Tag Archives: symbiotic

With a Change in Workplace Comes Reflections on Society, Sustainability and a Balanced World

30 Nov

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tsa1/5543988340/

You may have noticed that this space has been “dark” of late.  Why, since I’ve been gone and the world has spun round and round: the Occupy Wall Street launched (and perhaps corporate social responsibility entered the public eye), Kim Kardashian got married AND divorced, Libya fell, the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series,  the debt ceiling crisis…well that’s still with us.   No, I didn’t disappear into the abyss after my Africa trip in August.  No, I didn’t burn out or give up.  Instead, I’ve moved forward a notch in the journey.

I’ve always maintained to family, friends and colleagues that “change is good”, and that it continues to drive us to continually improve on a personal and professional scale.  As I announced in early October to 800 of my closest personal friends and colleagues on LinkedIn, I recently started a full time position as Associate Director- Environment, Health & Safety (EHS) for Elan Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in South San Francisco, CA.    A long time client of mine, Elan is at the forefront of neuroscience based biotechnology.  Elan’s work includes research and development activities for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease and autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis.   I am proud to be aligned with a company that is focused on tackling some of the most troubling and challenging diseases of the mind and body, some of which have affected members of my own family.

With my days (and occasional evenings) fully committed with Elan, I’ll be placing ValueStream Performance Advisors on hiatus. Despite the change in venue, my enthusiasm and passion for heretical thinking, innovation, systems-based management and organizational sustainability, remains the same.  I’m happy with what ValueStream was able to accomplish through from 2009-2011 along with my many collaborators and clients

However, while my social media presence may change in the months and years ahead, I will nonetheless continue to be an ardent advocate for organizational sustainability, and proactive EHS compliance and management (which Elan has graciously endorsed as well).  I am truly appreciative of all of the support you, as readers have given me and continue to value the business relationships that we’ve established. To date, over 90,000 (!!!) visits have been made to this site to learn, share, argue and discuss key ideas and issues focused around sustainability.

Managing Change and Life’s Risky Balance

Like my change in workplace, you will also see some changes in the look and content of this site as well, starting with the banner photo.  This was a shot of the iconic acacia trees that I took while on a mini-safari this past summer in the Spioenkop Nature Reserve in the Drakensberg, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.  Riding on horseback among the roaming wildlife (among them rhinos, giraffe, zebras and hartebeests) I was reminded of how critical it is that we all take a moment to reflect on the nature of humankind, how far we have come in a relatively short period of time on this planet, and how easily we have drifted away from lifes precious balance.    Not far from the ancient cave dwellings of the aboriginal San people, I realized how out of step humanity is with what’s around them, and what a ruinous course we may be on.  We are perhaps the species most at risk.  I also noted in my related post following that South Africa trip discussing environmental, health and safety, that ” companies must take care of basic HSE issues and lay a firm foundational framework for continual improvement first before they can progress along the sustainability journey.  …Regarding sustainability, it makes little sense force feeding a business approach that has little immediate bearing on managing organizations immediate risks.”  This is one of many reasons why I elected to refocus my career work on managing basic EHS issues to assure that a solid foundation is in place to support systematic sustainability efforts.

We are at a critical juncture on this fragile planet of ours.  We all have a moral imperative to passionately recast our “lot” in a much larger, infinitely complex global ecological system.  As Gregory Reggio so eloquently and powerfully captured in his epic 1982 film, “Koyaanisqatsi”, we live in a world…a life, out of balance.  How ironic that the United Nations COP17/CMP7 International Climate Conference has convened this week in  Durban, South Africa, to discuss  the most critical “out of balance” issue of our lifetime, climate change. …just a few short hours away from where the banner shot on this page was taken.

Humanity has the combined technical capability to use science, politics,  innovative technology and cultural awareness  to reshape the global natural, social and economic environment  to a point of balance and equity.   Do we have the collective wisdom to use that knowledge to achieve and maintain that balance?    I think we do, but like the sustainability journey we are on together,  it’ll take many steps and the political will to get there.

Please take a moment to add my new email to your contact list. I’ll retain dmeyer@valuestreamadvisors.com  address as a general professional networking address, or you can reach me here or at Elan — my new contact details are pasted below. And of course, you can still find me on Twitter and my commentary on Sustainable Business Forum, Sustainable Plant, Kinaxis Supply Chain Expert Community, and other media sites.

All the Best!

Dave R. Meyer, Associate Director- Environment, Health & Safety

Elan Pharmaceuticals Inc.

800 Gateway Blvd., South San Francisco, CA 94080

Direct: +1 650.877.7624

Email: david.meyer@elan.com

Meeting Basic Health, Safety and Environmental Risk Before Sustainability- Watch Your Step

25 Aug

This week has been all about “R-I-S-K”.  Risk that my three flights around the globe to South Africa will be on time. Risk that my luggage will accompany me.  Risk that I will meet my driver.  Risk that he will be a safe driver, negotiating darkness and harrowing roads full of heavy trucks travelling between Durban and Johannesburg.  Risk that my digestive system can handle all the amazing foods I’ll sample while at the NOSA-sponsored NOSHCON 11 conference.  Risk that my talk on integrated sustainability management systems will go off without a hitch.

Risk (noun): A situation involving exposure to danger

Risk (verb): to expose to danger or loss

The Setting Tells a Story- “From Stone Age to Hard Won Democracy”

Risk.  We all live with risk and all are in position to control and influence its outcome.  This week’s conference was devoted to exploring risk in the workplace and its related effects on worker safety, health and environmental impact.  South Africa is the perfect place to explore this issue, because of all of the social, political, economic and workplace/environmental challenges that this special country has endured over the generations.  Throughout the two-day conference I have become painfully aware of the risks that exist amid the beauty of the KwaZulu Natal and Central Drakensberg region of South Africa.

View from my Guest House Looking Toward Champagne Castle

This great place of beauty has seen wars fought over land and water for thousands of years and countless generations, between indigenous tribes first, then between the Zulu and the Dutch Afrikaners, then the British and Boers and finally blacks and whites through the practice of “apartheid”.  This place has seen the likes of King Shaka, Gandhi and Mandela walking its ground.  This is historic ground where people took incredible risks to protect what they believed in, and suffered enormous costs and joyous victories.  I won’t use this space to opine on that matter just to say that issues run deep and wounds take generations to heal.  But all citizens of the Rainbow Nation are trying their very best to level the playing field.  But all along the way, all the players in this real life drama have had to manage risk.

Snakes!!

To illustrate how risk is all around us in the workplace and at home, NOSHCON brought out the snakes…yes, snakes.  Not the safe variety…I mean the pythons and puff adders.    Through a safety company called Unplugged Communications, the idea of “Snakes for Safety” was presented to a fascinated, but somewhat skittish audience of 600.  The analogy is that puff adders are like accidents waiting to happen…they hide, camouflaged in the bush and only strike when you are right on top of them.  By then the damage has been done, injury’s result (and it the case of the puff adder, you have seven minutes to call a loved one and say goodbye!).  Cobras on the other hand represent a hazard that is harmless when small, but if left unchecked, the hazards can grow to an unmanageable point when great harm can occur. Snakes.  Risk.  Managing the basics of health, safety and the environment (HSE) in developing economies like South Africa is foremost in businesses minds and correctly so.

Risk Management and Meeting Basic HSE Needs First

“There are risks and costs to every program of action.  But they are far less than the risk and costs of comfortable inaction”- John F Kennedy

Last year I wrote a two piece series on risk management and accountability in the aftermath of the BP gulf oil spill and Massey coal mining disaster.  In the second post on risk, I noted that a continuous risk management process helps organizations understand, manage, and communicate risk and avoid potential catastrophic conditions that can lead to loss of life, property and the environment. Briefly, risk management helps organizations:

  • Identify critical and non-critical risks
  • Document each risk in-depth
  • Log all risks and notify management of their severity
  • Take action to reduce the likelihood of risks occurring
  • Reduce the impact on  business, life, and the environment

In this post I laid out a typical six-step process to achieve effective risk management and failure mode control.  I also noted ”What will be … fascinating will be the lessons learned and if businesses truly embrace risk management planning and implementation as a central function of business, take it seriously and hold themselves accountable.”

Takeaways from Far Away- Sustainability May Have to Wait

The author with a less venomous snake

My talk focused on integrated management systems and how they can leverage risk and liability and support sustainability in the business marketplace.  The audience was attentive to be sure, and I listened and observed NOSHCON delegates listen to several other fantastic presentations on corporate social responsibility, carbon management and sustainability.  My impression however is that while there are pockets of excellence in sustainability focused companies, South African businesses are just beginning to think about sustainability as a value-added aspect of their businesses. Perhaps rightly so, many companies in the mining, agricultural and heavy industry sectors continue (especially the majority small to medium-sized and under-resource companies) are focusing on the basic critical issues of life safety in the workplace, education and meeting basic environmental compliance operations first.  To meet this pressing need, organizations like NOSA have developed world-class frameworks of occupational, health, safety and environmental  risk management.  And despite rampant complaints of lax enforcement of labor and environmental protection laws, the South African government has implemented its King III corporate governance policies (similar to the U.S Sarbanes-Oxley provisions) that recognize CSR and reporting obligations.

I am firmly of the belief that companies must take care of these basic HSE issues and lay a firm foundational framework for continual improvement first before they can progress along the sustainability journey.  The central themes I heard about how this can be accomplished are through increasing monitoring, education, awareness building, management accountability and trust.  Regarding sustainability, it makes little sense force feeding a business approach that has little immediate bearing on managing organizations immediate risks.  One must be able to manage the snakes; you know….one by one and step by cautious step.

Be patient South Africa.  You have such great resources, professionals hungry to learn, and have fantastic opportunities to excel in the sustainability space in the years ahead.  I have been truly blessed and humbled to have been able to participate at NOSHCON and hope to be able to hear of great things coming out of South Africa in the coming years.

“Baie Dankie”. “Ngiyabonga kakhulu”. Thanks very much!

This One’s for Ray- Reflections on the Passing of a Sustainability Giant & Radical Industrialist, Ray Anderson

8 Aug

Ray Anderson died this week.  Most of us in the business just called him “Ray”, because he really was such an approachable guy.  I saw him speak in San Diego three years ago, and even to a business green business veteran like me, he was sage-like.  To most outside the world of sustainability in business, the name hardly rang a bell.  But to those of us within its three concentric circles, Ray was an icon.  As many know, Ray Anderson ran InterfaceFLOR.  As the leader of a major global carpeting brand, which at that time relied on heavy use of industrial chemicals, hydrocarbon based products, energy and water use, InterFaceFLOR, like other carpet manufacturers was enduring a major challenge to rethink how its products were being made.

By the mid 1990’s when Ray had become the company’s CEO, more customers were asking questions about the company’s sustainability efforts.   In 1994, Ray had an awakening of sorts (his so-called  “point of a spear into my chest” moment), when after having a number of meetings and discussions with his staff and reading Paul Hawkens the Ecology of Commerce,  he became an enlightened, radical industrialist. He had come to the  conclusion that the environment was at risk and a lot of that was caused by industry and companies such InterfaceFLOR  that were based on petrochemicals and energy.

I, myself, was amazed to learn just how much stuff the earth has to produce through our extraction process to produce a dollar of revenue for our company. When I learned, I was flabbergasted. We are leaving a terrible legacy of poison and diminishment of the environment for our grandchildren’s grandchildren, generations not yet born. Some people have called that intergeneration tyranny, a form of taxation without representation, levied by us on generations yet to be. It’s the wrong thing to do.-Ray Anderson

The Radical Industrialist Takes on the Supply Chain

Ray was simply on a mission- for InterfaceFLOR to not only cut waste, but to be a leading, responsible business.  He became the face of the “radical industrialist” (the title of his last autobiographical  book which I received signed by him just two months ago is called Confessions of a Radical Industrialist) and in 1994 launched InterfaceFLOR into a first mover role to reduce its environmental and social footprint.  The data is quite extraordinary in the 17 years since the company launched its many environmental initiatives. Of course, Ray started with a plan- one that by necessity started small- but was across the board, an overhaul affecting every link of the supply chain.  Ray also smartly knew that go get his shareholders on board, he needed “obliterate costs/footprint associated with waste; silencing the shareholders that were uncomfortable with the risk involved with completely revolutionizing your company”.

We began to tackle the face of mountain we identified as waste. We defined waste, by the way, as any cost that we incurred that does not add value to our customer and that translates to doing everything right the first time, every time. It’s not just waste material, scrapped and low quality and so forth. If you send something to the wrong destination and have to get it back and reship it — that’s waste. If you incur a bad debt — that’s waste. So we defined waste very broadly and over time we actually said that any energy that comes from fossil fuel by our definition is waste and we need to eliminate it. We really began to think in different ways about our business in terms of climbing this mountain and it became very clear very quickly this was the smart thing to do. Not only did we start to generate answers for those customers, they embraced us for what we were trying to do. The goodwill in the market place has just been stunning. The rest of the business case is pretty simple. I cost it down not up. – Ray Anderson

According to Lindsay Parnell, InterFaceFLOR’s CEO for Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, the company has “reduced waste to landfill by 80 per cent since 1996, curbed water use by the same amount, reduced energy use per unit of production by 43 per cent, and cut greenhouse gases 44 per cent, partly by generating 30 per cent of its energy from renewable.  But what also stands out (and what made Ray such a business visionary) was that there was a phenomenal financial payback that could be realized from “going green”.  According to Parnell, “We could see that the millions of dollars were stacking up.  Between 1995 and 2010 we have saved $433m – that is a huge amount for a company with revenues of around $1bn. There is no way we have invested $433m in this, but that is what it has saved.”

It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. – Ray Anderson

Climbing Mount Sustainability

Rays efforts were noticed for sure.  Time Magazine featured him in an article this past spring and Fortune Magazine called him “America’s greenest CEO”.  He went out and “evangelized” over 150 times a year, until his fight with cancer started to finally slow him down.  The awards and honors bestowed on Ray and the companies over the past two decades are too many to mention here. Recently, Interface ranked 11th worldwide in the 2010 Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study & Research Project by MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group.  They ranked second behind Unilever in the 2011 Global Sustainability Leaders Survey from GlobeScan Inc. and SustainAbility Ltd.  Suffice it to say though that InterfaceFLORs efforts disruptively changed the way the carpet, building materials and textile industry operate today as compared to 20 years ago.

Meanwhile, in the last couple of years the company launched its highly ambitious  Mission Zero ™  sustainability strategy, which aims to turn InterfaceFLOR into a zero-impact organization.  Ray often spoke about how climbing the sustainability mountain in business was akin to climbing Mount Everest and that there were seven paths or fronts to get there:

  • Eliminate Waste: Eliminating all forms of waste in every area of business;
  • Benign Emissions: Eliminating toxic substances from products, vehicles and facilities;
  • Renewable Electricity: Operating facilities with renewable electricity sources – solar, wind, landfill gas, biomass, geothermal, tidal and low impact/small scale hydroelectric or non-petroleum-based hydrogen;
  • Closing the Loop: Redesigning processes and products to close the technical loop using recovered and bio-based materials;
  • Resource-Efficient Transportation: Transporting people and products efficiently to reduce waste and emissions;
  • Sensitizing Stakeholders: Creating a culture that integrates sustainability principles and improves people’s lives and livelihoods;
  • Redesign Commerce: Creating a new business model that demonstrates and supports the value of sustainability-based commerce;

Making the Business Case

When you are being asked to make the business case for sustainability – perhaps ask them to make the business case for being un-sustainable. – Ray Anderson

You see, for the past 30 years I’ve been evangelizing like Ray for organizations to make “the business case” on behalf of reducing waste of any kind (be it over-consumption, generation of waste, human productivity waste, etc) so the bottom line is optimized and employees, communities and the environment are protected.  To me it’s a “no brainer” and for folks like Ray it took an epiphany to make that realization.  Since Ray’s awakening in 1994, and especially in the past half decade or so, more CEO’s and manufacturers with local to global reach are coming to their own realizations and drawing their own conclusions.

Ray stepped out of his comfort zone to challenge the status quo.  He forged a new business normal that called for a respect of the land, responsible use of resources, smart design and innovative end of life (cradle to cradle) management of products.  Mission Zero will continue for the many thousands of employees of InterFaceFLOR around the world- all because of one man’s vision. All because of Ray.

As Ray said back in 2008 when I saw him, “There are noble fortunes to be made in the transition to sustainability.” That inspirational quote stands right up there with my son’s from back in 1991 when he introduced me to his pre-school class as the Dad who “saves the planet”.   Sometimes, being radical is not such a bad thing.

Mr. Anderson…er, Ray, thanks for all the inspiration- this one’s for you.

‘Green’ Procurement: Getting its ‘Value Creation’ Game On to Drive Supply Chain Sustainability (Part 2)

27 Jul

In Part 1 of this series on sustainable procurement, I laid out my vision of the heart of a sustainable, green supply chain that runs through its procurement function.  It’s simple to show how every product has a hidden human health, environmental and social impact along the entire supply chain.  However, it’s been challenging to bring sustainable procurement into a central decision making role in line with organizational business goals.  The results to date have been a mixed bag, as I alluded to when I mentioned Aribas new Vision 2020 report and companion dialoguing process, now underway.

Sustainable Procurement: back to management!

On the heels of the Ariba effort comes a promising benchmark report recently released by HEC-Paris and Ecovadis. Entitled Sustainable Procurement: back to management! this study (available for download on Ecovadis’ site) has risen to rescue and tempered my fears of devolving sustainable procurement.  In fact, the report may suggest a positive “tipping point” in favor of sustainable procurement.  The efforts behind the 2011 edition of the HEC/EcoVadis Sustainable Procurement Benchmark were carried out between the fall of 2010 and early 2011.  This benchmarking process started in 2003 and the 5th conducted since that time.

The objective of the benchmark is to provide a snapshot on what’s trending in the area of Sustainable Procurement practices.  According to the authors, the following overarching questions were explored:

  • How has the vision of the Chief Procurement Officers (CPOs) evolved?
  • What tools and initiatives seem to be the most effective over time to drive changes?
  • How is Sustainable Procurement progress measured?
  • What are the remaining challenges faced by most Procurement organizations?

The study identified three main drivers behind Sustainable Procurement initiatives: Risk Management, Value Creation, and Cost Reduction.  These findings mirror some of the trending areas and critical issues identified in the Ariba report.  HEC and Ecovadis suggested that these three drivers’ shows that many organizations are now facing new expectations in terms of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability from the Procurement Departments of their clients and, suggest that having a sustainable procurement program in place can become a competitive advantage.

 Sustainable Procurement Remains High on Executives Agenda

  1. 92% of the surveyed Companies consider Sustainable Procurement a “critical” or “important” initiative, even though for the 1st time this year, “Risk Management” took over as a priority initiative.
  2. The major progress made in 2011 is on the support from the Top Management (+24%) thus demonstrating that Sustainable Procurement is attracting more and more interest from Executive Committees, and significant progress was made in implementation of tools and organizational changes.
  3.  Significant organizational changes have been implemented: 45% of companies already have “dedicated teams” and 57% report having trained a majority of procurement staff on Sustainability.
  4. Whereas in 2007 only 1/3 of companies were using formalized methodologies for assessing their suppliers’ sustainability performance, in 2011 two-thirds of them are now implementing dedicated tools (either internal or leveraging 3rd parties).
  5. Finally 92% companies have increased (56%) or maintained (36%) their budgets related to Sustainable Procurement, which should yield more changes in the future years.

Tools for Sustainable Procurement on the Rise

The HEC/Ecovadis study found that basic tools such as “Suppliers Code of Conduct” ,  “CSR contract clauses” and “Suppliers self-assessment“ were now the rule rather than the exception among companies surveyed by a ratio of 2 to 1,  but interestingly were still found to  limited value in terms of risk management.  What I found encouraging was that the study found maturation in the types of tools used, including “Supplier Audits” and “Supplier CSR information databases“.  This type of work has clearly been evident in what I have reported in the past, especially among multi-national companies with contractor manufacturing operations in developing economies (like China, India and Brazil).  These advanced tools offered more opportunities for suppliers to engage directly with buyers, allow for data verification, and offer direct recommendations for supplier CSR and sustainability improvement.  Over half of the companies surveyed had advanced to this next level.  Finally, when asked what the most effective uses of resources were in developing a Sustainable Procurement Program, respondents mentioned 1) top level support, 2) creation of cross functional teams and 3) training, as key success ingredients.   All three of these success factors had shown substantial improvement over the past several benchmark cycles, according to the study.

Sustainable Procurement Creates Value

This is not the first study that has come along that demonstrates value and return on investment from sustainable procurement.  I wrote earlier of a joint study by Ecovadis, INSEAD and PriceWaterhouseCoopers that demonstrated similar results.  In that study, payback from most green procurement activities was huge. Companies surveyed were able to benefit quickly from risk management reduction and potential revenue growth opportunities, due in part to sustainable procurement.  The study also found that there were additional ‘value creation’ opportunities that could be realized if procurement departments collaborated more closely with the marketing and R&D departments upstream on the projects.

Also, a study in 2009 by a company named BrainNet (Green and Sustainable Procurement: Drivers and Approaches”)  looked at sustainable procurement and value creation and found that “… procurement with an ecological and social conscience is not a cost factor, but a value factor…Companies that pursue a consistent approach to green and sustainable procurement receive an above-average return on capital deployed.”  The study produced what they describe as an “evolution curve for sustainable procurement” that describes the maturity of various approaches of sustainable procurement.  This curve compares well with the most recent EcoVadis/HEC findings and suggests that there may be a widening gap between leaders and laggards.

Sustainable ‘green’ procurement embraces a holistic approach, one that encompasses organization, people, process, and technology to create greater product value along the entire supply chain.  This type of value creation can managed by establishing firm triple bottom line based metrics from upstream suppliers to downstream users and using the procurement function to support product and process innovation and accounting for total cost of ownership (TCO).

What’s Next?

According to the most recent HEC/EcoVadis benchmark report, it is clear that new green and social business models depend upon innovation, and a gap still among many organizations to implement a truly Sustainable Procurement vision.  This was clearly in evidence by the lack of mentions by Chief Procurement Officers that I discussed last week in the Ariba study.

The HEC/Ecovadis report suggests that when implementing Sustainable Procurement practices, a three phase process can get the ball rolling, starting first by orienting and energizing the procurement function through:

“1. Communication activities: Building awareness among employees regarding the approaching change, the benefits and the steps to be implemented.

2. Training and Performance support: ensuring that the initiative is being understood among those who are to execute the change or be part of it, and leading to buy-in of the key stakeholders.

3. Rewards and recognition: ensuring that employees – and suppliers – who embrace change are properly recognized and rewarded. This final step is when implementation is not only measured, but also celebrated.”

I’m going to say it again…and again. All sustainable business roads lead through the procurement function.  The procurement function is the perfect nexus and a critical organizational player that touches product designers, engineers, multiple tiers of suppliers and subcontractors, manufacturing operations, logistical warehousing and distribution and the end users.  Yes indeed, things are looking up for sustainable procurement…it’s ‘game on’.

What’s Consumer and Business Responsibility Got to Do with Economic Prosperity & Sustainability?

7 Jun

The past few weeks I have been wrapped up in some circle of life issues involving my aunt and mother, so writing has taken a back seat.  During this time,  I have been observing the dissolution and redistribution of my 91-year-old aunts’ household and supported the challenge of deciding which belongings should go temporarily with my 86-year-old mother to assisted living.   My current role as a duly appointed member of the ”sandwich generation” is fulfilled too when my teenage daughter asks to go on yet another trip to the mall to view the latest fashions.  All these events have brought to mind the material possessions that we accumulate over the course of our lives, the ingrained value we place on “things” and how they somehow give us more pleasure or worth.

Ironically, last week I also had the chance to participate in a number of one on one and group discussions revolving around the role(s) that we as consumers have in managing resources, waste generation and sustainable development.  I weighed in on the responsibility that consumers have in the 21st century supply chain (related to conflict minerals), just as I had mentioned in a keynote speech to the European Petrochemical Association this March.  Other participants reflected on how individuals bear a high degree of responsibility for the explosive growth in electronic and other consumer product waste.

What is abundantly clear is that we (as consumers) are all accountable for our own individuals actions in deciding what we buy, how much, how long we keep and maintain what we do have, and what we replace it with.  From cell phones, to cars, to clothes and home products, Western society has lost the passion for “thrift”.  I believe, like my parents generation did, that thrift is one of the key principles that built this great nation, but it has seemed to have gotten shoved aside in the name of consumerism and  growth,  which by the way is different than prosperity.  Of course Keynesian economists will take me to the woodshed about the meaning of  thrift in growing an economy. According to an article by the CATO Institute, ” The paradox of thrift refers to how–in the Keynesian model of the economy–an increase in saving reduces production and employment. This supposedly occurs because a decrease in spending leads to a decrease in employment, which leads to a further decrease in spending, which leads to a further decrease in employment, which leads to a yet further decrease in spending, and so on. Thus, if people try to increase their saving, there will supposedly be a decrease in spending, and a fall in employment and production.”

Prosperity versus Growth?

“Economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity. Higher incomes should mean better choices, richer lives, an improved quality of life for us all. That at least is the conventional wisdom. But things haven’t always turned out that way.” 

So states Professor Tim Jackson (Director of the Research group on Lifestyles, Values and Environment (RESOLVE) at the University of Surrey) in a very important and compelling work, Prosperity without Growth.  The research was commissioned in 2009 by the U.K. Sustainable Development Commission and puts in focus the rather serious nature of what “progress” really is in society and the norms on which its measured.

Courtesy Christian Science Monitor

The economic slump of the last three years has also sharpened this debate over whether more is better, whether growth in consumer goods and spending really supports a sustainable economy and whether the environment and human rights are placed in harm’s way in the name of economic growth.  As Jackson notes, “The profit motive stimulates a continual search by producers for newer, better or cheaper products and services. This process of ‘creative destruction’, according to the economist Joseph Schumpeter, is what drives economic growth forwards.”   The past several years have prompted a series of key questions that I’ll throw out here for thought:

  1. Has quantity in life trumped quality in life?
  2. Does producing more and having more truly lead to a prosperous economy and long-term sustainability?
  3. Does producing more and having more truly lead to a prosperous economy and long-term sustainability? Can we still flourish?
  4.  Does having more truly make us happier, lead more productive lives and allows us as a society to be the better social animals that we are wired to be?

All tough questions, and way more to ponder in the limits of this one post for sure.  But Professor Jackson’s commission report and follow-up book on the subject mirrored what was reflected the conversations that participated in last week.   Jackson himself admits that “Prosperity has undeniable material dimensions.  It’s perverse to talk about things going well where there is inadequate food and shelter (as is the case for billions in the developing world). But it is also plain to see that the simple equation of quantity with quality, of more with better, is false in general.”

I’ve no doubt that economic growth is vital for stimulating an economy that appears to be headed toward a dreaded “double dip” recession.  However, what is critical for policy makers, economists, the financial community and electorate to grapple with is what types of investments are best to lead us out of this morass and into a future that is stable and prosperous.  Jackson, among others has argued that “targeting that investment carefully towards energy security, low-carbon infrastructures and ecological protection offers multiple benefits [in other words a more sustainable, green economy]. These benefits include:

• freeing up resources for household spending and productive investment by reducing energy and material costs

• reducing our reliance on imports and our exposure to the fragile geopolitics of energy supply

• providing a much-needed boost to employment in the expanding ‘environmental industries’ sector

• making progress towards demanding global carbon reduction targets

• protecting valuable ecological assets and improving the quality of our living environment for generations to come.”

Producers vs. Consumers- Who Holds the Key?

So am I arguing in favor of a reaching a “steady state economy” with no growth?  To be honest, I’m not sure at this point.  There have been debates over this concept for generations, and I am no economist.  Jackson himself admits that no clear model exists for achieving economic stability without at least some measure of consumptive growth.  While goods producers have control over what they make, where they source their goods to make the things we buy, the “making” side of the economy is but one side of the debate that is in play here.  There is also the “using” side of the debate that drives deep in the social fabric and psyche of the consuming public. We as consumers can shape the debate around and effects that can have on the products that are made, mass-produced, sold and consumed.   This is perhaps the toughest nut to crack, because it’s the consumer that drives the demand that in turn drives production, which then drives consumption of resources, which of course determines the stresses on the environment.  You see, we hold the key…as the old Pogo cartoon says, “We have met the enemy and it’s us”.

In a recent article in the Guardian Sustainable Business Blog, Tim Jackson again weighs in on the strong psychological attachment that humans by nature have to material things and their feelings about the environment.  “People do indeed hold deeply felt motivations to protect the environment. Occasionally they can even save money by doing so. But powerful psychological forces still hold them in thrall. The creeping evolution of social norms and the sheer force of habit conspire to lock us into expanding material aspirations.”

You see, letting go of things that make us feel good is hard.  But the instant gratification that comes with these choices has undoubtedly led us all down a slippery slope, which only we can muster the power to crawl back up.  But only if we make sound, greener choices that recognize a balance between consumption, thrift and ecological limits.

These questions and issues, among others will be reflected upon to some degree this week at Sustainable Brands ’11 in Monterey CA.  I’ll be there also with over 750 other sustainability, corporate social responsibility, consumer marketing/ branding and industry professionals to learn, communicate and exchange ideas.  Look for my occasional tweets (@DRMeyer1) and observations as the event rolls along.

A Systems Perspective on Sustainability, Supply Chain Management- The Intelligent Choice

18 May

As we approach the mid-point in 2011, the tea leaves of the economic recovery have ‘sustainability’ in supply chain planning and management firming up as a key “rebuilding” block in company activities.  Two recent studies from two different continents bear that notion out.  First, consultancy BearingPoint Ireland has released a report which says two-thirds of companies surveyed in Europe believe that a green supply chain is a strategic priority. The report, entitled Green Supply Chain: from awareness to action, is the fourth of a series of “supply chain monitors” from the private consultancy.  The study was conducted among about 600 European decision-makers by Novamétrie between 2010 and 2011, with a position within Supply Chain, Sustainable Development or Industrial Divisions.   Key industries captured includes: consumer goods, transportation, construction, automotive, industrial goods, retail, energy and utilities, chemicals, IT/electronics and pharmaceuticals, among others.

The goal of the report, according to the authors was to summarize “the evolution over the past two years in terms of mindset, maturity and actions efficiency [and] explores the green Supply Chain practices in Europe, in order to identify the significant improvements in the most representative industries. The results clearly underline a growing interest of executive managements in developing products with a low environmental impact. What was seen as a constraint is now considered as an opportunity.”

Executive Management Mandates, Reputational Risk Management Are Key Drivers

A notable “inflexion” occurred between this survey round and prior surveys.  For instance, in 2008, findings suggested that supply chain ‘greening’ was primarily being driven by important environmental and regulatory developments (such as REACH, WEE, RoHS or the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme).  Now, with compliance programs associated with these initiatives firmly entrenched or in initial development, the drivers appear to be shifting toward meeting internal executive management commitments and addressing reputation management and/or consumer demands.  In other words, according to the report, “Environmental actions presently address new constraints and motives, which are more mature and integrated to companies’ decision processes.” Key findings from BearingPoint’s report include:

  • 70% of surveyed companies declare that green Supply Chain is a true economical lever.
  • For 47% of the companies, the return on investment of a green Supply Chain is reached within 3 years.
  • More than half of European companies now use environmental criteria to assess their Supply Chain performance: share of recycled packaging material, CO2 emissions.
  • Two-thirds of companies adopted or plan to adopt a green policy for their purchases.
  • Manufacturers must be able to measure and reduce their carbon footprint if they are to succeed on export markets
  • Over half of the respondents in the survey said they did not renew contracts with suppliers who did not respect their green charter.
  • Buyers are preferably choosing suppliers with certified processes such as ISO 14001.

According to Bearing Points recent press release, Irish Exporters Association chief executive, John Whelan, said: “There is no question that Irish businesses which produce transparently environmentally positive products, delivered by carbon neutral logistics services will succeed on international markets.”

Sustainability Drivers Both Inside and Out the ‘Four Walls’

In yet another study, Prime Advantage, a buying consortium for midsized manufacturers, unveiled its seventh (2011) Prime Advantage Group Outlook (GO) Survey.  This survey queried small and midsized North American manufacturers, and found that more than 80 percent of North American companies surveyed indicated that they developing more sustainable or energy-efficient products largely driven by customer requirements and compliance regulations.  According to the study, “the biggest driving factors behind these changes are customer requirements (80 percent), followed by compliance regulations (53 percent) and shareholder directives (12 percent). In addition, 57 percent of respondents have also started buying more sustainable indirect products for internal consumption.”

A Systems Perspective Breeds Competitive Intelligence

The Bearing Point study made a statement that caught my eye and for which I wholeheartedly agree.  Identifying with a systems-based mindset that recognizes the intrinsic and realized value sustainability-focused business management is a critical fulcrum for green supply chain practices. I noted in a post last fall that The Fifth Discipline and The Necessary Revolution author Peter Senge argued (in the October Harvard Business Review) that to make progress on environmental issues, organizations must understand that they’re part of a larger system. Senge also makes a great point that companies will be in a better competitive position if they understand the larger system that they operate within and to work with people you haven’t worked with before.

I’ve cited companies like Hewlett-Packard and Danisco as supply chain innovators in their product sectors.  These companies, among other innovators like Intel, P&G, IBM, GE and others, who’ve viewed supply chain in a systematic or holistic manner, organizations successfully have been applying that “big-picture thinking” needed to be truly innovative. Doing so can create leverage points that companies never realized they had before with their suppliers.

Clearly, the environmental (and often the social) footprint of a product extends beyond the four walls of the company who “brands” the product.  This footprint extends upstream and downstream, and must capture, control or influence inputs and outputs all along the way.  Some of the largest footprints (like energy and carbon) lie upstream or in the final hands of the consumers.  This is why leading companies are rethinking the global extents of their supply chains, exploring local sourcing options and implementing other operational efficiencies.

The results of the recent surveys indicate that companies in a wide number of sectors are waking up to the fact that sustainability is more than business innovation- it’s business intelligence.

Navigating Sustainable Supply Chain Management in China Takes a Keen Eye & Business Sense

7 Apr

2010 marked a watershed moment in supply chain sourcing among worldwide manufacturers and retailers. Sustainability observers and practitioners read nearly weekly announcements of yet another major manufacturer or retailer setting the bar for greener supply chain management.  With a much greater focus on monitoring, measurement and verification, retailers and manufacturers Wal-Mart, Marks and Spencer, IBM, Proctor and Gamble, Kaiser Permanente, Puma, Ford, Intel, Pepsi, Kimberly-Clark, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Herman Miller among many others made major announcements concerning efforts to engage, collaborate and track supplier/vendor sustainability efforts, especially those involving overseas operations.  Central to each of these organizations is how suppliers and vendors impact the large companies’ carbon footprint, in addition to other major value chain concerns such as material and water resource use, waste management and labor/human rights issues.Meanwhile, efforts from China’s manufacturing sector regarding sustainable sourcing and procurement, was at best, mixed with regard to proactive sustainability.  From my perspective as a U.S. based sustainability practitioner (with a passion in supply chain management), the challenges that foreign businesses with manufacturing relationships in China can be daunting.  Recent events concerning Apple Computers alleged lax supplier oversight and reported supplier human rights and environmental violations only shows a microcosm of the depth of the challenges that suppliers face in managing or influencing these issues on the ground.  Apple recently did the right thing by transparently releasing its Apple Supplier Responsibility 2011 Progress Report, which underscored just how challenging and difficult multi-tiered supply chain management can be.  But all is certainly not lost and many companies have in recent years begun to navigate the green supply chain waters in China. 

According to a World Resources Institute White Paper issued in the fall of 2010, China faces a number of supply chain challenges.  First, the recent spate of reports alleging employee labor and environmental violations can place manufacturing partnerships with global corporations at risk.  According to the report, Chinese suppliers that are unable to meet the environmental performance standards of green supply chain companies may not be able to continue to do business with such firms. Wal-Mart has already gone on record, announcing that it will no longer purchase from Chinese suppliers with poor environmental performance records. In order to be a supplier to Wal-Mart, Chinese companies must now provide certification of their compliance with China’s environmental laws and regulations.

Photo Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/scobleizer/ under Creative Commons license

Wal-Mart, like many other IT and apparel manufacturers also conducts audits on a factory’s performance against specific environmental and sustainability performance criteria, such as air emissions, water discharge, management of toxic substances and hazardous waste disposal. These actions are extremely significant as Wal-Mart procures from over 10,000 Chinese suppliers.  This increased scrutiny on environmental and corporate social responsibility through supplier scoring and sustainability indexing, says the WRI report may trump price, quality, and delivery time as a decisive factor in a supplier’s success in winning a purchasing contract.

Chinese Government Stepping Up Enforcement

Finally, what good news I hear about the depth of environmental regulations on the books in China is buffered by the apparent lax enforcement of the rules and regulations.  That is however appearing to change.  The WRI report indicated that the Chinese State Council is directing key government agencies, including the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Environmental Protection to prohibit tax incentives, restrict exports and raise fees for energy intensive and polluting industries, such as steel, cement, and minerals extraction.   Also, it’s been reported in the past years that the People’s Bank of China and the Ministry of Environmental Protection are also working with local Chinese banks to implement the ‘Green Credit’ program, which prevents loans to Chinese firms with poor environmental performance records. In addition, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Finance have issued a notice to all Chinese central and local governments to purchase goods from suppliers that are ‘energy efficient’. Finally, on a local level, governments have developed preferred supplier lists for companies producing environmental-friendly products for their purchasing needs.

Supplier Challenges Are Not Just Environmental

A China Supply Chain Council survey conducted in 2009 identified a huge gap in knowledge between (1) clear understanding of which environmental issues posed the greatest risk (2) what to do to manage significant environmental risks.  Also, nearly 40% of the company’s surveyed thought sustainability to be cost prohibitive, too complicated or where particular expertise was lacking don’t have the expertise (on the other hand 60% did!).  Two- thirds of respondents did consider sustainability to be a supply chain priority, although many were not confident of the return on investment.  However, more than half of the respondents reported that they had begun collaborating with their larger supply chain partners.    In fact, according to the World Resources Institute White Paper, despite increasing pressures to improve their environmental performance, Chinese suppliers face many financial challenges to operating in a more sustainable manner

World Resources Institute White paper notes increasing  non-environmental pressures, including:

  • “Extended green investment “payback”: While improving resource consumption, such as energy and water, provides long-term cost savings, the payback for making such environmental investments may be as long as three years, which is financially impossible  for many Chinese suppliers.

  • Lack of financial incentives from green supply chain buyers: Multinational buyers are often unwilling to change purchasing commitments and long-term     purchasing contracts to Chinese suppliers that make the investments to improve their environmental performance.

  • Rising operational costs: Chinese suppliers face  rising resource and labor costs. For example, factory wages have increased  at an average annual rate of 25 percent during 2007 to 2010. Rising costs dissuade suppliers from making environmental investments which may raise  operating costs.

  • Limited access to finance: The majority of Chinese suppliers are small and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) with limited access to formal financing channels such as bank loans.  Chinese SMEs account for less than 10 percent of all bank lending in China,  and as a result, Chinese suppliers frequently do not have the capital to     make the necessary environmental investments.

  • Intense domestic and global competition: Chinese suppliers face intense competition from thousands of firms, both  domestic and international, within their industries. This intense competition puts constant pressure on suppliers to cut costs, which can  include environmental protections, in an effort to stay in business.

Leveraging the Supply Chain to Gain “Reciprocal Value”

Leading edge, sustainability –minded and innovative companies have found “reciprocal value” through enhanced product differentiation, reputation management and customer loyalty.  I recently highlighted the model efforts that GE has implemented with its China based suppliers to implant responsible and environmentally proactive manufacturing into their operations.  GE’s comprehensive supplier assessment program evaluates suppliers in China and other developing economies for environment, health and safety, labor, security and human rights issues. GE has leaned on its thousands of suppliers to obtain the appropriate environmental and labor permits, improve their environmental compliance and overall performance.   In addition, GE and other multi-national companies (including Wal-Mart, Honeywell, Citibank and SABIC Innovative Plastics) have partnered to create the EHS Academy in Guangdong province.  The objective of this no-profit venture is to create a more well-trained and capable workforce of environmental, health and safety professionals.

Summary

Many of my prior posts have highlighted the critical needs for increased supply chain collaboration among the world’s largest manufacturers in order to effectively operationalize sustainability in Chinese manufacturing plants. This is especially evident for large worldwide manufacturers operating subcontractor arrangements in developing nations and “tiger economies”, such as India, Mexico and China (and the rest of Southeast Asia). Global manufacturer efforts underscore how successful greening efforts in supply chains can be based on value creation through the sharing of intelligence and know-how about environmental and emerging regulatory issues and emerging technologies.

Suppliers and customers stand so much to gain from collaboratively strengthening each other’s performance and sharing cost of ownership and social license to operate.  But as I have stated before, supply chain sustainability and corporate governance must first be driven by the originating product designers and manufacturers that rely on deep tiers of suppliers and vendors in far-away places for their products.


Note: This piece is adapted from a recent article that I wrote, “Navigating China’s Green Road” that appears in China Sourcing Magazine

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