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What Sustainability Can Learn from Quality: Part 3

July 20, 2011

In celebration of Parts 1 and 2 being featured on Engage365 this week, here is the long-promised Part 3.

Way back in November 2010 I wrote What Sustainability Can Learn from Quality, Part 2. At the time I promised Part 3, on Philip Crosby’s view of cost and quality. While nine months does seem unreasonably long between Parts 2 and 3, I did want to find and read his book “Quality is Free” before venturing into the promised sequel.

What I found was a book, though somewhat dated (it begins with a preface about the need to carry a portable typewriter and lamenting that they are not built to survive the rigours of air travel) that resonated strongly, and would probably be the topic of more than one blog post (no promises through…that nine month delay is making me cautious!). I found myself once again substituting “sustainability” for “quality” in sentences, and finding this substitution fit naturally. Crosby set out to create a “cultural revolution” in his companies pertaining to quality; I believe that this is where many of us are in regard to sustainability.

Here are some quotes just within the first chapter:

Quality would have to be recognized as a true “first among equals”

Quality is an achievable, measurable, profitable entity that can be installed once you have commitment and understanding, and are prepared for hard work

I had a great many long and earnest talks with sincere people who were clear that there was no way to attain true quality through prevention: ”The engineers won’t cooperate.” The salesmen are unattainable as well as a little shifty”. “Top management cannot be reached with such concepts”. “The quality professionals themselves do not believe it”.

Crosby proposed an integrity system to be supported by four legs, or pillars. These are:
1. Management participation and attitude. Crosby makes the point that this is not management “support”, but management participation. When it came to quality, management needed to get their hands dirty implementing it. It wasn’t enough for some vague notion of support. The same is absolutely true for sustainability.
2. Professional quality management. Crosby complains about his early days in quality, where he alone was held accountable for reaching quality targets. It was only when everyone got involved that it worked. The need for professional quality management was to provide the backbone for enterprise-wide programs. I have had the same experience in sustainability, where I alone was held accountable for reaching sustainability goals because the enterprise did not understand it and how to incorporate it in their activity. Sustainability professionals are the backbone, to support internal programs and help measure and report.
3. Original programs. Crosby argues that departments even in the same organization might have different programs and that this is necessary because of differences in the unit and department levels. Developing departmental key performance indicators (KPIs) for sustainability are crucial for the same reason. On a broader scale, Porter and Kramer’s idea of shared value or their idea of strategic CSR comes into play; this is the idea that an enterprise’s CSR program should align with it’s vision and mission, and that of any organizations it is supporting through the program.
4. Recognition. Everyone likes to be recognized. Crosby was a huge proponent of peer-nominated quality awards; he and his team would not consider the applications of subordinates who nominated their bosses, but only those who nominated those on the same “level” in the organization as themselves. Recognizing sustainability efforts will promote better results.

While “Quality is free” became the most famous quote, it is actually only part of a longer statement, which goes:

“Quality is free. It’s not a gift, but it is free”.

Sustainability is not a gift, either, but it is free to those who recognize its potential to improve profits through efficiency, communities through alignment of skills and mission, reputation – and therefore profit – through better citizenship, and the environment through greater awareness of impact.

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