Integrating Sustainability into the Business

Columns - From the Advisory Board

Corporate responsibility — including environmental sustainability — is not only the right thing to do, it is now somewhat irresponsible to ignore, writes QA columnist and advisory board member Michael Burness.

Subscribe
June 18, 2021

Our planet has been nothing short of incredible in sustaining its inhabitants for more than 4 billion years. Plants, animals, humans, etc., have all been the benefactors of this amazing world. As everyone knows, however, those inhabitants, particularly the human ones, have not been as good in providing stewardship to the planet. As we better understand our impact, we have come to realize our own responsibility. Corporate responsibility — including environmental sustainability — is not only the right thing to do, it is now somewhat irresponsible to ignore.

With all the different aspects of corporate responsibility, how do we integrate them into our business to add value without complexity?

There are numerous options, requirements and certification schemes for corporate responsibility programs. Choosing which one, and more importantly, how to integrate them, often determines the difference between having the system work for the company, and the company work for the system. Outlined below are a few ideas on how to incorporate aspects of corporate social responsibility (CSR) into your existing business management system.

Standards/Certifications.

As most business/quality leaders know, the ISO 9001 standard is one of the basic certifications a business pursues. The good news with ISO 9001 is that, as the watershed standard, it serves as a solid foundation. From a CSR perspective, many of the related certifications in this space contain extremely similar clauses that are found in ISO 9001. Some examples available in the CSR space: ISO 14000 (and its subfamily) — environmental management; ISO 45001 — occupational health and safety; ISO 50001 — energy management systems; ISO 26000 — corporate social responsibility (Note: this is not a certification standard).

There are common elements between the above and ISO 9001 such as: scope, policy, training, continuous improvement, document control, stakeholder engagement and communication, audits, etc.

Planet Earth has been good to us. Now it’s time to take some responsibility.

For an ISO 9001-certified company (or other ISO certification) — the core elements exist, so the additional schemes can be integrated into the system, essentially creating an integrated business management system. For example, in an FSSC-certified company, simply updating the training element to include occupational health and safety requirements addresses that clause of ISO 45001. The good news is that there is no need to create multiple systems for multiple certifications.

Procurement.

In the procurement function, establishing a Supply Base (or Supplier) Code of Conduct (CoC) is a good start to begin to establish the requirements of the company for those entities that wish to do business with them. Many companies already have a CoC, and if so, it can be updated to include requirements that the company can impact from a CSR perspective. For example, a food/agriculture company could prohibit suppliers from deforestation.

Another helpful item is the requirement of the above-mentioned cradle-to-cradle lifecycle assessment for an ingredient or a package. This would also help the organization begin to address Scope 3 environmental impacts.

CapEx.

Virtually all established organizations have capital expenditures (CapEx). Many of these requests are designed to increase production efficiency and reduce cost in a manufacturing or service environment. As such, incorporating a requirement in the CapEx form to define the related impact on environmental aspects is a great way to begin capturing ongoing improvements. As many organizations measure environmental impacts on a volume standardized basis (e.g., GHG/MT manufactured), efficiency improvements often have a resulting shift on lowering overall environmental impact.

Design Control.

Incorporating environmental impact/cradle-to-cradle lifecycle analyses during the design review process is another way to better understand — and therefore manage — the overall impact of products and services. Many organizations have a formal design review process (often called “Stage-Gate”) — so including an environmental element there is a relatively easy way to begin capturing the impact.

In summary, organizations have spent a great deal of time, resources and energy in creating systems. As we continue to improve our understanding of our impact, we can leverage all the work already completed to establish a solid program for positively impacting CSR. While none of the approaches described may be easy, or a direct fit for you, hopefully they will provide a springboard for integrating additional aspects of CSR into your already existing system.