Sustainability: “Why” Determines “How”

Motivation Matters

Manufacturers decide to pursue Sustainability for a variety of reasons. For some, the motivation is ideological: a strong sense of doing the right thing. For others, the motivation is more prosaic: perhaps in quest of market differentiation, or perhaps in response to customer expectations (or demands), or perhaps in reaction to prompting from the financial community. Any way you slice it, the motivation is either intrinsic — coming from the leadership’s beliefs — or motivation comes from extrinsic influences.

Motivation matters because a serious pursuit of Sustainability affects an organization at its very core. Consider the familiar Triple Bottom Line [1] approach to Sustainability, which requires that effects of an organization’s actions on its own profitability need be held coequally with the effects of those actions on the natural world and with the effects of those actions on humanity.Urgent / Important Matrix Then apply the thinking behind Stephen Covey’s Urgent / Important matrix [2] to the Triple Bottom Line. It is apparent that all three Triple Bottom Line considerations — the effects of the organization’s actions on profitability, on the natural world and on humanity — belong in Covey’s Quadrant 2, where sustained and balanced results are possible.

Still, most of us know from experience that Urgent usually trumps Important. Talking about operating from Quadrant 2 is easy. Actually doing so isn’t so easy. Some way to control the urgency of Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 3 demands is necessary. Covey maintains, quite correctly, that determination and will-power are not sufficient for operating from Quadrant 2. Rather, an expressed intrinsic vision is needed, to serve as a pole star or compass north — a reliable point of reference for navigating the future — and a deeply held conviction of the necessity to stay on course.

So, when the motivation is intrinsic and strong, a plan for Sustainability starts with a new vision statement for the organization, a vision of what it means to thrive in perpetuity [3].

… Then a mission statement that encapsulates how that vision will be realized.

… Then a structured and time-phased system of objectives, which quantifies that which the mission statement sets out.

… And finally a coherent means of action planning for timely achievement of those objectives.

Well, not really “finally”. There is much more involved in assembling a viable Sustainability plan, including measurement protocols, feedback mechanisms, review schedules, and so on.

Motivation Still Matters

When the motivation comes from extrinsic influence, sufficiently strong top-down commitment may not be present. Consequently, a comprehensive vision-based plan may not be practical.

Piecemeal programs are not Sustainability in the thrive in perpetuity sense. However, a piecemeal approach can still accomplish useful results. Determining the best way to start is situational, depending on operational conditions within the organization and on the specifics of the outside influence. Likely contenders include: introducing Lean Manufacturing techniques (especially 5S), initiating programmed maintenance, conducting an energy utilization audit (and a continuing search for negawatts [4]), conducting (and acting upon) the inventory of environmental concerns that is prerequisite to ISO 14001 certification, or systematic enhancement of the organization’s Safety program.

Motivation matters in just about any long term change initiative. When the change involves the strategic core of the organization, as it does with a thrive in perpetuity Sustainability initiative, the motivation needs spring from firmly held conviction in doing the right thing.

Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated. Click on the title of this post to open the comments section.Chuck - Juneau

…  Chuck Harrington

: When the time comes for your manufacturing organization to embrace Sustainability, contact me.    — C. H.

A .pdf version of this post is available at:

Graphic: Similar to a graphic in Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, page 151 (see end notes).

[1] For more on the Triple Bottom Line, see Andrew Savitz and Karl Weber, The Triple Bottom Line, John Wiley & Sons, New York (2006).


[2] Covey, Stephen, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Free Press, New York (2004) pp 146 – 162. The Seven Habits explicitly addresses individual time management. However, the principles presented have a much more general range of applicability.


[3] Werbach, Adam, Strategy for Sustainability, Harvard Business Press, Boston (2009), page 9. Strategy for Sustainability also presents the concept of a “pole star” to guide Sustainability efforts, along with other insights pertinent to this post.


[4] See:—waging-war-on-waste.aspx