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Sustainability: Are We Making Progress?

Posted By David Brousell, November 10, 2010 at 3:15 PM, in Category: Sustainability

The green movement has been on the march for many years now. So how  are we doing? Like many things, it depends upon whom you ask.
To hear John Gagel tell it, the (sustainability movement) has crossed an important threshold. The manager of sustainable  practices at Lexmark believes that green has now reached a critical  mass. Speaking last week at a panel discussion on sustainability put  together by SAP, which offers software to automate and manage business  processes associated with sustainability, Gagel said Lexmark has been  working with partners to find ways to innovate in everything from the  language of sustainability to taking costs out of the supply chain.

“We’re translating the language of sustainability to the language of business,” he said.

But, curiously, when it comes to setting its sustainability goals,  Lexmark doesn’t benchmark against other, like companies. Rather, “we  look at our own products and set tough goals,” he said.

Another panelist, Dr. Jay Golden, director of corporate  sustainability at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy  Solutions at Duke University and co-founder of the Sustainability  Consortium, said one of the challenges in sustainability is that big  companies such as Wal-Mart and Target report on their green initiatives  differently. “What are the scientific rules of the road?” he asked.”We  need to understand the science.”

Golden’s observation was supported by Kevin Myette, director of  product integrity at Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), a maker and  retailer of outdoor gear. “The challenge in supply chains is that we  don’t have confidence in the science in all areas,” Myette said.

Dr. Peter Graf, an executive vice president at SAP and the company’s  chief sustainability officer, used a car analogy to suggest where the  movement needs to head. “When you buy a car, you know what MPG means,”  he said. Graf also stressed that perceptions of whether a company is  well managed are increasingly being linked to its (sustainability efforts).

“More investors are asking the question ‘Do you have risk under  control?’ ” Graf said. And many retailers, Gagel noted, are  incorporating sustainability requirements into RFQs.
For Myette of REI, sustainability is tantamount to what he called the next quality movement.

I left the panel last Tuesday with the distinct impression that a lot  of smart people are working on sustainability but that the “science,”  as Dr. Golden pointed out, still has a ways to go.

Category: Sustainability
Written by David Brousell

Global Vice President, General Manager and Editorial Director of the Manufacturing Leadership Council

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