biodiversity loss.

Credit: Africa Studio via Shutterstock

While most of the world's 250 largest companies disclose information about exposure to these factors, almost all of those disclosures currently are part of sustainability reports that live separately from traditional financial statements and annual reports. But those lines are beginning to blur, thanks to the push for integrated reporting.

"For many companies, the problem is not a lack of ESG issues that are important to stakeholders, but when and why these issues might become financially material," wrote two Deloitte experts on this matter, in an article for GreenBiz.

"This is particularly difficult for ESG issues because they are often related to externalities and are not properly priced in the marketplace. Thus, without a clear price signal, figuring out materiality is a more subjective rather than objective, endeavor especially if you are only looking at it from a traditional financial statement standpoint."

How does an organization assess materiality?

Figuring out which data is really important to external stakeholders — whether you're talking about employees, investors or the communities in which a company does business or operates facilities — is the high-level aim of materiality assessments.

This process involves convening meetings between sustainability teams, financial departments, line-of-business managers and other stakeholders. This will guide not only which factors demand attention but how that information should be presented, and to whom it should be disclosed.

"The best way to ensure engagement at all levels is to start with the C-suite and board of directors," Michael Muyot, president and founder of CRD Analytics, told GreenBiz in fall 2013. "If they don't agree to participate, that's a big red flag and almost a sure sign that project either will fail or be lackluster in its findings and recommendations."

What best practices are available to help with materiality assessments?

The sustainability reports of many high-profile companies are sprinkled liberally with mentions of where materiality assessments have been performed — from Anglo American (PDF) to EMC (PDF) to Marks & Spencer to Nestle to NextEra Energy to Sprint (PDF).

Accordingly, an increasing number of third-party consulting organizations are focused on assisting with facilitation. In addition, GRI, the International Integrated Reporting Council (PDF) and Sustainability Accounting Standards Board all offer specific guidelines regarding materiality that can provide a framework.

Credit: Liljam via Shutterstock

One common refrain is the suggestion to embed assessments into everyday decision-making at senior executive levels; the table stakes includes an annual review. Unfortunately, the approaches laid out by each organization is slightly different. IIRC's emphasis, as you might expect, takes the position that investors will take a longer-term view that inspires companies to take a more analytical look at the non-financial factors that create corporate value. SASB is "betting" that regulatory bodies will dictate the way material issues should be disclosed. And GRI leans heavily on the role of external stakeholders.

"For both SASB and IIRC, the level of materiality ascribed to an issue that is important to nonfinancial stakeholders is entirely contingent on how much it influences decisions and assessments made by the providers of financial capital. … By contrast, for the GRI, the opinions of stakeholders have value in their own right, regardless of investors," wrote BSR managing director Dunstan Allison Hope and advisor Guy Morgan in an August 2013 GreenBiz article, How to navigate the maze of materiality definitions.

Why haven't more companies embraced materiality within their sustainability programs?

That disconnect and fear of the unknown are the things that makes materiality such a difficult concept for many sustainability managers to grasp right now. Some companies might worry that disclosing certain information will result in the loss of competitive advantages, while others are reluctant to discuss matters that are not entirely within their control. Still others may struggle with quantifying the cost implications.

"What really matters is how companies adopt or change each approach and how credible the resulting reports are for their users," wrote Hope and Morgan. "If the past 20 years of corporate responsibility have taught us anything, it's that we're all better off when companies create approaches that work in the real world."

Top image of calipers measuring dollar plant by Sergey Nivens via Shutterstock.

Also in The GreenBiz 101 Blog:


What makes the LEED Dynamic Plaque a game-changer?

By Adam Sledd
Published July 22, 2014
Email | Print | Single Page View
Tags: Architecture & Design, Building Design, More... Architecture & Design, Building Design, Energy Efficiency, Materials, Operations & Maintenance, Renewables, Retrofits, Sustainable Sites, Waste, Water Use
What makes the LEED Dynamic Plaque a game-changer?

When the U.S. Green Building Council makes big changes to its systems or standards, the real estate industry takes notice — and with good reason. Its main initiative, LEED, has an outsize impact on the real estate industry, from building materials to investment criteria — and any major changes to the system have the potential to greatly affect green building for years to come.

Although you may not have heard more than a tidbit about the LEED Dynamic Plaque ahead of its launch earlier this year, make no mistake: This is the sort of innovation that drives widespread change.

Even for a building, a year's a long time

Without getting too deep into the technical details (USGBC explains it more extensively in a live web demonstration), the LEED Dynamic Plaque is an add-on to existing LEED certifications. It introduces an ongoing performance element to the traditionally static scheme. It's a platform — both physical and virtual, publicly displayed on an existing LEED building's site — that's designed to help property owners monitor, benchmark and update their LEED scores in five areas: energy, water, waste, transportation and occupant experience.

While a building's official score is recorded just once a year based on a recertification schedule, the Dynamic Plaque updates as frequently as it receives new information. For example, if your building has a LEED score of 72 but you think it could be higher, you might send out transportation and occupant experience surveys and perform a waste audit to look for potential improvements. After improvements are made, you can provide the platform with new data and the LEED score will be recalculated instantly.

Credit: U.S. Green Building Council

Faster adoption of improvements

Why is this system such a potential breakthrough? Consider the following abridged version of how the commercial real estate industry makes decisions about green building: Investors want to make sure that their real estate investments carry minimal risk and maximum appropriate return. For some investors, particularly pension funds such as CalPERS, sustainability is finding its way into these calculations.

Asset managers are then tasked with implementing an investors' plan. Many real estate asset management groups (think Bentall Kennedy, TIAA-CREF and Prudential Real Estate Investors) view green building as a way to minimize risk and improve returns — and LEED certifications are an accepted standard for implementing sustainability in a commercial real estate portfolio. Therefore, we find more asset managers want to know if potential acquisitions are LEED-certified, as well as an increased willingness to pursue LEED for existing portfolios.

[Learn more about next-gen buildings at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30.]

The responsibility for pursuing LEED certification typically falls on the property management firm, a green building consultant or both. Major property managers such as CBRE and Cushman & Wakefield have boosted their internal capabilities to handle the increased demand for LEED.

However, the relatively static nature of LEED certification leaves the system open to criticism that it is more about strategies than performance. In reality, we see some asset and property managers who consider LEED as a sort of "set it and forget it" commitment. By further opening up LEED certification to continuous monitoring, the LEED Dynamic Plaque allows investors, asset managers and even tenants to demand an actively managed LEED score.

Engage the occupants

What does an active score mean to the commercial real estate industry? Everyone working to make their buildings more energy-efficient knows the phrase "you can't manage what you don't measure" by heart, but not everyone may be as familiar with the closely related, "what gets measured gets scrutinized, written about, argued over and eventually added into contracts." By making it feasible to include something such as regular occupant surveys into an accepted sustainability standard, USGBC is attempting to rewrite how the industry defines sustainable operations.

Credit: U.S. Green Building Council

For example, picture a large national office user with a significant commitment to sustainability that includes targeted reductions in energy, waste and water over a certain time period. The company already requires LEED or ENERGY STAR certification for most office locations. Through the LEED Dynamic Plaque, however, the company's real estate team can ask landlords to more frequently report on those targets at each location, as well as conduct regular occupant satisfaction surveys. They can ask that the LEED Dynamic Plaque score never drop below 70, or that occupant satisfaction never dip below 80 percent.

Similarly, consider an asset manager deciding whether to renew a property management contract. If the hiring decision already considers the manager's ability to help the property achieve LEED or ENERGY STAR, why not go one step further and incorporate new elements of the LEED Dynamic Plaque platform?

Dynamic Plaques motivates more players

Could a sustainability-minded asset manager ask prospective property managers for an annual score increase? Or, if some of those goals already exist in the property management contract, could they be managed more collectively through the new platform?

The LEED Dynamic Plaque is exciting because when a market standard as big as LEED introduces a new option, it speeds up the adoption process. Performing a waste audit is not a groundbreaking idea. Performing a waste audit to bump up the LEED score that your building's occupants can see as they walk into the lobby every morning — now that has the potential to motivate an industry.

Top image of LEED Dynamic Plaque Survey by U.S. Green Building Council.



How to make the most of your sustainability Master’s degree

By Shannon Houde
Published July 22, 2014
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Tags: Academic, Career Tools
How to make the most of your sustainability Master’s degree

If you have a question for Shannon, send it to

Dear Shannon,

I'm a recent graduate with a bachelors in environmental management, and am now looking at whether I also need a masters. I'd like to work in corporate sustainability, so have been investigating Green MBAs and CSR courses at various universities in the U.S. and Europe, as well as doing online research. But the more I read the less certain I am that a masters is worth the investment. If I decide to proceed, how can I make sure it's worthwhile? Is work experience more valuable to an employer than a degree?

Elizabeth, New York


Dear Elizabeth,

I'm so glad you asked! It's one of the biggest dilemmas facing sustainability job seekers and one of the most common questions I get asked by career-coaching clients looking to transition into impact and CR roles. You've already made a huge investment in going back to school for your undergrad, and now you're naturally asking yourself whether you really need that masters. Annoyingly, the answer is yes and no.

There is a distinct trend in the sustainability jobs market showing that companies are hiring from within. This points to the importance of on-the-job experience and a deep knowledge of the industry, the company and its products or services. Practical, tangible work experience is worth its weight in gold in the sustainability space. But at the same time, everyone has a master's degree these days and the competition is fierce. By not having one and pitting your CV alongside others that do, you might be shooting yourself in the foot.

Master's degrees are expensive, intense and time consuming, and not — I repeat, NOT — guaranteed to get you a job. The belief that you can walk out of your masters graduation ceremony and into a great role is outdated. Besides, most university career centers don't understand the sustainability jobs market and only give generic advice. If you decide to go for it, it's up to you to make the most of your master's degree and squeeze out every last drop of opportunity. Here are some tips on how to do just that.

Before you start your masters ...

A masters helps you to build your networks and your knowledge, but it doesn’t automatically convert into a career change. You have to own that process and make it happen — that's why it's important to have realistic expectations of what your masters will do for you.

In her recent GreenBiz article, Nikki Gloudeman highlighted a few key questions to help prospective students determine what type of sustainability program is right for them, and pointed out some top programs in the U.S.

The point is, owning the process involves taking the bull by the horns and developing a career positioning strategy, of which the program itself will only be one aspect. Map out:

  1. the reasons why you chose the program,

  2. the key people you want to network with during it,

  3. what tangible takeaways you want to leave with, and

  4. how you plan to achieve them.

Pin it up somewhere prominent in your study space.

During your masters ...

Sustainability is a broad topic with branches that reach into all aspects of business so you'll need an overview of the entire agenda. The jobs market tends to value specialists now more than generalists. So to get a job, you also need to have detailed knowledge in one or two particular areas.

Pick your specialism now and plan to focus all your coursework and networking on this one area. It could be energy, climate change, natural capital, poverty, sustainable supply chains or women's empowerment, for example.

Leverage your dissertation, a consulting class or practical project to show hands-on corporate sustainability experience on your CV with an accomplishment statement like this:

"Led an MBA team of four to develop and propose new business models for client, Unilever, to bring distributed energy solutions to emerging markets and align with its Sustainable Living Plan."

Then give yourself a head start by kicking off your personal branding and job search six to nine months before graduation. Personal branding involves writing a compelling CV with 12 tangible accomplishment statements, designing a 2,000-character bio that translates into a LinkedIn summary, and also building your online presence through blogging your thought leadership on Twitter and LinkedIn. It's important to allow plenty of time for the job search process. With the tight competition six months is a minimum to start building your networks (remember, most roles are landed via word-of-mouth referrals) and getting the word out about what you are looking to do next.

After your masters ...

Make the most of your alumni network by getting active on social media. LinkedIn is particularly good for this — there may already be an alumnus group for your program, so join it and reach out to others who are already doing your dream job by sharing relevant articles or asking career questions. Always good to ask others about their career journeys and how they got where they are, lessons learnt, advice they may have for you. People love talking about themselves.

Lastly, make sure to stay connected to your university and give back where you can. Offering to speak at events and conferences to engage future students is a great way of maintaining that link with your old lecturers, some of whom might have professional contacts of value to you. This also allows you to build credibility and show leadership abilities. And don’t forget to put this on your CV. It's a two-way street and you get what you give, so be as generous as you can.

Good luck embarking on this next stage of your education. University is a fantastic opportunity to look beyond your day-to-day horizon and take the baby steps to get you where you want to be in three to five years. Let me know how you get on! And in the meantime, if you'd like some one-on-one support on aligning your educational opportunities to your future career, get in touch with me for a free 15-minute consultation.



Why addressing low-income poverty is good for business

By Livia Martini
Published July 22, 2014
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Tags: Business Operations, China, More... Business Operations, China, Consumer Products, Employees
Why addressing low-income poverty is good for business

For the first time in decades, NGOs, foundations and mainstream media are speaking optimistically about the end of poverty. Between 1990 and 2010 over 1 billion people lifted themselves out of poverty, an upwards-social mobility that Bill Gates argues has “completely redrawn the global picture of poverty.” While abject poverty, defined as living below $1.25 a day, might be on its way out, the increase in low-income poverty and inequality is changing the conversation about what it means to be poor.

Low-income poverty does not mean lack of access, but otherwise lack of access to quality. It does not mean being on the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder but otherwise being unable to bridge the continuously widening space between low-income and middle class. As low-income poverty continues to be an unrelenting social issue, the business community will be pressed to interact with and account for that population for the following reasons:

Low-income populations are a company’s employees. Addressing poverty among a company’s employees requires changing a company’s wage standards, developing individuals’ capacities and increasing benefits. Proactively doing so increases productivity and has reputational benefits; abstaining is a material risk. Some companies, such as Gap, have increased their minimum wage, while other companies, including Apple, GM and Ford, have committed to redesigning their hiring practices to avoid discriminating against the long-term unemployed. Starbucks has been particularly proactive on this issue, providing employees with decent wages, stock and retirement benefits, and healthcare.

Walmart, on the other hand, long has subsisted on what some term a “poverty wage structure," in which employees are underpaid and enjoy little to none of the benefits of working at a profitable corporation. Such business models have reputational and financial implications. A new poll by Lake Research Partners found that 28 percent of consumers surveyed have an unfavorable view of Walmart, citing poor treatment of workers as a reason to not shop there. McDonald's recently included inequality as a material risk in its 10-K, noting that increasing public critique of low wage business models could affect the company’s profits.

Low-income populations are consumers. Low-income populations have purchasing power. Even if it’s marginal, how and what low-income populations buy affects a company’s bottom line. While it is an unfortunate reality that low-income populations have, in the past, been forced to buy less expensive, lower-quality food, medicine and life necessities, trends suggest that this is changing. A new partnership between City Harvest, NYC health officials, and Cash and Carry (a wholesale warehouse in the Bronx) for example, is bringing healthier food to New York City bodegas, which often service low-income populations. Similarly, governments in India and South Africa are invoking their right to use compulsory licensing to bring down the cost of medicine for their populations. Companies have a choice — they either can improve the quality and price of the products they offer to low-income populations or they can risk losing an important consumer segment as better alternatives emerge.

Low-income populations are the new supply chain. Supply chains are changing. Once defined by labor abuses and lack of career prospects, supply chains are now expected to be workplaces with human rights standards, career development processes and wages that allow for decent living outside the factory walls and farmlands. As access to the Internet increases, supply chain workers are realizing that they have choices and rights beyond a minimum wage. In China, workers are demanding better benefits, wages, and working hours. In farming regions, the children of farmers are choosing to urbanize to find better career prospects that will move them out of the cycle of poverty that often plagues farming generations. To ensure continuity of product supply and labor, companies must work to build capacity, favorable workforces, and career progression programs that will retain employees. Furthermore, increasing career prospects and wages in a company’s supply chain has proved to be financially profitable. Impactt’s Benefit for Business and Workers recently conducted a study on the impacts of higher wages among factory workers and found that increasing pay leads to an 18 percent gain in efficiency and reduced absenteeism by 34 percent.

Low-income poverty always has been a social issue but has often been overshadowed by the prevalence and devastating effects of extreme poverty. Whereas eradicating extreme poverty lay in the hands of NGOs, governments, foundations and aid organizations, eradicating low-income poverty can be most deeply influenced by business. Companies can change their hiring practices and wage-policies as well as develop products that are affordable, high-quality and meet the needs of low-income populations.

Beyond benefiting society, helping bridge the equity gap just makes good business sense.  

Top image: Bangladesh garment workers at a Dhaka factory by Primenews.

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9 key trends in corporate sustainability reporting

By Victoria Knowles
Published July 21, 2014
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Tags: Business Models, Business Operations, More... Business Models, Business Operations, Commitments & Goals, Corporate Reporting, Data Centers, Measuring, Reporting, & Verification, Reporting & Transparency, Social Responsibility, Socially Responsible Investing
9 key trends in corporate sustainability reporting

Nearly three-quarters of sustainability professionals ranked CSR above seven out of 10 in relation to their business objectives (with one being low and 10 being high.)

Meanwhile, most organizations dedicate between $34,000 and $84,000 of their budget to CSR reporting activity.

These are just some key findings from a recent 2degrees CSR reporting survey, which aims to help organizations identify key trends in CSR reporting, stakeholder engagement and materiality.

In total 110 organizations were surveyed, most of which indicated that transparency with stakeholders, promoting their sustainability progress or successes and reputation management were their main motivation behind CSR reporting. Meanwhile, the main benefits of reporting were cited as enhancing reputation both internally and externally and stakeholder engagement.

In terms of the stakeholder groups, customers are overwhelmingly the target, identified by just under half of respondents (45 percent) as being most important to their CSR strategy. Meanwhile, suppliers are clearly still new to the agenda, with only 3 percent aiming their efforts at this group.

And what about the challenges around reporting? The biggest hurdle for respondents overwhelmingly was time, getting people to read the report and stakeholder engagement and dialogue.

The most popular time of year to publish the report was Q2 (35 percent) with just over half (54 percent) regularly communicating CSR updates throughout the year alongside the annual report.

Following the results of this survey and the CSR reporting challenges it has highlighted, 2degrees, in partnership with PE International, will run a peer-to-peer event around this topic Sept. 17 in London. The event is by application only; for more details and to register your interest, please get in touch.

This survey was conducted as part of the 2degrees Stakeholder Dialogue Service. Find out more.

Click chart below for larger image.

This article originally appeared at 2degrees.


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