Getting Started

Getting Started in Sustainability

This page begins with a general description of a process for becoming, and remaining, a Sustainable business. To make that description actionable, the critical segments of that description have been printed in red. Comments on the highlighted segments, along with links to further information follow:

The pursuit of Sustainability is a big deal. Done well, it affects your entire business and its future on the most fundamental levels. The pursuit of Sustainability begins with recognition of the business pressures that led you to Sustainability. Next comes increasing your understanding of Sustainability and how Sustainability fits with your business and its culture. Almost always, the more one learns about Sustainability, the greater the range and magnitude of the potential becomes apparent. From there, it is appropriate to focus on the most relevant issues and to define a near – term scope. Next, develop a sound business case. Then, a systematic plan of action is developed and implemented. Progress is reviewed regularly, appropriate corrective actions are taken, and the plan going forward is revised. The pursuit of Sustainability continues.

Business Pressures that Lead to Sustainability 

There are three primary motivations for choosing to pursue Sustainability:

>> Stakeholder Demands – customers, financial organizations, environmental advocates, insurers, stockholders and employees are among the individuals and groups that pressure (or encourage) firms. See Still Customer Driven, this blog,

>> Compliance Issues – concerns for compliance with applicable laws and regulations (especially EPA, OSHA and their State counterparts) may motivate actions toward sustainability.

>> A Sense of Doing the Right Thing – almost invariably, management learns that Sustainability efforts lead to significant competitive advantages; that is, Sustainability offers economic, as well as ethical advantages.

Increasing One’s Understanding 

Sustainability, in its essence, represents a significant expansion in the scope of management attention. Sustainability involves the active management of externalities; factors once considered outside a manufacturer’s scope of concern. Examples include environmental emissions, health issues, ultimate product disposal and many others.

>> The Triple Bottom Line constitutes the most frequently used approach to Sustainability. See Double Take on the Triple Bottom Line, one of the most often read posts to this blog:

>> Case Studies provide practical examples of how well known firms are approaching Sustainability. Comparing several cases provides guidance as to what Sustainability means operationally and insight as to how very broad Sustainability can be. Here are five case studies in Sustainability:


Unilever –

Wal-Mart –

DuPont –

Waste Management Co. –

Defining a Near – Term Scope 

In most cases, a firm chooses to pursue Sustainability when Sustainability — as an issue or as an opportunity — becomes sufficiently urgent and important. While comprehensive Sustainability planning is intrinsically long term, urgency requires immediate, constructive actions. Here are some immediate actions that can provide quick benefits, while providing groundwork for later actions:

>> Remedial Actions – In cases where interest in Sustainability has been sparked by some situation requiring remediation, take action. Don’t wait for some comprehensive plan. At the same time, regard that situation as symptomatic of deeper problems. Keep clear records of actions taken and use those records as input to the preparation and prioritization of the comprehensive plan to follow.

>> Safety Program – A truly excellent safety program – which includes product safety and industrial hygiene issues — offers obvious benefits for everybody concerned. Implementation, over time, of a safety program that is consistent with the OSHAS 18001 standard is a great way to advance systematic operations in a manner that employees can readily embrace. For more on safety, see On Safety and Sustainability, this blog,

>> Structured Maintenance – Obviously, equipment malfunction causes quality issues, safety concerns, material losses and downtime. Signs reading “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” have no place in systematic operations. For more on this, see Structured Maintenance, this blog,

>> Lean Manufacturing – Lean techniques constitute, in essence, a war on waste. The most basic aspects of Lean — 5S, for instance – are easy to implement and produce readily noticed results. What’s more, implementation assistance is available almost anywhere. For more on Lean, see Thriving With Lean, this blog,

>> Energy Utilization – Energy consumption – be it fuels or electricity – is a fair proxy for greenhouse gases emissions. Reducing energy consumption helps protect the environment while reducing your power bill. And incentives are available to help you do just that. Start with an energy utilization audit and build from there. See Still a No Brainer and Negawatts – Waging War on Waste, this blog, and

Develop a Sound Business Case 

If the powers that be – the home office, the stockholders or the bank – aren’t already convinced of the necessity for pursuing Sustainability, it may be necessary to spell out the business case. For insights as to the business case for Sustainable manufacturing, see Beyond the Business Case, this blog,

A Systematic Plan of Action

There are any number of ways to approach development and implementation of a Sustainability program. The case studies mentioned above provide some rather diverse examples. The optimal structure, content and sequencing of Sustainability initiatives follow from context – that is, from the challenges the firm faces and the resources the firm has available. As with strategic considerations generally, there is no one-size-fits-all course of action. At its best, Sustainability isn’t a separate plan or program at all. Rather, it is a strategic characteristic of a firm’s overall mode of operating, embedded in the firm’s overall plan of operations.

Development and implementation of a Sustainability plan, or the integration of Sustainability into an overall operating plan or system, requires the participation of somebody with the requisite knowledge and scope of experience. Very few smaller firms have individuals with the requisite knowledge and experience, along with enough time available away from working in the business to drive this bus. Still, Sustainability is a strategic requirement for 21st century manufacturing. Ignore it at your risk. Better to find the right person(s), sooner rather than later!

Go for it!

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