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For complete information about the SURF Framework, please see the open-access article in the Journal of Management and Sustainability here.
Supply chain is one of the most problematic components of transforming organizations. Companies often find it tedious and difficult to perform reliable life cycle analyses of their products. They are also often uncertain about the social and environmental integrity at the most basic level of their supply chain (for example, the suppliers’ of the suppliers’ of their main suppliers). And although vertically integrated companies can access more intelligence about the inputs to their final product, they often fail to perform full analysis on the supply chains. When organizations do consider supply chain sustainability performance, there is a tendency to focus on the supply chain of the product or service that they are selling but ignore all of the items required to complete the job. For example, for a mining company, the energy performance of a pump that is used to mine ore may be considered in sustainability accounting. However, procuring a pump with the best life cycle environmental performance from a socially responsible company may not be studied. For a consulting company, air miles used to conduct business may be considered in carbon calculations, but the pen that consultants use to conduct their work may not be the most “sustainability-friendly.”
Another obstacle for organizations seeking to transform for sustainable development is what happens with the product or service once it leaves the organization and enters the hands of the end-user. A computer company can seek to ensure that the materials and labor used to assemble the computer follow sustainability criteria. However, what does the user then do with the computer? Organizations can often fail to consider this end-use and end-of-life step in their sustainability calculations. How is electronic waste dealt with in the market in which the computer is sold? Are there mechanisms to re-use or recycle the components? Are alternative ownership schemes available that would be more in line with sustainable development?
While many organizations realize that people are important, the full range of stakeholders impacted by or somehow connected to the organization can often be neglected. Clients, employees, and regulating bodies are a minimum of actors with which organizations seek to create and maintain positive relations. This would necessarily entail providing quality products to clients on time and on budget, providing fair wages and benefits to employees, and ensuring transparent operations with a regulatory entity. What can often be missing are the communities surrounding the place where the manufacturing or other levels of the product/service activity take place. Full stakeholder engagement tends to take place when there is a major infrastructure project in a location with a strong civil society and accountability mechanisms. However, full stakeholder engagement is necessary at all levels of a project (small and large, at inception and at closing). The Project Management Institute has recently added Stakeholder Management as its tenth knowledge area in the Project Management Body of Knowledge®, indicating a shift towards engaging all stakeholders for project managers.
The consideration of future generations is what distinguishes sustainability from other concepts. The environmental movements have sought to create a natural environment whereby we live within the carrying capacity of Earth. The various social movements have sought to guarantee a more just society for all people in all places. The various economic movements, including communist, socialist and capitalist theories, have sought to create an economy whereby the financial well-being of individuals can be assured. However, there is little intrinsic future-focus in the environmental, social and economic campaigns. The here and now can be quite easily the emphasis of these concepts. Sustainable development, however, requires us to act in a future-oriented manner. Surprisingly, it is often this aspect of sustainable development that is left out of sustainability considerations within organizations. Few and far between are backcasting exercises, decisions that take into account multiple generations, and a general reflection on how one’s product or service will impact those not yet born.