It is about Time

25 07 2010

When planning within a business context the time scales we use are often short, as short as 5 to 10 years.  While this may be longer than political time scales of only 3 to 5 years, it is very short in terms of the lifespan of successful and enduring businesses.  How often do you see businesses planning with time scales of multiple decades or centuries when they are the considering impact of their products and services?

In terms of sustainability, imagine the view businesses would take into their planning, if they were to consider time scales which included that of:

  • Their own ancestors, their present family and their future generations?
  • The founding organisations in their sector, their current suppliers and customers, along with those future organisations which will be created through the progress that they make today?
At a very fundamental level we all know that the current way of business needs to change however mainly through the fear of the unknown, that change is not happening fast enough.  Let us consider taking that step now rather than waiting as the fear will only grow the larger if we wait.
It’s 3:23 in the morning and I’m awake
because my great, great grandchildren won’t let me sleep
My great great grandchildren ask me in dreams
What did you do while the planet was plundered?
What did you do when the earth was unraveling?
Surely, you did something when the seasons started failing?
As the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?

The first few lines of a poem called Hieroglyphic Stairway by Drew Dillinger http://drewdellinger.org/




Changing Perspective

18 07 2010

Taking time to look at a topic or issue from a different angle can often be a rewarding experience.  You may be challenged to begin with, though as you discuss the topic from say the perspective of your supplier or a particular type of customer, new or clearer perspectives will emerge.  You can think of this as role playing.  Have some fun with it and consider doing it as a group exercise with your colleagues.  What is really powerful is when you actually do the exercise with your suppliers and customers.

Now that you have considered the current situation or time period why not change the time to what it was like for that supplier or customer 2 years ago, 5 years ago or even 10 years ago.  What is the progress you have made since then on improving your service, meeting their expectations and what have they changed to meet your requirements?  Have there been changes in the information you need from them in terms of say working conditions?  What about changes to the materials and processes they use?

Reflecting back on the progress you both have made will provide a renewed sense of progress.  Now take your perspective into the future 2, 5 and 10 years.  What changes do you seeing that will become the normal ways of businesses operating?  How has the way you design your products and services taken into account the use of resources, the sustainability cycles and social impacts?  Are you preparing for those?  There are some great processes available to help facilitate this forecasting (some of these are mentioned in previous posts including how backcasting may be a better methodolgy than forecasting).

Enjoy the new awareness you gain from changing your perspective!





Knowing and Acting

11 07 2010

What if you knew the code to enable you to predict the future? Some think this would be marvellous, while others think it would make life a little boring.

You will have seen movies that show how people predict what is going to happen in the future. Many discussions continue on what Nostradamus was able to predict. Irrespective of what you believe in this area we are able to predict many events with great certainly over short periods.

Take for example heavy rain happening in the mountains. The people downstream know that they have certain period of time to react before the water levels at their part of the river will rise. They have been able to measure the rainfall in the hills and compare that with the rise in the water level at different places along the river and the time at which the water was highest. They know that if the rainfall in the hills reaches a certain amount then the downstream river banks will be breached. So they take action and sandbag the riverbanks or leave the low level areas.

You may be asking, why are you telling me such basic knowledge? Well this scenario can also be used to highlight what may be the very slow reaction that people have to climate change. Scientists know that the way we are treating the environment today will have flow on effects. The have measured many different components of our natural environment and have been able to correlate changes within their measurements with such certainty that they believe that they can predict what the future impacts will be.

While most of the effects of climate change will take a lot longer than the time it takes rain from the mountains to raise the level of rivers downstream, this slower rate of change is certainly not a reason not to act with as much haste. While the water levels in the river may rise and fall quickly, the impact of factors that are creating climate change will be with us for a considerably longer time.

We certainly are living in a time of knowing how our actions as humans collectively are affecting our future sustainability, so why do we not act with the required urgency?





Social Media for Business Good

28 06 2010

So how does social media help promote a more sustainable society and promote your business at the same time?

Here is a little look at some of the ways that modern internet tools can be used to promote business that is “doing good” for their community.  Of course they can be used to highlight issues that the community feels are not appropriate too.

One of the key things is that people are looking for answers as to how they can operate their businesses and personal lives in ways which benefit both the environment and their community.  They are looking for examples of what has worked and how that has been adapted into their industry sector.

By promoting what your organisation has been able to achieve through social media channels, you can connect with your suppliers, existing customers and potential customers.  Through posting short articles on how you are operating then your business supporters can help spread your initiatives along with their positive experiences of your organisation to their online network.  Having 3rd parties talking about the good your organisation does, is more powerful and meaningful than the messages you say (though these are important also).

Take your company website.  How many web visitors come to that site a day to look at what you provide in terms of products and services?  Compare that with those who are reading your CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and Sustainability messages?  You will probably discover that fewer people are reading your CSR and Sustainability messages.  Many people are looking for the “real” status of your operations via other people’s opinions.

Moving over to platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.  These are very social places and you probably will discover that your company could easily be talked about there.  If you have staff that are good communicators and enjoy using internet tools, then give them the scope to discuss the company initiatives online.

Industry and common interest groups on sites such as Linked-In are often very focused and they attract the business community.  Posting comments about your company’s experiences in implementing sustainability initiatives on these sites gets the interest of your industry peers which can lead quickly to two things.

  1. They approach your company for your services and advice.
  2. They talk about your initiatives with this community and may even shift the discussion out to more social sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The effect with others talking about your initiatives means that you get publicity without paying for it.  If you are confident in your message then you have nothing to worry about, as your supporters will back you.

If you still do not see how important it is to have your sustainability message online think about this way.  When was the last time you went to a book on your shelf or picked up a newspaper to get an answer to a question?

Do you just do an internet search?

Well millions of people do.

So having your message on multiple web platforms allows people to find your organisation quickly and it will position your organisation at the front of their sustainability search.





A Greener Upstream

22 06 2010

Have you thought about how much influence you can have on greening your upstream supply chain?

If not, there is huge potential.
If you have thought about it and put it into action then share your stories with others of what you did and how it went.

To help you think about the potential lets stop for a moment and have a coffee together at your favourite cafe.

Now to get that coffee into your hand there are multiple choices that have been made such as:

  • who did they purchase the beans, milk, sugar and chocolate/cinnamon from?
  • are any of those products fair-trade or organic?
  • what was the packaging made from (paper, plastic or metal)?
  • is the packaging single use or multi use?  Can it be recycled at the end of its use?
  • how far did the products travel to get to the cafe?
  • what was the method of delivery and was that the option with the lowest carbon footprint (e.g. do we need to airfreight the sugar)?
  • when upgrading the coffee machine have they looked at the power consumption of the equipment?
  • was their training provided on how best to use the machine?
  • what type of cup is it being served in?
  • is the cleaning detergent eco-friendly?

Now that is just a starting point so while you enjoy that coffee lets just reflect on the fact that every product or service supplied into that coffee shop can be looked at from the perspective of can I make a greener choice.

It is simply asking the question – “Is there a greener choice”?

If you do not already have a standard clause in your supplier contracts asking for the more environmentally friendly option why not create one now.  It only takes a simple clause to ask the question which keeps both you and your suppliers thinking about what the next step is to having an even greener supply chain.





Using resources

8 06 2010

Daily we get messages reminding us that we are using the resources provided to us on earth in really inefficient ways and sometimes just plain wasting them.  Of course every resource that you use in your business is a cost to your business as either a financial one or an environmental one.  You will understand the financial one pretty well though have you thought of the environmental ones both for your health and that of your colleagues?

The benefits of having a healthy team working with you are clear.  Though we can not see the slow changes that are causing our team to not be working at their full potential due to the increasing levels of pollution building up in their bodies and their surroundings.  It is like having an engine slowly clog up because it is unable to self-clean.  Running an engine that is not at its full potential just costs more resources to get the same level of output.

There are many superb resources on the web that provide insights into the way we are not using resources well.  The Story of Stuff (http://www.storyofstuff.com/) is one that is great for Adults and Children and it lasts only 20 minutes (great for a coffee room viewing at work).

It combines video clips of Annie Leonard and cartoon characters to explain financial costs that are not being passed along the supply chain to the end product being sold.  Costs associated with poor worker health or the destruction of forests and rivers is not paid by the customer buying the product rather through the community in higher health care costs and not being able to use their local water resources or the oxygen from the forests.

I am sure that if you were to stop for just 5 minutes after watching a video like “The Story of Stuff” you would recall areas within your business operation that are using resources poorly.  How much do you think you could save after investing just 5 minutes of your chargeable time on recalling those ideas?  I would guess easily 10 times or more the cost of the investment.  I look forward to hearing what action you took and what the savings were to your organisation.





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”.