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The Modern Knights of the Round Table

Tick tock, tick tock, as resources are diminishing, time is ticking away for companies. Those more alert are already actively thinking about how they will survive, and possibly prosper, 20 or even 50 years from now. Let’s hope that the modern “knights” of our round tables will dare the challenge.

By Beatrice Bortolozzo on June 12, 2013

 

Increasing efficiency, improving resource management, and using renewable energy are the basic bricks of sustainability, this is nothing new. But these steps alone are not enough anymore. Sustainability must be pursued (though never completely attained) along the whole supply chain, as every bit contributes to the impact of a product or service throughout its life cycle. 


Along with the sustainability evolution taking place, as many companies slowly adopt strategies to lower their environmental impact, there is a revolution beginning. This sea change is being championed by fewer companies who are adopting a totally new business model. They are undertaking a significant switch, from the simple reduction of the impact of their products to their very dematerialization. Instead these companies are focusing on delivering a service fulfilling the same needs as their product, but with the elimination of waste and its use as a valuable resource. This approach empowers all of the actors along the supply chain to also take part in the revolution.


Such improvement needs to be measured to be meaningful, and harmonized metrics can support the development of common strategies, thereby enabling comparisons.

 

Sustainability Measurements | Sharing Information

The measurement of sustainability faces two major difficulties: accessing information and choosing the best possible metrics. Both challenges have a common aspect: sharing information. Recent studies have shown that many companies don’t really know where their raw materials come from, how they are processed, or if the rights of all the workers involved along their supply chain are respected. This happens even to companies that affirm they care about such concerns, and have monitoring systems in place. Collecting information from cradle to grave and beyond requires transparency, collaboration, and trust.


Choosing the best metrics or developing new ones involves a great deal of analyzing and researching, then studying developments and discussing results. International alignment in sustainability metrics is the hot topic of the moment, and it also requires transparency, collaboration, and trust among all parties.


The heart of sustainability beats to the rhythm of cooperation, and it is definitely an easy task to advocate for shared responsibility and collaboration. Instead, I would like to challenge the belief that there is only good in these partnerships, and analyze the possible risks of international initiatives developing unified metrics and parameters.

 

Developing Sustainability Metrics in Cooperation | The Risks of the Endeavour

Developing a set of sustainability metrics means dealing with an incredible number of exceptions and nuances which cannot be handled with one by one. The risk is choosing a generic approach and therefore losing details. A detail could make a small difference all by itself, but many different details can influence the final result. The nature of agreements involves making compromises, searching for a way to make different parties satisfied with the outcome, thus decreasing its sharpness.


Participants of round tables and coalitions have different levels of power, and one can’t exclude the fact that informal agreements are made and lobbies are created that will in turn lead the choices of the group.


The round table at Camelot, where King Arthur and the knights were seated, was an ingenious way to avoid conflicts and guarantee that everyone was equally respected. It did work, until something happened. King Arthur’s wife, Guinevere, and young, charming knight Lancelot, started feeling some attraction for each other and eventually fell in love. This undermined the team spirit, succeeding even where the toughest battles had failed. Distrust is poisonous.


The round table of the 21st century has sometimes lost its original meaning. Those seated around it don’t always share the same goals or background. There can be a strong unbalance of power among the companies along the supply chain, and those setting the rules often find themselves at the end of it. What assurance is given that there won’t be an oligopoly, where a small number of actors decide and control — or worse, a monopoly, where only one leads the game? Certainly, there are companies driven by a pure belief that change is necessary, but we, and they, also know that the first players set the rule, and that is very important to remember.


A working group can be a great way to learn, but if some withhold knowledge they are  not interested in fully sharing, this could undermine the team spirit and cause distrust. Suspicion is debilitating.


A last thought for the free spirits of knowledge and improvement: scientists and researchers. Isn’t harmonization like a leash, restraining their work? They are creative, innovative. They are eager to look at all scenarios and swim against the stream because prevalent values and practices have already been thoroughly dissected. Harmonization, on the contrary, makes so much effort to come to a conclusion that it is a bit insensitive to change or potential improvements, and is not a fan of scenario analysis.


This is good news. Differences should be nurtured, not feared.


We shouldn’t be looking for a solution because this tension between different points of view already is an answer. It stretches the thinking boundaries, reinforces the discussion, and provides the discomfort necessary to enable transformation and growth.


Let’s hope that the modern “knights” of our round tables will dare to accept this challenge.

 

P.S. Only if you have an extra minute, the timeless “Knights Code of Chivalry” is an interesting read. Sir Thomas Malory outlines this as:

 

  • To never do outrage nor murder
  • Always to flee treason
  • To by no means be cruel but to give mercy unto him who asks for mercy
  • To always do ladies, gentlewomen and widows succor
  • To never force ladies, gentlewomen or widows
  • Not to take up battles in wrongful quarrels for love or worldly goods

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