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.

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.

Your Business Approach to Climate Change may soon affect your Credit Score

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My company Leading Green is based on my strong belief that Business leaders and organisations that integrate sustainability into their business thinking and leadership culture will benefit in the long-term through a better strategic mindset for future growth, higher investor interest, capital investment delivery and ultimately a lower corporate risk profile that delivers long term financial value with innovation and market branding. 

It was therefore of interest to read in a recent edition of GreenBuzz that Moody’s, one of the world’s leading credit rating agencies had proposed a scoring framework for assessing carbon transition risk.  This will be of interest in evaluating the transition towards a low carbon future of some of the more energy intensive or dependent sectors, and especially those past investments are at risk of being stranded as the implications of climate change extend into the most world’s most obstinate boardrooms.  

Impact Assessment (IA) professionals have for many years grappled with the problem of how one multi-$billion or $million investment will impact on a region’s or society’s air quality or climate change footprint, looking at proposed investments in terms of their solo contributions, and struggling to truly evaluate their cumulative impacts.  Tools such as Technology Impact Assessment allow us to evaluate with greater visibility and transparency the global benefits or negatives of technology as we shift towards a lower carbon economy.

The move by Moody’s is of interest to IA and ESG professionals in that it could herald the start of an investment trend that better identifies credit risk, business strategies and capital investment opportunities with an ESG’s financial value assessment.  Many ESG and IA assessment approaches & models are at risk of focusing too much on the identification of social & ethical values rather than a more comprehensive evaluation of an investors or multi$ project proponent’s understanding of how environmental and social factors impact on the core financial objectives of the project.  If you want a case in point look at the global investments for large hydro-power schemes and how far apart the early assessments of project costs are from their final ‘constructed’ costs (often by factors of $billions) and how often their project timescales were delayed (>years).  A reflection of the investor and lender’s reluctance to assess environmental and social risks earlier in the investment cycle and to clarify the upstream linkage between social and environmental parameters and financial risk.

Carbon transition within investment portfolios, organisations and within technology/marketplace sectors must become, and is increasingly likely to become, a core parameter within the global society’s climate change adaptation and how the continuing flows of investment capital will impact on future growth and carbon release.  If organisations and government are slow to react to risk and carbon transition, then perhaps a more risk adverse appetite amongst financial lenders and investors will prevent much of the downstream arguments between society and business that prevent capital projects and asset investments gaining the one thing that they all require – consent to build the proposed asset. 

It was of interest to read in the article that Moody’s defines carbon transition risk as the implications of the policy, legal, technology and market changes that are likely to affect a company in its transition to a lower-carbon economy.  These are the often the intangible vales that lie outside traditional boardroom thinking and rarely make it into formal financial risk analysis, credit ratings or creditworthiness.  Moody’s propose a 10-point scale across four key components that seeks to identify an organisations credit risk and transition towards carbon transition.  The will help reflect 4 key parameters:

  • its current business profile (survivability in the current marketplace);
  • its technology, market and policy exposure (risk of stranded assets, exposure to disruptive technology and societal megatrends);
  • its medium-term response activities (is its boardroom awake to the risks!); and
  • its longer-term resilience (potential for value and growth).

This is a move to be welcomed as the development of comprehensive ESG models is still in its infancy, as is the marketplace’s understanding of them and their ability to drive better financial decision making.  In addition, it starts to position IA and ESG as ‘active’ tools that enhance decision-making rather than their often perceived ‘negative’ image as blockages to investment fluidity and choice.  It also starts to open to the marketplace the maturity of some boardrooms towards social, environmental and carbon/climate risks and how they are perceived.  Many ESG reports often contain performance data on ESG issues that masks any real cultural or leadership change towards sustainability in business and environmental risk management.  If you want evidence on this, just look at how many organisations there are out there who have held environmental certification under ISO14001 for many years, but who are now struggling to re-certify to the new standard that requires auditable proof of linkage within their organisations between the executive leadership groups and their organisation’s environmental risk performance.

So, the takeaway message is what is the long-term strategic value for organisational leaders in better aligning sustainability, environmental risk or carbon adaptation/transition strategies within their core corporate and investment planning strategies.  It is becoming increasing clear to sustainability advisers, chief financial officers, some CEOs and their Boards that in the future organisations with higher ESG ratings and a strategic mindset to sustainability in business are likely to experience lower exposure to disruptive market risks, protect asset investments or at least minimise stranded asset investments within portfolios avoiding large drawdowns, and lower risk within their sector or marketplace. 

If Moody’s initiative is a success it will also reinforce these benefits through lower cost of capital and higher investor interest, in particular the type of investor who is likely to take a longer, rather than a shorter, term interest in your organisation’s financial health and growth.  

Should I Leave a Company that doesn’t reflect my Ethical or Sustainability Values?

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There are times in all careers when you have to ask yourself should I move on and find a new employer?

An organization full of employees who believe they belong is an organization full of employees who feel purposeful, inspired and alive — in other words, engaged. These engaged employees are more productive and better performers.

Many organisations are seeking to integrate environmental compliance and management processes into their ways of working, and several are attempting to drive sustainability into their cultural DNA!  To achieve this, they are enlisting a new group of employees – the environmental or sustainability specialist – as change managers.  Many are having spectacular success in altering the organisational beliefs, ways of working and the mindset of their organisations.  In the course of which they deliver a new lease of commercial life in their sectors and marketplace, but others are failing as they become dispirited with entrenched leadership attitudes, lack of accountability and on occasion evidence of organisational acceptance of illegal or unethical practices.

No company is perfect and on many occasions the change management activities that are required to embed sustainability issues and thinking into organisations can feel like draining the Atlantic Ocean with just a recycled Starbucks coffee cup for help!  That is why I was surprised in one recent mentoring session on how dismayed a young sustainability adviser was with her career choice. 

No one said entering the environmental profession would be an easy one or a free pass to career success.  You are after all trying to bring in a new mindset into business before the traditional mindset impacts too severely on the lives and prosperity of people and their environments!  The challenge and the excitement of the role and ultimately why you are here in these positions are why most of us get out of bed each morning. 

We analysed some of the problems she faced and then took them apart to examine the specific issues that were causing her so much grief in detail:

  • Some were clearly based around her lack of experience and could be rectified through training and development coaching;
  • Some were based simply around her lack of misunderstanding of how the industry operated and could be rectified through the identification of a suitable internal mentor to be a guide and someone she could bounce her future ideas off in advance, and
  • In one scenario it was clear that she had mis-communicated badly her case to a group of managers.  She had used technical jargon familiar to sustainability professionals but new to the audience and lost them.  She hadn’t aligned her case close enough to corporate outcomes to interest them and as a result had made an unpersuasive argument for change.  These again could be rectified through further coaching and mentoring.

But in a couple of situations the issues were clear and the challenges she faced significant.  Despite her best endeavours, there were several key sustainability issues where she felt that her efforts were being purposely disregarded, where the context of sustainability claims were being manipulated for greenwashing/marketing purposes without organisational evidence.  Whilst these indicated a lack of responsible leadership or management in those above her, ultimately our conversation had to address a cruel set of question that only she could answer:  

  • Had her contribution as an employee hit a rough patch on these issues that she could work through with time and support?
  • Could she live with the unethical or non-environmental behaviours and with time correct them?
  • Had she reached a performance plateau in how far she could take this company in terms of her own sustainability vision against the willingness of the people within the organisation to change?
  • Was she still excited by the role – or was it time for someone else to take up the reins and try it their way?
  • Should she move on and find a new employer?
Should I stay or should I go now?

Ethics and strong values underline an environmental or sustainability professional’s career choice.  Many of us remain optimistic and holds an altruistic view on how business can work in economic and social partnership with the rest of society for the economic betterment of all.  Your work is integral, not only to how you see the world, but how your chosen sector or employer actively improves their environmental or sustainability performance into the future as core business strategy.

So, when your employer makes headlines for the wrong environmental reasons or continues to act in an unsustainable manner contradicting its stated polies should you look for a new role with a new employer?  To figure that out, you need to closely examine your emotional relationship with your work and with your employer:

  • Do your employers continue to act in the knowledge of the social and environmental impacts they are accountable for?
  • Where is the redline before they will seek to correct the issue?
  • If the issue blows up due to regulatory or negative publicity, will you be innocent of any wrongdoing or culpability?

Dependent on your answers you may not need to leave, many companies weather small environmental scandals and they are often a golden opportunity to enhance changes in behaviour – simply put don’t waste a crisis but be aware of how such situations could damage your reputation.  

At the end of the day and to repeat the starting paragraph – An organization full of employees who believe they belong is an organization full of employees who feel purposeful, inspired and alive — in other words, engaged. And these engaged employees are more productive and better performers.  

Ultimately you must consider your own job satisfaction, your well-being, career prospects and future development if you stay.  If the company’s actions (or inactions) violate your moral and professional code of conduct, then you may need to take a professional stand and move on.

If you do decide to leave, be ready to answer the obvious question ‘Why did you leave your last employer’ from the next HR or recruiting manager.  Prepare an answer in advance that acknowledges the organisational risks you identified, the actions you sought to take for that organisation’s benefit, how you personally felt your values and ethics were being compromised by the management responses received and seek to distances yourself from their behaviours.  Turn it back on the recruiter as a first step in what sort of professional they are hiring – How would this company deal with such an issue?  It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business consulting encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths and goals.  Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy. In addition we provide a confidential mentoring and coaching services to new and experienced professionals seeking to enhance thier performance and skill sets.