Integrating sustainabilityWe can take a sustainable approach in many different ways—and integrate with our current management systems at the same time.

In the international standard on quality management systems, ISO 9001, we are tasked to minimize waste through higher initial quality, continual improvement of our processes, repurposing (repair, rework, re-categorize), and advance planning. If we take this concept a bit further, we can see that sustainability integrates into a system in areas of continual improvement, opportunities for improvement, and preventive actions. We can focus on what we can do to minimize our footprint that will also result in benefits to our materials stream.

In the environmental management systems standard, ISO 14001, we are tasked, in addition to many of the same clauses as noted above, to have a commitment to prevention of pollution. This concept is much broader than simply trying not to pollute—prevention of pollution goes much further, asking us to consider, in the design phase, whether we can make choices that will minimize our impact on the environment. As defined in ISO 14001:

“Prevention of pollution: use of processes, practices, techniques, materials, products, services or energy to avoid, reduce, or control (separately or in combination) the creation, emission, or discharge of any type of pollutant or waste, in order to reduce adverse environmental impacts.

NOTE: Prevention of pollution can include source reduction or elimination, process, product or service changes, efficient use of resources, material and energy substitution, reuse, recovery, recycling, reclamation, and treatment.”

This is linked hand-in-glove with sustainability—ensuring that we have the resources necessary to continue our work in the future, by wisely using our current resources. In fact, we are tasked with considering this while our design is still on paper—researching alternatives, selecting renewable resources that are not in danger of disappearing, etc.

Okay, we see how we might be able to involve sustainability in our management systems theoretically. How can this be applied to our businesses today—how can we help to assure that the trends noted in the Copenhagen Climate Council report decelerate, or better yet, neutralize and reverse?

  1. We can be aware of our effect on the environment. Where are our raw materials coming from, and are they sourced sustainably? Are they of sufficient quality to allow us to manufacture parts of high quality without rework or waste? How about our equipment—is it energy efficient? Are we running as efficiently as we can, at a system level (we are optimized for overall rather than at sub-system levels)? Are we increasing the temperature of the water that we’re discharging, even if the waste stream has been neutralized?
  2. We can encourage our employees to participate in our initiatives. One company I have a lot of respect for is Silicon Laboratories in Austin, Texas. They looked at their environmental impact and made significant changes to the way that they operate, including
    1. Moving their facility to a less environmentally-sensitive part of town instead of expanding in their old facility, near an aquifer,
    2. Buying renewable energy,
    3. Eliminating plastic bottles (300,000 annually!) from their facility vending machines–and providing reusable nalgene bottles to their employees for filtered water instead,
    4. Cutting the electrical costs in half by smartly heating and cooling their facilities and turning off most lights during off hours,
    5. Using environmentally-friendly materials to build out their new office infrastructure,
    6. Providing recycling stations throughout the building, including in every meeting room,
    7. Sponsoring green programs within their city.
    8. Replacing stationery and other paper materials with recycled equivalents
    9. Giving employees a reusable grocery sack and a coffee mug made from recycled materials to get them thinking about reuse instead of one time use
    10. Creating a Green Team of employee volunteers whose goal is to continue to identify earth friendly business practices
  3. We can change at the personal level. Three years ago, it was a rarity to see people walking out of our local grocery store with anything except white plastic bags provided by the store. Now our car has reusable mesh, canvas, and plastic bags in the trunk, which we regularly bring into the store with us. We recycle (our city makes it easy by providing curbside recycling, but at our prior home, I’d happily collect/sort our recyclables—paper, plastics, and glass—in the garage and make a recycling run about once a month to the collection facility). We set the temperature a bit higher in the summer, and lower in the winter; turn off running water; unplug electrical chargers/converters when not in use (those big “bricks” attached to electronics, as well as the smaller phone charger plugs, use electricity even when not charging—if it’s bigger than a three-prong plug, unplug it when not in use); and a dozen other things—all without affecting our lifestyle significantly. In my new neighborhood, I’ve encouraged those in our cul-de-sac to recycle more and we’ve been able to reduce our trash significantly. Will this make a difference on a global level? I don’t know, but it won’t be a negative impact, and that’s a step in the right direction.