Sustainability 3.0: Individuals make the difference.


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Sustainability and corporate social responsibility may be topics of interest, but they have little to do with individuals. How can an individual contribute to a sustainable world, now and in the future? Businesses can have an effect by involving their employees in their sustainability policy. For them however, it is not enough to say that they work in a sustainable building. The more important point is whether their behaviour inside that building is sustainable. Facility managers can encourage this kind of behaviour. Author: René P.M. Stevens MSC Arch./MBA. First published in the Dutch Facility Management Magazine, November 2010.

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Sustainability 3.0: Individuals make the difference.

  1. 1. Individuals make the difference Sustainability 3.0Sustainability and corporate social responsibility may be topics ofinterest, but they have little to do with individuals. How can anindividual contribute to a sustainable world, now and in the future?Businesses can have an effect by involving their employees in theirsustainability policy. For them however, it is not enough to say that theywork in a sustainable building. The more important point is whethertheir behaviour inside that building is sustainable. Facility managers canencourage this kind of behaviour.Text: René P.M. StevensResearch shows that the definition of sustainability is very wide-ranging. It covers moreor less everything. Its meaning depends on the context in which it is used, and it issubjective. There is no clear-cut and unambiguous definition. Mention of sustainabilitymoreover often implies an ethical discussion about the goals humanity should be strivingfor.Sustainability has no real meaning in itself. It is a quality that is assigned to tangiblethings (such as sustainable products, services or production processes) and intangiblethings (such as human life, the environment and society). There are various meaningsfor which this word is used: 1. sustainability itself, in the sense of a thing that is long-lasting in relation to its environment, 2. durability and endurability, meaning the inbuilt ability of a thing to resist or tolerate external influences, 3. renewability, mainly in relation to the sensible use of energy and commodities to maintain life on planet Earth.Sustainability therefore relates to both ‘here and now’ and to ‘elsewhere and later’. Thereare concerns about the future of the Earth, about human society and the global24-11-2010 Sustainability 3.0 Page 1 of 5
  2. 2. distribution of goods, resources and facilities. There are often conflicting interests forboth society and businesses.Sustainability therefore relates to both ‘here and now’ and to ‘elsewhere and later’.Sustainability 1.0, focus on the environmentSustainability became an agenda item for world leaders with the report by the UN’sBrundtland Commission in 1987. This defined sustainability as follows:‘Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present withoutcompromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’This definition identifies three components of sustainability: a. protection of the environment; b. economic growth, whereby developing countries are also offered the opportunity to achieve growth similar to that of developed countries. c. social planning: the gulf between rich and poor must be reduced to prevent deterioration of the environment in poor countries.In this definition, sustainability relates to the scarcity of the resources wherebyprosperity is generated, now and in the future. We have only one planet Earth, thesupply of commodities is finite and the ability of the atmosphere and our naturalenvironment to absorb pollution is limited. The emphasis in this definition is on theenvironmental aspects of sustainable development. The foundations of economic growthand social planning are both seen in relation to environmental protection.If one wants to keep the environment of our planet in balance, by definition this is onlypossible at a global level. It is the world leaders that must come to mutual agreement.For political and economic reasons, this is no simple task, as was recently demonstratedat the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen. But businesses that are ready to assumetheir responsibility do not have to passively await developments.Sustainability 2.0, focus on profitIn his book ‘Cannibals with Forks’, published in 1998, John Elkington clearly explainedhow businesses can and should benefit society. This brought the issue down from aglobal level to the more digestible scale of businesses and organizations. The question isto find a balance between economic prosperity, environmental protection and socialjustice. The expression corporate social responsibility (CSR) or corporatesustainability was born. This is business designed to achieve economic performance(Profit), with respect for social issues (People), within ecological constraints (Planet):known as the ‘triple-P’ approach.The ‘triple-P’ approach helps to assess a company’s level of sustainability. It can alsogive guidance in the formulation of a CSR policy. The goal of a company is notexclusively to optimize its profits. It also shares a responsibility for social and ecologicalconsequences. Society nowadays expects companies to meet this responsibility. In anideal situation there is a balance between the social consequences of commercial actions,the ecological effects and the economic results for the company. This not only contributesto a sustainable society, it also leads to better results for the company. It is a trade-offbetween the short term and the long term, and between ‘us’ and ‘them’.However, money is and will always be important to a business. If it does not make aprofit, it has no future. Whereas the emphasis in sustainability 1.0 was on theenvironmental component, with sustainability 2.0 it is on the profit component. Nothingwrong with this, since cash flows are an important instrument in a sustainable world.24-11-2010 Sustainability 3.0 Page 2 of 5
  3. 3. Making a healthy profit allows businesses to add a fourth P for ‘Prosperity’ (the sharing ofsuccess). This is also an aspect of ‘sustainability’ and ‘green’ business.If one looks at the developments in sustainability 1.0 and 2.0, one can identify acontinuing trend of greater understanding of sustainability. In my opinion, we are now onthe threshold of the next, more balanced phase: sustainability 3.0.Sustainability 3.0, focus on the individualBoth sustainability 1.0 and 2.0 included ‘People’ as the human component. In the UN’sBrundtland report, ‘People’ is taken to mean the population in the developing countries.The ‘triple-P’ approach describes the ‘People’ component in terms of social planning,social capital or social justice. Both approaches are a long way from the personal actionsof ordinary people.How can an individual contribute to a sustainable world, now and in the future? Manypeople think that one has to be rich to be able to make sustainable choices. During mytravels to developing countries, however, I have come to the conclusion that definingwhat is rich (and thus also what is poor) is not so simple. In the developing countriespeople may perhaps be financially poor, but they are spiritually rich. While those in theWest may be financially rich, but spiritually poor. Either of these conditions is notnecessarily good or bad. To make responsible choices it is important to find the rightbalance between the material and the immaterial, between one’s head and one’s heart.Sustainability 3.0 places the emphasis on people as individuals.Sustainability 3.0 places the emphasis on people as individuals, i.e. both within andoutside the commercial perspective. From the commercial perspective people areemployees, suppliers and clients. Outside the commercial perspective, they are fathers,mothers, single people or people living together. Both perspectives are inextricablylinked. Influence within one perspective thus also affects the other perspective.It is ultimately people that with their thoughts, emotions and resulting actions will makea lasting difference. Companies can apply their influence here. A sustainable change inbehaviour is a journey with many small steps, falling down and getting up again, but notimpossible. People make choices mostly on emotional grounds, not on rational groundsalone. If hearts are touched and people feel themselves joined together in a greatercause, much can be achieved.Through its brand(s), a business has a direct influence on the behaviour of its customersand through its production process on suppliers and employees, and therefore has moreeffect on the environment and social challenges than politicians or environmentalactivists can ever have. This involves taking responsibility and making people moreaware of the consequences of their actions for our planet and society. Through theirproducts, companies can encourage people to choose different priorities, to consider theirown role, to work in a different way and do more themselves. A company can also givesomething back to society and thereby show its social involvement, for example bysponsoring sustainable or social-interest projects or allowing employees to contribute toa good cause in their working hours (on a voluntary basis).Inspirational business conductWhether it is version 1.0, 2.0 or 3.0, the essence of socially responsible or sustainablebusiness operation is doing business decently. Decency is not a question of what you do,but who you are. You are not only an employer or an employee, you are also a personand an inhabitant of this planet. In both capacities you have a responsibility that is notwithout its obligations. By setting an example, you can inspire and influence others.24-11-2010 Sustainability 3.0 Page 3 of 5
  4. 4. Each organization has a different take on sustainability and the degree of sustainability,just as each organization has a different view of quality, costs or profit. Is your goal toreduce the burden you place on the environment as far as possible, or is it to make aslarge a contribution as possible to the environment?This difference in approach can also be seen if one searches for the most sustainablebuilding in the Netherlands. The designation ‘most sustainable building in theNetherlands’ turns out to depend on how one measures sustainability. There are severalorganizations using different criteria and associated certification, each with their ownapproach to sustainability. Sustainability moreover depends on context and the timewhen it is assessed, since our understanding of the concept and our measuringtechniques are continually changing.In the search for sustainability, it also emerges that ‘how far you want to go’ is adetermining factor for the sustainability framework. Can a cigarette factory besustainable because its factory building is extremely sustainable, even though itsproduct, the cigarettes, is damaging to the health of both smokers and non-smokers? Isa bank automatically sustainable if it allows your savings to contribute to a moresustainable society simply by investing in social, cultural and ‘green’ businesses?Regardless of how it treats its employees, clients and assets, etc.?And from another point of view: Is there no point for the cigarette factory to try to besustainable because its core business is not?When all of us start to do what we can, sustainability will gather momentum and in duecourse new possibilities for making a contribution will appear.Sustainable building or sustainable behaviourHowever valuable energy saving and reducing the CO2 footprint are, focusing mainly onmaking our real estate more sustainable is too limited an approach. This is only a part ofwhat is needed in terms of sustainability.Are you actually in a position to name and properly calculate all your dependencies inorder to assess what is more or less sustainable? These calculations are difficult inpractice, because in many cases the composition of the production process for productsand components in terms of people, resources and materials is not known in detail. Theonly way to resolve this is to establish where the focus on sustainability should be in yourorganization. This will always be a subjective assessment, but is not a licence for takinghalf measures. The adoption of behaviour patterns mainly concerns the reanimation of the ‘heart-set’.Employees usually have little or no involvement in the question of sustainability asindividuals. Is it enough for an employee to be able to say that they work in asustainable building? The more important point is whether their behaviour inside thatbuilding is sustainable. Facility management is an excellent tool for promoting the CSRpolicy because employees come into contact with it on a daily basis.Facility managers often have to prepare for decisions such as whether to use pottery orrecyclable cups, paper or linen hand-towels. The technical approach to this question is toprepare a business case. The people-oriented approach is to find out what theimplications of each choice will be for employee behaviour. If the employees prefer linento paper, choosing linen will encourage sustainable behaviour. This can affect behaviourin other areas and thus increase the effect on sustainability.‘Yes, but you cannot establish this’, I hear you saying. That is true. But the technicalapproach is also not able to find a proper solution, let alone monitor the situation duringthe term of the contract. And it is human behaviour and action that ultimately determinewhether sustainable measures are effective or not.24-11-2010 Sustainability 3.0 Page 4 of 5
  5. 5. One can now pose the question: Can I make something more sustainable without beingable to measure it? This is a purely rational approach. If you are in love, you do not go tothe doctor for a test to find out whether you are in love or not. You simply know. Just thefeeling is enough.It is the same with sustainability. The adoption of behaviourpatterns is therefore not simply a question of changing the‘mind-set’, it mainly concerns the reanimation of the ‘heart-set’. Without emotional commitment, sustainability will nottake root. Make the ‘What’s in it for me’ clear to employees:not only the rational financial incentives, also the emotionalintrinsic incentives. Make the sustainability policy simple andfun. Make it so tangible and visual that employees canrecognize their own dreams, ideals and hopes. Then and onlythen will inspiration come from the heart, and people will betruly motivated. They will then behave sustainably not onlyinside the ‘sustainable building’ but outside as well. This willcreate a snowball effect and their family and friends willbecome involved. The behaviour of your employees willmoreover spread the policy through the chain and customers René P.M. Stevens MScand suppliers will become involved and inspired to make their Arch. MBA is Managingown contribution. Something that works and possibly cannot Director of ATELIER V realbe demonstrated with figures is better than something that estate B.V. of Amersfoort ( good on paper but does not work in practice. ATELIER V develops and implements strategies forBe clear and transparent regarding your organization’s goals accommodation, real estatewith regard to CSR. Indicate the priorities so that choices can and urban made in conflict situations. Setting an example and rene.stevens@atelier-v.nlencouragement are more important than producing an annual sustainability report. Thesustainability policy will then not remain in the board room, it will be part of thecompany’s daily activities. Employees are proud to work for a company that takes thisapproach to sustainability; they want to associate with it, and this creates a commitmentthat goes beyond an employment contract.The moral of the storyOrganizations that have their sustainable buildings certified usually use a measuringmethod that is likely to place them at the top of the list. But what is the employer doing,other than employing people in a sustainable building? The far more important point isthat individuals, people like you and me, are intrinsically motivated to (also) make acontribution in their daily lives to prosperity for all, now and in the future. As anindividual, you cannot change the world, but you can change your own behaviour and setan example. Setting a good example is effective. Gandhi said: ‘Be the change you wantto see in the world.’ It is a question of one’s attitude to life. It is not something which isthe responsibility of only our political leaders or our employer. Sustainability 3.0 issomething you do yourself, and thus gives the component of ‘People’ the place itdeserves.<<24-11-2010 Sustainability 3.0 Page 5 of 5