8 Tips for New Sustainability Managers – The First Week, Month and 90 Days

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Your first few days in a new job are always daunting, especially when you have been recruited to develop the existing culture towards greater sustainability by enacting a change in the organisation towards a business model that will be new, challenging and will need even the most obstructive manager to change pathways.

One of the first major environmental roles I took on was withina large Scotttish Power Utility with growing interests in England, the US and in the water utility sector.  They had decided to recruit a new environmental team to support organisational and operational activities within thier Technology Division.  The interview to say the least had been a strange experience, as for over an hour they asked few questions but talking directly at me listing issues they now recognised to be threats to the business. I nodded and looked wise, but was rarely asked how I would seek to handle them if employed. There was clearly no predetermined job description, role or even defined set of environmental accountabilities for the team they were seeking to recruit.  There was no compelling company vision for the environment and we were unlikely to receive any further advice from the senior executive in charge of us.  His instructions on our first day were simply ‘Go and do something Environmental!’

Well we certainly achieved that, with ScottishPower becoming the first UK utility to gain ISO 14001 subsequently in both Scotland and England, winning numerous CSR awards and developing a strategic approach to environmental impact assessment that is still a successful model 30 years later.

Yes, the first few days are incredibly stressful and daunting for the newly hired sustainability manager, especially when joining a business with little organisational maturity or leadership in that area, or with an undefined sense of what it is seeking to achieve through your employment – resource management, regulatory safeguarding, risk governance or a solid platform for future sustainable growth and value.  You have the knowledge, but how are you going to get started applying your talents is the first order of the day. 

So here are a few simple tips that I wish I had received back then to get me started as quickly as possible.   You have the skills for the role, your mission within the first few weeks is to start integrating and embedding yourself in the organisation and within the awareness of its key players.  Start to make friends and allies, ask questions and understand the mood within which strategic decisions are made, and what issues will be receptive targets for your audiences.

Week 1 – Show your face – Talk to everyone and Listen!

1 Learn the company’s language.

Talk to the organisations employees in a style and manner that resonates with them.

2 Get your hands dirty.

Spend your first few days in the office getting acquainted and being available to meet others. As soon as you can, get out into the field, factory, other locations and experience how the organisation is implementing its CSR and environmental policies. Is there a vision or mission statement – is it a living reality of just ‘greenwash’?

3 Meet with the crucial internal staff as soon as possible.

Arrange informal conversations with the key managers and staff whose support and influence will be critical in delivering any future initiative.  These are best arranged within the first few weeks into the job. 

Listen, listen, listen whilst gauging how positive or negative they are about how your role can improve business growth, values or risk management internally.  Are these allies or blockers:

  • what ssues currently are of concern to them;
  • what will they be minded supporting;
  • what advice can they provide re threats and opportunities, market trends: etc.†

Month 1 – Establish your personal credentials, start to prioritise your findings and develop your future strategies.

4  Don’t be critical of your predecessors

As a new leader or manager learns more about the way an organisation thinks, functions or behaves, there will inevitably be surprises.  No matter how strong the urge to question previous policy, initiatives, etc resist the urge to say anything negative about the previous managers who have sought to implement environmental or sustainability systems.  It will be some time before you identify who has done what, and who their internal friends, allies and supporters are.  It is simpler just to be positive about the efforts you encounter (which will have been supported by others internally) as the critical building blocks for your own changes that will arise latter. 

5  Know your own weaknesses before criticising the organisations. 

Seek to identify where your strengths lie and where personal development, training or mentoring/coaching is still needed to enhance your effectiveness in the new role.  At the interview you may have promised the earth, those impressions are what you were recruited on and now is the time to reinforce and build up your leadership traits, understanding and in particular – change management skills

6   Prioritise and align

Prioritise what you uncover in terms of tangible business benefit and value, rather than intangible environmental risk.  In prioritising what needs to be done, be realistic about what is and isn’t achievable, and consider how they can align with the corporate plan (and its planning cycle) and seek advise on how to incorporate your future agendas into the planning cycle.

 Who can you turn to for support— perhaps an internal mentor, other senior managers or even the chairman of the board?  Don’t try to do it all on your own – that is a weakness! 

90 Days in – Start setting out your personal vision and ideas for alignment, growth and value through sustainability

7   Build a diverse circle of advisers.

New leaders in any organisation need to surround themselves with a variety of viewpoints, ideas, and temperaments as they build up a mental template of how the cogs and wheels of the organisation turn – and at what speed.  This is critical as your role will often require more in the way of advocacy instead of ‘power’.

Help develop ideas, strategies and approached through the use of these networks. Seeking to win thier support and patronage if matters have to be referred upwards to other executives, or brought into operational activities if beneficial changes can be enacted quickly by mutual agreement with other managers.

8   Have a Personal Vision

Seek to rapidly acquire a vision of what you want to happen, building this up from the solid foundation of ‘viewpoints, ideas, and temperaments’.  You must own the vision and inspire others.  Sustainability visions developed by committee tend towards aspirational and consensual, yours must be viewed and admired for being results orientated!

When building a visison, one tip is to start with the end in mind, by making the future direction of travel clearly outcome focussed – others can rapidly acquire a fully understanding, help guide strategic planning approaches and join in thier voices in nspiring & directing others in the organisations realignment towards greater sustainability.

Getting started is hard work, no wonder they say it takes an employee 3 years to understand how an organisation operates and thinks. Leading Green‘s coaching and mentoring services can provide essential support as you build up the confidence to start changing an organisation’s culture towards greater sustainability performance and social responsibility.

Is it time to retire ‘climate change’ for ‘climate crisis’?

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I spent a lot of time reflecting on this article and how the emotive language surrounding climate change and other environmental topics is being altered more and more within media reports. 

In respect of the global IA climate change community, what struck me most was not the language we use in EIS or Environmental Reports but whether our own behaviours as a professional community has failed to alert others to the significance of what our words are conveying.  If it takes a 16 year old Swedish student two years to activate the global population on the crisis we face regarding carbon emissions, then it is only fair that we hold up a mirror to our own activities and ask ourselves – ‘What have we been doing individually and collectively for the last 3 decades in comparison?’     

Whilst I am not advocating the use of such emotive language in our work or debates with society, perhaps our resolve to lead on climate change in our work, how we communicate or emphasis our views within the institutions we support, and how we could have placed greater emphasis on challenging substandard polies, plans and programmes needs greater consideration and to become part of a more general debate on professional leadership traits within our IA standards of conduct. 

If we as IA professionals agree it is a global crisis, then surely the first steps for that community in general is for others to see that we are treating it as a ‘crisis’ in our work and words.  I would value your insights, views and feedback?

Responsible Construction requires Responsible Management practices (Part 2)

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Taking the First Steps into CSR for SME Construction Businesses

Customers have power over firms – in highly competitive markets sector, customers have the option to switch supplier.

This is the primary reason why Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can help safeguard growth and business development within such as competitive sector as Construction.   Clients are consumers, and consumers value responsible behaviour by companies and reward such behaviour with loyalty to thier products and services.

For this reason, no growing SME construction business can now afford to be perceived as lagging in its responsible management activities nor to be half-hearted in thier enactment.  A future growth focussed boardroom and its members within the construction sector are now expected to have an understanding in not only:

  • how they fulfil legal obligations to society on health and safety, the environment, human rights or race, gender or disability discrimination, but also
  • how they incorporate these into their business model, their brand and reputational safeguards with clients, banks and society.

The potential damage locally to a construction SME if its reputation and future workload can be significant when its own practices, or those of its employees, contractors & suppliers are called into doubt or question. What first steps can a SME construction company take towards building responsible management practices into the Boardroom and its work force without draining its limited resources.

Building the Business

In the UK there is a high correlation between companies being perceived by the public as socially and environmentally responsible and being viewed favourably overall. Consumers value responsible behaviour by companies and reward such behaviour with loyalty to its products and services. For this reason, no company can afford to be found wanting in fulfilling its legal obligations to society on health and safety, the environment, human rights or race, gender or disability discrimination. The potential damage to a business, its reputation and its sales is great if its own practices, or those of its suppliers or subsidiary companies, are called into question. 

Employees as resources

One of the biggest mistakes a business can make is to forget that its employees are its key resources.  Experienced employees with their site experience, specific trade and in the technical nature in how issues are managed quickly and efficiently to maintain construction progress is a key determinant of ‘profit’ and ‘efficiency’.  Success is often defined not by the management team but by the relationship between firm’s leaders and their key employees, and the mutual regard both parties have for eachother.

To succeed, construction firms need to attract and retain the best people locally to work for them.  Respect for people, their skills, diversity and their need to achieve a good work life balance is an important aspect of socially responsible business practice.  Firms that fail to improve their attitude and performance towards respecting people will fail to recruit and retain the best talent and business partners. The construction industry has a generally poor record on employment issues and under-performs on diversity and employee satisfaction scores.  Companies can either follow the pack or differentiate themselves by demonstrating that:

  •  they value their workforce, their health & safety, their working environment, training, personal development & diversity; and
  • they maintain an active commitment to equal opportunities for all across thie workforce.

For this reason, the industry’s own Movement for Innovation recommended that firms of all kinds and sizes should commit to achieving the standard of Investors in People as the most effective and most systematic means of developing and demonstrating respect for people. Furthermore, people want to work for socially responsible businesses that respect not only their own workforce but wider societial values.  Surveys consistently find that most people believe that a company that supports society and the community for example, by establishing links with local or national charities, schools or other local groups is a good company to work for.

Building Trust

Trust is important in influencing the way employees, clients and the wider community judge a company. A successful company needs to operate with honesty and openness to create trust in its relationships with all its stakeholders.

Although there is no legislative requirement to report on social responsibility, companies that do so tend to be better perceived by their stakeholders. Reporting and communicating their impact on society can help to demonstrate openness and transparency about their operations, a willingness to be accountable for their actions and their seriousness of intent regarding community and social responsibility, thus developing confidence in their business.

Reporting is, however, not an end. The public will see through cynical reporting and attempts to be politically correct for its own sake. Companies need to demonstrate their commitment is real and produces real results.

Getting started

The principles of community and social responsibility need to be embedded into the overall business conduct of a company and become part of its core values and objectives. A badly targeted approach will be ineffective, and companies need to identify the actions that will have most impact for them, manage them in a professional way and communicate to their stakeholders what they are doing. Without effective communication, no-one will be aware of their work. Without awareness, there will be no benefits to business standing or reputation.

As for any other project, it is first vital to secure the commitment of senior management and the allocation of adequate resources for developing a community and social responsibility strategy. Then, by reviewing current policies and performance, you can identify the issues of most relevance to your company and develop an effective strategy and action plan. The process should be iterative, with review of progress leading to adjustment of the strategy and continued business improvement.

Five Common Strategies to Consider Starting with

  1. Building Satisfaction and relationship with the customer – building future relationships based on integrity and tailored to the customer’s needs.
  2. The development of talent and commitment among the firm’s key frontline employees – to invest in a team committed to and prepared for the construction sector challenges the future will bring.
  3. Responsible Management based on solid values – the senior management team will continue to develop in terms of good boardroom governance that strives to ensure values and responsible culture, risk management and relations with third parties.
  4. Responsible Construction & Sustainable development – Demonstratable progress towards achieving a low-carbon construction industry by managing the direct and indirect impacts arising from operational activities.
  5. Social contribution – Contributing to building a better local community, supporting real needs and safeguarding the natural environments & its resources.

Responsible Construction

Increasingly SME companies within the construction sector are seeking to build in business strategies that, through choice or through client requirements, that build in Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR).  Leading Green can provide strategic and operational support to Boardrooms & senior leadership teams on topics such as Responsible Management, Sustainable Construction, Governance and CSR that are essential on BREEAM and LEED registered projects. 

Responsible Construction requires Responsible Management practices (Part 1)

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Responsible Management is the leadership approach that many in the construction industry are using as the springboard to get them attuned with the many ‘Responsible Construction’ programmes that sprung up over the last decade. 

The hard days of being a start-up or one-man business are long gone, your hard work and ambition has built the business into a successful local construction player with an expanding portfolio and an increasing wage bill! 

The days of day-to-day on-site hands on management practice have receded, with a new tier of supporting managers and partners now sharing responsibility for the business.   The downside – lack of fresh air and a growing list of business administration practices and new organisational problems as structures and responsibilities stretch and expand across the business.  The purpose of some are clear – financial accounts, payrolls and asset logs form a distinct tangibl links to assets, employees and business practice and ultimately profits & loss accounts.  However there are others whose purpose seem vague and confusing. You recognise that some of the more intangible ones are important, but it is easy to put them off as you are uncertain about how exactly they add to the bottom line of the business. 

Amongst this growing intangible portfolio of ‘other stuff’ terms such as corporate social responsibility and sustainability seem to be regularly occurring issues.  The days of adding a simple 1 page A4 ‘Environmental Policy statement’(usually cribbed from another source) into tenders are becoming a distant memory as clients no longer accept simple EHS assurances and now demand proof of commitment within invitations to tenders and on-site audits.  The language within your trade journals and business networks has also started to change with new terms increasingly entering the dialogue such as ‘corporate social responsibility’, ‘responsible construction’, ‘climate change’ and ‘sustainability’ and you are beginning to consider more and more whether these are threats or opportunities:

  • What do they mean for your business? 
  • Will they hit profits? 
  • Are new hires required? and importantly
  • How do you respond in a manner that continues to build the business?

An introduction to Responsible Management

Furthermore, the concept and meaning of corporate social responsibility (CSR) within the construction sector and in particular amongst its SME businesses remains largely undefined, highly fragmented and wide open to interpretation.  CSR can cover a myriad of meanings, issues and definitions that are both daunting and confusing to leadership groups within SME businesses –  terms such as:  stakeholder management, governance, corporate  ethics, responsible  sourcing, environment  and  sustainability,  human  resource  management,  supply chain sustainability, circular economy, discriminatory  labour practices, equality and human rights, corruption and modern slavery – sound expensive to address and resource. Despite a lot of information out there, conflicting CSR messages to SMEs in the construction sector suggests that little practical organisational support has been directed towards helping SMEs map out and address CSR as a wider business tool or aid understanding how CSR practices can aid continued growth in a manner aligns with their often limited or yet to be developed resources.

The long list of issues above is slowly starting to coalesce and morph into what is now commonly termed ‘responsible management’ practices within the Construction company boardroom.  A simpler handle that allows businesses to focus on key areas where they may be exposed to risk or deem opportunities to exist.

Responsible Management is the leadership approach that many in the construction industry are using as the springboard to get them attuned with the many ‘Responsible Construction’ programmes that sprung up over the last decade. 

Responsible management requires that construction companies, their suppliers, consultant and contractor support services take responsibility, and act to make the construction sector more responsible in its business management practices.  Within individual SME construction firms Responsible Management can take a variety of forms and can be characterized as a business leadership team that has seized the opportunity to differentiate itself from many of its competitors by taking into consideration elements such as:

  1. How to minimize any negative environmental, social and cultural impacts its activities can have on its clients and its local community;
  2. Generating greater economic benefits from the business by improving retention and working conditions for staff, developing a brand as a good employee and local business;
  3. Safeguarding natural and cultural heritage and protected species, and possessing the skilled staff to act responsibly on behalf of the business when issues are encountered on site;
  4. Addressing diversity, access for physically challenged people or opportunities within the local community;

Responsible Management represents a mix between safe and responsible business activities during site preparation, construction, transportation to/from site, material usage, design and local community relationships.  Whilst many construction companies still view these as potential obstructions to ‘time, cost and quality’, more established firms view these more in terms of brand, local reputation and employee benefits that they can use to grow their business while providing differentiation between themselves and other local competitors, help safeguard works from delays, additional costs and adverse PR and further contributing to the brand’ that has been built up over so many years.

Responsible Management in the construction sector should help underpin the core business strategy or specialisation by promoting a high quality service for future customers and clients – by respecting all the regulations regarding nature and HR management; safeguarding long term relationships through good communication with local authorities, which can pay back significantly in times of economic downturn or mishaps on site.

In the boardroom it involves:

  • being aware regarding main environmental regulations, laws;
  • implementing and raising awareness within the board, as well as amongst staff, regarding what responsible management implies in the business’s daily activity;
  • facing difficult tasks and problems by offering the right solutions for the staff and clients;
  • being informed of the available trainings measures and sector-specific educational trends;
  • being oriented to results optimization.

The next part of this blog will look at how the boardroom within a Construction SME can get started in starting to lay a preliminary foundation for responsible management within the business, and align its outcomes with other strategies to continue business growth and performance.

Responsible Construction

Increasingly SME companies within the construction sector are seeking to build in business strategies that, through choice or through client requirements, build in Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR).  Leading Green can provide strategic and operational support to Boardrooms & senior leadership teams on topics such as Responsible Management, Sustainable Construction, Governance and CSR that are essential on BREEAM and LEED registered projects.

Climate Change Transition – can you see the changes yet?

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Climate Change transition can be hard to identify within the operational investment plans within some oil & gas giants.

At the IAIA 2019 conference in Brisbane last week, several authors delivered papers on current & future oil + gas investment projects and programmes that would be rolled out over the next decade.  The local press was also reporting on new coal investment plans for Queensland, and within a 2-day Leadership in EIA training programme I led with Claire Gronow of Bristol University in Brisbane, several of the course’s experienced EIA participants were employees or IFC/Government officials with oversight of new fossil fuel projects coming through the investment chain. 

Yes, they were all dealing diligently with any environmental & social risks arising on site, but it was hard to define any clear signs of climate change transition or adaptation within the corporate business strategies of their parent companies, or any corporate shift away from fossil fuel exploitation.

This concern has been backed up by analysis from Global Witness in April that identified close to $5 trillion of planned investment in exploration and extraction from new oil & gas fields.  This the authors concluded is incompatible with reaching the world’s climate goals.  The report also concluded that despite rhetoric to the contrary, the oil and gas sector’s future investment plans remain drastically incompatible with limiting climate change.

From recent experience, I concur with these unfortunate conclusions.  If politicians and businesses are increasingly tempted to use the word ‘emergency’ in respect of climate change, there is an obligation on them to demonstrate thier own response and strategic action they are taking to address the ‘emergency’.   As sustainability and IA professionals we are working hard to mitigate the unintended consequences of Man’s exploitation of cheap carbon-based energy and advocating for greater sustainability within business practices. Future climate change transition now requires more than advocacy, it demands action and a strategic shift in the mindset of Governments and Boardroom leaders.  The solutions and advice are out there to be called upon, but action is an individual responsibility.