Tag Archives: green business

Can Apple Redeem Itself on Supply Chain Sustainability? Taking a Cue on Accountability from Nike’s Playbook

3 Feb

NOTE: Portions of this piece originally appeared as a guest column in Sustainable Business Oregon

Last week, on the way to a business meeting in downtown Portland I tuned into the local sports radio station.  Nationally syndicated sports commentator Dan Patrick (“DP”) was providing his one minute Above the Noise segment.  The focus was on if, how and when sports icons that have fallen from grace (due to an off the field indiscretion) they could ever redeem themselves in the public court of opinion.  And could they ever regain public acceptance to be ‘marketable’ commodities again.  Think player product endorsements.  Think Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest- well the list is WAY to lengthy to cover here, but you get the idea.  Most that have regained endorsement status (like Bryant) have either redeemed themselves through community service and on field performance, but often the public-at-large (er, consumers) just forget.  The past indiscretions have faded from the tabloids.

So I got to thinking that this sounded very familiar when it comes to companies (manufacturers and service industries in particular), and the ways in which they address sustainability matters.  I am thinking of manufacturers who have made environmentally impactful products, and willingly or knowingly conducted socially irresponsible or possibly unethical business practices that have led to public backlash.  And I thought about how some have been able to successfully “redeem” themselves and regain a positive marketplace reputation, while others never quite recovered.

Since this past week Apple was in the news, I thought DP’s radio op-ed was a perfect parallel.  According to a report issued by anti-pollution activists in China, Apple is more secretive about its supply chain than almost every other American company operating in the country. Apple came up among the laggards among 29 major electronics and IT firms in a transparency study drawn up by a coalition of China’s leading environmental groups.  The reports focused on “the openness of IT firms and their responsiveness to reports of environmental violations at suppliers”.  Though Apple is known in the industry for the secrecy it wraps around its newest product offerings, the “mystery of its supply chain is more a matter of covering up than preventing leaks”, the report stated. The report claimed that Apple’s suppliers have been involved in breaches of environmental regulation, including major waste discharge violations in recent years at several Chinese firms that are believed to be  part of Apple’s supply chain.  To be fair, Nokia, LG, SingTel, Sony and Ericsson also fared poorly in the survey, but Apple stood out in how it did not address and respond to the findings.

Apples Supplier Commitment

Of course this revelation was not the first time that Apple’s supply chain management oversight (or lack thereof) has been ‘shaken to its core’. Despite Apples Supplier Code of Conduct, it appears that they are not fully conforming to their own internal commitment and policies.  An insightful post from back in mid 2009 highlighted the series of issues that Apple has had with its supply chain, from human rights violations and pollution to lax supplier oversight and unfortunate subcontractor worker suicides.  Apple itself admitted its complacency in addressing social and environmental sustainability issues in a pragmatic but resolved manner.

Nikes Redemption Story- a Work in Progress

Apples current predicament is not unlike another company that relies on a deep contractor supply chain, whose headquarters in my backyard- Nike.  In the late 1980’s reports were starting to circulate from Indonesia and Asia concerning Nikes alleged “sweatshops”.  Over the course of the 1990’s, continued exposure of unscrupulous labor and human rights practices, combined with intensive public protests and campaigns continued to hound Nike and dragged down its reputation.

By 2001, the issue erupted and Nike was stung by reports of children as young as 10 making shoes, clothing and footballs in Pakistan and Cambodia.  Phil Knight, Nikes CEO admitted the company “blew it”. Nike, like many other companies (like Nestle, PepsiCo, Wal-Mart and other consumer products manufacturers and retailers) learned the hard way that taking liberties with “social license” to operate (especially in foreign countries) has its negative financial and reputational consequences.

That’s not to say of course that all is perfect in Niketown.  But with the corporate and supply chain infrastructure now in place to monitor, validate and continually improve supplier relations and accountability, fewer violations have occurred. Nike has continued to push open innovation and environmentally focused product design with social accountability in mind.  The Ethisphere Institute named Nike as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies for 2010. The Institute recognizes organizations annually that “promote ethical business standards and practices by going beyond legal minimums, introducing innovative ideas benefiting the public and forcing their competitors to follow suit.”   Also, last October, Newsweek magazine took 500 of the largest publicly traded U.S. companies and produced a 2010 Green Rankings List.  Nike, was 10th on the list, and was noted for having a strong commitment to evaluating and improving the environmental footprint of its suppliers.  They also scored a 97 in the reputation category. (Apple by the way scored 65th, with a reputation score of 71.  I guess that low score represents that missing piece in Apples iconic logo.

Stepping Up to the Plate on “Social License to Operate” and Accountability

A great research study from 2002 (from the Center for the Study of law and Society at University of California Berkeley)  highlights the steps that companies in the apparel, forest products, consumer goods, oil and energy and other highly capitalized industries have gone through to “redeem” themselves and restore brand trust.  They’ve achieved this through rigid compliance with local environmental rules, product  and environmental stewardship, verification  and proactive social engagement.

Apple needs to do the same thing and implement a proactive supplier sustainability and verification program.  As I have laid out in prior posts, companies like Nestle, Corporate Express, Danisco, Starbucks, Unilever and the apparel industry stepped up in a big way to address human rights, fair labor and sustainable development in areas in which they operate throughout the world.  So too have major electronics companies like Hewlett Packard and IBM in leveraging their supply chains in assuring that corporate sustainability performance objectives are met.   Further, in 2010 the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) unveiled its ISO 26000 Corporate Social Responsibility guidance document.  In addition, two prominent organizations, UL Environment and Green Seal unveiled and vetted two sustainability focused product (GS-C1) and organization (ULE 880) standards this past year, both of which may markedly affect supply chain environmental and social behaviors in the future.  That’s not to mention the issue of conflict minerals, which strikes deep at the cell phone manufacturing sector.  Finally, the age of openness and collaboration has arrived on the heels of Wikileaks and numerous high profile reputational back breakers.

Engaging and Leveraging the Supply Chain

The most successful greening efforts in supply chains are based on value creation through the sharing of intelligence and know-how about environmental and emerging regulatory issues and emerging technologies.  Leading edge, sustainability –minded and innovative companies have found “reciprocal value” through enhanced product differentiation, reputation management and customer loyalty.  Suppliers and customers must collaboratively strengthen each other’s performance and share cost of ownership and social license to operate.  But supply chain sustainability and corporate governance must be driven by the originating manufacturers that rely on deep tiers of suppliers and vendors for their products.

So Apple should take a cue from Nikes playbook- “Just Do It!”  This issue will not go away on a wing and a prayer.  Here’s how to get it done- right:

1)  As the 2009 post that I mentioned said, get your company on the ground and enforce your Supplier Code of Conduct – now.

2)  Open Up and reach out to external stakeholders, not just your suppliers.  Engage non-governmental organizations early and often.   Find a respected international organization or other third-party to facilitate the engagement process.   Treat communities, NGO’s and suppliers with respect.

3) Work with your supply chain and with industry peers to standardize requirements. Create or revisit the resources allocated in internal procurement networks to collaborate on environmental and social sustainability issues.

4) Construct environmental and social accountability requirements at the purchasing phase. Build environmental and social conformance criteria into supplier contract specs and incorporate sustainability and environmental staff on sourcing teams

5) Inform suppliers of corporate environmental concerns. Standardize supplier questionnaires and make sure that the Supplier Code of Conduct lands in the right hands.  Promote exchange of information and ideas by sponsoring charettes to facilitate discussions between customers and suppliers on environmental and social license issues.  Develop a supplier/vendor peer or mentoring program that promotes co-innovation on sustainability issues

6) Build environmental considerations into product design w/ suppliers. Apple already considers Design for environment (DFE) product innovation and life cycle analyses in its product design.  You’d be well served to coordinate minimization of environmental impact in the extended supply chain and work with suppliers to manage end-of-pipe environmental issues.  Give your suppliers an incentive to reduce their environmental loading associated with their products and improved worker conditions.

7) Follow up! Without adequate on-the-ground follow-through, on-going supplier engagement and long-term commitment of human and financial capital, your sustainability problems will persist.

So like sports stars, business stars can redeem themselves and their reputations.  But it first takes admitting that you have a problem before you can start down that path.  Apple has had a pretty rough year, what with CEO Steve Jobs taking medical leave, its products having persistent quality problems and its connection with negative environmental and human rights issues.  I’m hopeful that Apple and others will get the message that ol’ Ben Franklin stated so long ago but holds true today:

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” -Benjamin Franklin

Until then, “I’m a PC”.

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The Sky’s NOT Falling: New Supply Chain, Logistics Surveys Cite Positive Benefits of Sustainability, Challenges Ahead

13 Jan

Geesh.  You’d think by the Twitter chatter that erupted from this weeks article in the Environmental Leader that the sky was falling.  The headline “Supply Chain Chiefs: Sustainability Isn’t Key” caught readers’ attention, but perhaps the messaging was taken a bit too negatively.

The article was focused on two recent surveys by eyefortransport (EFT), a very knowledgeable and (in my view) a marquee market research entity focused on the transportation industry.  In the survey, chief supply chain officers were asked what key challenges they saw for 2011.  Well, a majority that responded did not view sustainability as a key challenge in 2010/2011.  According to the survey, “supply chain officers identified the “biggest business challenges driving their supply chain agenda” as variability and forecasting (42 percent), cost containment and reduction (39 percent), and supply chain visibility (35 percent). Sustainability strategies and practices only ranked 11th in the list of concerns, with just over 15 percent.”

A second EFT survey of logistics service users’ ranked sustainability only 15th in importance out of 24 challenges they face, behind such factors as the economy, cost control and fuel price fluctuations.  Meanwhile, the survey noted that respondents from third-party logistics services, “ranked sustainability sixth, with the economy, cost control and demand forecasting coming tops.”

The two surveys results yielded no real surprises. And where some may see this as a sort of “green Armageddon”, I only view this as a “teachable moment”.  One of the comments to the post rightly noted that “supply chain sustainability is a powerful means of supply chain streamlining, cost reduction and agility enhancement, and the topic can be used to improve communications and business relationships through the supply chain.”

Because the principal question posed was “what are the biggest challenges that supply chain managers’ face”, I’ll go out on a limb to say that “first mover” supply chain managers are already getting a handle around this issue and maybe the “concern” level is not as great as in the past. In fact, the survey results suggested that in the past couple of years, organizations are generally acting in a more proactive, sustainable manner. As the survey went on to indicate, well over 60 percent of those companies surveyed had implemented or were initiating sustainability focused efforts in 2010- ranking around 10th out of nearly 40 supply chain management project categories- that’s actually a pretty good number!   In the logistics survey, most respondents noted a far higher level of positive environmental performance in 2010 compared with 2009.

You see- it’s all about how you look at a situation- greening of the supply chain through sustainability is not looking too shabby in my book, compared to just a few years ago.

If I had to call foul on the two surveys, perhaps EFT erred in recognizing sustainability as its own category.   Perhaps that was by design, but given the embedded nature of sustainability, I could easily link sustainability with a number of other categories that did rank high on supply chain officers “concern” lists, namely: cost containment and transportation and logistics constraints; also lower ranked issues such as product lifecycle, government mandate compliance.  In reality, sustainability is an overarching business approach that cuts across many business silos.  Supply chains by nature are systems-based networks that require dynamic management of internal and external inputs and outputs throughout a products value chain.  Supply chain sustainability is a powerful tool to identify and manage supply chain inefficiencies, reduce waste and optimize business performance.

As I suggested in an earlier article, the supply chain enablers are those who lead through innovation and don’t procrastinate.  These organizations have vision– for the short term and long-term.  These are the organizations I spend time evaluating and from which I share success stories.  It’s still valuable though to understand why some businesses hesitate in acting on sustainability or supply chain greening.  If you are a supply chain officer or logistics manager that is not paying attention to sustainability focused innovators yet, I suggest you take a closer look at what your peers or competitors are doing.  These leaders are changing the way business gets done- and more sustainably I might add.

Clearly by the EFT survey, much more work remains in 2011 but I am confident that supply chain greening and sustainability is here to stay.  Read why on my last post “Five Reasons that Sustainability and Supply Chain “Greening” Will Stick in 2011”.

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.

“Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes”: 3rd Party Logistics CEOs Priming for a Sustainable Future, Retooling to Compete

3 Oct

Last week in San Diego (my second hometown), the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) held their Annual Global Conference.  Over 3,100 supply chain professionals from 41 countries attended sessions from over 20 tracks.

At the Conference, the 17th Annual Survey of Third-Party Logistics Providers was presented by survey author, Dr. Robert Lieb, Professor of Supply Chain Management at Northeastern University, and Joe Gallick, Senior Vice President of Sales for Penske Logistics. The findings analyzed responses from 31 third-party logistics company CEOs across North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific.  The study was pretty comprehensive in its findings but me being the sustainability focused guy that I am, poured through the document in search of green stats. And as expected they were there.

With 87 percent of the companies reported to be rebuilding their workforces in 2009, CEOs revealed that green practices are still a major priority in the 3PL market.  Further, more than 80 percent of the companies surveyed now have formal sustainability groups within their companies. Even in the wake of the recession, most of the companies surveyed these are still heavily committed to environmental sustainability issues.  Take note of these numbers according to the survey:

  1. Fourteen of the 31 companies began new green initiatives during the year.
  2. Eighteen of the companies expanded existing sustainability programs.
  3. Twenty-five of the companies now have formal sustainability groups within their companies.
  4. Twelve of the 31 CEOs believe that their sustainability capabilities differentiate them from their competitors.
  5. Ranking second and third respectively in North America were opportunities related to potential differentiation based upon the companies’ environmental sustainability capabilities and opportunities related to expansion of service offerings.

Also, 27 of the 31 CEOs noted that some of their manufacturing customers have begun to move toward “near-shoring” options during the past year.  This type of “reversal of fortune” for U.S. manufacturing has been driven by quality control issues, fuel costs for transoceanic shipping and (wishful thinking perhaps) a desire to stand by corporate commitment to curtail carbon emissions associated with reduced fuel usage.

Additionally the report cited several business practice trends, related to risk management/risk sharing; business continuity planning; performance based contracts; and enhanced vendor qualifications.  Each of these growth areas fit well into the sustainable sourcing, accountability and risk management picture that I have spoken about in this space as essential elements of a green supply chain.

While the survey results are impressive, there is clearly room for improvement in terms of implementing actual “boots on the ground” solutions.  There are increasing examples everyday where 3PLs have demonstrably improved operations efficiency while lowering fuel use, energy use, air emissions and indirectly related resource consumption and waste generation. But at the same time, these efforts must be able to strike a balance between cost and benefit that CEO’s can understand, appreciate and rally around.  The stat about CEO’s belief in how sustainability can differentiate their companies (only 38% are on board) tells me that much still needs to be done to make a business case for greening of supply chains.

In another recent reportthis past spring by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) of the Economist Magazine,   supply chains are in a massive state of flux.  Individual supply chains “have shrunk at the margins and the network has become denser”, according to the report. The report concluded that many companies are forced to choose between having supply chains that are simple and compact, or those that are complex, redundant and dispersed.  Efficiency versus resiliency, in effect.   But the report found it possible to increase both efficiency and resilience.

The EIU report cited that a more efficient supply chain enhances two drivers of value: operating margin and asset efficiency.  What was notable to me was a note in the report that said “efficiency also has the beneficial side effect of shrinking the carbon footprint”.  The report cited companies like Coca-Cola, that are looking at ways to move to central distribution, cutting back on empty loads (bringing back post-consumer recycled cans  for instance) as ways to ‘own’ its supply chain and drive efficiency (without losing resiliency).

Issues such as supply chain resiliency and agility are two criteria that should be evaluated as 3PL’s move down the sustainability path and create a business case for operational changes.  I am fairly certain, based on the Penske sponsored 3PL report that CEO’s and other top managers will be asking the tough questions, so be prepared to come to the table with some compelling ideas and numbers to back it up.

Green Supply Chain Gets a Boost from ULE 880- Draft Sustainability Standard for Manufacturing Organizations

14 Sep

Today marked the end of the initial 45 day comment period for ULE 880 – Sustainability for Manufacturing Organizations. [NOTE: the comment period has been extended until September 21st]. This draft sustainability standard is the culmination of a partnership between UL Environment (ULE), a division of Underwriters Laboratories, and Greener World Media.  The standard for businesses and other organizations, focusing on their environmental and social performance, was designed “to create uniform and global metrics for customers, stakeholders and trading partners”, essentially ‘harmonizing’  the wide variety of standards, guidelines and specifications for driving sustainability in organizations.

According to the draft document preface, “Our vision is to create a uniform, globally applicable system for rating and certifying companies of all sizes and sectors on a spectrum of environmental and social performance characteristics. ULE 880 will fill a major void in being able to consistently understand and measure how, and how well, a company is doing in understanding, addressing, and communicating its environmental and social impacts. It will also provide a standardized mechanism that allows organizations and their stakeholders to factor companies’ environmental and social performance into their core decision-making processes, thereby elevating the importance of these issues within companies.”

At its core, ULE  880 is designed principally as a procurement tool, allowing companies,  public agencies, and institutional buyers to assess the performance of  their supply chains and trading partners. It is intended to complement  existing and future product procurement specifications throughout many layers of an organizations supply chain.

ULE 880 covers five domains of sustainability:

  • Sustainability Governance: how an organization leads and manages itself in relation to its stakeholders, including its employees, investors, regulatory authorities, customers, and the communities in which it operates
  • Environment: an organization’s environmental footprint across its policies, operations, products and services, including its resource use and emissions
  • Workplace: issues related to employee working conditions, organization culture, and effectiveness
  • Customers and Suppliers: issues related to an organization’s policies and practices on product safety, quality, pricing, and marketing as well as its supply chain policies and practices
  • Social and Community Engagement: an organization’s impacts on its community in the areas of social equity, ethical conduct, and human rights

The 60-plus page draft standard contains 102 questions (or “indicators”), including 18 in Governance, 45 in Environment, 15 in Workforce, 15 in Customers and Suppliers, and 9 in Social and Community Engagement. Each of the indicators has certain “weightings” and not all of them equally distributed.  The Environment, for instance covers 80 points, Governance and Customers/Suppliers 40 points each, and Workplace and Social/Community 20 points each. In addition, there are also 18 “Innovation Points” — 3 points each for 6 different indicators — that reward companies for going above and beyond the standard.

Sustainable Supply Chain Elements

Direct sustainable supply chain elements mentioned in Section 6.5.3 of the standard include requirements and related point allocations for:

  • Supply Chain Policy
  • Tier 1 and Tier 2 Supply Chain Inventory (why not Tier 3 or Tier 4?)
  • Supply Chain Monitoring and Assessment (not a great deal of detail in this element)
  • Supply Chain Reporting

Also, like other elements of the proposed standard, ‘Innovation Points’ are allocated for Training and Targeted Continual Improvement Metrics.  In addition to this specific clause of the standard, there are specific elements associated with Environmentally Preferable Purchasing and ‘greener’, more efficient transportation planning and logistics…all of which represent vital parts of the sustainable supply chain.

The ULE 880 standard offers promise to take sustainability to a whole new level e.g. organization based certification, and acknowledges that supply chain considerations are vital to a ‘sustainability-focused’ organization.  The next step for the standard will be a peer-reviewed response to the more than 600 commenters from over 30 countries that have requested and reviewed the document to date.  In coming phases, a small set of manufacturers will be engaged to pilot  the standard and the verification/certification delivery model, prior to wider release and market implementation. Stay tuned!

This post was originally published on my New Green Supply Chain Blog, which can be found at https://community.kinaxis.com/people/DRMeyer/blog

Exploring the “The Portland Bottom Line”- A Collaborative Effort in Sustainability Best Practices

18 Aug

Co-edited by Peter Korchnak and Megan Strand, “The Portland Bottom Line: Practices for Your Small Business from America’s Hotbed of Sustainability” is a collaborative exploration of sustainable practices for small businesses. Fifty small-business people from Portland, including myself,  share their experiences with sustainability in their companies. Each short essay highlights one actionable idea, valuable practice, practical tip, or actionable advice with demonstrated triple bottom line impact that any small business can implement tomorrow.

Contributors will collectively choose a local community organization which supports the launch and growth of small businesses or social ventures to receive 100% of net profit from the sales of “The Portland Bottom Line”.

I am excited to be part of this project and partnered with a great group of sustainability visionaries, practitioners and experts.

Look for “The Portland Bottom Line” in November 2010 .

www.portlandbottomline.com

Embracing Sustainability and Innovation to Get (and Stay) Ahead in Business

21 Apr

This week, I am sure that you are reading this along with the many other blogs that mark the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.   For 40 years, as Americans, we have aspired to change the world through enhanced environmental consciousness, policy making, and technological innovations that drive sustainability.  In the U.S. we have lurched forward, sputtered badly, recovered, then stopped all together, then jumped forward again.  So our choices and actions moving forward in this new “green economy” have not been entirely without influence or challenges, from ourselves and from nations afar. The only certainty is that it’s our own actions that can shape the path of our own organizations, communities and markets.

Disruptive technology and disruptive innovation are terms used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically by being lower priced or designed for a different set of consumers. http://www.claytonchristensen.com/disruptive_innovation.html.  Christensen’s’ theory, featured in both “The Innovators Dilemma” and “The Innovators Solution” provides a prescription for a small entrant with less resources to compete with and beat a large incumbent. A quick look at the Disruptive Innovation model is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaKgMcFP4Mo

Disruptive innovations either create new markets or reshape existing markets by delivering relatively simple, convenient, low-cost innovations to a set of customers who are ignored by industry leaders. Historically, companies that dominate an industry have had little interest in pursuing these types of innovations because profit margins are often lower and the innovations don’t address the needs of those companies’ best customers. http://www.innosight.com/documents/diprimer.pdf

What does this have to do with “sustainability”?  I had the chance to participate in a recent Leadership Summit here in Portland, hosted by the University of Oregon.  The goal of the summit was to vette business and sustainability leaders in Oregon/SW Washington are as to how the U of O Center for Sustainable Business Practices could serve as a catalyst for innovation and bring sustainable solutions to the marketplace in Oregon and beyond.  One goal that the Center has is to seek innovative approaches that can break the endemic boom-bust cycle that Oregon and many western states have often found themselves in.  Never mind that there are tax related issues or brittle governance, or well intentioned but ineffective public-private partnership infrastructures that add to the fiscal malaise.

The discussion that ensued was interesting and of particular note because of the many references to disruptive technology.  From this dialogue, it became clear that collaboration- finding ways to harmonize research, policy, manufacturing and service – is vital to a stable, sustainable economy.  It was generally agreed that  in order to support meaningful job growth, an educated community and sustained economic performance, two things must happen:  1) all parts must be working together and 2) there needs to be a policy/governance, educational, and public-private infrastructure that supports disruptive technology and innovation.

A book that I have been reading, The Silver Lining, A Playbook for Uncertain Times, by Scott Anthony, provides some answers as to how communities and organizations can move forward to realize opportunities in their markets. This 10-point checklist synthesizes The Silver Lining‘s key messages and provides practical guidance for leaders. Each item links to a blog post describing the item in more depth.

Does your organization:

  1. Recognize today’s transformation imperative?
  2. Have a handle on the future potential of innovation?
  3. Have a process to prudently prune its innovation portfolio on a regular basis
  4. Have clear consensus on the 1-3 top growth opportunities?
  5. Always ask, “How does the customer define more?” before asking people to do more with less?
  6. Match technological experiments (“can we?”) with strategic experiments (“should we?”)?
  7. Constantly search to share the innovation load to de-risk innovation?
  8. Have a plan to “love the low end” in existing and emerging markets?
  9. Run an innovation factory with systems and structures to make innovation repeatable?
  10. Have a plan to help leaders transform themselves?

Finally, I want to share with all of you a seminal piece which I recently purchased from the Harvard Business Review (HBR) and that I “tweeted” about last fall http://bit.ly/2yfirf.   Please read this!  Authors Nidumolu, Prahalad, and Rangaswami have found that the quest for sustainability can unearth organizational and technological innovations that yield both top-line and bottom-line returns. That quest has already begun to transform the competitive landscape.  The authors found that companies on the journey to sustainability go through five distinct stages of change:

  1. viewing compliance as opportunity
  2. making value chains sustainable;
  3. designing sustainable products and services;
  4. developing new business models; and
  5. creating next-practice platforms.

By going through these key stages of change, the study found that “sustainability isn’t the burden on bottom lines that many executives believe it to be. In fact, becoming environment-friendly can lower your costs and increase your revenues. That’s why sustainability should be a touchstone for all innovation.  In the future, only companies that make sustainability a goal will achieve competitive advantage. That means rethinking business models as well as products, technologies, and processes.”

This research was for me transformative and insightful, and offers compelling reasons for embedding sustainability into operational practices and strategic business strategies.

Whether you read Anthony, explore Christensen’s ideas or the review the HBR article, history shows us that innovation flourishes, no matter how dark the times. You can either reflect on this time in our economic recovery as the beginning of the end or a jump-start to transform your business or your market space. It all depends on your actions, so get innovative now!

All Parts Working Together