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Just When We Created A New Sustainability Topic On BPX....

Three references to the use of the word Sustainability appeared in my line of vision and all three seemed to point to an evolving sense that this word Sustainability has some connotations that are not very inspiring or aspiration engendering.  And given that this is a topic that we are now focusing on in our BPX community and given that we are creating a whole new Sustainability area on BPX where the community can collaborate and discuss the themes of Sustainability; these questionings of the use of the word Sustainability more than caught my attention.  They stopped me dead in my tracks.  Or at least for the moment.

The first reference was in a blog post in  "The Environmental Leader" entitled ‘Sustainability' Risks Losing Effectiveness as a Term  and it in turn pointed to second reference by MIT Sloan's Peter Senge, founder of the Society for Organizational Learning, called Sustainability: Not What You Think It Is.

Peter Senge's blog describes the nuances of the word sustainability which he defines as a "negative vision" of the world.  He suggests replacing the word with the phrase "all about the future".

"What we're talking about is arguably the greatest challenge to innovation that humankind has ever faced: reinventing our whole way of living. And every single example I know of where something meaningful has happened, where people have worked at something that's taken five years, 10 years, 15 years, it's because of people's excitement toward something that really draws them. It's aspirational."

But while that phrase "all about the future" might be inspiring and aspirational one still must look for concrete actions for businesses to take now in the present while beginning to implement transformative strategies on the road to a sustainable future. (Read the full contents and see the abstract in the blog highlighted as: Senge's Sustainability Takeaways for Senge's further elucidation on this topic).

From a BPX community perspective, my own personal takeaways from the article focused on two named obstacles that "keep organizations from acting on sustainability problems/opportunities".  According to Senge they are:

  • Non-systems mental models  -people don't know where sources come from or where products go to
  • Need to collaborate across functions internally and across value chains and sectors externally

To me, both of these "opportunities" or challenges fit in rather well with a BPX view of the enterprise model; one that is: process oriented, organic, horizontally focused, modeled across silos and with a mindfulness of the product lifecycle and includes an intentional "from cradle to cradle" way of thinking.  In Senge's vision, these "improved" process models start with reducing waste in energy, materials and waste matter and demand an understanding of the entire system as well as a consciousness of exactly which and where processes can be streamlined. Even when some small steps in process improvements are taken (say, for example, using less resources: water, energy, materials), savings are realized which subsequently free up revenue and enable further investment.  According to Senge that investment should be focused on creating new products which accordingly foster energy efficiency and ultimately reduce the necessity to focus on being "less bad" and instead free companies to be "more good".

Sustainability Themes on the New Sustainability Pages: 

During the coming weeks we will work to restructure the BPX Sustainability Homepage, its contents and discussions to reflect the following themes: 

  • Climate Change & Energy - Reducing Carbon Footprint, Promoting Energy Efficiency,Tracking,Reporting
  • Product Stewardship - Product Lifecycle Management and Compliance Standards
  • Health & Safety - Environmental Health & Safety Concerns
  • Green IT - Reducing a Data Center's Energy Consumption,Lifecycle of IT Equipment,Sustainable Code  
  • MicroFinance - More Equitable Distribution of Business Opportunity,Unleashing Human Energy/Creativity
  • Vetting the Content With The Community and Our Experts 

    So I'm still at a loss as to how better to call these pages.  Not sure that a blog topic or wiki catergory or forum discussion called "all about the future" will really work for what we are attempting to do here.  Even Senge reverts to using Sustainability as "lingua franca" (or what is simply and commonly used).  As always, we look to you, our community, to weigh-in to help us fashion what is in and what is out of scope for our topics.  What makes sense in your organizations, in your process streamlining, in your worldview?  Is Sustainability something, as Senge says, that moves from marginal importance, to someone else's problem, to something personal affecting us all?  For those of us who have cared about this topic for many years, it is quite a relief to see it finally go "mainstream".

    While writing this blog entry an additional 3rd example of concern with the word sustainability popped up in my twitter stream without any apparent or obvious reference to the first two blog pieces I've described and since it belongs to one of our new community members, I'll reference it here.  The example appeared as a set of recent "tweets" by Sustainability Strategist and BPX Sustainability blogger:  neal.levin/blog.

    Hopefully Neal will also weigh in on the suitability of the chosen Sustainability Themes on BPX. 

    You can see and subscribe to Neal's tweets by clicking the graphic below and following him on Twitter.