All around us we are bombarded with messages telling us that we need to change, that the Earth is warming, that oil is peaking or we are in an power crisis. The messages are insistent and shrill but diverse and incoherent and all about our symptoms rather than the addiction we suffer, the hugely ineffective use of the resources and sinks that our only planet, the Earth, provides for us. As a result we are either paralysed into inaction or taking action that is neither systemic nor joined-up, to use a much hackneyed political expression.
Clearly the Earth as a ‘system’ is dynamic and complex and any attempt to describe it quantitatively and accurately is unlikely to lead to any clearer picture of useful action. What we need is a ‘mind model’, something that is powerful and evocative enough to provoke the right questions of societies, communities and organisations.A Mind Model
‘A conceptual model of understanding, that once created, gives us the power to extract more information from it, than went into creating it.’ Such a conceptual, or mind model is the One Planet Equation.
The One Planet Equation
We often are told we are enjoying a three planet lifestyle and this tells us that what we are doing is clearly not a sustainable state of affairs, but it is not clear from this what we need to do. We have in fact only ‘One Planet’ so the left hand side of our equation in a ‘resource constrained’ environment is fixed at 1.
The right hand side is made up of the population, their consumption of goods and services, and a factor which balances the equation. P x C x RI
There are clearly many interactions taking place here and there are inequities in resource distribution among individuals and societies; also the starting point assumes the footprint is no larger than the planet, however, a simple analysis shows us exactly what we need to do and gives us a paradigm in which we can form the correct questions to ask of ourselves, our institutions and our organisations.
We also express the population, consumption and resource factor, or intensity, aggregated as 1 lot of population and Consumption with a Resource Intensity of 1.
So at our starting point we have 1 = P x C x RI or 1 = 1 x 1 x 1 = 1 and as we move forward from this point, the 1 planet remains the same so the right hand product always has to equal one. The only way this can happen in a resourced constrained environment is if the Resource Intensity, (RI) is never more than 1/PC.
Simple compound interest does the rest and we can quickly see that if population stays the same and consumption grows at 5% for 40 years 1/PC is approximately 1/7 and if population grows at the predicted rate and consumption grew at 10% then 1/PC would have to be no greater than 1/70.
In round terms we would need to reduce Resource Intensity by a factor of between 10 and 100 by 2050. We can call this process dematerialisation. This can also be expressed as the ‘first law of sustainability’ that in a resource constrained environment, goods and services can only grow at the rate at which they can be dematerialised
Whilst the above analysis is explicit in what we need to achieve, it will be useful if we can apportion Resource Intensities, within societies, communities and organisations.
A useful division includes
- The Built Environment
- Failure Demand
It is clear from this list that they all overlap, which highlights the need to take a systems based view.
Intensity and Value Added
In this analysis there are areas that are beyond its scope, as the process with the least Resource Intensity is the one that doesn’t exist, and only society, communities, organisations and individuals can decide which are ‘essential’ and add value and which should be eliminated. For example, if a society considers unlimited, discretionary air travel adds value, then businesses will provide it. Whether this is a viable business model in a resource constrained future is a separate issue.
Loss and Genichi Taguchi
Once we have decided whether a process is essential within the bounds of our notion of added value, we have to decide if it is the right process to achieve the desired end and that it is carried out, without loss, correctly every time. That is, we have to be effective, by doing the right thing, right and then efficient, by doing it right every time.
Genichi Taguchi inspirationally made the connection that processes without loss were of perfect ‘quality’ and conversely, that less than perfect quality created a ‘loss to society’. It is also important to note that on a resource constrained planet, environmental and social losses can be as much, and perhaps more important than conventional economic ones.
In terms of this article, that loss results in an increase in the process ‘resource intensity’.
Intensity of Failure Demand
“Failure Demand’ is caused by a failure to do something, or do something right for the customer and ‘Value Demand’ – is what the system exists to provide”, – John Seddon. It is evident that such failure demand within systems will increase their Resource Intensity.
In the list above ‘failure demand’ is shown separately for emphasis but is, in reality, incorporated in the Resource Intensity resulting from the creation, use and disposal of the other categories. The Resource Intensity of Learning (RIoL) for example.
We have in the past thought that we can treat losses in processes as separate and that quality was a function within an organisation, focused on the customer, rather than that which
“Maximises the Essential Value added to and retained by society resulting from the creation, use and disposal of products and services”
This must necessarily involve all an organisation’s stakeholders. It should also be stated, relating back, that it is society that decides what ‘adds value’ within its existent paradigm.
Losses in processes and systems can be environmental, social and economic and are best minimised by seeing the goal of sustainability as a journey of integrated, continual, quality improvement.
Creativity and Ingenuity
Shewhart created his circle of improvement, Plan, Do, Check, Act and it has stood the test of time but it doesn’t explicitly show the need for the creativity and ingenuity required to drive, integrated continual improvement, towards system sustainability.
A Virtuous Circle that, using ‘in process control’ and a synergy of the entire organisation’s stakeholders and their combined knowledge and skills will enable process learning and after sensing and absorbing the external signals will liberate the creativity and ingenuity within to drive the process design in the direction of sustainability. As the process becomes more sustainable the losses are by definition minimised, reducing the need for appraisal costs and eliminating the costs and risks of internal and most importantly, external failures. With minimised costs and no external failures the profitability, public perception and value added to society are maximised.
The Right Questions
We have reached a point in our evolution as societies where innovation will shortly transition from being driven by technology and will by driven by resource constraints. It important that as societies, communities and organisations we ask the right questions based on the tenets that
- our future is resource constrained
- humans are creative and enterprising
These two tenets will ensure that as we transition into our resource constrained future, some organisations will disappear and be replaced; others, with exceptional strategic leadership and management, might survive and grow.
The task is simple, if not easy to accomplish, and again can by reduced to two key questions
- Is our business model relevant to such a future?
- Does our leadership and management, enable the liberation of the creativity required to continually reduce the resource intensity of the goods and services we produce, consume and dispose of?
This will need the most massive effort of ‘quality improvement’ the world has yet seen.
The message is clear; we have to change, but how? Our symptoms are plain for all to see but our addiction, the vast and hugely ineffective deployment of resources to create, use and dispose of the products and services we consume, remains untreated. Calling this addiction, Affluenza may be a representation of the truth in the developed Western Economies but it does not make clear the path we must follow to effect a cure.
Simply exhorting people to consume less is ineffective as is calling certain Jobs, Products and services, Green. There are many ‘essential’ jobs, products and services that cannot be considered in this light, many in the public sector, but their resource intensity is crucial in any attempt to balance the One Planet Equation. In the context of this balancing we can say that
‘There are no such things as ‘Green’ jobs, products or services, only those that increase or reduce the ‘Resource Intensity of Society’
This also highlights the absurdity of the Reductionist Paradigm, where Vauxhall Motors, in an ISO14001 video trumpeted energy savings in the order of £1m with a payback of 10 months, when GM should have been asking
“How do we evolve our business model and strategy to continually reduce the ‘resource intensity of mobility?”
Finally, the One Planet Equation is immutable, it drives our futures whether we choose to ignore it or not, and we have no option but to enter the future, either by design or negligence. Better, as far as possible by design.