Tips for Lean Managers

Sustainability, the New Buzzword. But Is It Sustainable?

By Jon Miller Published on January 26th, 2008

Thanks to polar ice melts, $100 per barrel oil prices, and an inevitable generational shift to people who have grown up hearing about environmental destruction arriving in positions to influence opinion, consumption and policy, sustainability seems to be emerging as the new buzzword. For many years this buzz has been alive in Japan, Europe and other modern economies with historical perspective and a keener awareness of our limited resources, but changing our economic mode from one of waste, variation and overburden to a sustainable one will take the U.S. to lead with technology and policy, and emerging giants China and India to follow, if not themselves lead.
Sot it is very encouraging to have a group of leading thinkers on sourcing starting off 2008 by writing on the sustainability topic at the Sourcing Innovation blog. My favorite post so far is Where the Brain Gives Pinky a Lesson in Statistics. Pinky and the Brain are a duo of cartoon mice who plot to take over the world. Correlation, causation and third-party logistics have never been so entertaining.
This series on sustainability in sourcing runs for another week, but there is already a wealth of great information, opinion and links there on this important topic. A thoughtful post by Paul Martyn of the Track Management Group ponders the significance of sustainability:

Sustainability must become a process or commitment to get better rather than a destination in and of itself. A sustainable plan needs to make sense in a broad and inclusive context and make more sense than just what’s best for the US or what’s ‘most profitable’ or ‘least expensive’, etc.

Well said. Pursuing the lowest cost or the most profit in the broadest possible sense through a continuous process: it sounds a lot like what the best of lean is all about.
Is this buzz surrounding sustainability sustainable? Certainly from a lean management standpoint it is safe to say that the leading edge of the mainstream of lean practitioners have found themselves addressing sustainability issues rather than whether lean really works, or how exactly it works. Sustainability is an issue that will not go away. It’s the flip side of the magic coin of kaizen. Flip, change. Flip, sustain. Flip…

  1. Mike Gardner

    January 28, 2008 - 4:38 am

    How many companies who trumpet their sustainability initiatives, green programs, and zero-landfill plants in the US and Europe also have smoke belching, stream polluting, trash producing dungeon factories in China and Mexico? Lots, I’m thinking.

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