Sustainability Engagement Network Discussion (SEND) Series – Session 3 – Communicating with Frontline Staff

By Wendy Firlotte, Employee Engagement for Sustainability Specialist


Wendy gained experience as the Sustainability Engagement Manager for a large multi-national engineering firm with 171 offices

How to effectively communicate with and engage frontline staff is a common concern for many organizations.  It is particularly challenging to reach staff that are regularly out in the field or do not have immediate access to computers at work.  Front line staff communication approaches can vary significantly within an organization, either by targeting specific locations, job types, etc.

Be Strategic – A great first step is identifying this type of communication issue in the program planning stage and building approaches into your engagement strategy.  One aspect to keep in mind in terms of strategy is that as an organization it is useful to communicate our key messages to employees, but it is equally important that employees are provided with easy way to give feedback and also communicate with each other (between individuals and/or locations).  This three-way flow creates useful dialogue that can produce more effective programs.  More information on creating an effective strategy can be found on our previous SEND discussion post on Planning and Strategy.

Assessing Needs – So, how do we determine the avenues for this three-way flow?  In the planning stages include relevant questions in your program’s needs assessment. When looking to identify the best way to communicate with employees, a tried and true technique is to just ask them.   Ask front line staff what would be the most effective way to engage them; they will be able to tell you better than anyone the best way to get in touch.


When looking to identify the best way to communicate with employees, a tried and true technique is to just ask them.

When asking about the best communication avenues, you can give some suggestions, add an “other, please specify” option and also leave space for general feedback.  Also, involving operation mangers, supervisors and team leaders will also assist in creating a more complete picture by determining what communications avenues already exist with more difficult to reach employees.  There will likely not be one golden method of communication; it may require different approaches that will likely need to be determined by target profiles such as locations, departments, job types, etc.

Creating Communication Plans – Once you have determined some appropriate communications avenues, the next step is creating a communications plan.  It doesn’t have to be complicated, just a clear plan that covers your program’s communication goals and tasks.  Include overall communication objectives for reference to keep you focused and on track while developing the plan.  Create a communications framework that includes the purpose of each task, key messages you would like to convey, the target audience(s), timing and who is responsible (see example).  If your organization has a communications person or team, use them as a resource to assist you in the plan creation and also work with them to implement your tasks.

A couple of tips for communicating with front line staff to ensure your messages are read and understood:

  • Keep messages short, clear and concise
  • Use consistent language
  • Be measured with the frequency of communication
  • Create clear support pathways so it easy for people to ask questions or voice concerns

Develop a communication plan that is short, clear, concise.

We’ve discussed before the challenges of balancing both corporate and local priorities (see previous post on this issue).  Communications is another topic area that can be greatly influenced by this.  Creating specific plans for both corporate and local communications can be helpful.  Corporate plans can be a more fixed, while providing flexibility to local plans can allow offices to adapt tools that best fit their office.

Tools – When introducing and using any tool the key is perceived benefit, convenience and integration; otherwise, your tool will go unused and viewed as something else to do that adds to everyone’s already full plate.   With this in mind, when deciding what tools to use, ask yourself is there something that your organization already uses that could do the job or what tool could you choose that could fill multiple uses?

Here are some examples of useful communication tools:

Online Surveys and Polls:  online survey tools can be very useful for collecting information when assessing needs, creating ongoing feedback loops and evaluating programs, particularly with larger organizations. It also creates the space for anonymity if that is something that may be of benefit in certain situations.  Survey Monkey is a great resource and is free for use with up to 100 participants and is otherwise relatively inexpensive.  It analyses and aggregates the data for you.

Emails/Outlook Functions: the old tried and true email is a good communication avenue although as we are all aware, many times emails go unread by the always-busy employee.  Requesting read receipts may give you an idea of how many employees have read your communication.  Also Outlook (if that is the program of use) has a great polling option that is convenient and in an existing communication avenue.

Social media:  depending on your organization’s communication policies, this may be a good avenue for your program.  Many organizations already use many of the more popular social media programs to communicate to staff and customers (such as Facebook, twitter, blogs, etc).  These platforms are effective and are communication avenues that employees are already tuned into.

Intranet Pages:  most organizations have some sort of internal web server for employees.  This is a great place to create sustainability engagement related pages with relevant information, create event announcements, write news stories, give updates, etc.  The functionality of your internal server will determine how you will be able to communicate, but it’s a great place to start.

SharePoint site:  if your internal web server is limited in terms of functionality a SharePoint site can be a very useful resource.  It can easily integrate with your internal web platform and be used to create team pages, blogs, wiki pages, discussion forums, document libraries, etc.   Building it is achievable even if you are new to this sort of thing.  A great training is available through; after watching their online training you will have the skills to build your own SharePoint site in no time.  Again, if you are creating a site like this it is important to integrate it with your internal program; for example, host blog contests during corporate events/activities, ask local offices to submit blog posts on interesting activities from there offices, host event pages for large corporate events, offer to collaborate on the site with other departments, committees or initiatives, etc.

Discussion Groups and One on One interviews:  this is old school, but effective.

One on one discussions can be an effective means of understanding the needs of front line staff.
One on one discussions can be an effective means of understanding the needs of front line staff.

Sometimes we need to step back and remember that we should not only rely on connecting with people virtually, but also in face-to-face or phone conversations.

Bulletin boards/(real) Wall Posts:  I know personally when working in an office environment, I have read every piece of paper on the walls in the break room/kitchen.  While waiting to heat up lunch, brewing a pot of coffee, having a snack, everyone is guilty of reading the bulletin boards and wall posts no matter how mundane they may be (good thing sustainability is exciting).  This is a great (and often underestimated) way to reach people in your office.  Even printing out emails that you think may have gone unread by some in your office and posting them is useful.  Get creative and fun!

Announcements at Team, Department or Operations Meetings:  Reach out to your organization for communications support within its existing organizational structure.  This can be especially useful for leadership to show support for the program as well as reach the traditionally difficult to reach front line staff.

Are there any tools or approaches that you have found to be useful (or not)?  What do you feel influenced its success or failure?  Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

This was a fast and general overview of some ideas to consider when communicating with front line staff.  No matter what route your program takes it is important to integrate your communications plan into the engagement program’s overall monitoring and evaluation to ensure the effectiveness of your tasks and communication avenues.

The Sustainability Engagement Network Discussion (SEND) Series is a network of Sustainability Practitioners using peer learning to accelerate employee engagement for sustainability.  If you are interested in participating in our ongoing sustainability engagement discussions, please contact Kathryn at

Posted in Sustainability Engagement Network Discussion (SEND) Series | Tagged | 1 Comment

“Focus” Paves the Way to Engagement Across a Large Organization

It is a “wicked” problem.  How do you engage thousands of employees across 600 sites in your  sustainability program?  In our recent Sustainability Engagement Network Dialogue (SEND) one of the participants had just that problem.

Focus is key, notes Wendy Firlotte, our subject matter facilitator.  She says “Whether your program focuses on individuals or teams, create an overarching framework around your organization’s sustainability goals that is clear and relatable to your sustainability reporting. So although offices have some autonomy to create relevant plans, all planning is focused on the companies overall sustainability strategy and goals.”

So at LCBO Champion Cortney Oliver and the Team linked the corporate goal of energy conservation with a company-wide sweater day in local retail stores.  It was a huge hit.  Read the full case study here.

Although this is only one initiative, it can serve as a “jumping off point” for much more.April_Tipping_Point-Cortney_Oliver

Posted in Sustainability Engagement Network Discussion (SEND) Series | Leave a comment

Engaging Employees in Sustainability – balancing the local/corporate focus

Addressing scope: local vs corporate plans and activities – Session 2 – Sustainability Engagement Dialogue(SEND)

By Wendy Firlotte, Employee Engagement for Sustainability Specialist

Wendy gained experience as the Sustainability Engagement Manager for a large multi-national engineering firm with 171 offices.

Creating a sustainability engagement program that is relevant both at the corporate and local level can be challenging.  Since the path to sustainability is rooted in local context, creating an overarching corporate program for numerous locations can seem counter intuitive.  Could one program be relevant for all locations? How well would it work to implement the same programming in an office in New York City and in a small rural town in northern Canada?  On the flip side of this challenge, when thinking through corporate vs. local, how does the program engage employees to directly understand their impact locally on organizational performance?  For example, with a simple dbs checks you can find the right employee and they will be able to read a sustainability report and relate their everyday actions to the outcomes that the organization reports on?  Do employees feel that their daily actions make a difference toward organizational goals, and if they’re working remotely (which many businesses now do) then you are going to need to check what those staff are doing and we found this option which is the best time tracker app that we have found so well worth a look.

There is sometimes a tension between the corporate sustainability plan and actions that employees find locally relevant. Sorting this out upfront, gives your strategy a clear focus.

So, how could an organization create a program that addresses corporate goals and still remains relevant and useful at the local level?  Finding a good balance between corporate level and locally organized events and activities is helpful.  Some key aspects to encouraging local relevance and planning are a focused framework, flexibility, support and knowledge sharing:

Focused Framework – Whether your program focuses on individuals or teams, create an overarching framework around your organization’s sustainability goals that is clear and relatable to your sustainability reporting. So although offices have some autonomy to create relevant plans, all planning is focused on the companies overall sustainability strategy and goals.

Flexibility – Using the focused framework you have created as guidance, allows local offices to develop their own plans to address each of these focus areas.  So even though local offices may or may not be implementing the same activities, they will all be concentrating on the same corporate goals or focus areas.

Support – Providing ongoing support for planning and implementation for all local offices is important.  Since this sort of “bottom coming up to meet top” approach will be a new concept to many people.  Having a strong support network for them to move forward will be key.  It could include corporate assistance, but also creating a network of local support is also effective.

Networking and Knowledge Sharing – Looking to other offices for discussion, ideas, success stories and advice on lessons learned could be a very effective way to make offices feel supported.  Learning from each other, but also providing an   avenue to make offices feel connected to each other as a community working toward a common goal does a lot for enthusiasm and momentum.

If the right balance is achieved, the program will benefit in many ways including better coordination, motivation, enthusiasm, better inter-office communication and a sense of community or team within the organization; that everyone is working together in their own way to achieve a common goal.

Share your best practices and problemsolving approaches – together we can make a more sustainable world.

We look forward to our discussion on scope and we encourage everyone to share any success stories, challenges, questions or how your organization has decided to address the scope of the engagement program.

Sustainability Engagement Dialogue (SEND), is a network of Sustainability Practitioners using peer learning to accelerate employee engagement for sustainability.  If you are interested in participating in our ongoing sustainability engagement discussions, please contact Kathryn at

Posted in Sustainability Engagement Network Discussion (SEND) Series | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Planning and Strategy for Engagement of Employees for Sustainability (Session 1 – SEND)

Planning and Strategy

(This is the first post in a series within the Sustainability Learning Centre’s Sustainability Engagement Network Discussion (SEND) initiative)


Wendy gained experience as the Sustainability Engagement Manager for a large multi-national engineering firm with 171 offices.

By Wendy Firlotte, Employee Engagement for Sustainability Specialist

Whether your organization is looking to start a new sustainability engagement program or to revitalize an ongoing one, creating clear direction and focus with an effective strategy is useful.

The formulation of an engagement strategy provides a framework to shape what sustainability means to your organization, assess needs, set priorities, determine content, outline methods for engagement as well as evaluation and reporting processes.

Creating a strategy can also be an opportunity to engage leadership in the planning process to increase their understanding of and encourage support for the program.  Familiarizing leaders with the engagement framework and proposed outcomes also provides a concrete illustration of how the program directly relates to organizational goals and priorities.

A strategy is also a useful tool to address challenges by identifying actual and potential obstacles and building in approaches to tackle them.  The engagement framework serves as an avenue to monitor challenges and discover new approaches to address them.

Photo Credit: Renjith Krishnan

A strategy is also a useful tool to address challenges by identifying actual and potential obstacles and building in approaches to tackle them.

The following sections explore some considerations for creating a relevant strategy depending on your organizational needs and context.

Feel free to draw on what is relevant for you whether you are working on a comprehensive program or a single initiative, event or project.

Many of these topic areas will be talked about in greater detail in later discussions so this will be a relatively high-level overview with our next group discussion focusing on how we could use strategy to address some of our challenges that were identified in our first discussion.

1. Assessment

Laying the appropriate groundwork for your engagement strategy is a critical step. Key understandings of organizational goals, culture, and structure, in addition to employee needs form an excellent basis for creating an effective framework.  Creating a sustainability engagement program is not about creating something totally new, but whenever possible imbedding sustainability into your organization using existing initiatives, systems and operations.

Organizational Context:  Understanding and incorporating local and organizational context are key factors for effective sustainability engagement programs.  The better integrated, embedded and relevant the engagement program, the more successful it is likely to be.  Some considerations for performing an internal scan to better understand your organization; identify:

  • Your organization’s type of corporate culture


    The better integrated, embedded and relevant the engagement program, the more successful it is likely to be.

  • Program related organizational strengths, challenges and resources
  • Overarching organizational goals and priorities
  • Internal key liaisons and potential partnerships for better program coordination
  • Your organizations official sustainability definition, policies, statements, strategies, etc.
  • Available communication avenues and policies, corporately and/or locally
  • Existing sustainability related initiatives, program or events
  • Potential sustainability champions within leadership, corporately and locally

Visioning: Since determining your organizations sustainability journey is dependent on your specific context, visioning is a very effective tool.  Visioning encourages discussion towards a common understanding of organizational values and a collective, preferred future vision. Where are we now? What do we value? Where do we want to be? How will we know when we get there?  This process not only provides direction, but also ownership, motivation and enthusiasm.

Needs Assessments:  Assessing employee needs will go along way in the effectiveness of any engagement program.   Information may be collected from any avenue that makes the most sense for your organization.  Some examples include surveys (paper or online), focus groups, suggestion boxes, email feedback, individual interviews, etc.

Employee surveys are an effective way to collect information especially for larger organizations.  There are many online tools available to facilitate data collection and analysis; Survey Monkey and Zoomerang are two similar online survey platforms that are free or reasonably priced depending on your needs.

2.  Formulating a Strategy

The information collected during the initial linkedin people search assessment phase serves as the foundation to determine content areas, program structure and methods of engagement.  This is the space to align the program framework with company context, goals and priorities.  To bring the entire process into perspective by looking at the “bigger picture”, ideally an effective engagement strategy should have a strong, logical framework that would, for example, allow an employee to see a clear link between their daily actions and outcomes presented in a company sustainability report.

The structure of your strategy will depend on your specific program.  Below is an example of a strategy template.

 Strategy Objectives

Identify from the beginning the objectives the document.  With so much background information and program possibilities, it will help to stay on point during the strategy development.

 Employee Feedback Summary


There are lots of interesting ways to present feedback like creating word clouds.

After participating in needs assessments, people are often very curious about the results.  This is a great space to share the highlights of employee surveys, focus groups, etc.  Including response statistics is useful, but there are lots of interesting ways to present feedback like creating word clouds, Wordle is a fun online resource for creating them.

Priorities and Time Frame

Although many areas to address may have arisen while analyzing the background data, to keep the strategy and program manageable for everyone, try choosing two or three program priorities.  Keeping these priorities in the forefront of your mind will help keep the strategy development focused and on track. It is also important to consider how much time should be allocated to achieve these priorites; is one year enough? Two years?  Also keep in mind program implementation usually takes more time than you think, so be conservative with timing estimates.

Structure of Program

This section should outline the nuts and bolts of the overall program in a clear and simple framework.  Building the framework structure will depend entirely on your specific context.  Here are some items to consider:

  • Scope – Give an overview of the major program activites and to whom they are being delivered.  How will both corporate and local contexts be addressed?
  • Content –Based on background research, what will be the main topic areas for content?Where were there gaps in understanding?  What topics were frequently identified by
    participants as a knowledge building area?
  •  Define focus areas – how will you label the program’s focus areas, for example, community, employee wellness, environment, social etc.  Do these correspond to other relevant initiatives, for example, what focus area labels are used in organizational sustainability reporting?
  • Methods of Engagement – how will the program function, for example: is the focus on teams or on the individual?  Who will implement local or corporate events, initiatives?  How will success be celebrated?  How will knowledge be shared?



It is worth reaching out to a marketing and communications department/person within your organization to work with you on this to make sure your plans are as effective as possible.

Marketing and communication is a key aspect to an engagement program.

It is worth reaching out to a marketing and communications department/person within your organization to work with you on this to make sure your plans are as effective as possible.




Some considerations:

  • What media and communication avenues available to you?
  • Will you create a unique marketing campaign for the program?
  • Does it make sense to create employee communication plans for both corporate and local contexts?
  • Include communication plans for leadership as well as other relevant internal contacts

Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting

Creating processes for continual reflection, learning and improvement is key to the ongoing success of the engagement program. This section addresses a couple of aspects.  Firstly, it addresses how to create a monitoring framework that is measurable by identifying related outputs, outcomes and determining specific indicators.  This quantitative data is useful for reporting and building the business case for the program, but qualitative information to accompany the metrics is also important.  To address program effectiveness, providing a support network to teams and individuals through ongoing feedback and follow up is helpful.  This can help identify in a timely way when teams or individuals are struggling or need support.  It also can help identify best practice and local examples.  Some considerations:

  • Determine appropriate milestones, metrics, outputs and outcomes.
  • Create support frameworks including avenues for ongoing feedback, regular meetings, local champion support, follow-up, etc.
  • Provide avenues for ongoing feedback and support from all levels of the organization
  • Determine timelines for formal evaluation and reporting on program performance

Again this post was intended to be a high-level look at developing an engagement strategy in order to determine where and how to address program challenges from the planning stage.  If there are any comments, items to add, experiences to share please do so in the comments section below.  If there are any particular items anyone would like to discuss during our discussion next week either send an email or share in the comments section as well.

 Moving Forward – February 13th:

  1. Questions or comments on strategy and planning – share examples anyone has used in their planning and strategy process
  2.  Group discussion on how challenges can be addressed using some of the challenges identified in our initial group discussion
    • Beyond start-up – dealing with plateaus and revitalizing programs
    • Participation – overcoming barriers and competing priorities
    • Integrating sustainability into operations – creating culture, gaining leadership support, KPIs
    • Tracking and Measurement – outputs, outcomes, metrics
Join the discussion, contact Kathryn

Join the discussion, contact Kathryn

If you are interested in participating in our ongoing sustainability engagement discussions, please contact Kathryn  at :

Posted in Sustainability Engagement Network Discussion (SEND) Series | Tagged , | 1 Comment

How do you develop “green habits” among employees?

(This post is one is a series based on the ON DEMAND Webinar: Developing Green Habits for Sustainability)

The Role of “Belief” in Changing Habits

According to Charles Duhigg, author of the book: “The Power of Habit – why we do what PowerofHabit2we do in life and business”, we need to help employees believe that they can change their habits and make a difference.

If they don’t believe, they will return to old habits, or worse yet, not even try.

So what are some of the strategies that we can use to help them believe? Here are five ideas –

    1. Show examples of others.  We see examples of this with Partners in Project Green and their Ambassador Program.  They use personal relationships and stories, real case studies, networking, breakfast presentations and webinars to highlight the samples of sustainable practices in energy, water, waste and emissions.  If you have been involved in PPG’s activities, you know how contagious the energy and optimism of these meetings can be.
    2. Do pilots and show the results.  This very act, reconfirms the expected rewards in the habit loop.  We have seen many times how companies will often gravitate to conducting pilots in one office, one plant or one building site to prove sustainable practices work and fine tune the process.
    3. Make results transparent.  The more that we can broadcast the results of a sustainability program on a regular basis, the higher the interest and reinforcement of the habit loop. Results, whether good or bad, create positive or negative feedback loops for sustainability.
    4. Do the math. Sometimes we need to demonstrate that small measures collectively can produce large effects. For example if every household in North America replaced a burned out light bulb with an Energy Star rated CFL (compact fluorescent bulb) , the cumulative effect would be the same as: 1) pulling 900,000 cars off the road or 2) providing enough energy to light 2.8 million homes. Where our individual actions sometimes seem inconsequential, our collective action can be significant.
    5. Demonstrate that the change is part of a larger movement. Few companies are as far along this continuum than Interface. See the video below from their “I am Mission Zero” initiative. Duhigg notes, “…the power of a group to teach individuals how to believe happens whenever people come together to help oneanother change. Belief is easier when it occurs within a community. “

Review the 6 key insights for the development of Green Habits in this Video & receive a copy of the presentation ON-DEMAND.

Review the 6 key insights for the development of Green Habits in this Video & receive a copy of the presentation ON-DEMAND.

Want to follow the other insights from this 40 minute Webinar. Watch the video – Developing Green Habits now ON-DEMAND

Posted in Employee Engagement, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Why Climate Deniers Have No Scientific Credibility – In One Pie Chart

Why Climate Deniers Have No Scientific Credibility – In One Pie Chart (via Desmogblog)

This is a guest post by James Lawrence Powell.* Polls show that many members of the public believe that scientists substantially disagree about human-caused global warming. The gold standard of science is the peer-reviewed literature. If there is disagreement among scientists, based not on opinion…

Continue reading

Posted in Greenhouse Gas Management, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Green Christmas Carol: Facing Environmental Reality | Global Warming is Real: Climate | Energy | Sustainability

A Green Christmas Carol: Facing Environmental Reality | Global Warming is Real: Climate | Energy | Sustainability.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sustainability 101: Just What this Business Manager and Global Relief Director Needed

By Suanne deBoer

I’ve just completed The Natural Step’s Sustainability 101 course and feel compelled to

combine my business management experience and training with my commitment to social responsibility and sustainability.  The message of sustainability is so simple and yet it affects every aspect of the lives we live – in sometimes very complex ways.

I registered for Sustainability 101 because I am in the process of a career transition from running a business into helping business be socially responsible and sustainable.  I thought the course would provide an overview of how “sustainability” is defined by a leader in the field.   I’ve spent the last decade running a large furniture retailer and I had experience with sustainability from the launch of our own sustainability initiatives in 2006 but this course definitely deepened my understanding and appreciation of why it’s important and how to tackle it.  They didn’t teach me this in MBA school!

I learned several key lessons from Sustainability 101.

First, I now have a much better understanding of the science behind sustainability.  Sustainability 101  puts the four basic principles into layman’s terms that make the science easy to understand and explain.  The message is compelling and inspiring.  It is not simply a “philosophy” but an evidence-based, science-based approach to running business in a way that benefits the business, consumers and society. Shravan Gupta recommends if you running a business needs one of the best business financial consultant in this link help us ensure our cash flow, investments, and taxes. It will also make the business more efficient and profitable.

Second, I had thought the big wins were the goal.  Seeing the analogy of a chess game and the wisdom and practicality of making deliberate – and sometimes slower –  intelligent actions that give us future options and move us toward the ultimate goal was extremely helpful.

“I’ve come away challenged and inspired.”

Finally, I thought that to transition into a career in CSR I would need to focus on the environment or social issues.  In my role on the board of a global relief and development agency, I nurture a strong commitment to addressing social issues, but what I learned is that there is an inseparable connection between the social and the environmental.  If I am going to tackle the one, I must acknowledge and work towards addressing the other.

Sustainability 101 has reaffirmed my desire to work in CSR, and to make CSR work for business.  It has changed my thinking about the way the world is managed – politically, socially and commercially.  I also see more clearly my role in it and the ways in which I can make a difference.

I’ve come away challenged and inspired.  Challenged to hold myself to a higher standard and inspired to change the world.

About Suanne deBoer

Suanne deBoer has a BBA from Wilfrid Laurier University and an MBA from York University.  She was General Manager of DeBoer’s Furniture for 16 years and prior to that worked as a financial analyst for Rogers Communications and KodakCanada.

She is currently transitioning towards a career in Corporate Social Responsibility.  Suanne is on the Board and Audit Committee of World Vision Canada and the Board and Finance Committee of Mission Aviation Fellowship Canada.

Suanne can be reached at:

About Sustainability 101

Sustainability 101™ is a condensed version of Sustainability: Step by Natural Step™ and takes approximately sixty-to-eighty five minutes to complete (depending on the learner’s pace).

This program is the logical starting point for someone wanting to advance their career into a sustainability framework.  For More Information or Register

Posted in Corporate Social Responsibility, Sustainability, Sustainability and Business, Sustainability Leadership, Sustainability Strategy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Sustainability/CSR – Why are we acting like we have all the time in the world?

What’s the hurry?  Climate change, resource scarcity, declining ecosystem services, burgeoning populations are now household terms.  We are beginning to see the “normalization” of sustainability/CSR.

Yet it seems that the urgency of the situation has escaped us.

Last week at Canadian Business for Social Responsibility’s Summit, Joel Makeower, GreenBiz top gun and author of Strategies for the Green Economy: Opportunities and Challenges in the New World of Business reminded us that we only have 5000 days to redesign everything and turn things around.  The only problem is – Joel offered this same number in 2009 when he launched the book.  By my calculation, we only have 3905 days (about 10 years) left.  If you are in business and you have decided you want to grow your business by 40% in 10 years, I bet you’d have a pretty aggressive plan to do that.  Yet, we need a plan to reduce our Greenhouse Gases by 25 to 40 % (based on 1990 levels) and we have no plan.  We all need a plan, households, business, and public policy makers.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

Like may people in the sustainability field.  I am an optimist.  For the sake of my children; I cannot let myself believe that we, humankind, will really screw this up.  So, I felt good about what I heard last week at CBSR’s annual summit.  I heard something that I don’t believe I have heard before.  It was the sound of large businesses demanding that federal and provincial policymakers join them in the sustainability/CSR challenge.  Maybe this isn’t new to you, but for me, there was something different in the tone.  A frustration, a developing resolve, a sense of urgency.

I think that large business has clearly seen the business case for sustainability – the reduced input costs, the increased risk mitigation, the improved employee attraction and retention.   Corporate leaders are now seeing sustainability/CSR as a source of competitive advantage.  But government is standing in the way of the big wins.

“If government would put a price on carbon,” noted one company, “our investment in innovative sequestration technology could be brought to market.”  After spending a million dollars a year for several years on development, the project was cancelled.

“If only waste management across the country were standardized,” said another, “we would be able to advance our movement to zero waste.”

It seems that we are at the fork in the road where business as usual meets sustainability innovation and ingenuity.  The lack of government leadership and vision is driving companies to take the low road of high energy intensity transportation, infrastructure, fuel efficiency standards, and technologies.  Business is getting frustrated.

Business Wants to do its Part

Despite this, I didn’t hear business leaders say that it was all up to government.  There was plenty of discussion about how companies were getting on with making the sustainability transformation.  In fact, an October 2012 BSR Globscan survey of 556 professionals from business, NGOs, government, and academia around the world indicated that the integration of sustainability into core business functions and across the supply chain is the most important leadership challenge they face.  This study noted:

•Almost two-thirds (62 percent) of respondents selected sustainability integration as the most significant challenge they faced (unchanged from 2011).

•Sustainability reporting is the area in which business is expected to be able to make the most progress.

•Water is one of the issues that respondents believe business has made the least progress on over the past 20 years, but expect to make the most progress on the next 20.

Public policy and sustainable consumption are areas that appear to be the greatest challenges for future progress.

State of Sustainable Business Poll 2012 (October 2012)

Urgently Hope Filled

I am urgently hope filled that we are starting to see a movement where business will authentically push government to create a playing field that will be good for sustainability/CSR.  It will take a lot of work.  There wasn’t a single public policy maker at the CBSR Summit.  Not a one.  This speaks volumes.

I am looking forward to seeing Canadian Business for Social Responsibility take on its new role as a leading voice for change.  We need a plan.  This is urgent.

See other articles on this topic:

James Hansen recently gave a good TED talk about the urgency of addressing climate change –

The big challenge, as Bill McKibben points out in his Rolling Stone article (, is how to bring about energy policy change with the influence of massive underground oil wealth at stake.

Posted in Government Policy, Greenhouse Gas Management, Sustainable Energy, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Should We Say Goodbye to “Eco-Friendly” Product Claims?

By Jonathan Yohannan (Reprinted from CSR Wire)

We should rejoice.

The latest Federal Trade Commission Green Guides, which were released last month, provide updated guidance on everything from the use of certification to specific environmental claims. While the guides are not perfect or comprehensive, they do provide tangible information and ammunition to empower companies and keep offenders in check.

The ambiguity of marketers’ excessive use of green imagery, vague claims, and

The 2012 Green Guide tightens up on the use of Eco-Friendly and Green

invented seals has helped reinforce an already pessimistic consumer audience.

In fact, research from Cone’s 2012 Green Gap Trend Tracker demonstrates an ongoing need for clarity. More than half of consumers surveyed (54 percent) believe common environmental marketing terms such as “green” or “environmentally friendly” indicate a product has a positive (36 percent) or neutral (18 percent) impact on the environment.

And, only three percent understand the claim to mean the product has less of an impact than a previous version.

What Marketers Need to Know

What are the Green Guides? FTC Green Guides aren’t new. They’ve been around since 1992 with updates and revisions in 1996, 1998 and 2012. They are designed to protect consumers from deceptive marketing and are loosely enforced by federal and state laws around unfair competition and consumer protection. Nongovernmental organizations also use the guidelines as ammunition for class-action lawsuits. The scope of the Green Guides applies to marketing claims in public relations, advertising, labeling and promotional materials.

What’s New and Noteworthy?

•General Environmental Claims Are Out. “Green” and “eco-friendly” should not be used unless connected to a specific benefit such as “plastic reduced by 50% compared to our previous version”. Relying on a company website to substantiate misleading claims is also a no-no under the new rules.

Scope of Certification Is Limited and Must Be Third-Party Validated

•Scope of Certification Is Limited and Must Be Third-Party Validated. Creating your own “logo” that may be perceived by consumers as a certification is out. And certifications must be narrowly defined to the attribute, such as Fair Trade.

•“Free Of” Can’t Be Used If It Wasn’t In The Product to Begin With. It’s also no longer acceptable to use the term “Free Of” if the replacement ingredient carries the same environmental or health risk. This is particularly important as the onus is on marketers to ensure the replacement doesn’t replace one bad thing with another.

•Non-Toxic Must Be Safe for People, Pets and Cause No Harm to Environment. This must be substantiated across all three to make the claim. Crayola, as an example, needs to substantiate all three.

•Renewable Energy Must Extend From Production to Product Packaging. The nuances in the term “renewable energy” can be difficult for consumers to understand. The new Green Guides ask companies to use clear and descriptive language when using the term “renewable energy” on-pack. If companies are only using renewable energy in a portion of the production cycle, they are now required to explicitly share the percentage of renewables used, as well as the type (e.g. solar, wind). “Made with Renewables” won’t be sufficient.

•Biodegradability and Compostability Must Be Real and Attainable. Compostable must mean it can be composted in home composters and if not, limitations must be disclosed on pack. Biodegradable must degrade in reasonable period (one year or less) and there must be clear messaging on how to dispose of these items as items destined for a garbage bag cannot degrade.

•Recyclable Only if More Than 60 Percent of Communities Have Access. Containers like yogurt cups can’t be labeled recyclable unless 60 percent or more of U.S. communities can recycle the product through local recycling programs nor can other products like printer cartridges that don’t meet the threshold. The GMP labelling services can provide you with additional reading which can help you find the right sustainable option. Tetra Pak is an example of a company affected by the guides.

What’s Still Grey?

Sustainable, natural and organic (regulated by the FDA) are relatively the Wild Wild West.

No guidance was provided, but they hopefully will be addressed in the next round.

Opportunities and Guardrails

After reading this, you might be thinking –what can we possibly say?

While “eco-friendly” and “green” are deemed the third-rail, this does open up

Still no guidance on the terms “sustainable”, “natural” or “organic”

opportunities and should help level the playing field for brands and companies. The purpose of the Green Guides isn’t to dampen enthusiasm in touting environmental stewardship- it’s to make the claims authentic and meaningful to the lay person.

5 Tips for Marketers
1.Focus on Stakeholder Return: Green marketing must have a clear intent to influence. Know your audience at the outset and determine what a “win” would look like.

2.Start with the Science: Green claims often require an understanding of the impacts. Clearly explaining the science and making credible comparisons are the first steps to helping consumers understand environmental claims.

3.Demystify the Complexity: Assume your audience knows nothing as you develop your messaging.

4.Validate with Experts: Engage with key opinion leaders and experts in advance of communication to ensure your messaging is tight, accurate and can be defended upon questioning.

5.Prepare to Evolve: Innovation around material impacts continues to evolve. The issues and the science as well as stakeholder perceptions are a moving target. Careful monitoring of issues is in traditional and social media is critical.

What you should do

Life Cycle Assessment for Marketing and Corporate Communications – Nov. 28, 2012, Toronto

As a Marketer or Communicator the Green Guides identify that claims must be backed up with real data.  You need to know how Life Cycle Assessment can help you position your products or your company in a “green” market predicted to double from $1.37 trillion a year in 2010 to $2.74 trillion by 2020.

For more Information or to Register

Posted in Life Cycle Assessment, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment