Deciding for sustainability

Product information — or making the invisible, visible — and clear sustainability goals are at the core of making informed and better sustainability choices. This is the second in a serie of columns in which Simon Evitts gives his insight on the importance of Sustainability Metrics Integration

Metrics integration: deciding for sustainability

A number of years ago I realised that “business as usual” was no longer an option. I understood that a more sustainable society would need us to perceive and value our world quite differently, but that the journey would be very personal. And so given my product development role, I wondered how we could use our well-developed business structures and systems to make informed and better decisions for a more sustainable world.

Maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy or a habit developed after years of product development, but it has been interesting to see how my work has come full circle with PRé’s Metrics Integration service.

Where are we now and where are we going?

If you put smart and motivated people together to reach a goal, working within given boundaries and with enough information on their current situation, they will make innovative and informed decisions to achieve their objectives. The gap between the known and the goal is called creative tension. If the goals set are too easy or unrealistic, or if the current situation is too vague, then the tension dissipates. The key to meeting your goals is to make them challenging and to create a clear enough picture of the current situation to encourage action.

So whilst pondering the growing issues concerning sustainability and the future of product innovation, something became clear. If goals and boundaries are based on product and organisation sustainability, then we need to understand what is currently unsustainable in order to make more informed and therefore better decisions. In other words, we need to make our product value chains transparent, and understand the environmental and social impacts and hotspots across the entire product portfolio.

Drawing an analogy to chess, the goal would be checkmate, with boundaries provided by the rules of the game. The information is determined by the position of the pieces, and the decisions are the moves the players make. Unfortunately, in some companies, sustainability is like playing chess in the dark without knowing the rules.

The business context

Take a company’s operations team, for example. In order to make products of the right efficiency and quality, they steer their manufacturing lines and processes within certain well-tested tolerances. The more complete the information the team receives on its processes, the better their decisions to improve. Similarly, purchasing teams have goals and data on material costs and performance. Knowing this provides them with choices, both for investigating alternative materials and suppliers, as well as engaging in cooperative improvement programs.

My former R&D colleagues work with many cross-functional teams to develop and innovate products and processes. These teams are at their most creative when allowed to explore opportunities and make development decisions based on clear goals and boundaries. Cost and quality inevitably rule, but for a food company, that may also include health and flavour. Likewise, car developers are bound, for example, by safety requirements, construction by building integrity, technology companies by usability. In order to work effectively toward innovation goals but within their product boundaries, each one of these sectors needs information. The more they know about their products, the better their decisions.

Introducing sustainability into everyday business

Transparency in pursuit of better decisions is at the core of PRé’s values, and it is a necessary part of sustainability implementation for any business. Companies also need solid and meaningful sustainability KPIs. With the addition of good data, insight, and tools, business teams will make better decisions. These good decisions in turn drive higher and more sustainable business value. Operations and process development teams can then improve costs linked to energy, water, and waste. Purchasing teams can focus on the correct supply chain hotspots and supplier engagement programs, and R&D teams can investigate product redesign and tackle value chain hotspots. In addition, the core innovation process used by many cross-functional teams can drive incremental improvements to new products, or focus on game-changing eco-innovation.

Metrics integration for transparency and decision making

When preparing for sustainability implementation, companies must take a straight-forward approach. Encourage a focus on building transparency (the information), and support the business integration of that information in order to make better decisions. Product-focused companies must first understand their metrics needs and their business value ambitions. This in-depth process also includes identifying the people and business areas necessary to drive that value. Such a landscaping exercise takes internal and external perspectives, and supports the development of an integration roadmap. The roadmap defines the possibilities to then build and integrate the appropriate sustainability KPIs, assessment methods, tools, decision-making criteria, and training for your business needs.

Product information — or making the invisible, visible — and clear sustainability goals are at the core of making informed and better sustainability choices.

In essence, this what embedding sustainability into core business activities is about, and it’s exactly what our Metrics Integration service is designed to do.

If you have comments or if you want to get more information about the Metrics Integration framework and how it can generate business value, please contact us.

Author: Simon Evitts

See here the first column of the series:  Why Flexibility Matters for Sustainability Metrics  | A Framework to Support Sustainable Value

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