"If you're in a bad situation, don't worry, it'll change. If you're in a good situation, don't worry, it'll change."
-- John A. Simone Jr.
H is for Health That Should Never Be Poor. Basho: Old pond / frog jumps in / the sound of water. In the US we are currently wrapped up in a very important, often ridiculous debate about healthcare or, more accurately, health insurance. Having just repatriated and wandered the maze of healthcare choices”, as a consumer, I can say the array of choices in front of me was more like a game of Russian roulette or a bizarre amalgam of Sophie’s Choice and Groundhog Day. Each of the myriad “choices” I had to make was a gamble or a sacrifice. It was stressful, unsatisfying and, well, unhealthy.
David Gilmour: I am you and what I see is me. Consider a frog. Essentially frogs need water, warmth and bugs. Taint or take away one of those essentials (or the conditions that support these essentials) and you’ve got a mess of unhealthy, mutated frogs or no frogs at all. Frogs are voracious consumers in their eco-systemic niche. So are we. As humans we need a healthy, resilient, sustaining Value Web, yet so many of the choices we are being asked to make are neither healthy for us, our communities and the eco-systems that sustain us.
For consumers, shopping is a highly entertaining game of choice. The question is what are we really choosing? In the case of healthcare we are “choosing” damaged goods from a broken system. In the case of health, though, as we shop, we have the opportunity to choose for our selves and support the health of our communities and the eco-systems that support them. Our choices can give life instead damaging the conditions that make it possible. We can design the effects of our purchases to be less bad and more good and healthier for all of us-including the frogs.
To quote Eric Clapton: “It’s in the way that you use it.”
The Wal-Mart sustainability index is measuring whether suppliers are measuring their impact on energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, waste, resource depletion and the communities in which they operate. Essentially it’s binary with annotation. Are you or aren’t you? If you are, please describe what you are doing.
Wal-Mart is gathering data. The key question is “What for?” Wal-Mart has sustainability targets and standards. They can be found here. They are doing good work. Of particular note are their Sustainability Value Networks. In these networks they’re bringing together “leaders from our company, supplier companies, academia, government, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)” to work in categories that are core to Wal-Mart’s business. It is a matter of course that they will compare what they are learning from their suppliers with their own progress, most likely incorporating best practices along the way.
So, how will they use it with the suppliers? In the answer to this question lies the answer to the question in the title of this post. And, to really uncover the meaning in that answer requires us to look at the quality of relationships Wal-Mart forms with the suppliers and the quality of relationships the suppliers form with their network.
What do I mean? First, sustainability is something we do together. Fundamentally local and place based, sustainability depends on the quality of our relationships with the world around us. Reducing impact is good, however, relationship-wise this creates a less bad quality of connection. Imagine a spouse telling you that to strengthen your relationship he/she was still going to be bad but, from now on, less bad than before. A start? Yes. A strong foundation for a long-term relationship? No.
Second, sustainability is long term. What are we trying to sustain? Us. How do we do that? By sustaining what sustains us. One way to conceptualize this is a Value Web. Incremental reduction, though currently necessary is not sufficient. We become the slowly-boiled frog. The quality of relationships in our value web slowly erode, the web disintegrates and less bad leads to very, very bad. Simply, we need more good.
So, back to Wal-Mart and their suppliers. Moving forward, the better they are able to build networks of Collaboration that strengthen and enhance the Value Web the more sustainable the Wal-Mart sustainability index becomes. This is where those Sustainability Value Networks could really become value-abling. And, the more coherent their approach, the more effective the networks become at being sustainable. Again, it’s in the way that they use it.
So, now, think about this: For a retail giant like Wal-Mart this is a big hairy audacious undertaking that will touch pretty much all of us for generations to come. This matters. So do we.
So much depends on how we are, what we see and what we do now. As we do as we do we get what we get, becoming what we become. These are interesting times…
As I talk with prospective members of Abound about their businesses, the business of sustainability and the challenges of being a leader in sustainable business, one of the recurring themes we encounter is that of value.
This theme of value was echoed at the Triple Bottom Line Investment (TBLI) conference I attended in Tokyo. A number of speakers admitted and were confounded by the fact that, from a conventional assessment paradigm, sustainable businesses were often not the best choice for ROI.
A recent conversation with Stephen Aiguier from Green Hammer, a sustainable building company in Oregon, led us to the under-developed notion of relational capital. As it is currently understood relational capital is a subset of the valuation of “intangibles”. This begs the question of what is “tangible?”
Well, assets are tangible but what is their value? The value of assets depends on their valuation-a process of assigning an amount to them. This amount is a shared understanding, an agreement.
Traditionally, a business has been valued by it’s bottom line and top line performance. Cash flow is also a popular indicator. For a publicly traded business this becomes a much more complex process as all sorts of arcane formulae are applied to a business to describe its value to various stakeholders. The business has different values depending on the interests of the stakeholders. Again, we are looking at shared understanding, agreement.
We need to expand our shared understanding and agreement around this concept of value. Legally businesses are people. Actually businesses are complex open systems subtracting and adding value in the markets, communities and environments in which they operate. Both spiders and web, they weave and are nodes in a Value Web. The more resilient the web, the more value it provides. The more skillful the spider, the more resilient the web, the stronger the nodes.
The value of business is its capacity to sustain that which sustains the business-the Value Web. This is relational. In these relationships is the real value of sustainable businesses. Skillful engagement with the Value Web is the pathway to abundance. Abundance is a healthy, highly resilient Value Web.
What is the value of your business?
We’ll be giving a talk on the connections between social media and sustainability next week. As I was doing some research on the topic I came upon this slightly dated piece over at Max Gladwell.
They make a good point that there is nothing “inherently green about social media.” Indeed. Social media is exactly what it sounds like: means for conveying ideas and information, connecting people and creating and maintaining relationships.
We also need to understand that sustainable sustainability is not “green” either. Or rather, it is “green” but it also red, orange, yellow, blue, turquoise, indigo, violet, etc. Simply, if we want to sustain our selves and the potential in the human endeavor for all sentient beings to prosper, we must go full spectrum.
We live in a value web. We need to manage multiple polarities and find a way to stream value into as many of the nodes of the web as possible. The more we are able to strengthen and enhance the web the more we are able to benefit in return. It is (almost) instant karma.
This is where social media comes in. The potential in social media to deeply interconnect us and provide cross-functional, cross-divisional, cross-industry, cross-sector collaboration is already being realized in technologies like Facebook and Twitter. A recent Business Week article shows how Accenture has developed enterprise versions of these systems as well. WiserEarth, an online community, also has adapted Wiki technology to connect sustainability-oriented groups and individuals.
Social media can accelerate and deepen the connection process. Interconnection is a key success factor for sustainability, and beyond sustainability, abundance. In the end, though, it is not the technology that matters. It is the intent and capacity of the users. Designers can and will design user interfaces that can meet a wide variety of needs. If we want to get the most out of Web 2.0, I believe we first need to design Sustainability 2.0. Sustainability 2.0 is a full-spectrum, value web centered, coherent approach to doing well together.
Let’s see what we can emerge.
P&G and Microsoft have both recently strongly committed themselves to “sustainability.” P&G’s Lafley saying:
P&G’s commitment to sustainability is strategic. It is how our company conducts business. [Specifically]
- Develop and market at least $50 billion in innovative and sustainable products, up from a goal of $20 billion.
- Reduce carbon dioxide emissions, energy consumption, water usage and disposed waste by 20 percent, leading to a 50 percent reduction over the last 10 years.
- Increase use of rail transportation from 10 percent now to 30 percent by 2015.
- Increase the number of children benefiting from P&G’s Safe Drinking Water Program to 300 million, up from the original goal of 250 million.
and Microsoft’s saying:
Recently our CEO, Steve Ballmer, sent out an e-mail to all 90,000 Microsoft employees. He made clear that environmental sustainability is a core value for the company that is embedded in all we do,” Robert Bernard said in an interview with CNET News. He added that Ballmer talked about the topic as a corporate belief, “as opposed to a green campaign or a marketing campaign or a marketing issue.
P&G’s commitment is wide ranging and touches on a number of nodes of the value web, including resources and trade, atmosphere, energy, water, transportation, and family and community. They seem to be systematically working sustainability into their value chain.
Microsoft’s statement, though bold, is a little more confused, referring to “environmental sustainability.” Not quite sure how Microsoft is sustaining the environment. Rather than “environmental sustainability” I would recommend something like “environmental awareness is a core value”.
Sustainability is bigger than you, me, the environment, climate change and renewable energy. It’s what links all of the essential nodes of the value web together.
I applaud both companies for their concern and commitment. However, I believe both have a way to go before they fully embrace and embed sustainability in their organizations. They need to take the lead by leaping from focussing on discrete parts to developing strategies that link these parts holistically to what they do.
Sustainability is about relationships and connections and not disconnected metrics. The sooner we see this the sooner we can start doing to get sustainable results.
Tags: A. J. Lafley, carbon dioxide emissions, climate change, core value, Microsoft, P&G, renewable energy, safe drinking water, Steve Balmer, sustainability, sustainable products, value web, waste reduction
Sustainability is not recycling. It is a process. A way of life.
- Practice a discipline that gives you real insight into your Self. Deal with what emerges.
- Draw a value web and ask yourself, “How can I strengthen ALL of these relationships?”
- No waste. Just do it.
- Develop a meaningful personal sustainability practice that you can commit to.
- Stop “fighting” global warming, poverty, (insert cause of choice).
- Begin working for systemic solutions to global warming, poverty, (insert cause of choice).
- Commit yourself and enroll others to realizing renewable, clean energy in your community NOW.
- Break old habits.
- Seek out and support sustainable businesses and business models.
- Do whatever works for you from all of those other lists.
- Stop reading lists.