Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sustainability Trends for the Coming Years

I recently read an interesting piece on sustainability trends for the coming year:
http://www.environmentalleader.com/2012/01/17/four-sustainability-trends-to-watch-in-2012/.  The piece focuses on transparency, global consistency, public/private partnerships, the the rise of solar.  Each hold interesting impacts, assuming Mr. Probst is right.


Voluntary disclosure is a trend in sustainability that's been growing over the last three decades.  It started in the US with regulatory and quasi-regulatory programs like the Toxic Release Inventory data, 33/50, Project XL, and certainly with the rise of the various 3rd-party 'eco-sustainable-good guy-certification' schemes over the years.  (In full disclosure, I headed up one of these good guy schemes and recently departed to pursue an alternative way to make sustainable things happen in industries.)  These programs have been valuable, but they also may have a shelf-life eventually.

As more and more companies voluntarily disclose information and report this information in more and more standardized ways (see: Global Reporting Initiative, etc.), the watchdog, third-party roll becomes less and less clear.  Add into the mix a number of scandals, questions, and fraudulent behavior in the nonprofit world, and we may start to see the trust erode.  Another observation is consolidation of these rating and certification schemes (which has served as the de facto tools to create transparency in sectors).  It may be that transparency of business and government behavior will drive the expectation for more transparency with the very groups aiming to drive transparency itself.  "Who watches the watchers?" is the question that may unfold in the years to come.

Global Consistency

I think this is inevitable.  People want to be able to compare apples to other types of apples.  In sectors where there are multiple tools, schemes, and measures, I would think that one standardized tool will emerge, whether through collaboration, or by declaring one scheme or tool the "winner."  Again, if the push for increased transparency continues, this may be a moot point.

If there are sector "winners" in place, or as they emerge, I think we'll start to see some measure or interest in cross-industry standards like the ISO environmental management system standard, the sustainability standard, and the like.  I am a big fan of just "doing something" and acknowledging that the perfect is sometimes the enemy of the good (thanks Voltaire), but there will be an institutional push to standardize the ways we talk about, measure, and report on our sustainability progress.

Public/Private Partnerships

Andy Hoffman did great work in From Heresy to Dogma exploring the evolution of the environmental movement and tracking the roles and power positions that nonprofit, government, and business played over the past four decades.  The lead dogs (no pun intended) were business in the 1960s, the federal government in the 1970s and early 1980s (i.e., rise of the EPA), nonprofits in the 80s and 90s, and then finally a blended, power-struggle (nicely called partnering) among the three players from the mid-90s until now.  This sharing of power--over ideas, words, actions, results, leverage, and a whole host of things--among the three major types of institutions has continued and will continue to define the environmental movement (or sustainability movement more recently). However, with the creation of the new "for benefit" corporation in a number of states for business incorporation and the rise of social entrepreneurship in NGOs, the lines are getting blurred anyway.  (Check out this growing state-by-state legislation on B-Corps... it could define a new type of NGO: http://www.bcorporation.net.)


I like the sun, although my Scandinavia-UK-mutt skin does not.  That said, I have been wary of mass-produced solar kicking off in the near future.  The economic and institutional inertia by government and financial institutions alike are just not primed for big growth--not right now.  Yet, last year saw a 54% growth in solar worldwide and the US is showing expansion as well.  I still think energy efficiency upgrades, while not as sexy, will define the near future trend in energy in terms of big numbers.  The reality is that renewables, while happily growing, still account for a blip in energy production.  Let's take a look after the Presidential election and see where things stand.

More Trends to Consider...

Innovation:  Everyone will need to work a lot smarter.  In a previous article in this blog I wrote about working smarter, and some of the tools I plan on employing to do so.  The same is true for sustainability initiatives for communities, businesses, universities, and organizations of all kinds.  In a world of constrainted resources for action, but seemingly the same level of intention, innovation will be key.

Outsourcing Sustainability Services: As the potential recipient of these outsourced services (consultant hat on), I certainly would like to think this trend will happen.  And sincerely, I think it will.  The number of at-home employees has jumped the last decade, and so too has and will the concept of the corporation or organization itself.  Freelancer, is a title that will be held by more and more experts looking for work freedom and flexibility of content of work.  Likewise, the lower risk approach of hiring outside expertise for helping to meet the organizational mission makes perfect sense in today's climate.

Little Guys Get Into the Act: The first forty years of environmentalism in the United States has largely been defined by and directed towards large companies, large government programs, and big organizations.  Yet, small business in the US accounts for half of all environmental impacts and employs the vast majority of our workforce.  We are already seeing this trend as the service sectors and small to medium-sized businesses are starting to adopt the same ideas, plans, and action profiles as the Toyota's and GEs of the world.  (Read and learn more at: http://www.aboutcsbe.org.)  Small communities too... Portland and Boston won't be the only leaders on sustainable community efforts.  They just can't be.  Small communities, their people, policies, plans, and practices influence 80-plus% of the nation's landscape.  Land use in small and rural communities in the aggregate play a significant role in the nation's overall efforts to use resources more sustainably.

Off the Shelf Tools:  The number of off-the-shelf tools for communities, businesses, and others to plan, do, act, and review sustainability goals is growing and will continue to grow.  Looking at the landscape of these tools, I am blown away.  The time of "winging it" with your internal team is giving way to "buying sustainability" in the store and having your team (or your outsourcing partner) run your efforts with it.

The Word Sustainable Becomes Unsustainable:  There is a fatigue in some circles with the word "sustainable" itself.  Every consultant and author (looking for well-paid speaking gigs) is looking for the next great phrase to replace.  Resilient.  Post-carbon.  Resource Efficient.  I think we'll lose some people to the sustainability fatigue in the coming years, but words do matter.  So watching (and participating) in the definitional dilemma as it unfolds will actually be kind of fun, and important.

Interesting and challenging times we live in... that trend, I am certain, will not change.

Kevin A. Fletcher, Ph.D.
Founder, Greener Futures

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Making New Year's Resolutions... Sustainable

I'm a little delayed in doing this...this resolution-setting thing for the coming year.  Since I (eagerly) moved on from my previous gig about a month and a half ago, my time has been spent gearing up for my professional Phase Three.  The first phase of my professional life was spent holding a number of low-paying, but interesting jobs simultaneously--teaching/researching at RPI, providing consulting on sustainable business and environmental management, and running a professional journal.  For the past decade Phase Two has been focused on helping just one organization meet its mission, change, and grow.  Both of these phases held value for me--learning both how to and how not to lead, treat people, provide value, be effective, make change happen, etc.

Now, I find myself in an exciting place--getting ready to once again lead one organization to help meet its mission, change, and grow while also being free to get involved in other projects (again).  Except this time, I have a little more experience, some new skills, increased knowledge (I think), and friends to help drive success.  So this recent "sabbatical" has led me to re-create, re-engage, and re-think the way I'm working.  "Work smarter, not harder," I've always heard.  Yet, I don't think until now I knew exactly what that might mean.  So, with some initial busy-work and legwork out of the way in development of Phase Three and the year squarely ahead of me, I finally made some time to reflect and then resolve to do some things differently (or better) this year... all with the goal to work smarter:

1. Be Patient - Years ago I had the chance to forge a partnership with a professional organization in an industry my business was trying to penetrate.  I did not know at the time that partner-building is like dating... gotta buy her dinner and get to know each other first, before deciding that you're both ready to go all the way... to introducing her to your parents, that is.  I was too aggressive and it slowed the partnership down.  Lawrence Susskind writes on consensus-building that you, "have to go slow, to go fast."  I finally understand what he was saying.  Eventually I won them over and they saw the value of forging a formal relationship, but the lesson was clearly emphasized.  You have to be patient when dealing with people.  Nine times out of ten the "soft sell" works best.  Appeal to their interest (thanks Dale Carnegie), be honest and authentic, and then... be patient.  I will be more patient this year.  (I'm sure my kids will appreciate that too.)

2. Understand the Importance of Timing in Strategy - Timing goes hand-in-hand with patience.  The older I get, the more I realize that strategy is all about timing.  You have to know when to retreat, when to concede, when to charge, and when it's time to pack it up and move on.  (That lesson was reinforced recently in a most-helpful way.)  The only way to ensure good timing is to be aware, eyes-open, and empathetic.  You need to be able to put yourself in your colleague's (or adversary's) shoes.  It's OK to be aggressive; it's OK to be passive... you just have to know when.  I will be more attuned to timing in decision-making and actions this year.

3. Remember You Cannot Over-Communicate (Unless You're Not Listening Enough) - It's a paradox, but leaders lead by effectively and efficiently communicating, while also listening better than anyone else in the room.  In fact, the art of listening and really hearing and understanding what's being said informs better communication by the listener.  It's a noisy world with a lot to hear in cluttered, chaotic forms sometimes.  The Internet, blogs, tweets, e-newsletters... all can be great tools for informing, but also create effective communication (and listening) really hard.  You have to decide to listen better and decide how to cut through the noise in order to better-communicate what you can do to lead, help, teach, and make change happen.  And so, I will do a better job hearing and communicating this year.

4. To Repeat... There's a One Letter Difference Between Networking and Not Working: An old mentor once told me that, and it's true.  I was stunned, and pleasantly surprised, at the out-pouring of support and interest in my well-being when my 'Phase Three' started for me six weeks ago.  A strong network of professionals, colleagues, and friends is a priceless commodity.  You have to maximize that value by building a strong, diverse network, and by returning the favor for help when asked.  I will continue to build a strong, viable network of smart, savvy, hard-working people, and I will help them as much as I can (sometimes without even being asked).

5. Voltaire Works Here Too... Just Be Good - "The perfect is the enemy of the good," the philosopher Voltaire said (paraphrasing).  It's true.  When your 'good' is better than most people's best, then it's really true.  When working smarter, be satisfied with good and don't waste too much time on perfection (unless the job calls for it).  It's kind of like timing... you have to pick your spots when to spend time working on the perfect result.  Most of the time, your 'good' will be good enough.  I will strive to know the difference between the perfect and the good.

6. Follow Your Own Advice: Idea, Plan, Act, Results - Working smarter means following a tenant in certain martial arts... no wasted motion.  The idea is simple and works for competitive swimming too.  Any motion, action, thought or investment of resources not intended to help achieve the outcome (self-defense, a fast 200 freestyle, or a business goal) is a wasted motion, action, thought, or investment of resources.  That's not to say dreaming, brainstorming, pursuit of knowledge, or actions can't and should be done.  Just do't kids yourself that they are leading to specific results.  Be clear when you're doing something that helps you efficiently and effectively lead to your business goals.  I will work smarter by knowing when my thoughts, actions, and investments are wasted or not.

7. Be Clear and Direct in the Ask... And Remember "What's in It for Them?" - Finally, working smarter depends on your ability to allow the client or customer to sell the idea, service, or product to him or herself.  In other words, if they can see 'what's in it for them' to work with you, buy your product/service, or partner with you, then there's no sale needed.  They've sold themselves on the idea.  This is area where I continue to try to grow and learn.  I often can project myself into the client's situation and see the inherent value I or my organization might bring, but the trick is having them see that truth for themselves without selling them.  If you can, then sales becomes less of sales, and more like sailing.  So finally, I will remember the lessons of Dale Carnegie (How to win Friends and Influence People is 100 years old and still relevant) and provide a way for clients to uncover the value for themselves.

OK, these seven seem like a good way to kick off a sustainable New Year.  If you have others to add, please feel free to chime in.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bridging the Rhetoric Gap on Sustainability

I start each day snooping.  Snooping for stories, information, and interesting cases of people making the connection between economic success and a sound ecology.  In my college years this was done at a place called a "library" (they still have those places too) with stacks of magazines, journals, and newspapers in front of me.  I recall one summer at SUNY Geneseo while I was taking summer classes, where each day started with a walk down to the library (after rolling out of bed by 10 a.m. or so) to soak up the latest news and information.

Not too much has changed so many years later to my routine... apart from the scope of information now available online all from my laptop on my kitchen table, oh, and my earlier wake-up time with two kids in the house (6:00 a.m.!).Weekly and daily e-newsletters, LinkedIn, blogs, tweets... these are the newspapers and journal of today.  The problem is that it's easy to get lost in this maze of information.  A click here or there and it's easy to get lost in the flotsam and jetsam of the information ocean that is the Internet.

For example, today after a few clicks from tweets to a tweet-generated daily paper to a website, I found myself on the "EPA Abuse" website reading this article and the comments from readers:

The reactions and topic got me thinking about language.  We use words to create meaning, a common meaning that we hope clearly communicates specific ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc.  The word "sustainable" for instance has taken on a new meaning for a segment of the population in the United States.  It just so happens this new  meaning, or really feeling, for this otherwise ubiquitous word is held by those who label themselves or could be labelled politically conservative.  The feeling is that this "sustainability agenda" also related to the United Nations  Agenda 21, is somehow linked to a plot for the UN to dominate the world in some new-world-order kinda way.  Somehow sustainability for some has become synonymous with The Book of Revelations and the rise of the Beast.  (I always thought that Biblical thinking of the 'end times' and the reactions by those who subscribe to this thinking to be a little backward.  If you think this is going to happen and lead to the second coming, wouldn't you want the Agenda 21 domino to fall triggering the chain of events that would lead to that Kirk Cameron-esque, Left Behind set of moments?  Why would you fight it?)

Now even I'm being a little simplistic on my portrayal of "Kill Agenda 21" movement and certainly the nature of this website and article.  But, I remain confused over some of the reactions.  As the article states, the European example, and likewise the EPA trend, is to include priorities such as: “climate change and clean energy; sustainable transport; sustainable consumption and production; conservation and management of natural resources; public health; social inclusion, demography, and migration; and global poverty and sustainable development challenges.”  OK.  So, the reaction is that this is outside the EPA's purview.  Maybe, maybe not, I don't want to go down that road, but just looking at those priorities, aren't they reasonable?  The problem is that it's government that's involved, I think.  Yet, there are a number of leaders in the private sector--leaders who like capitalism and like making money--who are on the sustainability bandwagon already.  So, it's most-likely a reaction to sovereignty and nationalism as much as anything.

It's also the words that are being used (or not used).  I don't think the word "sustainable" is as sustainable to use anymore.  It's been damaged, dinged, dented too often.  This and other buzzwords for our time, along with the speed and quantity of information availability and the ten-second news cycle, has forced many otherwise bright well-though people to boil things down to 140 characters.  The rhetoric on issues of sustainability is lost.  We're sound-biting each other in a rabid fashion.   There's no nuance or debate based on rationality and science... or the right words.  (Watch C-Span, it's true.)

No one is against a future that allows for continued used of natural resources for the betterment of humans in a way that does not exhaust those resources.  Everyone like clean air and water, safe food, spending less money on electricity or gas due to efficiency upgrades, etc.  Right?  The problem lies in gaining common ground on the state we're in, identification of problems, prioritization to solve those problems, and the tools to used to fix those problems.  You say it like that and there's no reason to be nasty towards each other.

I'm telling you, most everyone wants to same thing, the same future.  It's just that our words (and lack of them) keep getting in the way.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Starting 2012 as a Consultant (Again)

Thanks for checking out the blog of www.Greener-Futures.com.  I launched the concept of Greener Futures over ten years ago, in some ways, while I was providing environmental management and business strategy consulting services to a variety of organizations.  At the time, I was working through another consulting firm at Vice President of External Affairs.  We held research and leadership coaching assignments with the World Resources Institute as they looked to re-tool themselves from a 'think-tank' to a 'do-tank'), Con-Ed (in the development their Corporate Environmental Strategy), Toyota North America (with the US launch of the Prius), Holnam (as this major cement-maker wrestled with impending climate change pressures), and others.  This was a terrific experience.  I had the chance to work with, help, and influence the decisions of some of the first "chief sustainability officers" of corporate America.

Yet, while it was good work (and work I have continued to do in various ways most-recently with Walt Disney Parks & Resorts), it was clear that the learning curve and needs of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) was vast... and vastly under-served.  So the idea of Greener Futures was born.  The idea was simple: create a network of content experts to help those companies that wouldn't typically have the resources or drive to make voluntary environmental improvements, become more environmentally sustainable, and as a result, become more economically sustainable.  Let's find the best ways to help small and medium-sized organizations--businesses, associations, nonprofits, universities, and even smaller communities.  I focused my Doctoral research on this topic.  I focused the next ten years of my professional life in this area (both in leading a nonprofit organization with eco-certification programs for small businesses and through ongoing research, writing, and consulting).  And now, I focus a more concerted effort to provide this help as a consultant (again).

With the New Year here, it's time to start, well, anew.  I completed a January 1st Polar Bear plunge (40 degree water... brrrr) as a way to cleanse myself of the dirt and hypocracy of the past ten years of my professional life and be baptized (metaphorically) for the next ten years of driven, meaningful work.  Now, I start sifting through the opportunities, the options, and ways I can best realize the goals of Greener Futures.  Each month (at a minimum) I'll keep a log of what's going on and provide some tools and resources I've found that can help you and your organization.  It's an exciting time and there's a lot to do.  Always feel free to contact me with any question or provide your thoughts.

That's all for now...