Quality and Sustainability

There are some similarities between the introduction of Quality Systems into the workplace and the development of Sustainability. When the idea of quality was first introduced it was the remit of the production department and only later did it spread across all departments and become part of the way that business is done. Currently, sustainability is placed either in Environmental/Health & Safety or perhaps in the Corporate Social Responsibility section (often within HR). The more advanced companies internationally are embedding sustainability into their core strategic vision for the future. Companies such as Skanska, Interface, IKEA are transforming their business offer in light of this orientation towards sustainability.

Like quality, there is a danger that sustainaiblity will remain just a new image for a business. Why is it that whilst queueing in the bank you always notice the Q mark certificate on the wall which on closer inspection is given for customer service! Many people are sceptical about the current wave of green washing promoted by companies with a consumer brand to protect. They are right to be sceptical, sustainability, if it is to be effective is not just a ‘bolt-on’ extra.

Sustainability is a value change that should permeate each department internally and change the external stakeholder engagement processes. For some companies sustainability is about questioning what is the business for, not just what does it do? It can be difficult to see these changes in the turmoil of the economic panic in Ireland. Internationally, there are some very interesting movements, such as ‘conscious capatalism’ and ‘waking up the workplace’, which are aimed at shifting the focus of business towards building a better future.

Sustainability will always be seen as a burden, as an extra cost to be endured unless it becomes part of a move to a more resource based economy where it is part of a new way of doing business. This represents a move away from the single consideration of lower price to that of best value, where the value is driven by how resources are used (and re-used) through the industry chain. It is for this reason that many business leaders see sustainability as a real game change. Though the headlines focus on oil and carbon, there are also concerns about the scarcity of many other primary products on which industry depends such as trees,water, copper and other minerals.

Sustainability, like quality, can only become a business opportunity when the appetite for change is first realised and then activated from the highest levels.

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