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How do you define your companies' main sustainability challenge?

Marijn Mennes

We're standing around in a group, chit-chatting, and getting to know each other. Suddenly, Menno reaches for the microphone and speaks with a clear deep voice: "Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to start in 3... 2... 1...


Some of us cheer. A slight grin appears on the faces of the people present. That was probably the quietest launch people have ever been a part of. Some of the participants, ABN AMRO clients, have endured over two hours of morning traffic to get to Circl for today's workshop. It shows that getting up at 5.30 in the morning isn't a challenge for people that desire change.

Today's workshop helps the companies formulate their most crucial sustainability challenge. And with this article, we'll discover together how you can make a start yourself.

The Impact Nation Program

Menno explains what we aim for with Impact Nation; to help companies with the difficult part of making their business more sustainable. With a 100-day program ABN AMRO, TNW, and ImpactHub will assist companies with finding and integrating a solution to their sustainability challenge into daily practice.

The Impact Nation program starts with Today's workshop. After that, the Impact Nation team will scout worldwide for companies that offer possible solutions. These companies present their answers on a communal "kick-off"-day. The participants of Impact Nation select their best possible fitting solution for the rest of the program. For 20 weeks, the Impact Nation team helps companies with integrating the possible solution into daily practice.

But there's this first major milestone to complete: The challenge shaping workshop. That's important because it:

1. helps to identify the real problem;

2. provides a foundation for later steps;

3. establishes clear roles and responsibilities.

The companies are each matched with a facilitator from TNW, a scout from Impact Hub, and an expert ABN AMRO. Then, they'll walk to their table as a team.

Next to their table, there are three large empty canvasses on the wall. In under three hours, we'll work on filling those in. Grab your copy of the canvas here [PDF].

The goal is to go from a general idea to a tangible challenge that can be solved by the scouting and research team. The canvas is divided into three parts:
Part A:  Ideation & Bulls Eye
Part B: Challenge Statement & 3SP
Part C: Stakeholder Mapping

To get the best results, do this exercise with one or two colleagues. I'll explain what each step is for and how you come to the best answers. I'll add examples per step, so for this situation, your company is an internationally operating caterer.

Part A: Ideation & Bulls Eye

Step 1: Trends mapping (15 minutes).

We start exploring what's currently happening in your business, her industry, and society as a whole. Starting with this step gives you a reliable indication of what is relevant, and it provides a good starting point for a potential challenge.

Write down all relevant trends in society today, in your industry, and in your business culture. This helps to identify possible opportunities or constraints. Then, use dot-voting to choose the most important themes. Give every participant 3 votes. In the end, you want to agree upon one or two relevant trends.

Example of a trend: The increased attention from both customers and employees for food waste and health.

Step 2: Innovation Objective (10 min)

When you identified one or two trends, it is time to build an overarching innovation objective that is inspiring and positive. This is a stepping stone from general trends to a challenge. Nearly sixty years ago, there was an American president who said: "We're going to put a man on the moon." This phrase painted a clear picture and helped people focus on making decisions to achieve just that. That's the goal of the innovation objective; to create what we nowadays call a "moonshot." Something ambitious people can keep as a reference.
N.b. setting ambitious goals was a great skill for J.F. Kennedy.

Write a single sentence that is inspiring, positive, and ambitious as a goal for your company. Formulate it as a high-over innovation objective. Think of it as a dot on the horizon. This will be your Moonshot. Or in plain English: something ambitious and most definitely too large to be captured in one innovation, but that would be great to achieve and gives you energy when you think of it.

Example: Achieving a zero-emission footprint by reducing waste before 2030.

Step 3: Bulls-eye (20 min)

With that objective in place, it's time to come up with concrete sub-topics
that also relate to the chosen trend(s). You can write ideas on Post-it notes, or use Miro if you brainstorm digitally. Then, you can cluster the Post-its on the bullseye. The critical or more applicable topics are placed closest to the center of the bullseye.

Do an individual five-minute brainstorm in which you write down your ideas and sub-topics connected to the trend and objectives. Proceed to cluster the ideas and pinpoint the most impactful ones on the bullseye. Finally, agree and select one or two topics (=clusters) that seem suitable to your company, and serve as the base for your sustainability challenge.

Example cluster: Waste, valorizing waste, footprint, measurement.

Step 4: Challenge Shaping (15 min)

Based on the previous actions, we now need to come up with our sustainability challenge.

The clusters on the bullseye each represent opportunities for innovation, so we now select the topic(s) that are most relevant to your company. Use the how-might-we format (below) to formulate the challenge in the form of a question. A question that is engaging and understandable, open-ended, addressing a target group, and is formulated in a single sentence.

Use 5 minutes to individually come up with a challenge based on the Trends, main objective, and clusters you've made. The following format will help you define something of value:

How might we ... [action], so we can ... [desired result] by .. [time]?

Compare your statement with that of your team members. Discuss, and come up with one statement that feels comfortable for everybody. If you have that one challenge defined, you can write it on the canvas! Two resources to help you formulate How-Might-We questions are here [PDF] and here [PDF].

Example: How might we nudge the behavior of our Dutch kitchens, so that food waste gets reduced with 90% by 2025?

As you can see, this is by far not solving our whole Moonshot. But it's a stepping stone, and an essential first step to find out how we can seduce people to avoid food waste.

Part B: Challenge Statement & 3SP

Great job. The hard work has been done. Now it's time for tea or coffee.

Step 5: Starting Point (10 min)

This step helps you find the relevance of the challenge stated above. Additionally, you will discover what has already been done to tackle the problem and from previous experiences.

Ask yourselves, what have we already done to solve our challenge?

Step 6: Succes (10 min)

This delves further into the success metrics and provides further clarification into what the mid-sized enterprises are looking for in terms of desired effects.

Step 7: Solution (10 min)

It allows the mid-sized enterprises to select a few selection criteria that are taken into account during the scouting period to enable more straightforward selection later on.

Step 8: Promise (10 min)

In the final step, you'll think about what you can 'promise' the startup in a potential pilot project and beyond.

Part C: Stakeholder Mapping

Now that we have our challenge and specifics defined, it is time to figure out the stakeholder details for further communications. It is incredibly important that there is clear ownership of the multiple vital roles. Otherwise, responsibilities might be unclear or shift, which is harmful to success.

Step 9: Internal Stakeholders (10min)

Determine all the internal stakeholders, which include sponsors, key contact (for the duration of the scouting process), and the pilot lead. 
This will be followed by how the internal stakeholders can be engaged for collaboration.

Step 10: External Stakeholders (10 min)

Determine all the external stakeholders, which include Suppliers, Clients, and Partners. This will be followed by how the external stakeholders will be engaged for the collaboration.

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