Sustainability: Revisiting People, Planet, Profit

Sustainability 3Ps graphic

The 3 Ps of Sustainability are interdependent. If you don’t have all 3, you can’t sustain it!

How sustainable is your business? When you examine the weak links, are they in people, planet, or profits? My experience is that most companies have some weak areas in all of these… and often the weaknesses are linked.

However, the approaches to solve sustainability issues often don’t fully address these interdependencies. For example, many companies look to¬†shorten supply routes to lower their carbon footprint. In doing that, many are careful to preserve profits – but the transfer of suppliers can be exceedingly painful in terms of ensuring the people are trained and treated well.

In fact, as electronics companies consolidate in Asia, some of the stories of child labor, long hours, and near-slavery conditions has been legendary. So it addressed

1. profits

2. planet: in this case the move lowered carbon footprint on the planet (Note: in other cases the move was to countries that don’t even measure pollution… so even if the transport is less polluting, the production may more than make up for that gain)

3. people was the missing link

Our “analytical” approach to business often keeps these intertwined realities in separate buckets. These challenges can come back and hurt profit, too. If your suppliers have poor records in how they treat their people or the planet, word can get out and damage even the best brands.

People problems in a global move can damage brands for other reasons too… I’ve also seen a luxury brand move to a low-cost country to manufacture. They got lower labor costs, but the products no longer lived up to customer expectations. Even a few years into the move, the products simply were not of the same quality long-time customers expected. A few years later, the company filed for bankruptcy. A private equity company acquired the assets and revived this storied brand, but the lesson was strong, and they have moved some manufacturing back to the US.

Sustainability is always an important topic, and most companies have really improved their impact on the planet. Today I read that major oil producing nation United Arab Emirates is expecting to invest $35 billion in non-hydrocarbon energy by 2020.

Many companies have active sustainability programs with aggressive goals. Nikon reports that many of its facilities have achieved 1% or less landfill disposal rates and level emissions since 2011. Ford is taking a strong stand on conflict minerals.

There is good news in power-generation and building on the sustainability front. For Manufacturers, Sustainable Minds has created on-line Transparency Reporting tools to show how products have improved with lifecycle assessment reports. This focuses on reporting what’s in and how you make your products.

Conferences abound. An organization ironically WASET (World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology) has long hosted series of sustainable manufacturing conferences; some upcoming are in Brazil and Switzerland. Academics and others will gather at the Int’l Conference on Sustainable Design and Manufacturing in Greece in April.

Your industry probably has an event or at least a track at an event if you want to get up to date and learn best practices. SEMICON West has a Sustainable Manufacturing forum coming up in July. Events are popping up in helicopters and aircraft, concrete, packaging and others.

Remember, it’s not just about what materials you use, how much energy, how much pollution your plants put into the air or water. Sustaining your business means sustaining your people too. With key manufacturing skills hard to find, be sure your managers and supervisors know how to engage people and get the best out of them.

So next time you tackle an issue in one area of sustainability, consider how completely you have addressed the interplay of people, planet and profits. If your fix does not involve all of these, it is not likely to be sustained so that it makes your business sustainable.

Let me know your experiences – where have you seen the interplay? How has your planning accommodated that interdependence?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply