Last week, several members of the thinkPARALLAX team descended on Scottsdale, Arizona for “the Coachella of sustainability”, GreenBiz 23. This sold-out event brought together nearly 2,000 professionals from across industries to connect and talk about every topic under the sustainability sun.
Throughout the week, our team met with countless corporate sustainability professionals, sat in on sessions, and even led a couple of our own.
In case you couldn’t make it, here are a few takeaways from the week:
1. We need to accept that there’s a ‘sustainability careers’ crisis
With unprecedented demand for sustainability strategy and communication within companies and at consultancies, there has never been a greater need for skilled and experienced talent. However, organizations continue to struggle to fill critical roles that help them advance their sustainability missions.
Many companies have expanded the number of sustainability roles both at the executive and more junior levels. And usually these more junior roles are analyst, project management, and reporting functions. Yet many companies are missing mid-level roles that can turn high-level goals and roadmaps into action. Part of this is due to the fact that sustainability positions have long been scarce and there simply isn’t a big enough demand for experienced talent to meet the needs of companies.
One way to address this is by focusing on finding folks with transferable skills and training them to be the mid-level movers we need.
2.When it comes to the supply chain, companies should shift the focus from measurement to impact
While there has been significant progress measuring supply chain sustainability performance over the past few years, reliance on industry averages and imprecise spend-based data means that suppliers aren’t accurately measuring and reporting data consistently. With multiple line items to measure and calculate, it quickly can get messy.
“What if instead of focusing on measurement, we focus on impact?” Said Marshall Chase, Director of Sustainability at Micron Technology during one of the GreenBiz sessions. By doing this, we could compel suppliers to set emissions reduction targets of their own, and convince them to compel their suppliers to do the same. This will help drive the collective shift in impact we need.
3. Companies should embrace progress over perfection
While the traditional business ethos emphasizes maximizing your positives while minimizing your negatives, success in sustainability means not waiting for perfect timing and conditions to act. We have very limited time to address the climate crisis and other social and environmental challenges, and companies must be willing to take action , fail, learn, and iterate towards improving their sustainability performance.
Often, legal is the most risk-averse function in a company. But companies face bigger risks refusing to act on sustainability than being willing to take imperfect actions. Sustainability leaders and legal teams need to create partnerships to bring them on the journey and ensure that nothing holds them back as they try to move forward.
4. Don’t stop at “no” when securing senior buy-in
Often, when engaging with senior leaders at organizations it can be easy to back off once someone tells you “no.” But often when senior leaders say “no” it really means they need more information to understand the value of the ask.
Business leaders are faced with countless decisions each day, and sustainability might be only one of their many concerns. Learning which issues weigh top of mind for them, and finding ways to tie in sustainability, can help you engage decision-makers.
5.Effective communication is about how you make people feel
While data-driven storytelling is important when talking about sustainability, it’s emotional, not empirical information that engages people the most. People are faced with data every day, yet stories are how they make sense of the world.
When communicating sustainability, think about how your story fits into some of the common “story” types — such as the hero’s journey — and craft your narratives to connect with your audiences. Throwing a bunch of data out of context might be helpful for a few analysts crunching numbers for ratings agencies, but most other audiences will embrace a strong story.