*Guest Post By: Nancy Cleveland

Technology continues to move forward many industry sectors, many by leaps and bounds. Meanwhile, sustainable business practices and improving corporate social responsibility are trending, with the expectation to continue for years to come.

Yet, the sustainability industry, itself, has not shown a great leap in technology.

That’s where Jennifer Anderson and I come in.

I’m a recovered real estate and telecommunications attorney. I started sustainability consulting after leading sustainability initiatives at a national real estate investment company. Anderson was a strategic management consultant in the social services sector after previous stints in finance and healthcare (and an advanced public health degree).

We met, and started consulting clients on sustainability programs. We founded our company, Sustrana, based on this virtue. In the development phase of this partnership, we quickly assessed that technology would be integral to accelerating and empowering companies on their sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) journeys.

Today, Sustrana is an affordable online service that helps businesses realize performance improvements through CSR programs based on sustainability best practices.

We’ve always been aware that management buy-in is a key ingredient for getting sustainability initiatives off the ground, even when companies have the best intentions.

Our approach to formulating this vital component was to give management a picture of how sustainability can help the company stack up better against competitors and in the eyes of key customers.

The system we developed for this benchmarking exercise has been turned into the first buy-in tool, and possibly one of the most useful ones, on Sustrana’s online platform.

As the COO of Sustrana, I’ve seen through the years that collaboration has been key to development. It has both informed and solidified the inner workings of our partnership.

Years ago, a client green team asked us to research what the company’s competitors and key business partners were doing and thinking about sustainability. They thought it might help ‘sell’ sustainability work to management.

The feeling was that the results might even garner a hard-to-get budget for sustainability work they wanted to do.

To do the assessment, we constructed a big-picture framework for evaluating publicly available information related to sustainability.


Anderson, Sustrana’s CEO, chalks up Sustrana’s success to trial and error and a good dose of experience.

“But to be honest, we didn’t do that the first time through,” she says. “At first, our knowledge guided our gut and we came up with a show and tell presentation that resonated with the client. We knew we were on to something!”

Problem number one was that the show and tell took too long. Firewalls and Internet access threatened plans to navigate websites and show their results. Leading clients through an analysis based on their knowledge was challenging to condense. And the time to tell the story effectively could depend on how awake the group was!

We decided to create a scale and positioned logos of the companies being assessed in a range of Reactive, Tactical, and Strategic in order to set the stage for story telling. Eureka! The picture was worth a 1000 words.

Over time, Anderson and I developed a series of questions to guide website reviews. The questions began to take shape as a uniform way to rank a company’s sustainability attitude, understanding, and commitment.

We refined the questions to better reflect the Reactive, Tactical, Strategic stages of sustainability. This allowed us to quantify assessments. We were able to give credit to companies who had just started (and were creeping along) in their journey toward sustainability. This made it possible to create an overall numerical score.

Once scored, creating an infographic based on the answers to our survey questions was a snap. And that’s the story of how Sustrana’s first online tool was born.

The assessment tool, BEAT (Business Environment Assessment Tool), has become a powerful communicator within the larger Sustrana platform. It no longer requires an expert. In fact, the tool has all the education needed for someone with no sustainability experience to generate the tool’s pictorial result. The picture is a quick, efficient, and effective way for communicating about sustainability and how a company stacks up.

“Many companies want to do good and be responsible, but they don’t know where their sustainability efforts stand against their competitors or whether there is an immediate marketplace opportunity they are missing,” says Anderson. “Even worse, they may be losing market share because someone else is more sustainable.”


BEAT is a great tool to help our customers get buy-in from management and stakeholders for ‘going green’.

Sustrana’s online service has grown well beyond BEAT to include tools for customers to create a sustainability strategy, pick projects from a large database of ideas, and implement a solid sustainability program. The service includes on-demand education and many resources, plus some built-in consulting help to guide DIY customers along the way.

It’s the ultimate resource for any organization looking to increase their business performance, while making impacts for the greater good.

Our service initiates engagement and empowers customers through storytelling and compelling imagery and teaches them how to do the same.

“When you have a lot of information to communicate quickly, think about how you can say it in a picture. Let your visual tell the lion’s share of your story so all you have to do is connect the dots. That way you can get to your analysis of the information right away,” says Anderson.

People love stories and pictures! Use them to your advantage, particularly when they can simplify and focus complex information. So whether you’re working to get buy-in for ‘going green’ or just trying to make the business case for a particular sustainability project, infographic your way to success. Because, as we all know, a picture’s worth a thousand words.



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