Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sustainability and Bisphenol A (BPA)

Viewing the recent statement by the National Toxicology Program regarding potential health risks associated with BPA , and the controversy regarding BPA in a variety of consumer products, such as water bottles, made me think of these questions:

If Nalgene and Playtex had corporate sustainbility programs in place, could this issue have been avoided (or mitigated)? and,

If they do have CSR programs, do they need to amend them to 'anticipate' (if possible) and manage potential health and resouce management risks?

It does not appear that Nalgene is using sustainability management tools. I am assuming that they have an environmental management system in place (EMS), but an EMS will not necessarily help in brand management, as well as product stewardship, which is where the problems lie.

I was speaking to Kari Birdseye, VP of Sustainability at CSRware (, a sustainability technology company located in the SF Bay Area, about the BPA issue and what it means to other companies, especially ones in the consumer markets.

Kari thought that "it takes a crisis to look inward and begin the self-evaluation, which would have raised awareness not only related to their environmental practices but in the socially equitable areas as well". Nalgene has marketed its products to a 'green' audience (i.e. water bottles for hikers, runners, etc), so one would assume that they would be especially aware of the opportunities (and challenges) in developing and maintaining their brand.

So, could have this situation been avoided or managed better? Some thoughts:

- Stakeholder Analysis: if a broad group of stakeholders were being polled on critical issues (resource mgt, social equity, materials mgt, emissions mgt), perhaps this issue might have been identified as a potential concern early on, and the company could have evaluated alternative materials and manufacturing processes. This process could provide a 'real time' feedback loop to executives on emerging issues & opportunities

- Product Stewardship: This type of program has been advanced & utilized by the chemical companies; not only to mitigate risks associated with use (or misuse) of their products, but also to provide competitive advantages in commodity markets (i.e. content & services designed to help customers maximize their investment in procuring / buying, using, and ultimately disposing or recycling the product). I am not sure if Nalgene has such a program, but again: it could serve as an additional process for 'anticipating' what problems could occur with product use.
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Friday, April 18, 2008

Forrester releases CSR Tech Vendor review

Had a chance to review the just released Forrester report, and it is a sign of the growing maturity of this market that a research company like Forrester is covering CSR technology as an emerging segment. I have met with a few market research firms in the past 6 months to discuss the cleantech and CSR markets. For the most part, they are just starting with their own due diligence into this space, so they are not up to speed on the market, vendors, key initiatives, and growth strategies. They will most likely address this space coming from their own areas or strength: enterprise software, business analytics, supply chain management, etc.

Forrester broke down CSR technology categories as follows:

  • Niche CSR
  • GRC (Governance, Regulatory, Compliance)
  • EMS (Environmental Management Systems)
  • Business Applications (performance mgt, analytics)

No specific mention of technology platforms for sustainability in the greening of the supply chain, though. I think that this need, along with greening of IT / Data Centers and GRI Reporting, are the primary market drivers for buying these technology solutions today. The supply chain management issue (along with PLM) also directs ties into compliance with new toxics regulations such as REACH and RoHS; creating an additional market driver.

They talked to about 30 companies, which may seem like a good number, but still is a relatively small sample, given the breadth of technologies that they are covering (GRC tech companies alone comprise a big group, and there are a significant number of emerging CSR reporting technology firms on the horizon).

I thought the recommendations were rather broad, but recognize that the report is geared towards a technology buyer community who may be just getting up to speed on this segment. Recognizing that this report will most likely be followed in the near future with in-depth vendor analyses and market segment reviews, I think buyers will need corresponding strategies around the type of complimentary services that are required. It is clear that each technology platform arrives at the CSR market with its own strength and focus, but CSR itself is based on the premise of enterprise level and multiple domain business process development. At this stage of the market, significant consulting help will be required to build enterprise level solutions, regardless of the technology platform strengths.

Consulting services such as CSR strategy development, systems integration, domain specific expertise (i.e. environmental, community development, etc) and also 3rd party validation / assurance are necessary and critical at this early stage of market maturity. Look for an upcoming blog post on this subject…

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Building Effective Alliances for Cleantech start ups

Have been working with a wide range of start ups recently (CSR, water treatment, asset management, AEC design services); developing and validating 'go to market' strategies'. In the initial or early phases of maturation (both for the company and most times, the market segment itself), direct sales by the founders and other 'visionary' staff (both internal as well as advisors / directors) is critical to get early successes: pilot projects, demonstrations, regulatory review & approval (if appropriate) and brand awareness.

But as the start up begins to grow, the markets for the technology solution (that is: the product, team expertise, company vision, and solution roadmap) will require that the solution most likely be integrated into a larger business solution (think of a new roadway; wastewater treatment & distribution system, environmental remediation, etc). This is particularly the case for those cleantech start ups that are targeting industrial clients as well as governmental clients. At this stage, start ups need to build partner 'ecosystems" consisting of complimentary technology and services firms; which requires the development of an alliance & partnership strategy.

Some insights are provided here:

Position yourself to allow your partner to lower the cost of their customer acquisition efforts & identify 'up-selling' opportunities
For the larger and global AECs, the real opportunity for growth is to continue to develop their existing accounts and user bases; providing more value to them (such as incorporating energy modeling solutions, or facility management services). Case in point: can your solution allow the AEC firm tap into other technology or operating budgets in the clients' organizations, that the AEC would typically would not be able to access?

Don't be the obnoxious sales guy when representing your company
CEOs of start ups need to focus on the partner's business model; how can they assist in driving more value and solutions of the partner through the partner's channels? (so: don't go in to a discussion with executives at an AEC firm saying: " I would love to get access to your clients so I could sell my stuff to them".......not a good idea)

If you have something special, they will find you...although it may take some time
Most of the global AECs have executives whose roles include responsibilities to constantly survey the cleantech / green landscape: interview companies, and make recommendations on strategic alliances and acquisitions. Chances are, if you are making headway in your market sector and are building brand awareness and a sustainable client base, that the AEC firm already knows about you. Your alliance strategy should take into account how you can leverage these sales channels to build relationships with the AEC practice leaders as well as with the alliance executives at larger complimentary technology companies. In many cases, a great way to begin the development of an alliance is to focus on specific key end - user accounts where both your company and the AEC may provide a joint solution.

If thinking of being acquired, it's better to develop a strong alliance first
Much of the acquisition activity during the IT growth period of the last 10 years has been a result of demonstrated joint customer success, alignment with product strategies, and some synergy between corporate cultures and goals of the start up and acquiring company. I think this trend is quite applicable to cleantech start up growth and maturation. There is no question that building strong relationships within an AEC firm (or larger technology company) allow for increased awareness of the start up company, and allows for constructive M&A dialog at the appropriate time.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Conducting business development at that conference you have to attend....

I read the HardingCo blog, which provides some great insights on business development and "rainmaking"; especially as they relate to the consulting profession.

I commented recently on a post: 'Getting a Good Seat at a Conference'; the premise being that you need to be choosy and careful when sitting down for lunch, so that you identify the best attendees to spend time with. So, I thought it might be interesting (amusing, perhaps?) to repost my comments here; some of these ideas are fairly basic....but hey; you need to have good 'blocking and tackling'...

- Review the attendee list as soon as you get it, and identify your top targets; pick a realistic number that you can meet during the conference, and develop a strategy to meet all of them

- Research those targets, particularly as it relates to timely (and positive!) events: alliance signing, big client wins, involvement in associations, etc…execs will probably be involved in some if not all of those issues.

- Seek out the conference organizer or director early in the conference and schmooze him or her….get them to point out (or introduce you to) the key speakers and panelists for you before the conference begins, so you can make a beeline for them during the lunch, or hopefully in the halls during networking periods.

- Notice people who seem to be working on presentations in the halls, at tables, or even in the conference sessions themselves. Pay particular attention just before the keynote session, or when the plenary panel convenes; these speakers (and their peers) are often executives and are hard pressed to fit the conference (and prep for their presentations) into their schedules (I have met a number of keynote speakers this way; just before they were going on stage).

And finally….not a lot of people enjoy the rubber chicken dinners at most conferences, so if you are discouraged, head to the hotel’s restaurant or a well known restaurant nearby and take your chances….there will probably be a like-minded conference attendee and potential contact that will welcome a lunch mate….

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Investment Perspectives for the Water Sustainability Market

Have been discussing investment opportunities in the cleantech space with a number of investment groups, particularly in the water sector, which has not received much buzz or press to date. But given critical water demands here in the US (see the recent drought and related policy issues in the southeast) and overseas (need for consistent potable water supplies, as well as for agriculture), it is apparent that this sector within 'cleantech' has significant room to grow.

One investment group that is solely focused on the water sector is XPV Capital in Toronto Canada. I had a chance to talk with Khalil Maalouf, who is a partner, about the market conditions and emerging trends in the water sector. They are focusing solely on investments in water -related ventures, and have a 'book' of 300 or so investment opportunities worldwide in this general sector that they are tracking. Khalil generally described their interest in the following broad categories (I am paraphrasing to a certain degree; my notes in italics):

  • Energy Efficiency of treatment & distribution systems
  • Security (I am assuming it could be both physical and IT related security)
  • Scarcity of Supply (identification of new sources, cost & time effective means of capture)
  • Waste minimization (sludge management / recycling)
  • Materials substitution (less toxic and less use of chemicals for treatment)

(I think another segment for investment opportunities is Information Technology; those required to find, capture, treat, distribute, recycle & reuse, and optimize systems throughout the water lifecycle)

Following XPV's definitions (and those of others) it would indicate that the market sector fo water sustainability opportunities itself is very broad. So what segments might catalyze interest and growth? I think energy efficiency technology to develop water supplies (includes technology such as desalination) and for water treatment may get traction, especially in arid areas such as the Middle East.

Following a recent post I wrote (link), another area of investment opportunity could be those technologies to allow for assessing, managing, and optimizing water use throughout the lifecycle of a product (consumer, construction, and industrial would be important verticals). This "embedded water" or "water footprinting" concept seems to have caught on in EMEA already; it remains to be seen how soon it follow similar concepts for CSR and sustainability reporting here in the US.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Executive CSR roles & pay are growing...

A recent article from the UK indicated that corporate CSR roles have grown significantly, along with pay scale; link is here.

This certainly a promising trend; the key is to encourage / empower these CSR executives to be part of the decision making process at a corporate level. MBOs could include:

- Increased profitability from effective material use and workflow (use of lifecycle cost assessment tools to measure and optimize processes)

- Increased positive brand awareness; measured by feedback from focus groups, advisory & customer panels, stakeholder input

- Effective risk management: compliance with governmental and NGO standards; increased ROI on risk mgt expenditures

- Identification and development of new business lines that embrace sustainable principles

I am sure there are others, but if the executives are not involved in critical corporate decisions, then their roles will be relegated to more of the "EHS" roles of the past 20 years, which were non - mission critical...

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Sustainability in the Water Sector

I read an interesting article about water sustainability; link is here. Terminology is also interesting: “Water Footprinting” and “Embedded Water” are phrases that are used; perhaps there is opportunity to brand this issue and break it out from other sustainability topics….

The author talks about impacts on water resources which are not adequately reflected in consumer products. Some examples:

- It takes 8000 liters of water to make pair of leather shoes,

- 2400 liters to make a hamburger, and

- 170 liters to make a pint of beer (Ok, so that one is not as compelling to some of you…)

In particular, the construction industry is identified as a market where there is a need for more enlightenment. This industry already incorporates the use of water saving products & devices; utilizes design & construction methodology to promote and achieve sustainability accreditation (i.e. LEED and BREAM); but is not on the vanguard of understanding the demands of water resources to manufacture supplies, equipment, and fixtures.

As ‘sustainability’ continue to develops in awareness, it would seem that specific areas (water, GHG, health & safety, toxics mgt, etc) will evolve and become well defined areas; thus driving more awareness, research, and development of tools that are specific to those problem sets. Again, lifecycle assessment may serve an important role in identifying and quantifying water resource impacts, so that decision makers and consumers have complete information upon which to make design and construction decisions.

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