Sustainability

Large Companies and Eating Local

Given increasing pressure from disparate groups (citizens, consumers, nonprofit groups, government, investors, shareholders, etc.), corporations have been actively attempting to incorporate the elements of sustainability, environment, economics, and social issues into the fabric of corporate strategy.  Yet, despite greater and more concrete expectations from investors and the public, the incorporation of sustainability and the inherently lofty goals that go along with it remain only partly accomplished, and in some cases altogether elusive for some companies. Part of the problem lies in the misappropriation of the term sustainability to stand for anything done in service of “green PR”.  In other cases, sustainability has simply not been properly defined for use in driving corporate strategic planning.  Without a way of defining sustainability in the corporate context, it is difficult to know how to measure and achieve it.

That “it” is what myriad consultants and companies have wrestled with in the last two decades in particular.  In the tangle of software programs, consultant reports, and sustainability plans, what has been missing is a connected set of tools and methods that enable a streamlined and simplified way of collecting and managing data, measuring a company’s baseline environmental footprint, and deciding which set of interventions to undertake to decrease that footprint and improve overall sustainability.

In the case of supply chain greening, there are untapped opportunities to be found.Companies are not often viewed in terms of their consumption patterns, yet it remains true that company purchases on a large scale do have substantial environmental impacts. The results of my dissertation (available for viewing on this website), show that even mundane and typical purchases such as food can have large impacts worth assessing for potential reductions. Leveraging purchasing power to reduce these […]

The thing about sustainability…..

December 13, 2012

I’m something of a pessimist these days. From my perspective, fresh off four years ensconced in a PhD program focused on Environmental Management and sustainability, I see that sustainability is difficult to teach and to incorporate into programs because so many in both the academic world and the business world have taken the word and the concept proposed by Brundtland and turned it into whatever suited their purposes. This makes it a moving target, by design.  But maybe that’s only because it really is such a hard thing to define, as no one can seem to agree on the metrics with which sustainability would be measured. So everyone is just making it up as they go along. With each discipline deciding what their version of sustainability is, it’s hard to figure out how one would get the concept truly integrated into all classes and into our culture. Maybe the real term we should use is continuous improvement. All disciplines can wrap their heads around that and find metrics to prove that this is happening. Sustainability is aspirational, just like the wording in first sections of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act are aspirational. Sustainability, just like the words in those laws, is an idea that can never be fully realized with such an overpopulated planet bent on using technology to try to buy its way out of a train wreck. We’ve gotten to the point where we can’t do without so much of our technology, but it’s that very technology (machines, cars, genetically engineered seed stock that is wiping out the diversity of our crops, asphalt, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, industrialized meat production) that is causing so many systemic problems like climate […]