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Episode 190: Helping Companies Achieve Sustainability Goals—with Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez

Deb Zahn: I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting podcast. So on this podcast, we're going to talk about work to help companies at the intersection of their people, their processes, and their technologies. And specifically, the guest I have come on does this as it relates to sustainability. Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez is going to walk through how she helps companies figure out what they need to do and want to do for sustainability, all the way through being able to implement it successfully and communicate it to a broader audience. Fabulous episode. Let's get started.

Hi, want to welcome to my show today, Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez. Eloisa, welcome to the show.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: Hi Deb. Thank you for having me.

Deb Zahn: So let's start off, tell my listeners what you do.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: Well, we focus on the producers of sporting and outdoor gear. We help them optimize their operation while implementing environmentally and socially friendly practices so we can care for the environment that we are trying to enjoy, with the use of their goods and services.

Deb Zahn: Oh, I just love that. And so I care very much about sustainability, so that's one of the reasons I wanted to have you on. And we're going to talk a little bit about that today, in terms of what your approach to the consulting you do in this space. So if I'm a sporting equipment or outdoor manufacturer, why should I care about sustainability? Why should I pay attention to that?

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: There are a lot of studies out there, some of them by the UN and other groups that have shown that climate change is impacting our ability to actually exercise outdoors. It's impacting our sporting events from children's games, soccer games being canceled, to practices being canceled, delayed. And there's a worry that even the locations where we had the Winter Olympics a few years back will no longer be able to host Winter Olympics because it won't be enough snow. So the sporting goods manufacturers have the responsibility, and it's for their own good to actually care for the environment and have the right practices to make sure that we are not making this situation worse.

And they also are in a unique position to actually educate the consumers to make them understand what the impact is of their choices. Because we have a unique, as consumers, we can impact, we can influence what happens with our choices, with the way that we buy, our purchases, and also with our vote. So that's where the manufacturers of outdoor gear can help educate, can bring that upfront so we can all can continue enjoying the outdoors.

Deb Zahn: I love that. It hadn't even occurred to me that games would be canceled, but of course, they would. If you can't be outside, you're not going to be playing outside. So I know that a lot of the work that you've done, even prior to some of your focus on sustainability, has been at a particular intersection with companies. And can you describe a little bit about what that intersection is and how that's meaningful to your sustainability work?

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: So throughout my career, I have been focusing on the intersection of people, process, and technology. For me, everything starts with people. Business is for people and by people. So we all need to very much understand what we're trying to accomplish, what value we're trying to get from what we are doing, from our businesses. The processes help us produce that value. So we need to very much understand what we're trying to accomplish and how we impact our coworkers and others, the suppliers, and anyone downstream of our product. And then technology comes along to enhance what we're doing, what we're trying to accomplish. Technology is not where things start. Unfortunately, a lot of people think that. But technology enhances your ability to accomplish, your ability to accomplish your values, the value that you're trying to achieve. So enhances your process.

Deb Zahn: And I love that intersection because that could be applied to anything, right? I'm in healthcare and those three things are everything, in terms of being able to operate effectively and efficiently and achieve outcomes. So it makes perfect sense to me that you would apply it, also, to sustainability. So how do you take that work you've done, and now you're looking at things through the sustainability lens? How does that translate, then, when you're starting to work with a client? What would be some of those first things that you do with them that work across those intersections?

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: So we try to make sure that we understand, again, what the goals are, what we're trying to accomplish, what's the value that, as an organization, you're trying to provide. And we look at your operation from various perspectives. From the process, what are the various steps that you're following, what the people are, what their skillsets are, what they're trying to achieve, if the process is actually enabling them to accomplish their goals or if it's not, and then the technology. How is a technology enhancing?

But one of the additions that we have done in the sustainability world is to also measure the environmental impact we are having with our processes, even with our technology because we don't see the technology, we don't see all the data that is being stored. It does not mean that it does not pollute.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: It takes a lot of energy to actually store data. So if you're not using that data, why keep it? So that's where we evaluate what you're trying to accomplish, what you're saving, what data you're saving, your processes, and how everything impacts what type of environmental impact it's having, and also what type of social impact it's having.

Deb Zahn: That's wonderful. And I know that one of the things you also pay attention to is the customers and the stakeholders and how they fit into that. So when you're doing this type of work, what is it that you help these companies understand when it comes to who they actually care about?

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: So many times we just look, as consultants, we come in and look at who my client is, what they're trying to accomplish. But we don't look downstream or upstream. And it's very important to actually look at everyone surrounding your customer, everyone that is in the periphery. For example, I am in the sporting goods industry, so I don't only look at the folks, in this case, producing skis, but I also look at the associations that serve them, that also promote skiing, that promotes cross-country skiing. I also look at the facilities that allow you to go skiing. And then we look at the customers because all of them need something from the producers of skis. They are going to either source the skis, they're going to dispose of the skis, have to repair them.

There are many different permutations of needs, there are, that come from these various stakeholders. So it's very important not to only hyper-focus on your customer, but also look at everyone that is in the periphery because they, also, are impacted. They also impact your customer. And by learning what the needs of those folks are, like the associations, the facilities, the consumers, you get to better serve your customers, as well.

Deb Zahn: Nice. I love that. So one of the things you talked about is you come in a good consultant and you really try and get deep into what's going on, what they really want to have happen and what's going on, what happens next, so that...Because what I've seen with a lot of organizations who've talked about sustainability is, it all feels too big and they're not sure what they can actually do. So they might do an assessment, they might bring in a speaker, but when it comes to action, they don't necessarily know what to do. So how do you get folks to the point where they can say, here's what we are going to do and what we see as our role?

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: Yes, that is a very frequent situation that we encounter, where folks feel this is massive because it is complex. Sustainability is a very complex issue. So you need a broad set of skills to be able to tackle this. But it doesn't mean you should do nothing because it's so complex.

So first of all, when we walk in, we help the organization understand what they care about from the sustainability perspective, what their customers and other stakeholders care about. So that's how we start narrowing down the massive space of sustainability. And we also identify how we are currently impacting the environment society. How is our governance within the organization? So that's where also business process mapping is very critical because it allows you to have a clear understanding of how you run your business and where the bottlenecks are, and where, also, the impacts are. Maybe positive and negative impacts.

So the first step is understanding what we care about and how we're impacting others. And then we can start developing a plan that allows us to start taking some steps, some action. We're not going to go from 0 to 60 in one year, but we need to have an understanding of how we're going to get there, what's going to be our plan moving forward, and it's very important to also communicate it. I have found many organizations which are doing different, they have many efforts on the sustainability area, but do not communicate it.

Deb Zahn: Wow.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: They don't know that it's important for their consumers or they don't know how to present it. So that's very important, as well, to be able to show your consumers, your stakeholders, that you are doing something, that you're not just leaving it to chance but you're taking action. You're being proactive because you care.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, I love that. And as a consumer of many things, including sport, well sporting, I'm going to put that in quotes. Outdoor activity gear is what we'll say. I pay attention to who the companies are and I want to know if they're following really truly sustainable practices, and that will influence my buying decisions. And if they're not telling anybody, then you've missed out on some revenue because you bet I would've picked you.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: Exactly.

Deb Zahn: So one other thing I know that sustainability consultants pay attention to is the sad, sad world of greenwashing, where companies will say they want to do something and maybe it's true and maybe it isn't. So when you think about who you most want to work with and bring your skills and talent to, how do you pay attention to that so that you're working with the folks who are really in it for the real reason?

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: It is about understanding that you want to communicate, you want to be transparent about what your actions are. It's not about being perfect.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: It's about doing something about it. It's about investigating, investing, being intentional on how you operate. So I look at what the organizations are doing and see if they are doing greenwashing, many times they just don't know it. So it is about bringing it up to them and seeing what their reaction is, and trying to work with them on rephrasing, setting up the right expectations with the customers, and being able to set that plan forward, bring more transparency. Because it's again, it's about being proactive, being intentional on your actions. Not so much about being perfect.

Deb Zahn: That's right. They might think they're doing something real and it's just nobody ever showed up and told them, “No, no, no, that doesn't actually do anything, but thanks.” You work with them, you dive into what they need, they end up with a roadmap based on this careful analysis, and then it gets to implementation. And I would imagine that's where the people, process, and technology still carries through. So what are the most important things that you help folks with when it comes to the actual doing after they've already developed the plan?

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: So we help them by understanding how their work is going to be changing, how you're going to use technology to enhance that process, or how you're going to use technology, or how you're going to change your process to reduce your emissions, for example. How you're going to be changing the way that you source specific materials. So we make sure that there's an understanding of the impacts that are going to, we're going to have as we progress through our plan. And also we help them with change management because it's about communicating to everyone within their organization and outside of their organization how they're going to be impacted, how their daily work is going to change or not change, depending on what we're doing. But it is not about sending an email and saying, hey, we have a new system. It's much more than that.

Deb Zahn: And then you check it off in your project management system like email sent, and now everybody knows.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: Exactly.

Deb Zahn: But no one read that email.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: And because we all learn different ways.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: We all absorb information in many different ways and sometimes we need to hear it 10 times, sometimes we need to hear it in a video, sometimes we need to hear it in a long email, sometimes it's just a tax. So we have to figure out what's the best way to communicate those changes and communicate them and make a plan to communicate those because it doesn't matter how perfect your process is or how perfect your system is, if you do not communicate clearly and your people do not understand how their day today is going to change, then all that work was good for nothing.

Deb Zahn: So that sounds like a typical pitfall, even aside from sustainability work, that's the place where I see things fall away, and then they wonder why it doesn't work. Are there other pitfalls, when either in the people, process, or technology, that you help clients understand these things are really important so we are not going to skip this or we're going to avoid this pitfall? What are some of the things you'd expect to see?

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: Another big one is the process. There is a misunderstanding that process hinders you from advancing and achieving your goal, usually.

Deb Zahn: And spoken like someone who lives on the East Coast of the United States where people don't like process. Yeah, I've seen that.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: I hear time and time again saying the process is going to hinder us. It's not going to let us move fast enough. But my counter argument is how many processes are you actually running? Instead of having one that 10 people understand, by not having a standard process, you have 10 processes that everyone has to adjust to. And I think Covid was a perfect example that showed the organizations, it had clear defined processes and had standard processes that people were able to say, you know what? This is our process to make it work for Covid, we're going to tweak it this way. And suddenly, the entire organization was able to run. And folks that did not have those that had 10 different processes, well they scramble for almost a year trying to figure out how to make things work, and it was painful. So I'm not saying that Covid was not painful for folks that had standard processes. I'm not saying that, but it allowed them to adjust more easily and focus in other areas where they needed to focus and support their employees and support their customers.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, that's a perfect example. And you were, of course, quite generous because there are the people who have 10 processes, the people who have 1, and then the people who only have chaos. And that was particularly painful for folks who they were just doing random things all the time and they think it's not process, but it is process, it's just chaotic process. And I saw those were the folks who had the worst time during Covid. And so that should be a lesson that, if you want to move forward on anything, having something that says here's how we do things, is a useful thing.

And then what's a big pitfall you see with technology?

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: With technology is implementing technology because it's cool.

Deb Zahn: Oh yeah, that shiny object syndrome.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: The shiny object syndrome, yes. And whenever I help organizations go through the selection of their systems, I always have them, let's define the process first, make sure that we understand what we're trying to accomplish, let's understand what are the key features that we are looking for in the new system, and then we have that checklist as we are evaluating the different vendors, the different systems. Because the vendor is going to do their job by bringing you the best system ever. They will put your branding, they will put your colors.

Deb Zahn: Oh, yeah.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: But that's fine because they are doing their job, they're showing the best of the best of their system. It is your job, as a purchaser, to actually understand what you truly need and not what you want or what it will be great to have. Because sometimes those bells and whistles, once you implement them, they actually hinder your process because you didn't need them. It's way too much for you, it makes things confusing, it makes things more complicated, than should be, etc.

So I am adamant about defining the features, the key features that you need, what is the basics, what you're trying to accomplish with your system, with your process first and then with your system. And then you can start looking at all the wonderful options out there because there are so many different systems and some of those systems will be matching your needs, but you need to understand what you're trying to accomplish.

Deb Zahn: I like the idea of setting up those features ahead of time because I've also seen folks see something cool and then they wrote down features, but only because they saw something they thought was cool first, as opposed to in order for this process to work and to serve the people, it needs to do these things. And then you go look at things and you kick the tires against that.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: Exactly.

Deb Zahn: Which I love. And I love the discipline of doing that. And it always breaks my heart when I don't see it.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: I do it for myself. Even though we're a small boutique, I went ahead and set up our requirements. What do we need? How are we going to grow in a few years? And those are the features that we look for. It doesn't matter the size of your organization, it's just a good discipline to have.

Deb Zahn: That's great. And I was looking at four different systems earlier today and we had our checklist. It was great. So if you could look forward five years, even, and you see that the sporting equipment and outdoor gear manufacturers are where you think that they should be, probably because you helped them, but you look for it in there, it's where they should be. What would that actually look like? What would just make your heart sing if it looked this way?

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: I would love to see more manufacturers have transparency on the practices that they're having, how their products are impacting, what type of impact they have in the environment society, have them in their website being full or transparent, but also have take-back programs, where there's so much out there. For example, all the soccer kids that use the cleats, the kids grow up so fast that they use them in one season and that's that. And some communities have created swapping programs where you can give the shoes and the balls and any of the equipment to other families. But it would be great to see the manufacturers actually have take-back programs, have programs where they can actually take damaged goods and be able to upcycle that. Or if they don't have the program, give guidance to consumers because they're in the best position to guide and advise their own consumers.

Deb Zahn: Oh, that would be lovely. I am reminded there is a company that will even take back underwear that is past its prime, let's just say. And I remember my mom told me about this, she was very excited. I don't know why my 82-year-old mom got so excited about that, but she sent them an email and wanted to know if she should wash them first. Like “Ma, yes you should. Please! That's horrible.” But even things like that where there's no reason things can't be recycled, they can't be repurposed, for some reason, they can't be repaired. That would be a beautiful, beautiful world to live in.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: Correct. And there are companies that are already doing it. And I saw a company that actually takes snow boots and they dismantle the snow boots and they use some of the pieces in the plastic casing. It's been repurposed for other industries, but they are starting to have more of those type of upcycling programs, which is great.

Deb Zahn: That's just wonderful. So if you were talking to another consultant who's done good things in the world, but they're watching what's going on with climate change and they're thinking, I need to do more, and not just in my personal life or contribute, but I want to add sustainability to what I'm doing, what advice would you give them?

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: To not wait. This is a team sport. We need all the various skill sets and disciplines for this. It's not just about operations, but it's also about communications. There are regulatory pieces, there's IT, there are many different areas where we can have folks from that bring different perspectives. And that's what we really need within sustainability because this is a complex problem. So we need to bring various perspectives and being able to say, you know what? In such an industry, we have done this thing and it works. What about can we apply it here?

For example, in the medical industry, there was a treaty printed, was used for all the medical implants for creating the pieces that fit into your mouth before they were actually made your crown. So 3D printing is now being used in the sporting goods industry to create prototypes before you go through the entire manufacturing process, you create a prototype, you can see the details, very fine-tuned details, and then you start creating the actual product. So being able to take some of the best practices of some of the successes from other industries into some of the other industries that apply to sustainability, is great.

So if you want to come into sustainability, don't wait. Talk to us talk. There's many, many different consultants out there, there's many professionals that will be happy to talk to you because we need more help. This is a situation that it doesn't only affect me, doesn't only affect you, it affects everyone. We all live in this world and in this society. So don't wait. There are programs out there to be able to pivot into sustainability.

Deb Zahn: Absolutely. And it's an all-hands-on-deck situation right now, so that's perfect. Now, where can folks find you?

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: So our website is, like input-output. So that's where we can find and you can find us or my email is Eloisa MG, E L O I S A M

Deb Zahn: Wonderful. And we will have that in the show notes so everybody can get to you and find you and particularly appreciate all the inspiration that you've shared today, that this is possible and you can do this. But let me ask this, what do you doing when you aren't you doing this good work? How do you find balance in your life? However it is, you think about that.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: So life goes by so fast.

Deb Zahn: Oh my goodness, yeah. To me, it's about honoring relationships. And because life is moving so fast, I like to hang on to different triggers to remind me of stopping and being able to enjoy life and make sure that I connect with the folks that I care about, and it has to start, first, with me. So for example, I exercise at five in the morning because that way-

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: Wow.

Deb Zahn: I get it out of the way and it actually, I like exercising at five in the morning because years ago, I used to play competitive tennis and I was at the courts at six and there's this beautiful morning mist, and I just loved it. And being in the morning, exercising, just brings me that beautiful feeling back. So I like doing that, but I also make sure that I'm in connection with my kids and my husband. With my kids, I have what we call mommy-daughter or mommy-son day. So I take one of my children and it's their day. We go for lunch and then we do whatever that kid wants. We can go to the science museum. We have gone to trampoline parks, you name it.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: Nice.

Deb Zahn: And then with my husband, we follow what we call the Marvel calendar. So whenever there's a... We were both Marvel fans, so whenever-

Right there with you. Love it.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: Yes. So when there is a Marvel movie coming up, we take the day off from work, we go watch the movie, go for lunch, and just have fun that day. Make sure that we connect, we have conversations about where we want to go, how are we feeling about life, and where we want to go from here, so it's about connection.

Deb Zahn: I love that.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: Life and business and every day is about connection in other people. So, that is very important. Making sure that we have time to actually connect and make sure that we're caring for the ones that we love. So

Deb Zahn: Oh my gosh, that's wonderful. And I'm right there with you on the Marvel universe, so that's great. Well, Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez, I appreciate so much that you came on and shared this, and again, gave us all inspiration that this work is possible and that there are folks out there that are willing to step up and do the work as long as they've got the right person helping them.

Eloisa Marquez-Gonzalez: Thank you for having me. I truly appreciate it.

Deb Zahn: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up in a lot of other great content and I don't want you to miss anything.

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