Tag Archives: whole systems

The Quest for Personal & Organizational Sustainability- The Path to 2011 & Beyond

24 Dec

A great article was brought to my attention this past week by sustainability colleague and sage Gil Friend (@gfriend) this week.  The article by Peter Shallard talks about ditching New Years resolutions and reminding yourselves that you are on a journey- a quest.

“The holidays give you the window of opportunity to do this important thinking – not the date on the calendar. Take advantage of the time you’ve got to review the past and be grateful. Then, think of the future and be excited….Dismiss the date. Embrace the introspection.”- Peter Shallard

For individuals, organizations and communities, sustainability can be a walk in the forest, a chance meeting or a seminal event that jogs the mind, creating an urgent call to action that is transcendent.   For me at least, this shift towards sustainability has truly been a quest- sometimes a quiet, almost transparent change, other times a deliberate, “in your face” awakening. Either way, questing for sustainability involves embracing whole systems thinking that allows us to view ourselves and the business relationships that we have with others differently perhaps as a value chain of innovation and creativity.

My Journey

A few moments come to mind in my journey toward sustainability and my professional path (dates are approximate) that I’d like to share- come along with me please- read on:

Riding the Range (South Central Montana, 1964)- that's me on the left with my Dad & brother

1964: My family takes “The Great Western Road Trip”- one month in a loaded Ford Country Squire, exploring the wide open Western U.S., riding horses in Montana, exploring the Colorado back country, and marveling at Yellowstone National Parks natural wonders.  I vow to move west one day. I eventually do in 1977 to finish out my college education in natural resources ecology and management.

1969: Memories of recycling glass, plastic and newsprint with my Dad at the huge new recycling center in my hometown (Highland Park, Illinois).  I liked the shattered glass sounds.

1972-1976: Camping in Wisconsin’s Northwoods and making a conscious decision while on a “walk in the woods” to pursue a natural resources career.  I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Ed Abbeys Desert Solitaire and am changed forever.

1982: I developed and unveiled a groundbreaking employee environmental training program that changed the way of thinking for hundreds of coal miners in Utah.  Their changes in behavior and proactive efforts led to a stellar number 1 environmental compliance ranking and state-wide recognition.

1983: I watched the groundbreaking movie Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance while I was working for a coal mine in New Mexico.  As I saw smoking, exposed coal seams from the surface mining activities, I began questioning if who I was working for was contradictory to my belief in natural systems, conservation and environmental protection.  So I reached out to Amory and Hunter Lovins (@hlovins) at the newly founded Rocky Mountain Institute for advice on how to manage my moral and ethical environmental center.  Their sage wisdom enabled me to continue my environmental work.  I embraced  internal change management, policy development, environmental awareness and education,  advocacy for proactive compliance management and supporting land conservation and  site restoration.

Emergency Site Cleanup-Utah, 1986

1984-1990: I called this period ” the Tyvek Years”.  I had numerous transcendent experiences conducting high profile federal and state-led hazardous waste site investigations and emergency cleanups.  It was sometimes very nasty work.  The experiences left me wondering how to prevent future environmental calamities like the ones I was helping to clean up.  This  led me toward developing proactive compliance and environmental management frameworks for clients and take a more active role in community planning groups.

1990: Captain Planet and the Planeteers debuts on Turner Broadcasting.  The Captain Planet Foundation still exists to support hands-on environmental projects for youth in grades K-12.

Mr. Science goes to pre-school for Show-and-Tell (1991)

1991: My four-year old son brings me to pre-school as his show and tell project.  He introduces me as follows: “This is my Dad- he saves the Planet”.  What a better way to spend the lunch hours in enlightening the next generation about environmental issues and the wonders of science.

1993:  I participated with an international team in a solid waste facility siting project in Barbados.  The political process trumps good engineering and science, and demonstrates lack of value placed on natural parklands and sustainable development.  The government ignores all technical recommendations made by the team following years of study and eventually sites the project in the middle of a proposed national park.  Really!?  I leave the island tanned but disillusioned and even more committed to advance science in effective sustainable development policy-making.

1995: I complete my Masters degree in Environmental Policy and Management as a charter member of University of Denvers groundbreaking and pioneering post secondary education curriculum.  My Capstone Project, an “Environmental Policy Toolkit” becomes available to hundreds of small to large businesses through the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.   While the younger grads are passing alcohol filled bota bags at graduation ceremonies, my professional colleagues and I are passing “Tums” around!  My son gets to see his Dad who “saves the planet” walk up to accept his diploma- that was cool.

1996: Recalling my talk in 1983 with the Lovins’, I was confronted by an old time miner while working at my company’s booth at a mining expo in Spokane.  He saw that I worked for an environmental services firm and said: “so I see you’re an environmentalist- so, are you ‘fer or ‘agin mining!?”  I answered ” I’m ‘fer environmentally responsible mining”.  That stumped him but he said he’d “accept that” answer.  I gave him trinkets for his five grandkids, and he left happy.

1998: I had the pleasure of planning and developing several successful and industry groundbreaking ISO 14001 environmental management system (EMS) certifications (the first of more than three dozen I have installed since).  Bubble shattered in 1999 by a retired Washington state Senator, who quipped to me on a Washington D.C. street that environmental policy is not science-based.  I am dumbfounded (post script: last week the Obama administration finally released its  long awaited “scientific integrity” policy statement).

City of San Diego Water Department ISO 14001 Champions (I'm in the 3rd row)

1998-2004: The public sector years.  During this time I assisted major water, wastewater and solid waste utilities in implementing award winning ISO 14001 EMS’s, improving operations and saving taxpayers millions in real and avoided environmental liabilities.   I knew I could flush, drink water and recycle in confidence knowing that my city operations were “doing the right thing”.  After my latest utility client successfully received its ISO 14001 certification in 2004, one of  the organizations chief protagonists quietly pulled me aside to thank me “for getting us to do what they would not have done themselves”.

2010: I finally seek out and find the link between my Jewish identity and environmentalism.  I become a Bar Mitzvah and find that the Torah and Jewish scholars have taught extensively about environmentalism over the past 5771 years- guess I was a little late to the party!.  Many Talmudic themes specifically center around the concept of “sustainability”. Here in the U.S., the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) has helped tens of thousands of Jews make a connection between Judaism and the environment.  There are even green tips to have an ‘eco-kosher’ New Year.

A quest is superior to a goal because the journey itself is rewarding. It’s an epic ongoing voyage which will immediately go down in folklore as a story worth telling.  Ditch your goals in favor of choosing the journey that you want to go on. Pick a quest that will necessitate the accomplishment of your goals along the way.

So that’s my story….or at least some of the highlights.  There’s more to share but that’s perhaps another chapter in this journey.  I hope you found this first story worth the telling.  As you can see, sometimes its the little things that (when I take the time to think about it) have slowly moved me forward, or sometimes the events have been larger and have catapulted me further .

A Call to Action

Mr. Shallards piece distills preparation for a successful quest as a series of four essential steps.

…focus on equipping yourself for your journey.  Ask yourself:

  • What kind of person do I need to be to be the hero in this story?
  • What beliefs and values do I need to hold?
  • What capabilities do I need to develop?
  • What habits and behaviors do I need to master?

The suggestions by Mr. Shallard can easily be adapted to an organizational  and supply chain level when considering best methods to transform a “business-as-usual” organization into a sustainability-minded one, or instill changes in policy and implementation at the community level.   A few other ideas to turn your organization toward a “top-line”, first mover one can be found here as well.

I can’t begin to reel off the names all of the family, friends, colleagues, teachers and organizations that have made such a huge difference in my quest  of the past 50 plus years on this planet.  Suffice it to say that it takes many wings to fly in this world and I am indebted to each and every one of you who’ve made a small or large contribution to my quest along the way.   I will thank Gil Friend though for bringing Mr. Ballards perspective to my attention.   Meantime, I’ll just simply say that if you are reading this, I truly appreciate your continued support and interest in my ideas and experiences this past year.

I’d love to hear your stories too and hope you’ll share them in the comments below!

Here’s to a very happy, health, sustainable & prosperous 2011!

Paz- Dave

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Redwood Forests Provide a Clue to Business Sustainability and a Greener Supply Chain

26 Oct

Thoreau did it.  So did Carter and Brezhnev, and Reagan and Gorbachev too.  They all took a walk in the woods, like I did on a recent weekend…to explore and resolve internal and external issues.  My hike took place in the coastal redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains on the central California Coast.  A hike through these beautiful groves of ancient redwoods is truly an awe-inspiring, reflective experience. Redwood forests are complex ecosystems. From the tallest trees in the world to the tiniest animal, the whole forest is a working system in a very delicate balance. Everything has a role to play in this forest.

Coastal Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are also known for their resistance to fire.  They are protected by a very thick bark that lacks the highly flammable resin of other tree species. These resilient trees in some cases, can live for more than 2,000 years, making them one of the oldest tree species in the world. Also, unlike most trees, redwoods lack a taproot. Instead, they have a shallow root system that can extend up to 100 hundred feet outward, forming a network of connected root systems with other trees. But despite the connected roots, high winds and/or flooding can bring these massive trees to the ground.

Now substitute the word “forest” with “supply chain”, “tallest tree” with “largest company” and tiniest animal with “smallest supplier”, and you hopefully get where I am going with this post.

I mentioned in prior posts that to make progress on environmental issues in organizations and in supply chain management, organizations must understand that they’re part of a larger system. Fifth Discipline and The Necessary Revolution author Peter Senge makes valid claims that organizations are 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.  Like a forest, where all parts depend on the other, if the balance is upset, there can be chaos and poor ecosystem health.  A supply chain is in effect a business ecosystem.  And a supply chain functions the same way as a redwood, in that it has interconnected roots rather than one strong taproot, but can be blown down by external forces that it may not be able to control.

The Concept of Business Ecosystems

Author James Moore developed and popularized the strategic concept of business ecosystems in his 1996 book The Death of Competition: Leadership and Strategy in the Age of Business Ecosystems. According to Moore, a generic business ecosystem is defined as the economic and social environment that consists of organizations, individuals, regulatory structures and controls, government organizations, customers, competitors, suppliers, and the many entities with which a business interacts. The principal purpose of the business ecosystem is to align its members towards a shared vision that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Business ecosystem value is created by the combination of participants and their contributions – and their role within the ecosystem to enable the achievement of a combined vision or goal.

Many organizations have sought ways to deliver greater product and customer value through innovative supply chain solutions. The common link is that customers’ receive value from a whole solution, which takes into account all value chain contributions.  Think HP, Microsoft, Cisco, IBM.  Traditional high tech companies.  But this thinking extends to consumer product and apparel manufacturers (Herman Miller, Procter and Gamble, Unilever, Nike, Keen, Patagonia) and major retailers like Walmart, Starbucks, Kohls.  The list grows weekly.  Each of these organizations have created business ecosystems through redefining the nature of the value for the client.  They have further created new competitive environments, with new rules and practices that account for sustainability and that challenge their industry norms through green supply chain innovation.

While my recent post called out many large companies for being procrastinators and laggards, I continue to applaud the industry leaders who’ve seen how each tree (supplier) contributes to a stronger and healthier forest (supply chain).

So go take a walk in the woods.  Breathe the air, take in the silence…and think of ways that you can help your company refocus its sustainability efforts and supply chain health for future generations to enjoy.

“Industrial Ecology” Revisited: Its Place in the Green Economy & Supply Chain Management

30 Sep

Back in the 1990’s there was a popular term being used called “industrial ecology (IE)”.  Basically, IE is defined as a “systematic organizing framework for the many facets of environmental management.  The industrial world was viewed as a natural system – a part of the local ecosystems and the global biosphere.  IE offers a fundamental understanding of the value of modeling the industrial system on ecosystems to achieve sustainable environmental performance (Lowe, 1993).  The IE ecosystem boundary included the raw materials grower or extractor, the materials processor or industrial manufacturer, the waste processer, and of course the consumer.  The “value chain” of product manufacturing and the handing off of raw materials to manufacturer, and finished goods to consumer (i.e. the supply chain) can be viewed much the same way as IE.

An industrial ecology (ecosystem) has been defined to exist on three levels, each characterized by the amount of recycling or reuse of material that is within the system (or the system’s “openness”). The second level is characterized by some factor of energy and material is reused within the system, and seems to be the most applicable model for actual systems. It is within these industrial ecosystems models that green supply chains will play a critical and practical role. http://bit.ly/b9Irc4.

IE is not without its critics however.  Author John Ehrenfeld produced an article from American Behavioral Scientist entitled, Industrial Ecology: Paradigm or Normal Science (Ehrenfeld, John. (2000). Industrial Ecology: Paradigm or Normal Science? American Behavioral Scientist. 44(2): 229-244, 2000).  that calls into question a possible paradox between the terams “industrial” and “ecology” and that both terms have value in both concept and practice. From Ehrenfelds perspective, “It is not an either/or, but rather a both/and” proposition.  In a recent Triple Pundit article,  Ehrenfeld states four principles that define industrial design in the context of a sustainable business:

1. closed material loops,
2. energy used in a thermodynamically efficient manner,
3. maintenance of balance of the system’s metabolism and elimination of materials that upset the system,
4. and dematerialized processes & products; delivering function with fewer materials.

Green supply chains operate on the premise that material flows and wastes generated are viewed, designed and managed in a way that “dematerializes” products, promotes optimal resource conservation, recycling and reuse.  The focus of a green supply chain then is entirely on managing material content in a systematic and collaborative way, so that all participants up and down the value chain benefit.  Of course its entirely possible that the cost of closing material loops may in some cases exceed the benefits.  So practitioners need to realistically weigh the cost-benefit of IE approaches in making design and manufacturing decisions

From a supply chain perspective, raw material price volatility (sharp rises, and sudden falls, in the price of raw materials) have been plaguing the global marketplace. In particular, energy, metals and commodities used as ingredients in manufactured goods and consumer products – have escalated since 2005.   Much of this volatility has been fueled by rapid growth in Asian markets and traditional supply and demand constraints.

IE based systems then and the new 21st century green supply chain “networks” then can be based on three key areas, each designed toward materials resource optimization, advance clean technology and demand response:

  • Technical:Engineering perspective with technological innovation; Business System and Networks
  • Shared services, transportation, and facilities
  • Community-Business Interactions: Symbiotic networks and collaborative services;  3 Es:  Economy, Environment, Equity

According to a study on IE and risk analysis by Paul Kleindorfer of the Wharton School of Management http://bit.ly/a9QugQ, “in the industrial ecology framework, each company has a special role as steward of the environment and ecosystem within which it operates…this role of product stewardship and environmental waste and risk management [encompasses] suppliers and customers just as “extended value chain analysis” encompasses suppliers and customers in the traditional supply chain improvement process.”

So green supply chain management and IE are in essence systems based operational process management practices, each designed first to manage an organizations and its stakeholders environmental footprint (materials and waste flows) and second, to be used as a risk management tool.

There are a wide variety of best practices and tools to leverage upstream and downstream value chain opportunities with principles of sustainability in mind.  Applying IE based  thinking is but one of many useful steps for organizations that want to improve their resource productivity, reduce risk and enhance business competitiveness. The whole systems perspective that IE emphasizes offers a window for organizations to add value and reduce costs both within their own four walls but up and down the supply chain as well.

How Walmart & Others Use ‘Best Value’ Approach to Drive Green Supply Chain Management

22 Sep

I recently came across a great research article written a couple of years ago and published in Elsevier Business Horizons.  The article, entitled Best Value Supply Chains: A key competitive weapon for the 21st Century (co-author is no relation, but irony is cool nonetheless), emphasized how leading edge companies have adopted “best value strategic supply chain management” as a strategic approach to stay competitive and drive efficiency.  The authors describe this type of approach as way for companies to “excel across speed, quality, cost, and flexibility, and …require coordination across at least four supply chain elements: strategic sourcing, logistics management, supply chain information systems, and relationship management.”

In one example, the authors refer to “firms such as Wal-Mart, Toyota, and Zara [that have] have used their supply chains as competitive weapons to gain advantages over peers. For example, Wal-Mart excels in terms of speed and cost by locating all domestic stores within one day’s drive of a warehouse while owning a trucking fleet. This creates distribution speed and economies of scale that competitors simply cannot match.”  Exploring this approach by Walmart a bit deeper indicates several positive outcomes from an environmental perspective also.  In the past two years Walmart has committed itself to reducing its carbon footprint by 20 million metric tons by the end of 2015. The most direct manner to do this is to control how it distributes its product.  So fleet management and control, and strategic distribution placement equals lower fuel costs, miles driven and hence carbon emission reductions.  However Walmart will also accomplish its reductions largely by working with its suppliers on their own greenhouse gas emissions.  Looking a little deeper however, shows that Walmart also reported recently that its carbon emissions as a percentage of sales went down. While that is great news using ‘normalized’ performance indicators, the not so good news is that  the company’s ‘absolute’ carbon footprint continued to grow as sales and stores were added.  So this goes to show you that it is valuable to drive value through the supply chain, taking a strategic, whole systems approach to get a handle on your direct spend and indirect environmental costs.  The only way to effectively do so is to look inside the operations of your own four walls, AND explore ways to influence the outside variables that can impact your operations.

The authors also cite three key attributes of a strategic supply chain management process that must be optimized: agility, adaptability (think Darwin?), and alignment (or the Three A’s).  I agree in whole that in order to shape behavior and optimize sustainability goals within a supply chain, that its vital the companies seek to 1) set in place tools that increase flexibility and ability to rapidly respond to changes in customer behavior and preferences (agility) 2) reshape supply chains to new ways of thinking (adaptability) 2) align your organizational goals with those of your upstream and downstream suppliers, vendors and stakeholders through improved collaboration and relationship management (alignment).  Each of these success attributes plays well in the sustainability arena and in managing an organizations triple bottom line.

As I have repeatedly stated in this space, the supply chain and logistics world is changing- expanding from a company vs. company solar system to a supply chain vs. supply chain universe.  Reshaping and reforming your supply chain management practices to reflect changing business norms toward managing to the ‘triple bottom line’ makes for smart business.

Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainability- Their Place in a Green Supply Chain

3 Sep

As we here in the U.S. head into Labor Day weekend, a few news items caught my attention this week.  Each of these moves by large consumer and retail brands call to mind that there is a social side of the supply chain that adds organizational value and enhances brand reputation.  This has been made more evident recently by all the discussion regarding efforts to change U.S law to squeeze ‘conflict minerals’ associated with manufacturing of cell phones, batteries and other electronics (http://bit.ly/aaae1V)

Yesterday an article in Triple Pundit (The Most Important Assets are not on the Balance Sheet http://bit.ly/9fDfd5), noted that there are several “intangible” assets that create organizational value.  Each of these “assets” clearly can (and should in my opinion) extend up and down the supply chain.  First and foremost, a company’s primary assets are its employees. The article makes a valid point that employees are “the secret in the sauce and the glue that holds the corporation together”. Without employees to produce the goods, ensure product quality, move those goods efficiently and respond to customers, other company “assets” hold little value beyond their resell potential.  Next, a company’s reputation is its most important asset, particularly if the corporation publicly declares commitment to the triple-bottom-line. As reported by Jeffrey Hollender earlier this year, Fortune Magazine has estimated that a company’s reputation represents 75% of the total value of an average business. Finally, company mission provides the long term direction on what tangible assets to acquire, align with and where to divest. It’s said that the mission is the “organization’s compass and the written articulation of corporate soul”. The article argues the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a key intangible that can affect corporate success and bottom line performance.

In a similar vein, several companies stepped into the spotlight this week to shine the importance of social and environmental responsibility along the supply chain.

First, Nestle, the world’s biggest food group, announced late last week it would invest $487 million in coffee projects by 2020 to help the company optimize its supply chain http://bit.ly/dhDhGY.  Part of this plan includes the “Beyond the Cup” Nescafe Plan (http://bit.ly/9TnCIs): distributing 220 million high-yield, disease-resistant coffee plantlets to farmers by 2020, expanding technical assistance and buying directly from growers.  The company announced its plans to double the amount of Nescafe coffee bought directly from farmers and their associations.  All of the directly purchased green coffee will meet the company’s “4C” sustainability standards by 2015, with the support of the Rainforest Alliance and the 4C Association. The Rainforest Alliance is a nongovernmental organization that certifies farms for meeting sustainability criteria. The 4C Association, registered in Geneva, works towards sustainability in the coffee sector with a code of conduct and a verification system.   Over 90,000 tons of Nescafe coffee will be sourced under the principles of the Rainforest Alliance and the Sustainable Agriculture Network, a coalition of conservation groups, by 2020, the company said.   With apologies to Maxwell House and Kraft Foods, now that’s coffee that is “good to the last drop”!

In an upstream supply chain twist, Corporate Express/Australia has recently announced two major initiatives designed to encourage and assist businesses to become more environmentally and socially sustainable (http://bit.ly/bMB0U8).  The company has produced the “Go Green Guide” – for a Greener Workspace” and is focused on adopting sustainable procurement practices. The 100% recyclable Go Green Guide features:

  • Over 1500 environmentally preferable products across all lines of business;
  • Facts and figures demonstrating the effect all businesses can have on the environment by using environmentally preferable products;
  • Explanations of certification labels to help businesses make environmentally conscious purchasing decisions;
  • An action plan that provides businesses with easy steps on how to start their journey towards creating a greener workspace.

Finally, Unilever has come up with a new tool designed to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its supply chain. http://bit.ly/aLZ9wF.  The company has developed The Cool Farm Tool.  The tool enables both supply chain managers and individual farmers to input data they have access to in their daily jobs, and uses this to calculate their total greenhouse gas emissions from fields, inputs, land use and land use change, it said.  “Farmers are then able to see the effect that making small actionable changes to their agricultural methods will have on their overall carbon emissions (such as using a different fertilizer, for example).”

Each of these examples underscores the “whole systems” approach that I’ve previously written about in this space and that underscore transparency and collaboration the “value” in the supply chain.  Each company recognizes that to be a truly sustainable organization, it must reach deep beyond its four walls to its suppliers and customers.

What is your company doing to engage it’s supply chain to enhance corporate social responsibility and implement environmentally responsible product stewardship- along the entire supply chain?  Happy Labor Day, everyone.

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