The concept of sustainability has been around for some decades. The recent Conference in New York on Global Initiative saw several billion dollars pledged, much of which helps to achieve sustainability. So what is sustainability?
The Bruntland Report (The UN World Commission on Environment and Development) developed a definition in 1987 that read: “Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Or, as Professor James Weldon of Fordham University put it, “Sustainability is having a seat when the music stops.”
For many years, the use of natural resources without replenishment was the norm in the Industrial revolution. The resources were so plentiful that no one thought that we could deplete them. Unlike nature, that recycles, we have great areas of waste. Environmental Standards such as ISO 14000 attempt to address this issue. But, the problem goes further. Sustainability goes beyond environmental issues. As Hitchcock and Willard (2006) stated, “Sustainability is different from the environmental movement in that it recognizes the need for a healthy economy. Nature does have certain limits that we must learn to live within or suffer the consequence.” They concluded, “We need to get better, not bigger”.
Of the roughly six billion people on Earth one billion lives well. (That is us.) About two billion get by. The other three billion have trouble surviving. This division is a source of conflict. Sustainability can help bring all this population to a level of living that we wish for.
So where does quality come in. There are certain aspects where we, as quality professionals, have already done much good. Our profession helps in the reduction of waste and the efficient use of our resources.
We can do more.
We can help in the design for environment. When our organizations plan new products and services, we can use our specialized knowledge to make sure that they plan on the replenishment of resources.
We can help them with Life Cycle Assessment and Life Cycle Costing. (This reminds me of Deming’s, “Don’t buy on Price Tag Alone”).
We can help in getting rid of harmful products in creating added value and help make sure that at the end of its useful life the residual of the products do not cause harm. We should ask if the materials we plan to use are or will become one of five classes: carcinogens, teratogens (cause birth defects), endocrine disruptors, mutagens (cause mutation of genetic code), or persistent bioaccumulative toxins ( PBT- harmful chemicals that accumulate in the body).
Deming showed us that our profession can help in another aspect of sustainability: the creation of jobs. He said that if we improve quality → costs decrease because of less rework, fewer mistakes, fewer delays, snags → productivity improves → capture the market with better quality and price → stay in business → provide jobs and more jobs!
Clearly, quality plays a big role in sustainability.
Hitchcock, D. E. & Willard, M. L. (2006). The Business Guide to Sustainability: Parctical Strategies and Tools for Organizations. London: Earthscan.