Sustainability: Rounding the Bend

Eric Hiller gave us a granola definition in his first post on sustainability over on Cost Cents. Eric’s take on the debate is that a business should understand how to cost or value the profit of a sustainability initiative, since businesses have to be sustainable themselves before they can “go green” or “save the planet”. When attempting to evaluate whether a sustainability initiative is a good decision or not, Eric advises you to see how it impacts the cost statement – as it affects the cost statement the same way ANY cost does in terms of material cost, labor cost, direct overhead cost, amortized and capital investment costs, and period / indirect overhead costs. For example, the cost of material = cost of commodity + cost of disposal + cost of secondary effects. For example, if we are evaluating materials for a SUV, then we are interested in fuel economy as a secondary effect. It can be costed as the part mass times the cost per kilogram times the material strength to weight factor (since magnesium has better strength to weight than aluminum which has better strength to weight than steel, for example). In other words, just like analyzing the carbon footprint can tell you whether Britons should import roses from The Netherlands or Kenya, analyzing the cost can tell you whether or not the effort has value.

Over on Buyer Analytics, Dave M took a stab at defining sustainable procurement. Dave points us to the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (the ICLEI) for a definition of sustainable procurement. Sustainable procurement aims to integrate environmental considerations into all stages of the purchasing process with the goal of reducing the impact on human health and the environment. Then Dave tells us what he believes the cornerstone of sustainable procurement to be – ethical sourcing. Dave defines ethical sourcing as an organized social approach which promotes selling goods which adhere to standards for international labor, environmentalism, and social policy. He then gives us a few reasons for insisting on ethical sourcing which include the facts that there are 2.7B people in the world who have to exist on less than $2/day and the fact that rights groups estimate there are as many as 60 Million children working in violation of the Child Labor Act. (More reasons can be found in my summary of the John Lewis Partnership Responsible Sourcing Workbook.) He also points out that just because you don’t purchase from suppliers in developing countries that this does not mean ethical sourcing doesn’t apply to you – you still need to ask who your suppliers themselves purchase from and trace the chain.

Andy Monin on Vendor Compliance also tackled the sustainability issue in his latest point about the contradictory dual view of the average (North) American. In his post, he points out that we all want to sustain the forests, clean beaches, and good air. However, at the same time, the average (North) American wants to sustain two cars, a morning latte, and the drive-through fast-food life style. He might be a bit greener than he was in the 90’s, carrying reusable sacks to the grocery store, installing compact fluorescent lighting (CFL), and even driving a Pius … err-r-r … Prius … but this is all for naught if he continues to want a bigger house filled with more gadgets. A few CFLs isn’t going to significantly make up for the additional energy consumption of a 15% larger house with more electronics. Andy then tries to address where the true sustainability impact will come from.

According to Andy, achievable sustainability must not degrade quality of life, must create simultaneous ripples that compound the benefits and impact felt around the world, and must have champions (like Eric’s AlGorites) that can embrace the concept based on the inherent incentives and benefits. This means large institutions, like Wal-Mart, will likely be the drivers of the greatest impacts, at least in the short term. However, we must note that Wal-Mart is not really the biggest fish in the pond. It’s just one player in a large retail industry. Furthermore, from an industry perspective, US hospitals alone represent over 1 Trillion dollars (which is nearly 5% of US GDP) and could make a real difference. He then gives four good reasons why hospitals should attempt to be the catalyst of the movement and make the jump: it’s good common sense, it will make them more competitive and attractive, it will improve their ROI, and it is socially responsible. Furthermore, hospitals have to make difficult, ethical decisions every day – who better to lead the sustainability charge and truly do no harm?