Saturday, September 7, 2013


Sustainability requires involvement at all levels,
not just by a project team. This involvement has to be well defined if it is to become meaningful.
Implementing sustainability is necessarily about change. It starts with a change in mind-set in the very upper reaches of management, where it is realised that from a strategic perspective, sustainability makes business sense, is essential for organisational survival and in fact is a strong source of competitive advantage. This realisation is then translated into concrete action, in order for the organisation’s sustainability goals to be realised. This includes a review of current operations, where often there are many positive organisational attributes that are already sustainable, but may not be recognised as such. Then of course there are those factors which are not sustainable and need to changed or phased out. Finally, there is the very structure of the organisation, which needs to be modified such that it has the capacity to adapt on an ongoing basis, on the understanding that becoming sustainable is not a project, but a process.
This process will involve changes in technology, changes in relationships with suppliers, customers, regulators and other stakeholders, revision of work practices, the development of new products and markets and fundamentally new ways of doing business. It cannot be about a few piecemeal projects that while positive in their own right, are not part of a broader transformation.  It will also be difficult to make sustainability “stick” if it is one of many other “initiatives” in the organisation. Instead, it should be integrated into everything the organisation does, sending a consistent message to all employees and stakeholders that this is the path that has now been chosen.
Warm and fuzzy messages do not in themselves bring about change. Yes, it is of course important for all employees within an organisation to understand why change is necessary, and the broader impacts of that change. It is however vital to understand exactly how different levels of the organisation will have an impact on sustainability performance, and then to build sustainable practices into job roles at all levels. Without this level of detail, it is difficult to make sustainability something “real”.
It is a good idea to engage employees on this issue, making them a part of the process of uncovering sustainable work practices. It is however the work of management to analyse each level of the organisation in detail, to assess precisely how every job impacts on sustainability, and then to build the infrastructure around each job to support sustainable work practices. This gives employees a point of departure, a foundation upon which to build new job roles that they can make their own. Of course, I’m referring hear to organisations that are participative in nature, which I think you have to be if you want to become more sustainable.
To give you an idea about the types of tasks and behaviours I’m talking about, below is an overview of how an issue like energy efficiency touches on the job roles of different groups of employees on an industrial site.


Executive management
Highlight energy efficiency as a strategic issue
Communication channels such as newsletters and site forums
Set short, medium and long-term site-wide targets
Build into performance goals for managers and departments
Provide resources for  attainment of targets
Budgeting processes
Foster integration of sustainability
Include in all areas of operations at the strategic level
Middle Management and technical staff
Identify energy efficiency opportunities
Technical audits and facilitation of shop floor focus groups
Improve work practices to enhance energy efficiency
Review of work instructions and procedures
Training of staff on the energy efficiency issues within their control
Optimise efficiency of existing operations
Plant settings that minimise energy use e.g. lower operating temperatures and pressures
Preventive maintenance programme development and implementation to eliminate failures
Modify equipment and source new technologies
Investigations into the efficiency of current equipment
Research into technological alternatives
Identification of alternative suppliers
Justification of modifications and capital investments
Shop Floor staff
Operate equipment more sustainably
Addressing failures that may not affect throughput, but waste energy e.g. compressed air leaks
Switching off of lighting and equipment when not needed
Following agreed best operating practice rigorously
Minimise defects and rework
Prompt action for quality problems that may lead to rework and wasted energy
·         Etc…

The table is by no means comprehensive, and there are many other staff functions that are not shown here who all have a role to play. What the above is meant to show is that if you limit the scope of sustainability within an organisation to a few people and treat it as a project, opportunities are lost. There is a role for all employees to play, and it is up to managers to identify what that role is, and then to engage with employees to develop the role further. In doing so, use must be made of existing management infrastructure, and where there are already positive sustainability practices in play, these should be enhanced and reinforced.
This is not a “top-down” process. Senior management need to lead, this is true, but there should be mechanisms in place for continuous feedback from the strategic to the operational levels and back again. The entire organisation should be engaged in a conversation about sustainability, and prepared to modify plans and actions at all levels in response to results achieved. 

Copyright © 2013, Craig van Wyk, all rights reserved