Volcanoes, Business, and Sustainability

Volcanoes, Business, and Sustainability

Funny thing about the planet - we often forget that it is much bigger than we are and often has a mind of its own. Take, for example, the chaos being created by the volcanic ash cloud over Europe this week.

The recent eruptions of Iceland's Eyjafjallajoekull volcano are disrupting business systems on a global scale. We have been reminded once again of nature's brute force and primordial beauty. The continuing volcanic ash cloud is having holistic and systematic repercussions.  Starting with air travel disruption, the impact is now ricocheting across international business and global supply chains.

"BMW in Germany and Nissan and Japan have both temporarily shut down plants due to supply chain disruption. . . Kenya, which exports 1,000 tons a day of fresh goods, threw away 10 million flowers, mostly roses, since the eruption began April 14 . . . One Boeing 747 with 110 tons of fish destined for Europe sat on the tarmac in the Middle East, among some 2,000 tons of other disrupted shipments." Associated Press

What will happen if the volcano repeats it's last (1821) eruption cycle of on-and-off spewing of ash for 13 months?
What impact will it have on the long-term viability and sustainability of companies in the region and around the world?

Arthur Max and fellow reporters of the Associated Press highlight some of the potential ramifications: a devastated tourist industry resulting in 1-2% drop in GDP; higher costs for everything; resetting of Europe's economic recover to zero or worse; tightening of credit; crowding of train, road, and ship transport lanes; reduced out-of-season produce forcing people to re-think local; businesses forced to improvise; and continuous instability of the global supply chain.

Will any of these issues impact your business?

What's your company's contingency plan?

What's your company's longer term sustainability plan?

Sustainability all to often is still thought of in limited and quantifiable terms of energy savings, green house gas, and short-to-mid-term economic return. Sustainability is so much bigger than that.

Most global supply chains are one major natural/social/economic disaster away from disrupting and/or crippling a business. In the past four months alone magnitude 6.8-8.8 point earthquakes have disrupted and/or crippled infrastructures in Haiti, Chile, Mexico, Indonesia, China, and the Solomon Islands.

While businesses can't account for every potential systematic disaster (natural or man-made), they can however develop strategies to flex their supply chains and internal processes not to be crippled by the disaster. This is where sustainability becomes a broader concept than just CO2 computations and energy savings. Sustainability strategy recognizes the integrated nature of business and the systems in which it operates (environmental, economic, social, and cultural).

Sustainability is about increasing short-term and long-term profitability and viability by holistically managing the economic, social, environmental, and cultural risks and opportunities.

Sustainability thinking needs to be a whole brain activity (see Daniel Pink'sWhole New Mind), one where the long term systematic strategic thinking is blended with the short term tactical approaches. It is not an either-or concept. Sustainability is a both-and proposition.

Companies that understand the holistic nature of sustainability not only embed systematic thinking into their ongoing strategy, but also realize the ever-changing circumstances of the systems we work in whether they are social, economic, cultural, or environmental. Integrating the risks and opportunities related to sustainability into your business strategy comes from recognizing the integrated nature and ever-fluctuating systematic impacts of economic, environmental, social, and cultural systems in which your business operates in day-to-day and long term.

How strategic are your sustainability efforts?

How integrated are they into the fundamental makeup of your company?

Is sustainability represented at the C-Suite and/or board level?

Sustainability isn't a trend. It is a fundamental way of doing business in the 21st century that recognizes the integrated nature of business and the systems in which it operates.

Copyright ©2010 Matthew Rochte, Opportunity Sustainability℠ – Share with attribution

Opportunity Sustainability℠ is a Midwest-based sustainability and corporate responsibility consulting firm specializing in green innovation and seeing opportunities where others see burdens. Matthew Rochte LEED AP, an experienced, operations-based sustainability consultant, works with company management to navigate and realize the opportunities in taking their company green and growing sustainably.