How We Do What We Do

Sustainability is an aspiration—a journey that never ends—rather than a destination. We help our clients—corporations of all sizes, public sector entities, trade associations, and other professional service firms—identify and focus on their key sustainability issues, the root causes and contributing factors, and possible solutions. We determine what questions need to be answered, devise and implement strategies to address them, and develop and deliver the facts, analysis, and insights that enable our clients to make sound, though sometimes controversial, business decisions with confidence. Frequently, this involves one or more of the following:

Reframing the Issue

Clients may initially focus on a specific short-term need or problem (the symptom) without having fully identified the root cause(s) and context that produced the symptom. Our first step in working with a client on a new assignment (particularly with a new client) is to conduct an in-depth discussion to ensure that all relevant aspects of the issue have been identified and considered. In some cases, this discussion leads to a change in approach to or even the scope of the project. Sometimes it leads to mutual recognition of a path forward that is simpler, more direct, less costly, and more broadly applicable across the organization. In virtually all cases, it leads to an increased comfort level and acceptance within the client organization and better business results.

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Crossing Organizational Lines

Because even in its simplest formulation, sustainability requires the balancing of environmental, social equity, and economic issues, pursuing sustainability requires that it be approached as a business issue, not simply as a new and expanded set of compliance requirements. Rising to this challenge requires multi-disciplinary thinking and approaches, because no single profession (or corporate department) has all of the necessary expertise, control, and perspective to simultaneously address all three “legs of the stool.” We believe that no meaningful corporate sustainability initiative can succeed without involvement of respected representatives from across the organization’s major functions and constituencies. Accordingly, we help clients understand (based on the experience of many others) what will be required, help them break organizational silos and overcome internal resistance, and create the conditions required for internal ownership and long-term success. To further promote this thinking, we staff our projects one at a time with the appropriate mix of consultants (and backgrounds) needed to satisfy each project’s (and client’s) unique needs, routinely reaching outside our own organization to retain the most appropriate professional project staff.

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Exploding Myths

The unfortunate truth is that most people, even the highly educated, know very little about the environment and sustainability. Worse still, much of what they “know” is… simply wrong. Sustainable business behavior is based upon facts rather than dogma, and sound analysis instead of preconceived notions or popular opinion. One of our core strengths and major areas of activity is developing facts and analysis that carefully, objectively, and transparently examine a client’s sustainability issue(s), and providing an assessment that is accurate (within pre-defined tolerances), fully documented, and capable of withstanding external scrutiny and criticism. In a number of cases, such analyses have shown convincingly that certain widely held beliefs about the root causes and/or severity of certain environmental problems were incorrect. Having a firm grasp on what the real issues are is the cornerstone of any rational approach to promoting organizational (or societal) sustainability, and we sometimes play a catalytic role in bringing about this understanding.

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Connecting the Dots

In many cases, the root causes of, and hence the solution to, a specific environmental or sustainability problem or issue are not readily apparent or may have been misdiagnosed (see above). One of our great strengths is the ability to identify and define the logical relationships among the different (and often disparate) pieces of a complex puzzle. We routinely ask probing questions to facilitate an understanding of an issue from all of the relevant angles, and often suggest novel approaches to addressing the issue using people, functions, stakeholders, methods, and perspectives that may not have been considered absent our involvement. Our consistent (and persistent) focus on the financial implications of environmental and social issues and their management produces a proposed solution (or set of solutions) that incorporates all relevant perspectives, focuses on actions that provide the best opportunity for performance improvement, and makes clear their costs, risks (financial and otherwise), and likely effects on both organizational assets and long-term revenue generation potential.

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Inventing New Methods and Tools

Because of sustainability’s multiple dimensions and the many competing objectives present in many organizations, charting an appropriate course, or even determining one’s position, is intrinsically complex. Often, there is no pre-existing understanding or set of established facts to guide the organization, only disconnected, partial pieces of information (and frequently, misinformation). In response to this challenge, we frequently develop new tools and methods that enable us, and our clients, to assemble and examine the appropriate pieces, evaluate them in a structured and rational way, and develop an understanding of how a particular sustainability issue may affect the organization, and generally which option, or set of options, is optimal in addressing the issue. Reflecting our fundamental orientation, these tools most often bring a quantitative financial perspective to issues and decisions facing the organization, so that our client can both improve its environmental (and/or social) performance, and do so in a way that protects (or enhances) its capital, earnings, and cash flows.

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Surfacing Latent Talents and Strengthening the Organization

As suggested above, pursuing sustainability successfully requires a team approach and multi-disciplinary perspective. To fully implement such an approach over time involves relying upon people to act in ways and to play roles that that may be somewhat unfamiliar. The benefit to confronting the discomfort that inevitably arises along the way, however, is the personal and professional growth that can be observed as people evolve in both understanding and capability. The broadened base of employee knowledge, skill, and perspective that results will be of great and increasing value as the business challenges of the age come into clear focus. These will surely include increasing flows of trade, capital, and information across national and regional borders, public policies to address climate change, and growing public demands for corporate accountability, sustainability, and transparency. Indeed, high-performing human capital will be a key determinant of success in meeting these challenges and in attaining sustainable business success. Accordingly, our consistent goal and regular accomplishment is to leave our client organizations stronger when our work is completed than they were when we began.

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