Sustainabilty Planning – The Baldrige Approach

This is the first of several posts on approaches to Sustainability planning. Others will follow from time to time — C.H.

Sustainability Planning

Sustainability is not an add-on. Rather, it involves a substantial increase in the scope of a manufacturing firm’s view of itself. This extended view embraces profitability now and in the future, as well as renewed respect for the natural world we all rely on and for humanity’s legitimate needs and demands.

Sustainability begins at the Mission Statement level, then requires a clear set of performance objectives and an enhanced set of key performance Indicators (KPIs). Given those, an appropriate framework can be used to generate a comprehensive management system. The Baldrige Criteria provide one such framework.

About Baldrige

The U.S. Congress established the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards program in 1987, primarily in response to Japan’s advances in manufacturing technology. Today, the Baldrige Performance Excellence program is a national public – private partnership. Its mission is to improve the competitiveness and performance of U.S. organizations. The program’s primary activities are development and continuous improvement of the Baldrige Criteria, management of the annual Baldrige Quality Awards program, producing training materials and disseminating successes and lessons learned.

The Baldrige Criteria are the key. The Criteria are a set of inquiries regarding the processes and practices that constitute your firm’s operating system. The Criteria are arranged in seven categories, which are subdivided into seventeen items, which are further divided into areas to address.

Here is an example, taken directly from the Criteria:

Category 1 – Leadership

Item 1.1 – Senior Leadership: How do your senior leaders lead?


1.1a (3) Creating a Sustainable Organization   How do Senior Leaders create a Sustainable organization? How do Senior Leaders achieve the following? 

  • Create an environment for organizational Performance improvement, the accomplishment of your Mission and Strategic Objectives, Innovation, Performance Leadership, and organizational agility
  • Create a Workforce culture that delivers a consistently positive Customer experience and fosters Customer Engagement
  • Create an environment for organizational and Workforce Learning
  • Develop and enhance their leadership skills
  • Participate in organizational earning, succession planning and the development of future leaders

 The point is to be able to respond by describing systematic processes that are consistently deployed throughout your organization, that include provisions for learning and improvement, and that are well integrated with your mission and with your other processes and practices.

A tall order? You bet. However, there is a vast resource network in place that is anxious to assist. 

Available Resources

  • Image - Baldrige CriteriaThe National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) is the U.S. Government agency that manages the Baldrige program and publishes the Baldrige Criteria. The Criteria, along with related publications are available for download at

  • The Alliance for Performance Excellence represents State – level organizations that offer award programs based on the Baldrige Criteria, along with associated training and participation opportunities. The Alliance website,, includes a contact listing of State – level organizations.

  • The Alliance website also includes a Baldrige Resource Library ( which consists of training materials for free download. The two-part Training Curriculum for Small and Medium Sized Manufacturers is particularly relevant.

  • State – level organizations offer opportunities to serve as an Examiner, along with the requisite training. Examiners learn to critically review and to score Baldrige – based award applications. In the process of doing so, much is learned about organization for performance excellence. (If you haven’t guessed, performance excellence is a prerequisite for “thriving in perpetuity”.)

  • Dr. Donald Fisher’s Corporate Sustainability: Planning Assessment Guide is a 246 page manual + CD on using the Baldrige Criteria as “a template for self-assessment and strategic planning regarding corporate sustainability efforts”.  Dr. Fisher has been closely associated with the Baldrige program for many years. The book is available from the American Society for Quality ( or from Amazon and other booksellers.

Comments and Caveats

  • Of course, everyone would like to win a prestigious award. However, a number of improvement cycles are usually necessary before winning is possible. That’s why most State – level programs offer different awards at various levels of improvement. It’s not really the awards that matter — it’s the progress toward becoming a Sustainable organization — one that can “thrive in perpetuity” — that really counts.

  • In business, and in the Baldrige awards programs, results are necessary to win. Six of the Criteria categories address processes and practices. The seventh demands results — quantified results, related to key performance indicators, which demonstrate positive trends and compare favorably with relevant benchmarks.

  • The Baldrige Criteria are in the process of being revised and upgraded for the 2013 and 2014 award cycles. My guess is that the revisions will include even more specific references to Sustainability efforts than does the present edition.

Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated. It may be necessary to click on the title of this post to open the comments section.

…  Chuck Harrington (

: The Arizona Quality Alliance conducts the State – level Baldrige – based programs here where I live. I serve on AQA’s Board of Examiners and Technical Integrity Council. In years past, I served as an Examiner in the Mississippi state program. Baldrige is quite rigorous; hence a great deal of effort is required by Applicants and by Examiners. My experience is that the learning acquired is more than commensurate.

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