It is December, hard to believe I know, but the end of the year is among us. Now that we are on the latter side of Thanksgiving, the Holidays are among us. One of the most anticipated decisions this Holiday season involves your Christmas Tree.
A few years ago, we were part of the the first-ever ISO-compliant third-party peer reviewed life cycle analysis (LCA) of Christmas trees. The LCA sought to answer a number of questions, with the areas of most interest being what overall environmental impact Christmas trees have on environment, and if there is a significant different between real and artificial trees. The study was sponsored by the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA) a non-profit organization representing artificial Christmas tree retailers and real Christmas tree retailers, to clear up common misconceptions about the environmental impacts of Christmas trees.
The study found a surprising number of factors come into play in determining the environmental impact of Christmas trees.
The review compared the most common artificial Christmas tree sold in the United States to the most common real Christmas tree sold in the United States, and found that the choice of one tree over the other has a negligible impact on the environment. However, the study’s findings show that length of ownership, disposal method and “tree miles” can make a difference on which tree is environmentally preferable.
The study, reviewed by an independent third party panel, took into consideration five key environmental indicators to determine which tree type is environmentally preferable.
“There is a clear environmental break even point between the two trees,” said William Paddock, Managing Director of WAP Sustainability Consulting, a Nashville, Tennessee-based consulting firm that works with companies on corporate sustainability issues. “The debate gets a little more interesting when you look at different environmental indicators. Take for example the energy required to produce both trees. The energy required to make one artificial tree is roughly equal to the energy it takes to raise six real cut trees.”
Conscientious consumers need to consider factors such as length of ownership, disposal method and tree miles before choosing a type of tree.
ACTA encourages consumers to consider these five helpful tips when deciding which tree to buy this year:
Purchase locally grown Christmas trees if possible.
Consider “tree miles.” How far did the tree travel to get to your home? How far did you travel to get it?
If you have purchased more than nine cut trees over the last nine years, consider purchasing an artificial tree to minimize your environmental impacts.
If you own an artificial tree, make sure and keep it in use for at least six to nine years. If you plan to replace an artificial tree, donate it before you dispose of it.
If you purchase a real tree, consult with your local waste authority about how to properly dispose of your tree.
“Our members have been urging consumers to choose the Christmas tree that best fits their lifestyle, be it real or artificial,” said Jami Warner, Executive Director of ACTA.
In some cases, purchasing an artificial tree turns out to be a more environmentally friendly option.
The study also highlights an “Eight Christmas Environmental Payback Period” between the two tree products based on the study’s five environmental indicators. The study found that the environmental impacts of one artificial tree used for more than eight Christmases is environmentally friendlier than purchasing eight or more real cut trees over eight years.
“As a general rule of thumb, if you are going to purchase an artificial tree, keep it in use for at least nine years,” Paddock said.
“ACTA encourages responsible consumerism,” said Warner. “Consumers should consider the impact on the environment for every item they purchase, not just Christmas trees.”
The sustainability job market has been very active for the past six months. Sustainability Leads average number of job posts each week has doubled in the latter half of 2017. While this is not hard science, it is a signal that the sustainability job market is healthy.
Perhaps this uptick in new jobs is that organizations feel added responsibility in response to political changes and have elected to hire, or turnover could just be higher in 2017. Regardless of the drivers, if you are a sustainability professional, now is as good of time as ever to dust of the resume and shop new jobs.
One aspect of the sustainability job market that seems forever consistent is the demand for sustainability skills. Almost every job description we pick up defines core skills, competencies, experiences that the employer is seeking. From soft and interpersonal skills, to hard technical skills, the sustainability job market is a “Skills Economy”.
PayScale conducted a Skills Economy Study, you can find the link here . In the study, PayScale highlights what it calls a 'Skills Gap'.
“We hear all the time about the ‘skills gap,’ the gap between the skills needed to succeed in the professional world and the skills with which young professionals leave college,” said Katie Bardaro, VP of Data Analytics, PayScale. “The data we’ve collected show that even though their education may make recent college graduates feel prepared to enter the workforce, only half of hiring managers agree with them; managers feel crucial skills in recent graduates are frequently lacking or absent.”
While the study talks significantly about the 'skills gap' between recent college graduates and employers, the 'skills gap' concept is relevant to the sustainability job market. Think about it, right now at COP23, sustainability leaders from JPMorgan and BlackRock, as well as representatives from Bank of America, the Coca-Cola Company and candy maker Mars Inc are advocating for climate change with world leaders in Germany. There is a skills gap in those sustainability leaders participating in COP23 in Bonn, and those sitting in Philadelphia at Sustainable Brands New Metrics. More on this later.
The skills gap can be boiled down to two distinct skill sets, Technical Skills & Personality Skills.
Technical skills are the knowledge and abilities needed to accomplish mathematical, engineering, scientific or computer-related duties, as well as other specific tasks relating to technology. For sustainability, these technical skills are those related to measuring and understanding carbon impacts of operations and product, understanding science based goals and methodologies, mastering material health, and forecasting unintended sustainability consequences of poor decision making. These are skills you can learn, be trained on, or become accredited within.
Personality Skills include Critical Thinking, Dependability, Flexibility, Interpersonal Skills and Motivation. For sustainability, these are the skills to inspire, convince, on-board, align, and mobilize a culture of “becoming different”. It is the ability to use influencing skills for good, to help enable the right decisions for people, planet and profit. These are skills that are acquired, refined through experience, improved through failures, and ignited with successes.
My comment earlier about the two types of sustainability leaders, those in Philly and those in Bonn, are related to my own observation in the two types of sustainability leaders in the market today. For those in Bonn, it is evident that those are leaders who have convinced their organizations that there is a role for their organization to play on the global scale. They have successfully made the business case for climate change, internal price of carbon, and meaningful goals that are science based and SDG aligned. Their success will most often be attributed to these leaders personality skills. With all humility, I’m not at Bonn, I haven’t convinced a company to go advocate for climate legislation on a global scale. I respect the hell out of those who are.
For those in Philly, perhaps we are still refining our skills, looking for tips and tricks for how to make our organization move in a more sustainable direction. Maybe we aren't there yet, and the 'skills gap' is a real thing.
GRI’s Tim Mohin wrote an article about the 9 skills for success in corporate sustainability leadership. The link can be found here. The list and article are a great summary and reminder of how sustainability requires a mix of technical and personality skills to succeed. If your looking for a job, take this into consideration.
9 skills for success in corporate sustainability leadership
1. Be flexible like Gumby and curious like George
2. Hold on to your core competency while learning new skills 3. Communicate, communicate, communicate
4. Lead through influence
5. Read the system
6. Learn and practice “corporate jujutsu”
7. Be entrepreneurial
8. Pay attention to detail, discipline, quality, and results
October is always a dynamic and busy month for the sustainability industry.
Suppliers to Walmart receive their annual influx of emails kindly demanding each to complete an assigned number of Sustainability Consortium Product Sustainability Toolkits. These emails serve as a "gentle" nudge to manufacturers and brands, reminding each of the work they have or have not completed since the last survey.
Based on the number of registered companies at the time of this blog, 5,799 manufacturers and brands were logged on to SAP’s Product Sustainability Network answering one or more of the over 100+ surveys created by The Sustainability Consortium. All participating companies were also introduced for the first time to Walmart’s Project Gigaton Survey, which seeks to track organizations targets and goals relevant to the retailers' ambitious commitment to reducing a gigaton of GHG emissions from its supply chain.
In the building product industry, it is almost time for the U.S. Green Building Council's annual GreenBuild Conference. October means that Manufacturers are busy preparing relevant documents, releasing sustainability reports, new product transparency documents, and hurrying along product certifications to highlight at the conference. Just last week, the Health Product Declaration Collaborative announced a new third-party verification process intended to introduce some added quality and rigor to the material transparency program which houses over 2,700 different product specific HPDs.
With such activity, the month of October also brings a significant number of new job postings. Many of them driven by activities surrounding TSC, Walmart and GreenBuild. Here is a summary of jobs we posted over the last month with direct ties to these initiatives.
Professor Sabine Benoit from The Surrey Business School's Department of Marketing and Retail Management sent me an interesting article that explains in part, why these jobs even exist. Her research highlights what is called “the chain liability effect”. As she explains, “when it becomes publicly known that products are associated with suppliers that engage in unsustainable behaviors, consumers protest, as Nestlé, Zara, and Kimberly Clark, among others, have learned. The phenomenon by which consumers hold firms responsible for the unsustainable behavior of their upstream partners suggests the notion of “chain liability.”
You can watch a short 3 minute video on the concept at this link.
The idea of “chain liability effect” is exactly what TSC is seeking to influence through many of its KPIs. Each manufacturer is scored based on its ability to provide evidence of enhanced responsibility in their supply chains. Similarly, the USGBC LEED rating system and Health Product Declarations are seeking to create enhanced responsibility of supply chains by promoting product transparency. Specifically, with HPDs, it is expected that manufacturers control, disclose and then optimize the chemicals and ingredients, used by their suppliers, that are included in the manufacturers finished product. These programs are seeking to minimize the “chain liability effect" associated with poor control of supply chains.
The jobs from the four highlighted organizations are intended to manage this process of sustainability governance in the supply chain.
Outside of the Walmart and USGBC influence, Adobe and McDonald’s both posted interesting jobs this month that are designed to minimize the “chain liability effect” proactively.
As of October 3, 2017, Chattanooga, TN based WAP Sustainability Consulting became the new owners of SustainabilityLeads.com.
So, who is WAP Sustainability and why did we want to purchase Sustainability Leads?
WAP Sustainability is a 10-year-old sustainability consulting firm with offices in Chattanooga and Nashville. We specialize in helping sustainability leaders broaden and accelerate their efforts. Most of our work centers around technical tasks like GHG and Carbon Accounting, Life Cycle Assessment, Sustainability Reporting, Chemical Transparency, Environmental Product Declarations and Multi-Attribute Product Certifications. Our clients range from large publicly traded companies to manufacturers of building products and consumer packaged goods.
So, why purchase Sustainability Leads? The opportunity to purchase Sustainability Leads is a pure passion project for our firm. Our goal is to use the platform to advance knowledge of the sustainability job market, connect people with jobs and expand the conversation on sustainability leadership in new ways. Our team is constantly working with sustainability professionals who have unique stories on how they found their way into a sustainability role.We want to use this platform to tell real stories in our industry, by connecting the jobs we post with the candidate who actually got the job. Overall, we want to build a community dedicated to the sustainability professional, something we think is missing in the industry.
I have personally followed the sustainability job market religiously, since becoming the first Sustainability Manager for Mars, Inc. over ten years ago. Since then, I earned my MBA in Sustainability and was one of the first graduates in the country, and among the first three here in Tennessee. In addition to my role at WAP Sustainability, I teach graduate classes in Sustainable Business. I'm constantly seeking new knowledge about the job market, and incorporating those trends into my curriculum. I have intently watched the industry mature over the years by observing teams expand and shrink in size and identifying new critical skills depicted in job descriptions. My goal is to make sure my students have the sustainability skills they need to meet the needs of business.
Thanks for checking in and following our platform, we look forward to creating useful content for you to enjoy. If you have ideas that you think we would be interested in, we would love to hear from you.
It has been a pleasure to build out this platform with you over the past two years and eight months. I have truly enjoyed interacting with such incredible people working on such important environmental issues. During this time our audience has grown to include:
45,000+ page views at Sustainabilityleads.com over the past year
7,800+ followers on Twitter @Sustain_Leads
5,400+ members of the Sustainability Leads bi-weekly mailing list
I have had a wonderful time writing this blog, curating the jobs board, researching industry trends and sending out the bi-weekly mailing list. Unfortunately, I cannot continue to serve this audience as I have in the past due to working my current job and pursuing law school in the evenings. That being said, I would like to see this site continue to provide resources for our community and I am looking for an organization or individual who can continue to serve the Sustainability Leads platform.
If you or someone you know is interested in taking over ownership of the Sustainability Leads platform, please let me know at: email@example.com by September 19th.
ING is an international Dutch financial services and banking corporation headquartered in Amsterdam. Its primary businesses include direct, commercial, and investment banking among other financial services including insurance. ING stands for "International Netherlands Group" and their total assets amounted to 845 billion euros in 2016. In June of that year, ING joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation as Circular Economy 100 (CE100) member.
The circular economy refers to a cyclical process that keeps materials in circulation while maintaining their value rather than traditional linear models of using and disposing of materials in a landfill. View this Ellen MacArthur Foundation video for additional explanation on the concept of a circular economy:
Re-thinking Progress: The Circular Economy - YouTube
The CE100 is administrated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and serves to facilitate this transition to a circular economy by providing a platform for organizations in similar sectors to research best practices at pursuing the circular economy relevant to their sector. For example, ING participated in a collaborative project on how finance can facilitate transition to a circular economy titled "Money makes the world go round: and will it help to make the circular economy as well".
“From the innovation revolution to the effects of climate change, society faces many challenges, and it’s clear that traditional business models must evolve. We believe that sustainable business is better business, and the circular economy plays a vital role in that. We’re ready to make a bigger impact in a way that fits with our organization and our footprint by further building on our role of raising awareness and sharing knowledge with our clients. By connecting with Ellen MacArthur Foundation partners, we can share and further broaden our knowledge to drive the development of new business models.” -ING CEO Ralph Hamers.
ING has also published reports including: From Assets to Access and Rethinking Finance in the Circular Economy that publicize how circular economy investments are valued from a finance perspective. In these documents ING further demonstrates that the traditional economic model of "Take, Make, and Waste" is insufficient as resource scarcity for certain materials introduces increased risk. These risks can be reduced by companies that take a full-lifecycle approach to their products and are able to maintain their value in a closed loop from beginning to end.
In August 2015, the City of Aspen, Colorado joined Burlington, Vermont and Greensburg, Kansas as the third city in the United States to operate entirely on energy from renewable sources.
Their energy portfolio includes hydroelectric, wind, solar and landfill gas according to Aspen’s Utilities and Environmental Initiatives Director David Hornbacher. Aspen’s transition took place over the course of three decades thanks to a great deal of planning by city officials. The final transition from approximately 75% to 100% renewables occurred with the signing of a contract for wind energy with the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska. Four wind farms in South Dakota and Nebraska now generate energy for Aspen in addition to the substantial generation of hydroelectric power from local reservoirs.
Motivation for such an ambitious power plan came from the nature of Aspen as a tourist destination, dependent upon reliable snowfall for skiing in winter and a temperate climate for hiking, rafting and fishing in the summer. Travel, hospitality, tourism, and real estate comprise the majority of business conducted within the city. City officials and citizens recognize the long-term fiscal challenges climate change poses to their city; therefore, in an effort to address global warming, Aspen created the “Canary Initiative” in 2005. This initiative was named after the “canary in the coal mine” adage and is demonstrative of the vulnerability Aspen feels in the face of climate change. Utilizing 100% renewable energy to power the city is only part of the larger GHG reduction strategy by Aspen. The action plan created by the Canary Initiative sets greenhouse gas reduction goals for the city at 30% under 2004 levels by 2020 and 80% under 2004 levels by 2050.
Pivoting the energy supply of an entire city toward renewables can be a difficult proposition in the short term given the long-term utility contracts signed by many cities. As seen with Aspen, such a move could take several decades to implement, even with strong support and most cities are reasonably wary of such a drastic shift. However, the transition may be justified in the face of an uncertain future for sourcing energy from fossil fuels and renewable energy sources experiencing the largest growth in the energy sector.
72% of S&P 500 companies published Sustainability or Corporate Social Responsibility reports in 2014. This reflects a growing trend of corporations being held accountable by shareholders and stakeholders alike to demonstrate social, environmental, and fiscal responsibility. Cannon Inc. is a 79 year-old Japanese company best known in the United States for their cameras and various other optical products. They have a reputation of commitment to environmental disclosure, ranking first in a 2007 survey of 56 climate-friendly companies. This tradition is continued in Cannon’s 2016 Sustainability report, which utilizes the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) G4 guidelines for creating their report.
The GRI developed as a framework by which the public could compare and evaluate content within sustainability reports. It was founded in 1997 by the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) and the Tellus Institute. With over 4000 organizations in 60 countries formally disclosing their results, the Global Reporting Initiative is regarded as a staple of international sustainability reporting. Their mission is to enable organizations to develop the standard practice of disclosing their sustainability pursuits in the same way that publicly traded companies disclose financial statements. Their most recent set of reporting standards is the "G4" which effectively replaced the “G3.1” on December 31st, 2015. Canon utilized the G3.1 framework for their 2015 report and the G4 for their 2016 report. According to the Global Reporting Initiative’s website: “G4 is designed to be universally applicable to all organizations of all types and sectors, large and small, across the world”.
These guidelines offer a standardized set of instructions for disclosing information on different sustainability topics. For example, in Canon’s recent sustainability report they have specific standards for disclosing their water usage. They refer to specific water use guidelines, (GR4-EN8, GR4-EN9, and GR4-EN10), for instructions on disclosure. Page 133 of Canon’s 2016 report contains an appendix with each of the G4 focus areas, including their water criteria and where to find them within the report (GR4-EN8 on p. 54 and p. 70 etc.) Given that large corporation’s reports are often quite lengthy, such appendices are useful for identifying specific G4 economic, environmental, and social criteria within a report. The guidelines and implementation manual for G4 standards are available for downloading from the GRI’s website.
An important distinction of the new G4 guidelines occurred regarding third-party verification. Organizations who wish to be “in accordance” with the G4 do not need to undergo an audit by a certified third party. The GRI website states:
“GRI continues to recommend external assurance of sustainability reports, but it is not required to be “in accordance” with the G4 Guidelines. GRI does not recommend any specific assurance provider but provides characteristics to be considered when choosing an assurance provider” (Global Reporting Initiative G4 FAQ).
Even though it is not required, Canon still consulted a third party and published his outside opinion on their reporting process within the report. The third party, Dr. Geibler, reviewed their approach and you can read his opinion on their report on p. 136.
New Belgium Brewing is a craft brewery based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. They are unique in the world of craft brewing in that they have 100% employee ownership and are a certified B corporation. Best known for their flagship amber ale, Fat Tire, New Belgium has a wide selection of alternative craft brews.
Of the five largest craft breweries in the United States, New Belgium Brewing and Sierra Nevada Brewing should be commended for their commitment to sustainability and disclosure of environmental metrics. New Belgium publishes a brochure that supplements additional relevant sustainability data accessible on their website. Hopefully other craft breweries will follow in their footsteps for developing sustainability reporting programs.
An essential aspect of sustainability reporting is deciding how to differentiate between sources of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an organization. Consider a brewery that is trying to quantify their GHG emissions. The impact of GHGs from electricity generated by a coal-fired power plant is different than those associated with disposal of a beer bottle by a consumer. The World Resources Institute developed the Greenhouse Gas Protocol to help organizations report on their greenhouse gas emissions in a standardized manner. One of their best-known contributions to sustainability reporting is seen in the three “Scope of Emissions” classifications. These three categories are commonly found in most reputable sustainability reports. The following are three scope classifications and their corresponding 2014 results from New Belgium’s most recent sustainability brochure.
Scope 1: “Emissions directly occurring that are own or controlled by the institution, including: on-campus stationary combustion of fossil fuels; mobile combustion of fossil fuels by institution owned/controlled vehicles.”
6.8% of New Belgium’s 2014 GHG emissions fell under scope 1, which was further broken down into 3.9% natural gas, 0.9% NBB Vehicle Fleet, 1.8% C02 purging, and 0.2% flaring.
Scope 2: “Indirect emissions generated in the production of electricity consumed by the institution.”
7.5% of New Belgium’s Scope 2 GHG emissions were from purchased electricity.
Scope 3: “All the other indirect emissions that are a consequence of the activities of the institution, but occur from the sources not owned or controlled by the institution.”
85.3% of their GHG emissions were classified as Scope 3 Indirect emissions. 37.6% Glass, 18.2% Barley, 11% Distribution, 9% Retail, 6.1% Malt, 2% Aluminum, 1% USE, 0.034% corporate flights, 0.03% water, and 0.03% Manufacturing waste disposal.
Annie’s Inc. is a subsidiary of General Mills, headquartered in Berkeley, California. Annie's is known for their Mac and Cheese and commitment to organic ingredients. Their 2016 Sustainability Report states that 60 million pounds of organic ingredients were purchased and 88% of Annie’s sales came from “Certified Organic” or “Made with Organic” products. In addition, Annie’s announced a plan to “add ~20 farms and ~3,000 acres of domestic organic dairy production over the next 3 years” as part of their Organic Valley partnership.
Tiffany Tran is a Senior Sustainability Analyst with Annie’s and has been working on their sustainability initiatives over the past two years. Tran has recently been working on Annie’s Responsible Manufacturing program. Per their 2016 report, 71% of manufacturers disclosed their environmental impacts with Annie’s. Auditing suppliers allows an organization to address a larger scope of environmental impact. In addition, Annie’s is evaluating their packaging strategy to use less material and incorporate more recycled content with 80% of products carrying the How2Recycle label.
Tran spearheaded an energy efficiency project at their office headquarters in April 2016. The inspiration for this project came from an after-hours office visit. According to Tran:
“I was in the office over the weekend and I could hear the HVAC systems running. That led to us conducting an energy audit. We discovered that a few of the systems, which were supposed to be turned off during non-occupancy hours, were running 24/7. We addressed this issue with programmable wireless thermostats that ensured the systems turned off outside of office hours.”
Tiffany and her team subsequently implemented two additional initiatives: raising the server room’s cooling temperature and installing time clocks for ceiling fans. These initiatives, combined with the wireless thermostat, reduced electricity usage 30% and natural gas 68% in a one year period. Their efforts won Net Impact’s 2016 “Climate Disruptors” award.
Energy audits can be conducted by any member of an organization and do not have to be the responsibility of facilities managers or building owners in the case of leasing. Audits may identify positive measures ranging from simply turning the lights off to installing solar panels. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy provides a free Office Energy Checklist with techniques to reduce the energy load of an office--simultaneously reducing environmental impacts and saving money for an organization.
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