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19 comments

Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

Posted January 07, 2010 8:41 AM

Even in this dire economy, some companies are investing in green technology and green executives. The call for "sustainability officers" is so hot, NYU's Polytechnic Institute is starting a new crash course in clean technology called CleantechExecs. Has your company hired a sustainability expert? Are green initiatives taking center stage? If so, is this a good thing, or is it detracting from other equally important programs?

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#1

Re: Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

01/07/2010 10:17 AM

Look at it this way. If I have to hire an additional employee and that employee does not generate additional revenue in the form of increased sales or profit, does that make good business sense?

The reason that these job openings exist is completely driven to increasing government regulation. This will add additional cost burdens to the company's bottom line. The net result will be an increase in the cost of the product or service they sell. The end user (that's us, folks) pays that increase (and all additional increases through the supply chain) out of our pockets.

This will impact every business in the US and some abroad for those companies applying the same regulations, so every commodity, service, or necessity you now buy will cost us more in the end.

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#2

Re: Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

01/07/2010 3:22 PM

Or look at it this way: if I hire somebody to make my business more sustainable, that is, efficient, thus saving on costs, does that make sense?

If hiring "sustainability experts" doesn't result in some serious cost savings, they're not doing the job. In that case, they should be fired.

Seriously, if there is any 'sustainability' being introduced, it should help the bottom line and the lower cost may (or may not) be passed on to the consumer. For example, a local telephone company recently offered sweet deals to customers who were willing to switch to paperless billing. Company saves, you save, and it saves on natural resources in other words, ecologically and economically sustainable. Oh, and maybe attract some new clients with the lower price point...

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#3

Re: Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

01/08/2010 12:29 AM

There are many, well documented, business cases where a sustainability officer or other 'champion' within an organization has achieved tremendous amounts of cost savings and ROI, often through energy efficiency, but also related to HR (when incorporating worker health into the mix).

Consumers like the idea of supporting companies and organizations who appear to be improving "the environment", and are willing to spend for quality products which support their values / beliefs. This sometimes means a SO might be a sales / marketing role as opposed to the generalist / technological role above.

Rising standards and regulation compliance are a reality for any economy that is evolving and becoming more efficient or technologically advanced. The perception that this is a cost increase in the economy is only true for some, others have costs reduced, or shifted, as economic producers and users are restricted from pillaging natural resources, or using the land, atmosphere or the oceans as a free / ultra low cost waste dump. Resulting in pollution related costs for others in many different forms, and often costing far more than properly disposing of the waste in the first lace.

I can only see the increasing focus on sustainability and ecological health as a positive evolution in our economy - it is a direct result of our growth in knowledge and understanding of the complex systems we exist within.

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#4
In reply to #3

Re: Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

01/08/2010 9:17 AM

I think indirectly you've made a good point. Sustanability can have a significant impact on a companies bottom line, but it's the long term strategic vision which offers this benifit not having an environmental exec. The employee health issue, marketing, opperating costs, and other factors form a complex equation which most people, even executives, don't want to think about. Especially when their pay depends upon what the company stock does over the next three months.

The question posed is should sustainability be center stage? Which I take to mean should a company drop what their doing to reoganize their company to be more green? The answer here should be an obvious NO. Companies are in business for one reason - to provide goods and services for profit. When a company hires an employee they make a certain investment in that employee (training, trust, etc.) which requires increased earnings to support that emplyee. To make green or sustainability center stage means bumping something else out of center stage. For 99.8% of companies that is the bottom line, or the profits which they use to pay (retain) their employees. For the most part going green requires companies to remodel, retool, restructure, etc which all add costs.

That being said, is sustainability a good idea which companies should consider -Yes. But again this should be done as opportunities occur, not as a main event. As I mentioned before, in the long term companies will find cost savings from the efficiency and simplification that a sustanability model will create. Many factors create long term gains for a company (employee excersise programs, smaking susation programs, investment in education, innovation and research, marketing and PR campaigns, and the list could go on, but that does not justify making them center stage.

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#6
In reply to #4

Re: Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

01/08/2010 11:25 AM

That's an excellent point about the investment made in your employees. Hiring a "sustainability" person at their expense would be wrong.

Thinking of tight margins, there's an even better way to " put sustainability center stage", when you trust and value your employees. How about the suggestion box?

All you need to replace the "sustainability exec/expert" is some clear talk with employees about the point of sustainability, and the kind of suggestions that might help to improve the bottom line, address any health hazards on the job, conserve resources in sensible ways, and make the company proud of its environmental record - no nonsense.

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#7
In reply to #3

Re: Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

01/08/2010 11:27 AM

"...and are willing to spend for quality products which support their values"

Only to a degree. End user consumers still flood the doors of Lowe's, Home Depot, and Walmart in droves. They complain about the quality, but price seems to be the overriding factor in their purchase decision, not quality.

All three of those venders' products are almost exclusively made in China.

I don't think that consumers care as much as you would like to think about "Green" manufactured goods. That is a generalization, but there are reliable polls that clearly show that environmental and global warming are not issues that have any priority in the minds of the US populace.

I agree that regulation has its place in keeping us from descending into environmental chaos, but there needs to be a balance between government regulation and a responsible consumer action. Consumers should be the ultimate regulator and consumers should step up to the plate and demand better services, products, and responsibility from business by voting with their wallets.

Unfortunately, citizens are being asked by their government to surrender those personal responsibilities and people are all too willing to relinquish it. The downside is that we all will artificially pay more for the things we both need and want.

My original point was that we have a regulatory system that is now running open loop and there appears to be no stopping that landslide. The end result is much higher costs to the consumer that need to be.

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#8
In reply to #7

Re: Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

01/08/2010 11:42 AM

I agree with Hero. Market forces and a long term stratigic vision of sucess should be enough to push any agenda. The buracrates in Washington and variaous State Legislatures are not helping the green movement as much as they think they are. If fact I've seen some of the back lash they've created by forcing green initiatives in my state.

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#9
In reply to #7

Re: Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

01/08/2010 1:08 PM

Certainly what people say in a survey or with their friends is not always representative of how they act. But the trend is for more people to say this is important - it is a market trend. (I am not an American, by the way.)

As for consumers stepping up to the plate, it is very easy to say this, but difficult to implement. Consumers don't know what they are buying most of the time (with respect to materials and processes in the product, and in relation to the health impact) so they can never be the only regulator. Note that the Romans continued to blissfully use lead plumbing and dishware and utensils right up to the fall of the empire... The 'wests' toxins of choice seem to be plastics, much of which is made with compounds that the average consumer knows nothing about.

If companies needed to practice full disclosure or abide by precautionary principles, consumers would be far better off and able to choose.

Again, on costs, these costs currently exist. They are there now in the form of inefficiency and pollution, the cost is diffuse, because the 'natural services' of the earth are not counted accurately (value of rainforest 'lungs', for example), nor are the health care costs associated with dumping and persistent organic compounds bio-accumulating in the food chain.

(example - Why is an eskimo mother whith PCBs in her breast milk having to cover potential additional health and non-quantifiable costs, because company X wanted to save some cash in the 1970s?? - apply the same argument to anyone downstream of mining operations today, or living near a brown field previously owned (and often abandoned) by existing, highly proffitable companies)

Regulation is absoultely nessecary in an increasingly complex world. The trick is how to get the regulators to do the right thing, efficiently. If we could only solve THAT problem!!!

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#10
In reply to #9

Re: Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

01/08/2010 1:47 PM

Governmental regulation is nesse-scary.

Regulation is the consequence of an industry failing to serve their customers. Once a regulation is enacted it is nearly impossible to get it removed. Regulation expands government requiring additional resources (taxes) to be collected. It also presents a business with additional processes and procedures (to be completed on the governments time) delaying innovation and new products being brought to the market place.

Example #1

In the US seat belts were regulated by the federal government when automakers failed to install them even though statistics were proving that they saved lives. In this case the automakers were bowing the their marketing staff which felt that seat belts conveyed a message that their vehicles were unsafe.

Example #2

Recently regulation has been placed on earnings and accounting practices after Enron, MCI, Tyco, AIG, and a dozen other companies had their swindling ways exposed.

My point is that sustainable (design, engineering, etc) will and can happen without regulation if companies continue to seek the best way to serve their customers. If companies do that regulation will not be necessary. Unfortunately those who push the green agenda through politicians are trying to make up for lost time. Artificially accelerating the process, resulting in rising costs, and employee lay-offs.

Your example of Roman lead pipes is unreasonable. I'm not aware of any evidence that the romans knew lead was dangerous. Lead was used to make toys and musket balls until the 1800s, and only taken out of paint and gasoline 30 years ago. If this information had been available the populus could have made a risk based assessment.

Several studies have been released on the polymers that are safe and dangerous in food and medical application. Concerned people do have a choice, although many don't choose to exercise their right to evaluate and choose. In similar fashion studies are being done on the value of hybrid vehicles vs. fully electric vs. conventional internal combustion engines. Consumers can then express their right to choose their money vs. air pollution, toxic battery chemicals vs. toxic hydrocarbons, public transportation vs. private vehicles. None of these decisions belong in the hands of State or federal regulators.

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#11
In reply to #10

Re: Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

01/08/2010 3:12 PM

"Regulation is the consequence of an industry failing to serve their customers."

I don't think that is quite true. If an industry fails to deliver what the customers want, another company is there to do it. This happens every day as market share shifts toward the provider that best serves that market.

Monopolies will upset that boat, but most companies are market driven.

"My point is that sustainable (design, engineering, etc) will and can happen without regulation if companies continue to seek the best way to serve their customers."

I would tend to very much agree. However, I am not sure you formulated a good argument for that case.

The biggest stumbling block is the apathy of the consumer to do due diligence in their buying decisions. More of us should read the label, check the ratings, and do our homework when we buy. I do not believe that just because people fail to protect themselves that laws must be passed to protect the ignorant or apathetic.

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#14
In reply to #11

Re: Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

01/09/2010 11:59 AM

Interesting comments about regulation, and thinking about what is happening in the global economy. The idea that sustainability will emerge because it is market driven (and common-sense driven) is a bit undermined by the Walmarts, Dollarama's and the like, representing low price and low quality.

I'm no fan of the "nanny state", but I also think there's a problem that regulation isn't applied in the right places where it's really needed.

Take for example, the issue of the curly bulbs. I think others have indicated that the US like Canada is flooded with cheap compact fluorescent bulbs made in China, which do not fulfill the "long life" claims, so that there's a higher consumption of them and the end result is (apparently) a landfill full of mercury from China!!! This is the opposite of sustainable. I've read in some threads here that the EU will soon ban incandescent light bulbs, and since LED technology is really not mature, that means they will be on the curlies. If the quality of these bulbs isn't strictly regulated, there will be landfills of curlie ballasts and their mercury everywhere.

I think it's wrong to ban incandescent bulbs, that don't produce seriously hazardous waste. ALso, if we have to set a limit on power consumption to be sustainable, it should still be left up to the individual to decide where they will burn the power they consume. For my money, a good light you can see by is a high priority. I'd rather save on some other aspect of my power consumption.

Nontoxic environment is also a high priority for me, and importing toxic waste from China doesn't fit my idea of "sustainable". And I am fed up waiting for curly bulb ballast recycling. When will that be "sustainable"??

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#5

Re: Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

01/08/2010 11:19 AM

Whether sustainability experts had been hired or not, one thing is sure- SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT is going to be the order of the day and companies and corporates got to get groomed to the culture. Lack of focus to sustainability and green technology options will lead to disasters to the survival of the very organization.

It is all to do with meeting and solving the challenge on humanity and not just on a business point of view.

Those who can sustain SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT will become sustainabily successful.

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#12

Re: Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

01/08/2010 3:31 PM

Very good answers s.udhayamarthandan,

I even think that without a sustainable approach you will lose customers as increasingly pleople will realize we can't go on like this .
I definately look at these things when buying products. I read the blogs and will come to find out the right and wrong products. And even if I don't I still always go for the better products as it saves money in the long run. Just look at cars. Cars haven't seen improvement in the last 10 to 15 years. So why buy a new car if your old car runs fine and no real improvements are visible. The only new thing is the Hybrid, however its sad excuse for not being willing to give up the gas engine. Look at all the loses they will make if they d0. No more part sales, as electric engines can and will not die. No more new car buying as the engine will not fail just get a new set of batteries and of you go. maintanance will be restricted to an occational wiperblade. Consumers are just to uneducated to realize this. And believe me we can spend an entire day summing up the advantages of sustainability. My motto is: If you won't wanna do it for the earth Do it for your wallet.

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#13
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Re: Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

01/09/2010 5:53 AM

Fulfnummer,

Nice of meeting you in CR4 forum. Happened to be a researcher in sustainable development, I could understand and feel the tremendous potentiality of sustainable development in terms of environmental supply potential as well the curiosity of the end user who expects low cost and long term workability and assured supplies.Products and services should meet the demands of sustainability.

Thank you for consolidating the views of the post.

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#18
In reply to #13

Re: Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

01/20/2010 6:33 PM

Nice meeting you too. I have been working in sustainability into my house ever since we got it. Energy cost are way down compared to previous owner. This spring the solar panels will go up after 8 years of first replacing the big energy consumers and reinforcing the insulation of the house.

More projects are underway, like a Sundanzer freezer, replacing some windows etc. I see this as a 401K project as by the time you retire you need to get your costs down. Inflation is your biggest enemy on your savings. So the lesser your spendings are the lesser in impact of inflation.

America is in a sad state of energy affairs, and folks just keep paying their bills without thinking to reduce it. Here is a spendid example of not thinking and just paying. So here is a person that owns a small beach house used only in the weekends and certainly not every weekend. After they visit the place they close the door till next week or even two weeks later. They do not shut down the water heater which is a big energy consumer when they leave. Not only do they pay (much) more but the heater's live expectancy get reduced big time as its always on. At my home I have a timer in between a 30 dollar investment which pays for it self in just a couple of months. Of course I did much more like increasing the insulation so the heating element is only on twice a day for 30 minutes. Works perfectly for our average family setup. (Kids parents and a dog)

Such very simple and low costs improvements or life style changes pay immidiately.

Its just common sense ( at least for me) ...LOL

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#19
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Re: Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

01/20/2010 11:52 PM

I can understand your concern on increasing costs and alleid botherations to the consumer. Modern living styles have made people depend on equipments and energy.

Sustainable Development should also answer cost aspects[minimization]and long term stability.

It is a very challenging and interesting theme for seasoned researchers with tough goals. Somehow I love the stuff 'cause it is a feed to the intellectual.

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#15

Re: Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

01/10/2010 12:51 PM

yes.

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#16
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Re: Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

01/11/2010 1:14 PM

If I thank you for it, will you charge me?

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#17
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Re: Does Sustainability Deserve Center Stage?

01/11/2010 1:40 PM

Maybe

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