Tag Archives: business as usual

Organizational Collaboration, Transparency, and Metrics CAN Foster Sustainable Change

20 Nov

In an earlier post I mentioned the soon to be availability of “The Portland Bottom Line: Practices for Your Small Business from America’s Hotbed of Sustainability”.   Well, the book has arrived and I am more proud than ever to be a contributor to this publication.  The short 400 word essays by myself and over 50 contributors explores how small businesses can effectively and efficiently shift toward sustainability and thrive in a challenging economy. Contributors collectively chose, by vote, the local community organization Mercy Corps Northwest, which supports the launch and growth of sustainable ventures, to receive 100% of the profits from the book’s sales.

You can buy the book now on Lulu for $16.95 (paperback) or $6.95 (download).   www.portlandbottomline.com

My excerpt from the book can be found in Part 3- Prosperity and is included in its entirety below.  Enjoy, buy the book and make a contribution to the growth of sustainable enterprise!

A few years ago, I assisted a water utility in implementing a sustainability focused initiative based on the International Organization for Standardization (“ISO”) 14001-2004 Environmental Management System standard. Many public and private organizations operate in functional silos, often don’t coordinate well, communicate effectively or run efficiently. Creating a triple bottom line-focused organization requires that all parts work together—like organs of a living being. This utility was inefficient with taxpayer dollars and under intense public scrutiny to improve its operations. It was not healthy. Through the two-year journey with the [utility], I worked hard to know each of its parts, how they interacted, where the trouble spots were, and where good health was. The goal was to build a holistic, sustainable organization that capitalized on its best assets: the staff.

To be truly optimized and efficient, it was vital to shore up operational weaknesses. The program focused on new communication techniques, champion-building, public environmental awareness, and creating a culture of continuous change management. Public agencies are often stuck in a business-as- usual (“BAU”) mindset. The ISO 14001-2004 program and other internal performance turn-around initiatives required moving beyond the BAU mindset. Key steps and measures that contributed to the turnaround included the following spheres:

  • Environmental: Early establishment of cross-functional performance improvement teams that focused on key measurable indicators, e.g. energy efficiency, resource management, and waste reduction.
  • Operational: Collaborative fact-finding, problem resolution and decision-making around staff utilization and scheduling, resource optimization, asset management, emergency response, and predictive maintenance.
  • Social: Proactive external public education and awareness campaigns at city-run facilities to engage community support related to natural resource management and watershed conservation efforts; employee initiatives that encouraged buy-in and financial rewards for cost saving measures and led to a reduced environmental footprint.

The organization achieved its ISO 14001-2004 certification, garnered prestigious national awards, and saved the City over $100 million in 5 years. After the certification award, a 30-year veteran of the department approached me. He hadn’t believed in the programs value at the start—maybe because of his BAU approach, or maybe he didn’t like change. He said, “Dave, I want to thank you. You made us do something that we would not have done ourselves”. That is what cultural change is all about. For once, I was speechless.

The keys to the success of this sustainability program and others like it are: cross-functional collaboration and employee input (early and often), early stakeholder collaboration, and metrics. These ingredients alone will go a long way toward laying the foundation for long term success of your organization’s sustainability initiatives and going beyond business-as-usual.

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‘Rebound’- Linking Bad Backs, the Gulf Spill, and the Economy Through Sustainability

15 Jun

So, it’s official.  I have a “bad” back.  A very competent neurosurgeon told me the other day that “you have structural issues”.  Indeed I do.  This all started after I went hiking with my family in late 2009 and experienced a burning pain in my legs, followed by numbness and teeth-gnashing lower back pain.  A series of tests ruled out circulatory problems (thank goodness) and other internal stuff.  “How bad is it, Doc?” I asked.  Well, an MRI revealed a bulging disc, mild spinal stenosis and a synovial cyst.  I guess I am not a spring chicken anymore, after all.

The center that I went to get this great news had a great name too-Rebound– and it got me to thinking.  In mulling over the state of our economy and the ongoing oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, I suggest that those situations are representative of “structural issues” that require therapy of sorts.   The economy appears to slowly be on the “rebound”, while the prognosis for the other (the Gulf spill) will still require more study to determine the full extent of the damage.  Common among these two situations and my back is a call for change, to think more sustainably.  In other words, considering the economy and the environment as linked systems requires a deeper, holistic, de-siloed way of thinking.

By taking a triple bottom line perspective, the “people, planet and profit” elements that constitute sustainability will be better served and long term value realized.  This post is about hope, about renewal and rejuvenation- please read on.

People

The spine is not only the foundation for our entire physical structure but also house the nerves that radiate to each organ and every minute part of the body.  Spinal nerves especially control the functional processes of all our bodily tissues and structures.   My back problems are not so bad that surgery will be involved.  But the experience will require making some adjustments in my exercise routine, losing weight (again!) and stretching more.

The key to back health is in strengthening the “core” muscles- and having the “mojo” necessary to keep on plan and stay motivated, even when things look really, really bad.   If I follow my plan, I expect to “rebound” from my injuries stronger than before.

Profit

In the case of the economy, I have just completed reading “The Great Reset” by Dr. Richard Florida, Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University.  In The Great Reset (http://bit.ly/cDbWWG), Dr. Florida explores the parallels of the current Great Recession to the Long Depression of the 1870’s and the Great Depression of the late 1920’s and 1930’s.  Florida argues that ‘these periods of “creative destruction” have been some of the most fertile, in terms of innovation, invention and energetic risk-taking in history, and this is what sets the stage for full-scale recovery.’  Florida argues that great crises are opportunities to remake or “rebound” our economy and society and generate whole new epochs of even greater economic growth and prosperity.  Among these new forces and energies will be:

  • new consumption patterns
  • new forms of infrastructure that speed the movement of people, goods and ideas
  • ‘mega-regions’ that will drive the development of new industries, jobs and a locally based way of life.

    Image Credit: ProgressOhio

I am also am reading Plentitude, by former Harvard University economist and current Boston College sociology professor Juliet Schor.  Dr. Schors book (http://bit.ly/cnbG8n) argues that society needs to make some big changes from the “business as usual” model of economics.  In a world economy traditionally valued based on gross domestic product (GDP), Dr.  Schor explores the economics and sociology of ecological scarcity (food, water) and rising costs of goods and services (energy, transport).  In addition, she explores the factors that have led to the scarcity in incomes, jobs, and credit.  Plenitude puts sustainability at its core.  The book presents a vision that suggests finding  new sources of wealth, implementing green technologies, and strengthening locally based economies, all of which can lead to a more economically secure, ecologically sensitive and sustainable world.

Both books offer promise that a redirected focus on community-based, environmentally-centric and technological efficiency and innovation can (and must) be the “rebound” catalysts that drive economic prosperity.

Planet

The current, devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill and ecological crisis in the Gulf of Mexico presents a great set of uncertainties and human-induced risks not realized before in terms of scope and magnitude.  My earlier posts on the Gulf spill spoke to the issue of risk management and contingency planning and how such scenarios can be managed better (Risky Business: Why Better Risk Management Can Protect Lives & the Environment- Part 1 http://bit.ly/aRDeJj).   But this discussion focuses on ecological damage and on resiliency of natural environments.

The 1979, spill from Mexico’s Ixtoc 1 offshore well in the Gulf of Campeche is proof that the environment has a “stunning capacity to heal itself from manmade insults” (http://bit.ly/djoDkO).   This huge spill surprised marine biologists and ecologists in terms of the speedy recovery of the heavily impacted Bay of Campeche ecosystem spreading into south Texas.  However, there are major differences in the depth and location of the Ixtoc and Deepwater Horizon spills, and other natural phenomena that aided in the Ixtoc spill recovery rate.  These differences may not bode well for the Louisiana coast.  Case in point- the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.  Studies in the mid 2000’s showed that 15 years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, “some fish and wildlife species injured by the spill have not fully recovered” (http://bit.ly/d2VEaZ).   Researchers noted some uncertainty of what role oil plays in the inability of some populations to bounce back.

Ecosystems are dynamic and ever-changing.  This changing dynamic flow continues its natural cycles and fluctuations at the same time that it continues to recovery from impacts of spilled oil.  As time passes, separating natural changes from oil spill related impacts becomes harder to distinguish.  So time will tell, and after the well is finally plugged (and it will be plugged) and the last drop of oil spills, the long term ecological “rebound” will begin.

Like the distressed economy and like the gulf coast mess, my back will “rebound” to a healthy point that is hopefully sustainable.  Mark my words.  It’s said that “good health is not an event, it’s a lifestyle”.  This holds true whether we are talking about our bodies, the economy or our planet.