There is a fundamental disconnect between the genuine and understandable concern of environmentalists and the realities of organisational management, especially the 95+% of organisations employing fewer than 10 people.
They naturally want to engage the large organisation who can fund campaigns but have a natural propensity to ‘divide and rule’
These letters of mine were published in Green Futures in 2001 and 2004.
At the end is my comment on the UK Northwest Economic Baseline report in 2006
Today I define Quality as that which “maximises the essential value added to society resulting from the creation, use and disposal of products and services at reducing resource intensity”
Letter published in Green Futures May/June 2001
I noted with interest your reporting of the EU Environmental Awards and the comment by Environmental Commissioner, Margot Wallstrom that “sustainable development and greater competitiveness go hand in hand” [GF 27, p10]. These awards were appropriately made to companies that have or manage significant environmental impacts.
Most small or medium-sized companies, however, do relatively little to address their environmental impact, despite the effort of projects like SIGMA [see GF 23, p 21]. We need to do more to engage such companies.
I am convinced the best way to do so is by integrating sustainability management into quality management – since most businesses have at least some system for the latter, however informal.
It’s becoming increasingly evident that the traditional, customer-focused definition of quality as ‘fitness for purpose’ is inadequate. We need a new definition. Here are two possible ones that I advance for debate:
- 1. Quality minimises the ‘loss to society’ resulting from the creation, use and disposal of products, processes and services.
- 2. Quality maximises the life cycle efficiency of products, processes and services.
Viewed in this way, less than perfect quality creates unsustainable systems, which are the basis of the problems being addressed by the SIGMA Project and other initiatives.
An additional benefit of this redefinition of quality will be to re-examine the ways in which the quality and environmental ‘industries’ have become so ‘standards-based’. My definition of quality implies a ‘synergy’ between the supplier and customer rather than compliance. My hope is that the SIGMA Project will become a means to do precisely that.
Coordinator, North West Professional Engineering Institutions, sustainability joint venture
Chair, IQA Integrated Management Group
Letter published in Green Futures March/April 2004
Tossing the Quality Coin
Reading with interest Jonathon Porritt’s article in the current edition of Green Futures brings to mind my letter you were kind enough to publish in edition 28.
The view I expressed then and I feel is evident from this article is that Sustainable development is seen as an unaffordable luxury and not a central business imperative.
The environmental community has admirably driven SD but will only gain credence in business if it is expressed in terms of Quality based financial metrics; a concept that has a resonance within all businesses, large and small.
Reprising my previous letter, SD advocates must work to redefine Quality as
“Minimising the loss to society resulting from the creation, use, and disposal of products, processes and services.”
If losses are minimised, sustainability is brought nearer. Quality and sustainability are the two sides of the same coin, toss it and you can only win.
Institute of Quality Assurance, Integrated Management Group
Comment on the UK Northwest Economic Baseline report
Referring back to the original strategy it says at the end of paragraph 3.7 ‘sustainable development provides the only long term route to competitiveness’ My conclusions to my submission in 1999 and reprised in this year’s NW Engineers’ Handbook echo this.
In the Baseline Report only the economic strand of the ‘triple bottom line’ is being discussed, this may be possible in a report but it perpetuates the myth that they can be considered separately, although to be fair, challenge 6 does say they are interlinked. ‘Securing the future’ specifically recommends the use of the SIGMA Guidelines www.projectsigma.com which binds all the SD strands together.
The challenges listed are
- business (professional) services
- skills gap
- enterprise gap
- innovation gap
- knowledge gap
Professional services are increasingly at the core of the problem surrounding SD, as is the tendency of large organisations to use complexity to ‘divide and rule’. The need for a ‘unique selling point (USP)’ leads academics and professionals to sell every ‘tool’ as a solution.
Next the tendency is to enshrine these ‘tools’ in ‘standards’, which in turn become certifiable to create a ‘standards industry’, and work for them. This burdens businesses with ‘appraisal costs’, which make them uncompetitive in world markets.
Far more insidious is the fact that it engenders a compliance culture, where companies live in fear of losing ‘ticks in boxes’ and the other four challenges are thus created.
What is needed is a synergy between all the stakeholders in a organisation to make 2+2=5.
If we are to make ‘SD the route for competitiveness’ then we have to innovate in ‘process design for sustainability’.
We can only do this with a synergy of all the stakeholders involved to pool knowledge and skills; to crosslink and identify and correct deficiencies. Doing this should ‘enable process learning’ to locate the problem areas. Now we have to take account of external factors before, hopefully, the ‘spark of ingenuity or innovation’ is ignited to move the process in the direction of sustainability. This is conventionally termed ‘quality improvement’
My firm feeling after six years is that the UK (not just us) is going down the reductionist/compliance route; which is making synergy impossible and innovation and ingenuity unlikely. There is also the real risk that knowledge and skills development will be concentrated in the wrong areas and vital areas missed.
The most vital area at the moment is research and skills creation in the ‘demand side control of energy’ No one I speak to is aware of the, now almost unavoidable, crisis coming.
The ‘virtuous circle’ can be applied at all levels – if we apply to the democratic system, I come to the unfortunate conclusion – every time a politician changes jobs they think they have the right answer, so the requirement of ‘doing the right thing right, every time’, is compromised and as they have to be re-elected every five years – their ingenuity is mainly used in staying in office rather than improving the process.
In addition the external factors or targets they introduce are more likely to be short-term, political and unrelated to any process learning that has been achieved.