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Industry Leaders Profile: thinkstep-anz

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

thinkstep-anz is a trans-Tasman sustainability firm, with team of 40+ experts helping clients across Australia and New Zealand to succeed sustainably.

When they started in business 16 years ago, their main service was LCAs. Today they offer a full range of sustainability services: product services (including LCAs, EPDs, circular economy and Cradle to Cradle®), corporate carbon services (including measuring carbon footprints and developing plans to help clients reduce them), sustainability strategy and reporting.

They also offer communications services to help their clients tell their sustainability story in Plain English, supported with infographics.

thinkstep seeks to actively contribute to shaping the sustainability industry and have been long time corporate sponsors of ALCAS. We spoke to CEO Barbara Nebel about the company's vision for their clients, employees and the industry as a whole.

thinkstep-anz’s vision is that a culture of sustainability is lived in every organisation.  How do you work with your clients to help make this vision a reality?

We start by showing our clients the business value that sustainability can offer their organisation. For example, an LCA can help a client redesign a product to reduce its environmental impact. That’s the sustainability piece.

The business value? The LCA can help the company reduce its operating risks; the new product is likely to stand out from competitors’ products; the business can make credible environmental claims in its marketing. (No ‘greenwash’ here!)

Then, in our technical reports, we translate our sustainability terms and findings into the information clients need to make business decisions – maybe to build their market share or strengthen their supply chain. (There’s plenty in our industry to translate!)

We also translate our sustainability and business insights into plain English, to help our clients understand and act on our findings. We want our research and reports to have an impact!

When did thinkstep-anz become a B Corp and what drove this decision?  Has this changed your culture or operations?

We became a B Corp in 2018 because we believe we need to ‘walk the talk’. Firstly, it’s simply the right thing to do. We want to be a responsible business and the B Corp process has forced us to look closely (and to keep looking closely) at how we run our business.

Secondly, the B Corp certification is a practical one for small to medium businesses like us and we find it good to use. And thirdly, we knew that, if we’d gone through the process ourselves, we’d be well-placed to help other businesses become B Corps too. We now offer our clients a service to help them become B Corps too.

Yes, becoming a B Corp has changed the way we do things. For example, we’re writing a formal policy for our volunteering. We encourage our team to do good in the community, and now we’re committing formally to volunteer some of our time.

We regularly put the B Corp ‘lens’ over our decisions. What would this decision mean for relationships with our suppliers? How will it affect our environmental impact? Our governance? That sort of thing. B Corp also provides a useful framework for our business planning.

We were already keeping track of our carbon emissions, we’d done our own materiality assessment and we set a Science-Based target in 2019. These activities helped us gain and retain our B Corp certification.

How is thinkstep-anz helping to educate the corporate community about sustainability?

It’s important to us to share our skills and knowledge with the corporate community. We’re all in this together and we’re all learning! So, we run free regular webinars featuring our own and others’ experts, speak at conferences, and publish Plain English case studies, blogs and articles.

We also contribute our time and expertise to working groups at the Materials & Embodied Carbon Leaders’ Alliance (MECLA), the Infrastructure Sustainability Council, the Green Building Council and the Australian Circular Economy Hub run by Planet Ark.

thinkstep-anz is an authorised reseller of Sphera LCA software (formerly GaBi) and Sphera Corporate Sustainability Software (formerly SoFi).  How are these products helping clients to achieve the sustainability goals?

Our own LCA specialists use this software. If a client wants to set up an in-house LCA team, they can use GaBi software to do their own LCAs. Our team advises clients on this software and trains and supports them to use it.

We can also do a full LCA for a client and provide them with a ‘locked’ version. The client can then use GaBi to test options for reducing their products’ environmental impacts.

There’s also a GaBi packaging calculator. It’s easy to use to assess different types of packaging.

Our clients use the Corporate Sustainability Software to collect and manage corporate sustainability information, such as their Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, the waste they generate and the water they use. The software can also track progress against other KPIs such volunteer hours.

As well as all the sustainability data you help companies manage, how are you helping clients to tell their sustainability story in a compelling way?

Clients want to have an impact, and effective communications plays a big part here. Our communications and design team produces succinct, engaging content for clients to help them spread the word. This content includes Plain English executive summaries on our reports, to help CEOs, CFOs and other executives understand how sustainability can help their businesses and tell their own sustainability stories.

We also write and design communications for clients, including EPDs, case studies and sustainability reports. And we offer communications plans, advice and coaching to help clients get started. Some clients don’t have an in-house marketing and communications team. Others do, but they’re happy to outsource this work to us. Science communication is quite specialised.

thinkstep-anz now has a team of over 40 people.  What do you look for when recruiting?  What qualities make a good sustainability consultant?

We look for people who have the skills and experience our clients want from our team. That means expert technical skills combined with business skills and experience.

The qualities that make a good sustainability consultant? There are many, but we think these are the most important: being a strong communicator (including a listener!), curiosity, persistence and enjoying working with others.

We don’t look for a specific degree or background. We have economists, engineers, scientists, lawyers, designers and journalists in our team. They all have these things in common: they can think in systems, they’re good with detail, and they can see the bigger picture too.

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