On Environmental Sustainability

Sustainability Entails Environmental Actions

For the smaller manufacturer, Sustainability is about prospering in perpetuity [1], in all of the dimensions that encompasses. An active concern for your organization’s impacts on the natural world is a key among those dimensions. “Active concern” means just that, actions – systematic actions extended over time. It is unreasonable to expect any organization to prosper in perpetuity at the expense of the natural world, upon which it depends. The truth of this can be seen through two very different lines of reasoning:

One zoomed out [2] line of reasoning holds that the Earth has a limited capability for providing source for materials and for serving as a sink for trash. As the Earth’s population increases and the per capita demands of that population increase with the spread of affluence, sources for raw materials, fresh water, food and much more become increasingly depleted, hence shortages occur and costs increase. Simultaneously, nature’s capacity for accommodating land fill, air pollution, water pollution, nuclear wastes and more becomes increasingly stretched, hence increasingly costly.

Alternatively, from a zoomed in perspective, a manufacturer can recognize that almost all environmental concerns stem from waste of one sort or another. (That statement is worth thinking about – take a minute to test it against your own experience). Lean Manufacturing teaches that wastes = costs, and Lean Manufacturing provides tools to alleviate wastes, hence reduce costs.

Safety Incidence Rates
So, from a global perspective or from the factory floor, reducing environmental impacts is good business. Not convinced? Consider industrial safety. Can anyone seriously doubt that efforts to reduce industrial accidents result in reduced costs (workman’s comp, lost time, lost expertise… the list goes on) while reducing human pain and suffering?

The point here is that, like safety, active concern for the natural world benefits humanity as it benefits your business.

Regarding “Active Concern”

In my view, the pursuit of Sustainability starts with a vision for the future. I can’t imagine prospering in perpetuity without a functioning natural world to prosper in. So, implicitly or explicitly, the future state of the natural world has to be part of that vision. Again in my view, the mission of the organization should be to realize their vision. Longer-term and shorter-term objectives should align with the mission. Some of those objectives should express “active concern” for environmental matters in quantifiable terms. Appropriate objectives depend on the specifics of each organization. However, there are at least three levels into which appropriate objectives can be grouped:

: Begin with systematic actions to ensure that the organization remains in compliance with all applicable environmental laws, permits and regulations. While this is fundamental, it may not be so obvious. Business is becoming increasingly global, and regulation varies from nation to nation, as well as from time to time. An environmental management system certifiable to the ISO 14001 standard provides one way to systematically identify and address environmental issues.

No Exploitation Icon
No Exploitation
: Like the physicians’ oath, first do no harm. This approach goes beyond compliance to pursuit of elimination of all detrimental environmental emissions. It also applies to exposures to materials that are harmful to human health, in the factory or from its products.

Zero Impact
: At least one billion-dollar manufacturing firm [3] has as its objective to reduce its environmental footprint (net impact on the natural world) to zero by 2020. “Zero Impact” goes all the way up and down their value chain, from raw materials (including petroleum) to final disposition of their product at the end of its useful life. And they are on track to accomplish their objective while prospering as a business.

In the end, Sustainability entails active concern for the natural world. Do it for humanity, or do it for your own firm’s viability. Either way, the natural world benefits and your firm benefits.

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

…  Chuck Harrington

. — When it is time for your firm to seriously pursue Sustainability, contact me — C.H.


Note: This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published on Wednesday evenings.

A .pdf version of this post is available at:  

Images: Illness / injury incidences graph – Jera, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics,
www.bls.gov. No Exploitation graphic – Jera.

[1] Werbach, Adam, Strategy for Sustainability, Harvard Business Press, Boston (2009), page 9


[3] The firm is Interface Corporation, a manufacturer of commercial carpet products. Interface’s story is a remarkable statement as to what is actually possible. Learn more at Interface’s website, http://www.interfaceglobal.com/Sustainability.aspx, or from previous posts to this blog, such as Seven Slippery Slopes, at: http://blog.jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2012/07/18/seven-slippery-slopes.aspx