Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Strategies for Sustainability: Innovation and Customization Are Critical, Studies for the Cement Industry and State of Arizona Reveal

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Strategies for Sustainability: Innovation and Customization Are Critical, Studies for the Cement Industry and State of Arizona Reveal

Article excerpt

An increasing number of companies, industry groups, communities, government planners, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), building and facility owners, and research organizations/laboratories around the world are exploring sustainable development. They are seeking creative approaches to integrate their pursuit of economic prosperity with the assurance of environmental protection and quality of life for current and future generations.

Accepted definitions of sustainability suggest three principal goals or "cornerstones": environmental stewardship, social responsibility and economic prosperity. Environmental stewardship involves protecting air, water, land, and ecosystems, as well as effectively managing the earth's natural resources (including fossil fuels). Social responsibility means improving the quality of life and equity for employees of the enterprise and for society as a whole. Economic prosperity results from the creation of economic opportunity for both the enterprise and its stakeholders (e.g., the communities in which it is located).

While in theory all three goals can be embraced simultaneously, the development of a comprehensive sustainability strategy that can actually be implemented is clearly a challenge. Furthermore, development of such a strategy can be met with skepticism within the organization. In a business setting, strategy development typically focuses on expansion of revenue-generating activities and reduction of non-essential costs. Environmental protection measures and benefits for employees and other stakeholders could be viewed as costly and unnecessary.

However, pursuing the first two goals--environmental stewardship and social responsibility--is likely to enhance the prospects of the third goal--profit and economic growth. For example, increased resource productivity through more efficient use of materials and reduced amount of waste leads to lower production costs. A company's proven record of environmental compliance may improve its ability to site a new plant in a developing country and hence increase its ability to expand its revenue-generating operations. A company's demonstrated concern for its workers is likely to lead to improved productivity, fewer workdays lost, company loyalty, and decreased turnover--all of which improve the bottom line.

Economic prosperity and increased profitability, in turn, provide the means to achieve the first two goals. Without a strong economic base, a company's concerns for the environment and social issues usually take a back seat to survival. So, the goals are inter-related, and strategies for all three cornerstones are best developed simultaneously (see illustration, next page). Developing a strategy that transitions from traditional resource-intensive and volume-maximizing operations to an approach that uses fewer resources and maximizes both stakeholder and shareholder value requires leadership, commitment, planning, and innovation.

Requirements for Sustainability

Battelle has been in the business of scientific exploration, technology development and contract research for 75 years (1). Over the past 15 years, Battelle customers have increasingly faced environmental compliance and social issues that have been draining financial resources from their core business objectives. Recognizing this trend, Battelle has moved not only to understand the benefits of a sustainability-oriented approach to business, but to develop a leadership position in the practical application of sustainability principles. As a result, for more than a decade, Battelle has been working with industries, community, and government groups to turn environmental and social liabilities into opportunities through the application of sustainable development and design concepts.

One insight drawn from the Battelle experience is that sustainability requires innovation (see "What is Innovation?", page 35) (2). Researchers have estimated that, if the per-capita resource consumption rates currently experienced in the developed world are extrapolated to the developing world, we will eventually need the equivalent of three Earths to support our rate of resource consumption (3). …

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