If something cannot go on forever, it will stop,” said American economist Herbert Stein. That, in a way, is all you need to know about sustainability. If something – a business practice, relationship or raw material that is in limited supply – cannot last, eventually it won’t.
Part of the problem with the discussion about sustainability in business is that the word has been hijacked or twisted by a range of people (where have we heard that one before?). So some might suggest that sustainability is merely something to do with energy use, or pollution, or recycling paper.
However, sustainability is much bigger than that. If people mean all those inspiring things they say about sustainability, a few significant steps are unavoidable. You have to take a hard look at the entire operating system of your organisation. You have to look at the impact your company has on a range of stakeholders, including an extended scrutiny of your supply chain, beyond simply your immediate suppliers. Sustainability is a big word that, taken seriously, has big implications.
Purchasers need to understand if their business is serious about sustainability. If it isn’t, you won’t need to worry too much about how your suppliers behave or treat their suppliers in turn. As long as you recycle a bit of paper and don’t use
cars excessively, the boss will be able to claim the business is ‘sustainable’, even if it isn’t.
More interesting is when your firm talks about sustainability and means it. That puts a lot of pressure on (but also a lot of power in) purchasers. Because the procurement decisions you take will ultimately determine whether your business is sustainable at all.
Logistics of a funeral
Before we forget about it and move on, there’s time for one last reflection about the ‘ceremonial’ (not state) funeral held for Baroness Thatcher last month. Whatever you thought about the Iron Lady, she certainly got an impressive send-off.
Even critics of this country had to acknowledge that ceremony and ritual are things Britain does well. Why is that? Well, tradition and history matter, of course, but there’s another reason: when it comes to the big occasion, logistics are something that have to be right.
Think of all the different elements that had to come together to make the Baroness’ funeral operate so smoothly: the military presence; the policing and security; the co-ordination with broadcasters; the arrival of the family; the royal family; and guests. All these and more had to be managed. And they were.
When you witness scenes like that, you can’t help wondering why other parts of our working lives can’t function as well as that the rest of the time. Money and resources are part of the answer, of course. But there’s another reason that normal life isn’t so impressive: we forget to concentrate on basic logistics. Attention to detail matters. We shouldn’t have to wait for the death of a famous prime minister to remember that good logistics need tender loving care.