So I heard on a very hot day recently with the kids at the ice cream “shoppe”. This made me dwell over how my clients view sustainability. You see, while a great deal of change has occurred in business over the years, sustainability is to the uninitiated as flavorful as the worst ice creams ever invented (http://bit.ly/aIuKYD). Ironic that most of those flavors originate in Japan, the home of Lean, Quality Management Systems, Six Sigma, The Toyota Way, and all things continual improvement. Oh, BTW, there really ARE plenty of tasty ice creams and gelatos that are sustainably made (locally sourced materials, organics, community based giving programs http://bit.ly/dfGiaC).
The “look” and “feel” of sustainability then, depends on the level of enlightenment that a company has, the desired “end state” and on the depth of its resources to execute the change (see Joel Makower’s recent post in Two Steps Forward http://bit.ly/aTbzVz ). So it’s important to note that while the main focus these days is on the environmental part of sustainability (i.e. “green”), that’s not the whole story. ‘Sustainability’ embraces the legal, financial, economic, industrial, social and behavioral aspects of organizations as well as the environment.
In a new open source book, The Sustainable Business, by Jonathan Scott (http://bit.ly/bGhyu6), he describes seven key elements and criteria needed for organizations to evolve and meet the truest definition of a sustainable organization (the 7-P application model). Briefly, the 7-P’s of sustainability are:
- Preparation – setting the stage for change (both physically and psychologically) and understanding what the reformer is up against when trying to implement profitable, long-term business practices while accepting the breadth and depth of this subject (e.g.: the financial implications of sustainability and the fact that it is not about being independent).
- Preservation – encompasses two areas: internal (collecting and displaying real-time measurement) and external (keeping ahead of laws, pending legislation, trends, and developments).
- Processes – sustainable belief systems, philosophies, business models, and thought patterns that help match a business with customer demands, core capabilities, and best practices.
- People – accepting the importance of training and education and working diligently to avoid the wasting of people, specifically: employees (who seek security and motivation), stakeholders (who want a return on their investment), customers (who want safe, value-laden products), and the world community – including the two-thirds of humanity who are currently left out of the global economic loop (who desire jobs and inclusion) and who represent an economic force all their own.
- Place – the buildings and places where work is performed and/or products are sold.
- Product – ensuring that goods and services are free from unnecessary waste (‘non-product’) and toxins – and designed so that the materials, energy, and manpower that comprise them (and their packaging) are treated as investments and continuously reused.
- Production – the physical, mechanical, biological, and chemical processes used to transform raw materials into products or services – and transport them.
Building on his Scotts multi-dimensional perspective on sustainability program development, three principal objectives of a sustainable organization must, at a minimum:
- Minimize Resource Consumption, and
- Avoid Damage to the Environment, while
- Meeting Business Goals, Human Needs and Stakeholder Aspirations
So how does one get to there? One way is through a systematic framework like an ISO 14001-based Environmental Management System (EMS). While ‘sustainability’ is a guiding principle to keep organizations on track as an EMS is executed, an EMS is the framework – a set of processes and tools for effective mission accomplishment.
Supposing as Scott and Makower suggest that an organization wants to go beyond the environmental leg of sustainability and include the social and financial aspects as well…all good! However, without the resources to make the leap and a systematic process to keep on track, the outcomes could be disappointing. So before you leap, plan ahead. Build a system to plan, implement, measure and check progress of the initiative. Look for the quick wins. Build an innovation-based culture and reward positive outcomes. Measure, manage, report and build on the early wins. Build the initiative in manageable chunks.
In summary, the keys to unlocking value through implementing sustainability initiatives require positioning through:
- Identifying marketplace trends that reward innovation toward sustainability
- Optimizing the linkage between sustainability, environmental and business objectives
- Creating a systematic process and internal champions that can drive the system from the inside out
- Establish a manageable performance measurement system that demonstrates ‘triple bottom line’ results
- Building assurance systems for compliance and credible and transparent public disclosure.
Are you ready for that ice cream cone? What’s your appetite? Single or double scoop? Sprinkles on top?