Saturday, February 25, 2006

Building Blocks

Just as evolutionary biologists search for evidence of the primordial spark that catalyzed the reaction of methane, ammonia, and hydrogen to spit out the first amino acids leading to DNA, industrial engineers and sustainable business disciples must determine the makeup of manufacturing DNA. What is it made of? What core components of the millions of natural and man made compounds that end up in the manufactured products we buy and sell are reusable and harmless? Imagine if we completely eliminated thousands of chemicals that are harmful to the ecosystem (I include humans in the ecosystem) and focused on the materials, whether natural or synthetic, that are benign and reusable with low energy input. Would we have a menu of earth-friendly manufacturing ingredients to design and build every product we use? Would the warnings given to pregnant women to avoid eating some species of fish for fear of exposure to high mercury content be a thing of the past?

On a somewhat tangential but related note, I got to thinking about Corporate DNA as I picked up "The Sustainability Advantage" by Bob Willard again. I bought the book a few months ago in one of my intense moments of book buying. Of course, many of these books sit on a shelf or in a pile with other overlooked tomes awaiting my eyes' attention. As I started reading it again the section I left off with discussed the ingredients of a successful and sustainable businesses. The core ingredient is committed people. To create committed people, four elements are necessary in the person's perceptions; Clarity, Relevance, Meaning, and Involvement. From page 48 of "The Sustainability Advantage",
...visions inspire commitment by satisfying the Clarity, Relevance, and Meaning factors. A purpose is inspirational when it is clear, it relates to the success of the business, and it resonates with employees' personal values as a worthwhile goal. Corporations that adopt a sustainability goal as a higher purpose in their business mission will therefore create an energized workforce of people who only need the Involvement factor to be fully committed to the cause.
I found my thinking turning back to DNA's double helix. Companies are made up of people and ideas that are implemented through actions and the use of tools. Tools are computers, printers, fax machines, drill presses, lathes, vertical mills and so forth. The four factors listed above are required to unleash the creative talent of the people to use the tools. Where does sustainability come in? Mr. Willard's assertion is that a company with a high level goal to reduce its impact on the natural world or act as a restorative force for the environment provides the Clarity, Relevance, and Meaning people need. Would the researchers for a company seeking to eliminate all the potentially dangerous materials in their products be more engaged and therefore more effective in their work? Will the employees of these companies feel a heightened engagement in their companies? Will the companies' leadership help the employees understand the relevance of the companies' decision and what the employees can do to help?

Four Electric Power Companies in Midwest Agree to Disclose Climate Risks

In response to shareholder requests, four U.S. electric power companies in Missouri and Wisconsin have joined other utility companies by agreeing to assess and disclose the potential impacts from foreseeable regulations to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. All four companies - Great Plains Energy, Alliant Energy, WPS Resources, and MGE Energy - have proposed building new pulverized coal-fired power plants that could be especially vulnerable to policies limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Similar shareholder requests are still pending with Dominion Resources in Richmond, Va. and Peabody Energy in St. Louis, Mo. The companies are among more than two-dozen U.S. businesses - including seven electric power companies, four oil and gas companies, six real estate firms, four big-box retailers, two insurance companies, two banks and one auto company - with whom investors filed global warming shareholder resolutions as part of the 2006 proxy season.

Read CERES' press release.

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