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“It isn’t just the low-hanging fruit we go after.” ~Ray C. Anderson
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I have read that the Chinese symbol for crisis is union of 2 characters. In Chinese, ”crisis” is an interesting word and is derived from DANGER and OPPORTUNITY.  Whether it is true may be debatable, but in any transformation, executives must be open to new ideas and wisely choose people who will be a catalysts for change. Sustainability is a new mindset.  This new mindset promotes ethics, promotes stewardship recognizing that our planet has limited resources, and ultimately promotes elimination of natural and man-made waste. Therefore, the danger is the reduction or eradication of our biosphere in the next 30 years or the opportunity to preserve our planet for this generations and future generations.

Ray C. Anderson was the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Interface, a global modular carpet company. He was also the first Sustainability pioneer who awakened to the fact that our business paradigms are based on a take-make-waste model. This model, created by Paul Hawkens, demonstrates how most businesses create revenue from poor business practices without considering any environmental impact and exploits society.  It rewards short-term performance without acknowledging long-term consequences.

As a pioneer and visionary, he recognized his short-sightedness and selected a team to help him transform his enterprise.  Anderson searched, not for one expert, but a team of experts to address his corporation’s needs (Dr. Michael Braungart, Bill McDonough, Paul Hawken, L. Hunter Lovins,  Amory Lovins, et al).  Each brought different experiences, different knowledge bases, different mindsets (e.g., architecture, law, environmentalists, chemistry, etc.), but each commonly promoted sustainable development. These team members are still thought as today’s thought leaders for transforming enterprises into new sustainability developed corporations.

In a recent LinkedIn discussion about “circular economy”, I made this comment: “The graphic is crisp, clean and tells an aspirational story, but I would have expected added thought / value from McKinsey. There are many models that have been developed over the last two decades and as you pointed out there are other references to a circular economy.”

The conversation did no reach a conclusion about the diagram, but my obvious problem with the diagram was twofold. First, it did not show how disruptive technology would be integrated tool formulating the solution for a  circular economy. Second, the ultimate goal for Sustainability is the elimination of wastes (e.g., emission: water, air, land). So why would landfills be noted?

McKinsey Global Institute discusses for “trend breakers” from the end of the 20th century to the beginning of the 21st century. In the 20th century, the great moderations (1980-2000) was based on demographics drove economic growth, capital was cheaper, resources were cheaper, government privatized and cut taxes, and each generation was better off than the previous. Trend breakers included: debt crisis, urbanization, aging and disruptive technologies (The term “disruptive technologies” was coined by Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen as the critical influence to innovation.)

As the Romans said; “Caveat emptor, Latin for ‘Let the buyer beware!’’ Be prepared and objective. Don’t accept web site “solutions” as the ultimate answer for your situation. In most cases, your environment is unique. Understand the basics and integrate your organizations strengths (e.g., commitment, change management, project management, LEED certified architects, IT specialists, etc.) to take advantage of opportunities and avoid the dangers. Be careful and understand what a diagram portrays, for it may not be the “silver bullet” you are looking for.

I would recommend reading Ray C. Anderson’s book, Mid-Course Correction, as I believe it laid out the foundation of Sustainability that is not too different today. When I taught a graduate class in Sustainability. I strongly recommended this reading to my students. Not only does Anderson identify areas of opportunity, but he visually represented an enterprise maturity model that could be overlaid in almost any enterprise. His vision and experience would be of interest to anyone who wants a better understanding of today’s consultants and their differing approaches.

My recommendation is to be educated about what Sustainability is. It is a shared value that considers business, environment and society. It is a long term mindset. It is best implemented by business, as government is often too slow and expensive to implement change. Include your stakeholders, for sharing sustainability objectives with your Customer, Supplier, etc., and it will ensure your corporate direction and provide them transparency as a tool for communication and negotiation.  (This approach was used as a mantra at Interface and leveraged by Walmart in its corporate transformation. All stakeholders need to be aware of the reasons for the transformation, its benefits and commitment by the company’s leadership.)

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Building a bridge to benefits thumbnail

Owners, Executive and other Leaders are investigating a global world concerned about Sustainability, that type of understanding can be difficult to obtain. In early December 2013, I published my second book entitled “Building a Bridge to Benefits”. If you are interested in reading about the book or want to purchase copies today, here is the link to CreateSpace, an Amazon company, go to: https://www.createspace.com/4532590
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Norman Marks, VP of SAP, considers himself an evangelist for better run business. He is a practitioner and thought leader in internal audit, risk management, compliance and ethics, and has led large and small internal audit departments, been a Chief Risk Officer and Chief Compliance Officer, and managed IT Security and governance functions. The following article was written by Mr. Marks and was published in Sustainable Business Forum (click on this link to read more).

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