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"[M]odern industries still operate according to paradigms that developed when humans had a very different sense of the world" - when resources were thought to be infinite. (McDonough and Braungart Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. New York: North Point P., 2002. 26)

The green movement has evolved considerably since its early days. Although many people would point to Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring and the legislative fervor of the 1970s, the philosophical roots of environmentalism can be traced back the intellectual thought of the 1800s, to enlightenment thinkers such as Rousseau in France and, later, the author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau in America. Organized environmentalism began in late 19th Century Europe and the United States as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution with its emphasis on unbridled economic expansion.

An article at the website webecoist.com (http://webecoist.com/2008/08/17/ ) provides a brief history of the modern green movement, identifying some key individuals who have fostered the environmental focus in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Indicators of Sustainable Development
A set of 58 indicators and methodology were derived from working list of 134 indicators and related methodology sheets that were developed, improved and tested as part of the implementation of the Work Programme on Indicators of Sustainable Development (ISDs) adopted by the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) at its Third Session in April 1995 and presented to the CSD in 2001.

After the rapid acceptance of ISO 9000, and the increase of environmental standards around the world, ISO assessed the need for international environmental management standards. They formed the Strategic Advisory Group on the Environment (SAGE) in 1991, to consider whether such standards could serve to:

  • Promote a common approach to environmental management similar to quality management;
  • Enhance organizations' ability to attain and measure improvements in environmental performance; and
  • Facilitate trade and remove trade barriers.

In 1992, SAGE's recommendations created a new committee, TC 207, for international environmental management standards.

The basic systems requirements for these are codified in the ISO 14000 series of standards. ((see also "Next Steps" tab))

During the 19th and 20th centuries, there has also been a growing awareness in the need for Corporate Social Responsibility. "Social responsibility is an ethical or ideological theory that an entity whether it is a government, corporation, organization or individual has a responsibility to society. This responsibility can be "negative", meaning there is a responsibility to refrain from acting (resistance stance) or it can be "positive," meaning there is a responsibility to act (proactive stance)." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_responsibility)

MBNQA Core Values
  • visionary leadership
  • customer-driven excellence
  • organizational and personal learning
  • valuing workforce members and partners
  • agility
  • focus on the future
  • managing for innovation
  • management by fact
  • social responsibility
  • focus on results and creating value
  • systems perspective

Although, there are still many individuals and organizations that still restrict the focus of environmentalism to only ecological concerns, the greatest success have come from organizations and activities that consider the entire (human) system not just a subset.

This is analogous to the "Quality Movement" which started in the mid 1900s with an emphasis only on the economic control of product quality. With its initiation in 1988, the criteria of the Malcom Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA) include the core values:

  • customer-driven excellence
  • valuing workforce members and partners
  • focus on the future
  • social responsibility
  • systems perspective

The final core value (systems perspective) means that the MBNQA process considers the entire business system not just product quality.

This is seen in the ISO standards on quality. The ISO 900x:1993 standards looked at individual elements of the production process. Its replacements (ISO 9001:2008, 2008) was changed to take a systems approach to Quality.

The same is true for Environmentalism which today "advocates the sustainable management of resources and stewardship of the environment through changes in public policy and individual behavior. In its recognition of humanity as a participant in (not enemy of) ecosystems, the movement is centered on ecology, health, and human rights." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_movement)

History of Major US Statutes

1947 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)
1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)
1970 Clean Air Act (CAA) - amended 1990
1972 Ocean Dumping Act
1974 Safe Water Drinking Act (SWDA)
1974 Clean Water Act (CWA)
1975 Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (HMTA)
1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)
1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA)
1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA)
1990 Pollution Prevention Act (PPA)
1990 Oil Pollution Act (OPA)
add regs after 1990

What is sustainability?

The most widely quoted definition internationally is the "Brundtland definition" of the 1987 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development - that sustainability means "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

Sustainable development means sustainability not only ecologically (= environmentally) and economically but also socially and culturally. Lately in the EU and UN, an expression "the three pillars of sustainable development" is often used; the pillars are said to concern economic, environmental and societal (= social, cultural, ethical etc) development.

Building Blocks

The ISO 14000 series emerged primarily as a result of the Rio Summit on the Environment held in 1992. The Rio Summit generated a commitment to protection of the environment across the world. A world summit was held 1 year later, in 1993, by ISO, for the purpose of preparing of international environment management system. The technical committee (TC 207) formed had representatives from 50 countries. ISO 14001 environment management system was issued in September 1996. Since then other environmental standards and guideline have been issued.

But the following graphic (adapted from NASA) shows that the compliance to these basic standards are only the starting point of sustainability.

Affirmative procurement is a term used to describe an organization's policy to purchase products made with recycled material. (Under Section 6002 of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, this is a requirement for Federal Agencies.) The term also encompasses a policy to purchase environmentally friendly products including those with reduced packaging, that use biobased material, or have a known (and low) carbon footprint. Environmentally Preferred Products expand this idea by looking at all products and all of their contents and their processing from raw material through disposal. Life Cycle Assessments expands all subsequent ideas by looking at the effect of all actions for a project or program, cradle-to-grave. Sustainable design and development goes the final step by considering and minimizing all environmental, health, safety, economic, and societal impacts from planning through to final disposal.

Although Corporate Social Responsibility is a foundation for successful Sustainability and "Corporate Responsibility" reports are often found under the Sustainability banner, they are not equivalent. An organization can take a narrow (environmental only) focus of sustainability and be successful at their efforts without considering the societal impacts of these activities. Conversely, an organization may put all their efforts on the civil rights and human rights of their employees but act in a manner that is ecologically not sound.

Further compliance or certification to the ISO 14000 standards is not equivalent to Sustainability. Organizations can, and have, engaged in activities consistent with Sustainability but are not compliant with or have not address the requirements of the ISO 14000 standards. Conversely, there are organizations which have become certified and the only thing they "sustain" is a piece of paper (the certificate).

To be successful in Sustainability an organization must recognize that they are dealing with a (human-based) system and that all these are synergistic - all are part of the same system. To try to optimize one part of an interrelated system in isolation - even with all the best intentions -- will always subotimize the entire system and often yield contrary results. (see A Cautionary Tale in Next Steps).

This also means that Sustainability cannot be initiated as a separate "project". It must be integrate within the business system.

So What - Why should you care?

You have read all the available information on sustainability and "green" but you still are undecided on whether your organization should take the next steps. There are several reasons why you should consider including environmental concerns among your customer requirements:

  • Your competitors are increasingly touting their "green" initiatives.
    • The percentage of advertisements in six national magazines that made environmental claims rose nearly five-fold from 1992 to 2008. (USA Today 6/22/09).
  • Individual customers are becoming more aware of environmental concerns.
    • People are exposed to ever increasing number of environmental news reports and dire predictions; from global warming and increased ocean levels due to shrinking ice shelves to loss of rain forests and fauna and flora species going extinct.
  • Corporate customers are increasingly requiring suppliers to be compliant to environmental standards, such as ISO 14001.
  • Altruism: you believe what the "green gurus" say and want to "save the environment".
  • (This is the right one) It helps the bottom line profits.
    • You need a systems perspective and focus on the future. This gives an understanding that an individual organization does not exist in a vacuum; that focusing on short term economics can only lead to chaos (e.g.: the large banking and automotive companies); that to succeed and be profitable an organization must focus on economics, environment, and societal concerns.
    • This is similar to organizations' experiences with Quality. Pre-1950, quality was considered a cost item - if you wanted better quality you need to spend more to produce it. By the 1980's, Phil Crosby touted that "Quality is Free". Actual experiences by the MBNQA awardees and other best in Class companies showed that, by using preventive and performance excellence approaches, Quality increases the bottom line profits.