Sustainability Strategy: A Path to Success

By Billy Ingram, Director of Lean Product Development, Interface

Billy Ingram, Director of Lean Product Development, InterfaceBilly Ingram, Director of Lean Product Development, Interface

“Advancing sustainability concepts in the area of social responsibility has been one of the more nebulous talents in my career. Like all things nebulous, social responsibility is hard to act on much less explain why you should to others,” says Billy Ingram, Director of Lean Product Development, Interface, at a keynote for Stakeholder Engagement.

Billy is a recognized contributor, innovator, and spokesperson in the field of sustainability. His work on practical sustainability, presented at the American Manufacturing Strategies Summit has earned global recognition for its comprehensive coverage on various sustainability strategies to optimize product life cycle management. In a recent interview will Billy, he spoke about the practicality and building blocks of sustainability that enhances the operational model of an organization. Sustainability is one of the many misconstrued concepts in the technology space. Billy paints a clear picture on how sustainability can be misinterpreted.

Common Misconceptions in Sustainability

“A common misconception is that sustainability costs more without producing equivalent results, when, in fact, sustainability is a methodology that actually reduces cost and liability and increases customer demand. In reality, it is an active methodology that moves your company more in line with what future customers demand.

"To achieve sustainability, one needs to understand where the stakeholders fit in the company and how they fit into projects"

The Methodology for a Correct Sustainability Strategy

“It is essential to understand that sustainability is three-fold: there is social sustainability, economic sustainability, and environmental sustainability. If one is looking to be genuinely sustainable, he or she should consider all three aspects. When selling a product, if I am making more money than what I am spending, that is economic sustainability, and that is something with which most people are familiar. With environmental sustainability, it is easier to understand because it really comes down to, whether I am taking more from the earth for my resources than what I am able to replenish or if I am taking it from a non-renewable resource. That’s easy to understand as well. The hard part is social sustainability, utilizing human resources in a sustainable manner through which many can achieve engagement and empowerment. Therefore, in terms of importance, social is first, environmental is second, and economic is third. Without an effective social sustainability strategy, environmental and economic sustainability will be less effective at best or short lived at worst.”

Ingram has been an advocate of social sustainability, and has time and again emphasized its importance in optimizing the work flow of an organization. When addressing social sustainability, he reiterates stakeholder engagement is an effective way to achieve organizational objectives.

“Recently we were able to come up with a very innovative breakthrough in terms of the way we use our equipment and how we develop new products. There were many stakeholders, and these stakeholders varied in terms of understanding and experience. We used a process called stakeholder engagement, which is a systemic methodology, to understand what each of our stakeholders wanted. Then we followed up with a brain-storming session with the stakeholders so that they can understand each other’s needs as well as their own. This works with stakeholders in any project by bringing them together to understand what the common goals are and so that we can move complicated projects forward. Any time you start working on sustainability, it increases and complicates your opportunities. While creating more opportunities, it also increases the learning curve for organizations as it has numerous criteria to be considered. By bringing the stakeholders together and working on common issues, one is able to align the organization and move everyone forward together. Each stakeholder understanding the needs they have and those of the others in the project is essential to making group decisions that benefit the entire organization. If you do not do that, you will have stakeholders pitted against each other and your project will fail. To achieve sustainability, one needs to understand where the stakeholders fit in the company and how they fit into the project.”

Lean and Six-Sigma methodologies are some of the most optimized solutions to address sustainability. And Ingram too, couldn’t agree more.

Identifying the Perfect Service Provider to Implement the Methodologies

“If you know lean and six-sigma, you already have the right tools for social sustainability; you just need to use them in the appropriate way. However, the way you identify people to pursue this endeavor can be streamlined by referring to the case studies they conducted in the past and the amount of experience they possess. Especially with lean and six-sigma, I would work with people having more experience and results that are socially oriented. For example, I have seen a lot of case studies with great economic results, but the truth is that they cannot sustain the success for an extended period of time. Therefore, I would rather focus on people with good experience in social sustainability or social mechanisms to facilitate engagement. I also see many young people making a lot of progress in this field but they lack an opportunity to apply it. Student interns with good mentorship and encouragement can achieve significant success. I feel organizations should look more into this potential opportunity.”

Concluding his proposition, Billy explains the transition that can be adopted by organizations to truly become sustainable.

Transformation: The way It Should be Addressed

“It is important to learn about each one of the different facets of sustainability. Strategies to address social sustainability are the most important followed by environmental and economic. However, all three sustainability aspects have to move forward together in order to make an organization sustainable.”

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