IMG_2012.JPGThis past weekend I went and finally did it.  I closed the loop on my  dream to play gritty, stripped down delta blues on a cigar box guitar  (CBG) in tandem with my harmonica.  At first I went to the local  Recycled Arts Fair thinking I’d buy a four string CBG.  But within a few  minutes of speaking with local Vancouver, WA luthier Alan Matta  at  Hammered Frets (,  he’d convinced me to start with a 3 string and then think about a 4 (or  more) string later.  Why?  Well, it’s simple.  I don’t know how to play  the darn thing!  Fewer strings also means easier chords (with many  requiring just one or two fingers), and more harmonic simplicity to help  a newer player (like me) keep from getting overwhelmed. Plus, fewer  strings means less tension on the neck and risk of bowing.  (Sidebar: I do have a musical pedigree, having played brass instruments  and harmonica since I was 12), and I get music theory, but playing  stringed instruments...can an old dog learn a new trick?)

If  you are a small to mid-sized manufacturer for instance, getting started  with a company sustainability initiative, or in greening a supply chain  is a lot like learning a musical instrument.  Quite often if companies  try to bite off more than they can chew (three vs. four string chords),  there’s too much stress (like a guitar neck) and greater risk of failure  (bowing of the neck).  Simplicity often trumps complexity when getting  started down the sustainability path.  This is particularly true if  companies are starting from scratch, or lack deep financial or personnel  resources.  So before companies start to feel overwhelmed, there are  ways to “ease” into sustainability, without the stress.

Last year I wrote about how the “look”  and “feel” of sustainability depends on the level of enlightenment that  a company has, the desired “end state” and on the depth of its  resources to execute the change.  Also, I spoke about the importance  of adequate resources to make the leap and a systematic process to keep  on track.  I advocated systematic planning before moving  ahead.  This  involved:

  1. Building a system to plan, implement, measure and check progress of the initiative.
  2. Looking for the quick wins.
  3. Building an innovation-based culture and reward positive outcomes.
  4. Measuring, managing, reporting and building on the early wins.
  5. Building the initiative in manageable chunks.




A Systems Framework to Get the Ball Rolling


Picture2.pngLet’s accept for a moment that if you are reading this, you already understand that sustainability as a term means many things to many organizations.  An effective sustainability roadmap and the systematic framework to manage sustainability must consider four key focal areas: compliance, operations, product sustainability and supply chain sustainability.  Bearing in mind that “one size doesn’t fit all” there still needs to be a systematic way to get to the “desired goal”.  A systematic framework like an ISO 14001-based Environmental Management System (EMS), offers a set of processes and tools for effective accomplishment of sustainability objectives.  But in the event that a company isn’t quite ready to make the leap into the ISO world, there are alternatives.


“Plan- Do-Check-Act” Creates Shared, Sustainable Value

One such alternative comes from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).  The OECD has produced a “ Sustainable Manufacturing Toolkit”, that as they say “provides a practical starting point for businesses around the world to improve the efficiency of their production processes and products in a way to contribute to sustainable development and green growth.” The OECD addresses the four key sustainability focal points that I mentioned previously.  As an aside, a collaborator with SEEDS Global Alliance (Sustainable Manufacturing Consulting) had a hand in contributing to this valuable project by providing detailed feedback on the toolkit.

According  to the newly launched site, it offers two parts: a step-by-step  Start-up Guide and a Web Portal where technical guidance on measurement  and relevant links are provided.  I tested out the site, and while parts  appear to still be under construction, the information there is pretty  intuitive and gives the novice some basic information that they can use  to get started.  For manufacturers in particular, the guidance offers 7 action steps to sustainable manufacturing:

Prepare [Plan]

1. Map your impact and set priorities: Bring together an internal “sustainability team” to set objectives, review your environmental impact and decide on priorities.

2. Select useful performance indicators:  Identify indicators that are important for your business and what data  should be collected to help drive continuous improvement.

Measure [Do]

3. Measure the inputs used in production: Identify how materials and components used into your production processes influence environmental performance.

4. Assess operations of your facility:  Consider the impact and efficiency of the operations in your facility  (e.g. energy intensity, greenhouse gas generation, emissions/discharges  to air and water [ and land]).

5. Evaluate your products:  Identify factors such as energy consumption in use, recyclability and  use of hazardous substances that help determine how sustainable your end  product is. (I’d also add water consumption and wastewater outputs).   It’s here that the upstream supply chain becomes a very important  consideration.

Improve [Check/Act]

6.Understand measured results: Read and interpret your indicators and understand trends in your performance.

7. Take action to improve performance: Choose opportunities to improve your performance and create action plans to implement them.

What  more can a small to mid-sized manufacturing company ask for if they are  seeking basic actionable steps for starting up the sustainability  ladder.  Remember folks, it’s better to start in small, incremental  steps, with a scalable internal (risk and process driven) and external  (supply network enabling) plan that provides “sustainable value”.

Implementing  a sustainability program is best done in stages, like learning that  cigar box guitar.  No organization has the resources (or appetite) to  tackle the “whole enchilada” at once.  That’s why I’m keeping it simple and sticking with the three-string…for now.