Navigating the Passage

30 05 2010

For any organisation, keeping up with legislative requirements can be quite a challenge.  As we all know, getting offside with the taxation department in any country only leads to investigations and subsequently leaves you less time to run your business.  Accordingly, getting offside with environmental protection departments’ can be just as challenging, as your whole operation can be shut down until the issue is rectified.  If you are in the manufacturing sector, this is a particular concern, as recovering from lost orders and bad publicity about disregarding the environment are tricky to recover from.

This article looks at ways to be proactive in setting your organisation’s course so that you minimise your chances of running up against legislation.  I call it “navigating the passage” as it is like sailing a yacht from one ocean to another ocean through a narrow channel.

We are all collectively guilty of operating businesses in a way where we are not taking into account limitations such as:

  • Using up resources like coal, oil and forests faster than they can be replaced (certainly not within many generations)
  • Gathering too quickly animals, fish and plants such that their populations are no longer self sustaining.
  • Reducing the areas of forests that provide our oxygen
  • Altering the natural mixture of nutrients in our soil
  • Increasing the levels of pollution in our water, food and air
  • Producing new substances that nature can not dispose of such as polystyrene and nuclear waste

These limitations may be viewed as frustrating limitations to continuing business as usual, or as an opportunity to work with them so as to be ahead of others in your industry.  In terms of the “navigating the passage” analogy, it means that you choose to take your business right up to the edges of the coastlines exploring the details and opportunities, rather than staying out in the middle of the ocean.

When you study the upstream and downstream reliance your organisation has on resources or the part it plays in the production of pollution, you enable yourself to look for alternative methods of production of the same product, while reducing or even eliminating that reliance.  Imagine if your organisation was able to operate without the need to burn coal for electricity.  What if you generated your own electricity from your own waste, so that rather than having to pay for disposing of that waste, you used it instead of buying electricity.  A cycle like this replicates how nature works in that one process output is the input to another process and therefore there is never any waste.

Discovering process changes that give you the opportunity to navigate your business through the narrow channels of environmental legislation, and developing a culture that looks for these opportunities, are vital to the long term success of your business and indeed any organisation.  While your competitors are out in the middle of the old ocean, you have seen the channels that have allowed your business to navigate the passageway along the coastline, and into what appears to be a whole new ocean of opportunities on the other side.

Of course, when sailing any yacht, a full crew dedicated to the journey is required, as there will be times when you may sail too close to the rocks.  The team’s contribution to the successful operation of your business will also mitigate your businesses environmental challenges before they have a chance to become an issue.  Your whole team therefore needs to be contributing, each in their unique way, to ensure your business’ successful “Navigation of the Passage”.

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Global Environmental Crisis

24 05 2010

I got asked the other day the following question:

What is/are the root cause/s of the Global Environmental Crisis?
How can they be addressed?

Here are my thoughts.

The root causes of the global environmental crisis stem from the disconnect of people from acknowledging they are part of nature and environmental cycles rather than being separate from or able to control nature.

In the business world there is a growing discussion that measuring a business’s success in terms of profit and shareholder dividends alone is no longer good enough. When assessing the sustainability of the business and the risks it faces, investors can take into account more the impact the operation has on the local communities and the natural resources it is dependent on. Countries continue to use the measure of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to show the health of the country and how well it is progressing. GDP does not take into account what is being produced (money spent on recovering from natural disasters and building more military arsenal adds to GDP just as providing housing and producing food does) or what effect it has on nature (clear felling forests for the timber adds to GDP however no account is taken for the loss of biodiversity or ecosystem services that the forest provides, such as producing oxygen).

It is measures like GDP that have driven the growth in consumerism where more goods are being purchased and hence need to be produced,therefore raising the GDP of an economy. Marketing leads people to believe that more “things” will make them happy and show them to be successful in their communities, however this does not necessarily lead to a healthy and happy community. People need to appreciate those “things” from a perspective of what has been utilised to produce them.

We can address this disconnect by raising awareness of the interconnectedness and reliance we as the human species have on a healthy planet. Educating people in what is involved in producing food and goods so that they choose options that have a lower embedded energy, along with a lower social and environmental cost, will help reconnect people to their place in nature. This will lead to more meaningful measures of success being adopted such as Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) or Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW) rather than GDP, thus allowing a further break from the current connection between consuming more “things” as measures of success.

Looking at our planning and design requirements in all aspects of life is another way to address the crisis. By giving more consideration to the production processes of products to enable them to be reused and recycled can reduce our environmental impact. Moving back to producing products that have longer design life expectancy rather than adhering to a replacement system and finally, by designing products so that the output from one process becomes the input in another process while utilising nature to assist the cycles and hence reduce the energy required in the production process, are all solutions to addressing the global environmental crisis.

Overall we need to think more strategically around sustainability issues taking into account in our management of the 5 major types of capital being: human capital, financial capital, natural capital, produced and social capital.

In conclusion, the key to addressing the global environmental crisis is having a longer term perspective that revitalises the role humans play in generating sustainable growth that does not disproportionately disadvantage ecosystems or human cultures.

I would love to hear yours either here or on facebook via
http://www.facebook.com/notes.php?id=743408854#!/note.php?note_id=418673911003