Sustainability Blog
Christmas Tree Sustainability

Christmas Tree Sustainability

It is December, hard to believe I know, but the end of the year is among us.  Now that we are on the latter side of Thanksgiving, the Holidays are among us.  One of the most anticipated decisions this Holiday season involves your Christmas Tree.

A few years ago, we were part of the the first-ever ISO-compliant third-party peer reviewed life cycle analysis (LCA) of Christmas trees. The LCA sought to answer a number of questions, with the areas of most interest being what overall environmental impact Christmas trees have on environment, and if there is a significant different between real and artificial trees. The study was sponsored by the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA) a non-profit organization representing artificial Christmas tree retailers and real Christmas tree retailers, to clear up common misconceptions about the environmental impacts of Christmas trees.

The study found a surprising number of factors come into play in determining the environmental impact of Christmas trees.

The review compared the most common artificial Christmas tree sold in the United States to the most common real Christmas tree sold in the United States, and found that the choice of one tree over the other has a negligible impact on the environment. However, the study’s findings show that length of ownership, disposal method and “tree miles” can make a difference on which tree is environmentally preferable.

The study, reviewed by an independent third party panel, took into consideration five key environmental indicators to determine which tree type is environmentally preferable.

“There is a clear environmental break even point between the two trees,” said William Paddock, Managing Director of WAP Sustainability Consulting, a Nashville, Tennessee-based consulting firm that works with companies on corporate sustainability issues. “The debate gets a little more interesting when you look at different environmental indicators. Take for example the energy required to produce both trees. The energy required to make one artificial tree is roughly equal to the energy it takes to raise six real cut trees.”

Conscientious consumers need to consider factors such as length of ownership, disposal method and tree miles before choosing a type of tree.

ACTA encourages consumers to consider these five helpful tips when deciding which tree to buy this year:

  1. Purchase locally grown Christmas trees if possible.
  2. Consider “tree miles.” How far did the tree travel to get to your home? How far did you travel to get it?
  3. If you have purchased more than nine cut trees over the last nine years, consider purchasing an artificial tree to minimize your environmental impacts.
  4. If you own an artificial tree, make sure and keep it in use for at least six to nine years. If you plan to replace an artificial tree, donate it before you dispose of it.
  5. If you purchase a real tree, consult with your local waste authority about how to properly dispose of your tree.

“Our members have been urging consumers to choose the Christmas tree that best fits their lifestyle, be it real or artificial,” said Jami Warner, Executive Director of ACTA.

In some cases, purchasing an artificial tree turns out to be a more environmentally friendly option.

The study also highlights an “Eight Christmas Environmental Payback Period” between the two tree products based on the study’s five environmental indicators. The study found that the environmental impacts of one artificial tree used for more than eight Christmases is environmentally friendlier than purchasing eight or more real cut trees over eight years.

“As a general rule of thumb, if you are going to purchase an artificial tree, keep it in use for at least nine years,” Paddock said.

“ACTA encourages responsible consumerism,” said Warner. “Consumers should consider the impact on the environment for every item they purchase, not just Christmas trees.”

The Sustainability Skills Economy

The Sustainability Skills Economy

The sustainability job market has been very active for the past six months. Sustainability Leads average number of job posts each week has doubled in the latter half of 2017. While this is not hard science, it is a signal that the sustainability job market is healthy.

Perhaps this uptick in new jobs is that organizations feel added responsibility in response to political changes and have elected to hire, or turnover could just be higher in 2017. Regardless of the drivers, if you are a sustainability professional, now is as good of time as ever to dust of the resume and shop new jobs.

One aspect of the sustainability job market that seems forever consistent is the demand for sustainability skills. Almost every job description we pick up defines core skills, competencies, experiences that the employer is seeking. From soft and interpersonal skills, to hard technical skills, the sustainability job market is a “Skills Economy”.

PayScale conducted a Skills Economy Study, you can find the link here . In the study, PayScale highlights what it calls a 'Skills Gap'.

“We hear all the time about the ‘skills gap,’ the gap between the skills needed to succeed in the professional world and the skills with which young professionals leave college,” said Katie Bardaro, VP of Data Analytics, PayScale. “The data we’ve collected show that even though their education may make recent college graduates feel prepared to enter the workforce, only half of hiring managers agree with them; managers feel crucial skills in recent graduates are frequently lacking or absent.”

While the study talks significantly about the 'skills gap' between recent college graduates and employers, the 'skills gap' concept is relevant to the sustainability job market. Think about it, right now at COP23, sustainability leaders from JPMorgan and BlackRock, as well as representatives from Bank of America, the Coca-Cola Company and candy maker Mars Inc are advocating for climate change with world leaders in Germany. There is a skills gap in those sustainability leaders participating in COP23 in Bonn, and those sitting in Philadelphia at Sustainable Brands New Metrics. More on this later.

The skills gap can be boiled down to two distinct skill sets, Technical Skills & Personality Skills.

Technical skills are the knowledge and abilities needed to accomplish mathematical, engineering, scientific or computer-related duties, as well as other specific tasks relating to technology. For sustainability, these technical skills are those related to measuring and understanding carbon impacts of operations and product, understanding science based goals and methodologies, mastering material health, and forecasting unintended sustainability consequences of poor decision making. These are skills you can learn, be trained on, or become accredited within.

Personality Skills include Critical Thinking, Dependability, Flexibility, Interpersonal Skills and Motivation. For sustainability, these are the skills to inspire, convince, on-board, align, and mobilize a culture of “becoming different”. It is the ability to use influencing skills for good, to help enable the right decisions for people, planet and profit. These are skills that are acquired, refined through experience, improved through failures, and ignited with successes.

My comment earlier about the two types of sustainability leaders, those in Philly and those in Bonn, are related to my own observation in the two types of sustainability leaders in the market today. For those in Bonn, it is evident that those are leaders who have convinced their organizations that there is a role for their organization to play on the global scale. They have successfully made the business case for climate change, internal price of carbon, and meaningful goals that are science based and SDG aligned. Their success will most often be attributed to these leaders personality skills. With all humility, I’m not at Bonn, I haven’t convinced a company to go advocate for climate legislation on a global scale. I respect the hell out of those who are.

For those in Philly, perhaps we are still refining our skills, looking for tips and tricks for how to make our organization move in a more sustainable direction. Maybe we aren't there yet, and the 'skills gap' is a real thing.

GRI’s Tim Mohin wrote an article about the 9 skills for success in corporate sustainability leadership. The link can be found here. The list and article are a great summary and reminder of how sustainability requires a mix of technical and personality skills to succeed.  If your looking for a job, take this into consideration.

9 skills for success in corporate sustainability leadership

1. Be flexible like Gumby and curious like George

2. Hold on to your core competency while learning new skills
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate

4. Lead through influence

5. Read the system

6. Learn and practice “corporate jujutsu”

7. Be entrepreneurial

8. Pay attention to detail, discipline, quality, and results

9. Above all, passion for the cause

The "Chain Liability Effect" in Recent Jobs

The "Chain Liability Effect" in Recent Jobs

October is always a dynamic and busy month for the sustainability industry.

Suppliers to Walmart receive their annual influx of emails kindly demanding each to complete an assigned number of Sustainability Consortium Product Sustainability Toolkits. These emails serve as a "gentle" nudge to manufacturers and brands, reminding each of the work they have or have not completed since the last survey.

Based on the number of registered companies at the time of this blog, 5,799 manufacturers and brands were logged on to SAP’s Product Sustainability Network answering one or more of the over 100+ surveys created by The Sustainability Consortium. All participating companies were also introduced for the first time to Walmart’s Project Gigaton Survey, which seeks to track organizations targets and goals relevant to the retailers' ambitious commitment to reducing a gigaton of GHG emissions from its supply chain.

In the building product industry, it is almost time for the U.S. Green Building Council's annual GreenBuild Conference. October means that Manufacturers are busy preparing relevant documents, releasing sustainability reports, new product transparency documents, and hurrying along product certifications to highlight at the conference. Just last week, the Health Product Declaration Collaborative announced a new third-party verification process intended to introduce some added quality and rigor to the material transparency program which houses over 2,700 different product specific HPDs.

With such activity, the month of October also brings a significant number of new job postings. Many of them driven by activities surrounding TSC, Walmart and GreenBuild. Here is a summary of jobs we posted over the last month with direct ties to these initiatives.

Supervisor Audit Sustainability Reporting & Quality Assurance - Hershey

Global Director of Sustainability - Bon Appetit

Product Sustainability Manager - Shaw Industries

Sustainability Specialist - Blommer Chocolate Company

Professor Sabine Benoit from The Surrey Business School's Department of Marketing and Retail Management sent me an interesting article that explains in part, why these jobs even exist. Her research highlights what is called “the chain liability effect”. As she explains, “when it becomes publicly known that products are associated with suppliers that engage in unsustainable behaviors, consumers protest, as Nestlé, Zara, and Kimberly Clark, among others, have learned. The phenomenon by which consumers hold firms responsible for the unsustainable behavior of their upstream partners suggests the notion of “chain liability.”

You can watch a short 3 minute video on the concept at this link.

The idea of “chain liability effect” is exactly what TSC is seeking to influence through many of its KPIs. Each manufacturer is scored based on its ability to provide evidence of enhanced responsibility in their supply chains. Similarly, the USGBC LEED rating system and Health Product Declarations are seeking to create enhanced responsibility of supply chains by promoting product transparency.  Specifically, with HPDs, it is expected that manufacturers control, disclose and then optimize the chemicals and ingredients, used by their suppliers, that are included in the manufacturers finished product. These programs are seeking to minimize the “chain liability effect" associated with poor control of supply chains.

The jobs from the four highlighted organizations are intended to manage this process of sustainability governance in the supply chain.

Outside of the Walmart and USGBC influence, Adobe and McDonald’s both posted interesting jobs this month that are designed to minimize the “chain liability effect” proactively.

Principal Campaign Marketing Manager – Sustainability & Social Impact - Adobe

Communications Supervisor, Brand Trust Strategy & Planning Team - Corporate Responsibility/Sustainability - McDonalds



Introducing New Ownership - WAP Sustainability

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As of October 3, 2017, Chattanooga, TN based WAP Sustainability Consulting became the new owners of

So, who is WAP Sustainability and why did we want to purchase Sustainability Leads?

WAP Sustainability is a 10-year-old sustainability consulting firm with offices in Chattanooga and Nashville. We specialize in helping sustainability leaders broaden and accelerate their efforts. Most of our work centers around technical tasks like GHG and Carbon Accounting, Life Cycle Assessment, Sustainability Reporting, Chemical Transparency, Environmental Product Declarations and Multi-Attribute Product Certifications. Our clients range from large publicly traded companies to manufacturers of building products and consumer packaged goods.

So, why purchase Sustainability Leads? The opportunity to purchase Sustainability Leads is a pure passion project for our firm. Our goal is to use the platform to advance knowledge of the sustainability job market, connect people with jobs and expand the conversation on sustainability leadership in new ways. Our team is constantly working with sustainability professionals who have unique stories on how they found their way into a sustainability role. We want to use this platform to tell real stories in our industry, by connecting the jobs we post with the candidate who actually got the job.  Overall, we want to build a community dedicated to the sustainability professional, something we think is missing in the industry.

I have personally followed the sustainability job market religiously, since becoming the first Sustainability Manager for Mars, Inc. over ten years ago.  Since then, I earned my MBA in Sustainability and was one of the first graduates in the country, and among the first three here in Tennessee. In addition to my role at WAP Sustainability, I teach graduate classes in Sustainable Business. I'm constantly seeking new knowledge about the job market, and incorporating those trends into my curriculum. I have intently watched the industry mature over the years by observing teams expand and shrink in size and identifying new critical skills depicted in job descriptions. My goal is to make sure my students have the sustainability skills they need to meet the needs of business.

Thanks for checking in and following our platform, we look forward to creating useful content for you to enjoy. If you have ideas that you think we would be interested in, we would love to hear from you.

-William Paddock, Managing Director, WAP Sustainability Consulting




ING and the CE100

ING and the CE100

ING stands for "International Netherlands Group" and their total assets amounted to 845 billion euros in 2016.  In June of that year, ING joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation as Circular Economy 100 (CE100) member.

Aspen and 100% Renewables

Aspen and 100% Renewables

In August 2015, the City of Aspen, Colorado joined Burlington, Vermont and Greensburg, Kansas as the third city in the United States to operate entirely on energy from renewable sources...

Canon and the Global Reporting Initiative

Canon and the Global Reporting Initiative

72% of S&P 500 companies published Sustainability or Corporate Social Responsibility reports in 2014.  This reflects a growing trend of corporations being held accountable by shareholders and stakeholders alike to demonstrate social, environmental, and fiscal responsibility.  Cannon Inc. is a 79 year-old Japanese company best known in the United States for their cameras and various other optical products.  They have a reputation of commitment to environmental disclosure, ranking first in a 2007 survey of 56 climate-friendly companies.  This tradition is continued in Cannon’s 2016 Sustainability report, which utilizes the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) G4 guidelines for creating their report.

New Belgium Brewing and the World Resources Institute

New Belgium Brewing and the World Resources Institute

New Belgium Brewing is a craft brewery based out of Fort Collins, Colorado.  They are unique in the world of craft brewing in that they have 100% employee ownership and are a certified B corporation...