Sustainability Fact or Fantasy…

Practical Sustainability

Practical Sustainability Model

Doing something for the sole fact of “just doing it” has bothered me as since life is a zero sum game, so taking from one side only to give to another seems a waste of time and effort.  As if you take the concept of “sustainability” which is gaining popularity these days, why do anything? In fact we should go back to living like a cave man as everything we do has a negative impact one system or another.

One example is when we decided to use grain alcohol (ethanol) to fuel our SUV’s instead of importing oil.  Here we diverted a raw food source away from dinner tables by taking stock off the shelves from the grocery stores.  In addition, we also managed to extend the carbon footprint above that of oil, because of the energy (natural gas) which is taken from heating homes to fire the distillery process, combines to collect the corn and so on.  Oh and did some one realize that alcohol doesn’t release the same amount of energy gasoline does when burned so you need more of it?  Over all not a solid idea, so again when we save on one side of the equation, we had to give up something on the other side.

So why change if the world is zero sum you ask, well it’s for that very reason. What I’m trying to say you ask?  Think of it this way, since each side of a zero sum equation which has our attention (think of a link in a long chain) has two sides and each one of those sides is then interlinked with another set of zero sum equations, the challenge then becomes a task of finding the side with the “preferred outcome”.  What if, as in the ethanol example above, we were to have instead convert fossil fuel into an improved food source for the dinner tables of the world instead of our SUV?  As what really is “sustainability”?  If we look to the Forum For the Future, they have defined sustainable development as ”a dynamic process which enables all people to realize their potential and improve their quality of life in ways that simultaneously protect and enhance the Earth’s life support systems.”

As today’s world the fantasy of Sustainability is that “magic” exist within the “action” much like the tree hugger’s running around saying “save a tree, save the world“.  For “sustainability” to be of value it must have purpose not pose, thus to solve this we should consider anchoring it to “economics” as it makes the most sense.  Take for example the re-branding of the Starbucks logo, which they have changed from duo to monochromatic (green & black to just green).  Here Starbucks will reduce its real costs (economic driver) as multicolor printing typically requires two pass printing which consumes extra power, higher ink waste (one assumes they are already using a soy based ink) yet it provides no more “practical” value to the product being coffee in this case. Therefore, Starbuck’s reduces costs as well as waste in a socially responsible manner.

With this said, one of the concepts I’ve coined is that of “practical sustainability” whereas sustainability for the sake of “sustainability” will have the life span of the pet rock.  Whereas anchoring it in “practicality” helps to build a positive reinforcing loop from a systems perspective which allows for true value creation rather than rote lip service.

To this end SAP has been a leader in this space by integrating the aspects of sustainability into their enterprise systems. Here the fact of sustainability can be viewed empirically rather than subjectively allowing for “practical” decisions to be made about not only a singular change (link in the chain if you will).  However the entire value “chain” of the system can be viewed as a “whole” because as mentioned prior. Each side of a zero sum equation is interconnected to yet another set zero sum equations and so on down the line.  Thus it’s critical to have a system which allows one to visualize this chain in action as well as model what scenario will play out as in a “practical” fashion. Here the system provides business analytics which is the ability to visualize both the “eco[nomic]” as well as “eco[system]” components of the relationships on an enterprise scale.

While many companies have developed ad-hoc green stories or initiatives which they claim as their “sustainability” programs and are applaud-able achievements in starting. In end however being, “green” for the sake of just the being “green” is not a “sustainable” action in itself. For success, long term commitment to sustainability from a systems-based perspective which is analytics driven is a necessity.  As it must touch operations, manufacturing as well as services, as it must result in the ability to provide guidance to senior management along with all associated in the decision-making chain, as it influences your relationships with your customers, suppliers and form the interconnected web of commerce in which we conduct business in today. As Practical Sustainability must be part of a modern business’s DNA…

Note: I’m not opposed to the greater concept of ethanol production or E85 usage; it’s the irresponsibility of the kneejerk reactions which takes from the bottom of Maslow’s ladder to give to the top.

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About Joseph Campbell

As a strong believer in the fact that "people work for people", it has been a life driver to better to understand the complexities of the various aspects which drive efficiency within this axiom, especially the concepts of leadership. Supporting this, I have been fortunate enough to having experienced this as leader on a global basis over the last decade and half. During this time it has been clear there are three core drivers being Life, Leadership and Economics.
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