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What Sustainability Can Learn From Quality

November 1, 2010

What Sustainability Can Learn from Quality Part 1

Every once in a while, as I continue to slog away at my MBA, I get a flash of insight.  Today it was while reading about the pioneer of quality, W. Edward Deming, and the birth of total quality management (TQM). He was the person who recognized how the Japanese were able to achieve the manufacturing quality that became the envy of the world.  He presented 14 points in his book, Out of the Crisis (Note:  I haven’t read the book, just a summary of the points); in reading them, I was struck how applicable they are to the current sustainability movement.  Here is a summary of the first seven points, distilled from the Wikipedia link above.  Each point, as applicable, is followed by my commentary on possible applications to sustainability and sustainable events:

Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product/service.   This is the big challenge of sustainability practitioners; creating recognition of sustainability as a process of improvement.

Adopt the new philosophy.  We are in a new economic age…management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change. This statement could be made, today, about sustainability and corporate social responsibility, and not even have to change a word.

Build quality in the first time. Substitute “sustainability” for “quality” and we have the objective for all sustainability/sustainable event practitioners.  From requests for proposal to contracts, if you build it in, you don’t have to revise it later.  This will also help with achieving new standards (like ISO 20121, APEX/ASTM and using the GRI Event Sector Supplement to report), as process is equally important as product.

End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Develop a supply chain based on loyalty and trust. Surprised?  I was.  It’s certainly the biggest stated obstacle to implementing sustainability that I’ve encountered.  How may people have you heard say “We’d like to, but it costs too much”?  My re-wording of this would be something like “End the practice of awarding business on the basis of the price tag.  Develop a supply chain based on environmental, economic and social sustainability while endeavouring to reduce total cost and environmental impact while increasing the positive social impact.”  I was recently admiring an advertisement for a car, because it reflected almost perfectly a conversation I have had with my business partner about the need to redefine luxury so it’s less about waste and more about meeting unique needs.  The car ad is for Lincoln and reads:  “Smarter than luxury”.  If I were to tweak that a bit, I’d say “Sustainability.  Smarter than luxury”.

Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs. How about “Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve sustainability and decrease costs”?  As more people and organizations request sustainable sourcing, it will help to decrease costs and shift business norms.

Provide on the job training. I think we all get the value of this one…but how many times are training programs cancelled due to lack of funds?  Short sighted, because it endangers the ability of the organization to be successful in the long-term.  This is a great business reason for educational events and attending conferences like the GMIC Sustainable Events Conference (full disclosure: I am helping to design this conference).

Don’t supervise.  Be a leader.  I’m having a flashback here to people in my previous work lives, some of whom were supervisors of the highest calibre, but wouldn’t recognize a leader if they tripped over one at high noon, let alone have the qualities of one themselves.  Sustainability requires great leadership, and as George Patton said

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

Watch for the next seven points in the next blog!

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