By Carol Haig, CPT, and Roger Addison, CPT, EdD

Our guest this month is Eric Landen, president of Landen Consulting, a firm specializing in environmental business strategy, ecosystem services, operational excellence, and organizational development and transformation. Eric, eric@landenconsulting.com, is a global expert in identifying and addressing how changes to Earth’s natural ecosystems and biodiversity affect corporate strategy and financial performance. Eric will be the keynote speaker on Monday, April 23, at ISPI’s 50th anniversary conference in Toronto. Today he shares critical ideas about large-scale sustainability and asks the performance improvement community to step up to help sustainability practices take hold in our client organizations.

In a wide-ranging and compelling conversation, Eric explored the current state of the sustainability movement and how the organizations where we work to improve performance can make a difference in the state of our environment. Here, we share with you the highlights of our discussion with Eric.

Sustainability–The Three-Legged Stool
A standard model for sustainability is the three-legged stool, in which the economy, society, and the environment support sustainability. For a business to be sustainable, it must follow the principles of sustainable development, meeting “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

These days there is much talk about sustainability practices in our client organizations. Many have sustainability experts on staff or as consultants to determine how the organization can best exercise good stewardship of the environment while providing products or services that make a profit. Consider what you have read about, for example, Wal-Mart’s greening of its supply chain and its effects on the manufacturers and consumers of the goods the giant company sells. What contributions to sustainability result from these practices? Let’s take a look.

What Is a Tree Worth?
If a tree is cut down for timber, it will fetch about $600. If that tree is allowed to grow and live for 50 years, its individual contribution to the environment will include:

  • Providing shelter for birds and small animals
  • Absorbing pollutants from the air
  • Providing oxygen
  • Offering shade
  • Preventing erosion
  • Providing protein in the form of nuts

The value of one tree’s environmental services is estimated at $212,000 over its lifetime.

Now consider the value of all the trees, land, and water in the world. In 1997, a global team of researchers calculated the value of the services produced by all of the earth’s ecosystems at approximately $33 trillion per year. Our society destroys 11%, or $3.6 trillion worth of our earth each year. If we continue on this path, sustainability experts warn that the world economy may collapse. Damage to the ecosystems that industry depends on may force the prices of manufacturing products and providing services so high that consumers will not be able to pay them, and the companies themselves will go out of business.

What Is the Value of a Bee?
Bees are responsible for the survival of 80% of the food plants in our food chain. As we know, bee colonies are dying in record numbers in many countries, including the United States, from a range of pesticides and other man-made destructive forces. If there are not enough bees to pollinate crops, the pollination must be done by people. In China, where bees are scarce but labor is cheap, it takes 400 work hours to pollinate just one acre of crops. Now, consider the price those crops will have to command when they come to market, what will happen when consumers cannot afford to pay it, and so on.

Making Sustainability Tangible with Human Performance Technology
Regardless of your personal views, it is daunting to grapple with all the elements of a changing climate, endangered species, the destruction of rainforests, pollution, energy consumption, and the other components of sustainable living to determine what preventive or healing actions to consider. Some of us individually take steps to live “greener” as do the organizations where we work.

The challenge, as Eric explains it, is to make sustainability tangible to the wider population and to our client organizations. He believes that partnerships between human performance technology (HPT) practitioners and sustainability experts could produce the needed synergy to halt the destruction to our ecosystem and keep the economy and society whole and productive.

We in the performance improvement business excel at operationally defining issues and chunking complex business problems to make them accessible and understandable. We can add tremendous value in our organizations by helping to operationalize the intricacies of sustainable practices and demystify them.

Mega: The 4th Level
As Roger Kaufman has helped us to understand, good “corporate citizen” organizations usually consider their operational impact on the communities where they are located. Many such organizations actively contribute to the well-being of those communities with charitable contributions, partnerships with other businesses, and the like. It is but one more step to assess the impact of their operations on the environment and put sustainable practices in place. The stakes are extraordinarily high.

The Triple Bottom Line
Some organizations, perhaps yours, use the triple bottom line in their financial management. The triple bottom line measures sustainability using the same elements as the three-legged stool: economy, society, and the environment. This is an important step in tracking sustainability measures and is espoused by many notable international organizations. The triple bottom line is in the process of becoming standard practice in corporate reporting, and what gets measured will eventually get managed. Some examples:

  • Back in 2001, to encourage sustainable behavior by organizations, France passed Article 116 of its Nouvelles Régulations Economiques (NRE) and became the first country to mandate triple bottom line reporting for companies.
  • The International Integrated Reporting Committee is incorporating social and environmental metrics into the framework of typical corporate financial reporting standards.

Organizations can get help and information about setting sustainability standards and improving their triple bottom line from ANSI, the American National Standards Institute. It oversees the creation and use of norms and guidelines that directly affect business, including sustainability practices. Remember, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”

Success Story
Eric shares a modest success story. A large, multinational company had a sustainability director who wanted to increase the volume of recycling in the company’s facilities, worldwide. The director understood the science and the potential impact of more recycling but grappled with how best to communicate this to employees. Instead of telling employees that they “really oughta wanna” recycle, the director used HPT principles and removed the wastebaskets from all their sites, placing clearly marked recycling bins in central locations instead. The recycling volume immediately and significantly increased.

Links to the Performance Technology Landscape
Sustainability supports these principles of performance technology:

R Focus on Results–Identifies the organization’s contribution to planetary health
S Take a System view–Looks at all organizational functions to identify sustainable practices that will affect the triple bottom line
V Add Value–Contributes to the well-being of employees, customers, products, the earth
P Establish Partnerships–Encourages employee, community, and organizational involvement in sustainable business practices

Application Exercise
Find out what sustainability goals your client organization has in place or is developing. Is there a scientific expert responsible for related campaigns and initiatives? What HPT expertise can you offer to help sustainability efforts?

HPT in Five Years?
In five years, some of the forward-thinking HPT professionals reading this will have reached out to the sustainability leaders in their organizations to form new alliances, new partnerships, and new synergies. They will thoroughly immerse their organization’s HPT function in the business of sustainability to ensure that green business approaches are truly sustainable from an organizational standpoint.

References
In addition to the links above, for further reading on sustainability:

Find all the models and tools featured in TrendSpotters at www.ispi.org/archives/perfXpress.htm#trendToolkit.

You may contact Carol Haig at carolhaig@earthlink.net or at http://home.mindspring.com/~carolhaig; and Roger Addison at rogeraddison@earthlink.net.