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InfoQ Homepage Articles On a Quest to Sustainable Happy Profit: How to Create a Sustainability Framework That Works for You

On a Quest to Sustainable Happy Profit: How to Create a Sustainability Framework That Works for You

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Key Takeaways

  • We are living in a pivotal time for the whole world, where Green Recovery can act as an enabler.
  • It is possible to have sustainable, happy profits while benefiting people and the planet
  • Sustainability goes beyond just the innovation or product into the whole value stream
  • Achieving an impact on climate change is possible, and it requires determined effort by us all
  • Use the "triple-A" to help measure your own impact on the world. - Assess, Action & Account

Welcome to the wake of the Age of Purpose.

You may have heard of Green Recovery. This is a widely adopted name for a set of reforms aiming to recover prosperity after the COVID-19 pandemic. Changes of whatever nature, open a window of opportunity. Green Recovery focuses on improving operations, reducing carbon emissions, creating green jobs, expanding renewable energy sources, etc., so it accounts for future environment and climate justice for the planet, and the livelihoods of everyone on it. Change is opportunity and, as with any opportunity, you either grab it or miss it.

The Facts

What has come more and more apparent over the last few years is that our “Business As Usual” is the most UNusual. The numbers are in:

  • air pollution contributes to 3.7million human deaths a year
  • 1 million species are threatened with extinction
  • We've converted 75% of the land that is not covered by ice.
  • 6 of the 9 greatest threats to the world are directly related to ongoing destruction of nature, destruction by us, humans, 1 species1

With that in mind, to also say that we have fallen for the notion that sustainability has to cost money, or at least be at the expense of growing profit. We are used to the maxim “you can have cheap, fast or good: pick two”; where you end up with a compromise. With something mediocre.

In the Agile world we have confronted this maxim. In an ever changing world, we must focus on what matters, reduce the noise, reduce waste, seek value, seek impact. And today I’m here to convince you that there is a better way to do business.

The Basics

Being sustainable is not just about the product itself which is built to endure over time. It’s also about the people, time and energy involved in the process, and the consumption that its existence requires. If any single part of the process cannot be maintained over time, it’s unsustainable.

I’m Ines Garcia and I’m an inventor, yes I do invent things for a living. Especially connecting the dots. Helping organizations to become more Agile, to deliver better value, to focus on impact. So that we build a sustainable future, to have a positive and better impact through products and efforts, on wellbeing, communities and the planet we live in.

Think about the last two years and the rollercoaster has affected our world (in very different ways). Think about in the context of the work that we do, how many months and months projects are in limbo or gone to the bin, outcomes not being used… is mad. All that time and effort and funds!

Think also about how when we rally together, when focus on what matters we can turn around progress, generate value in days! To what would have been months or even years in a different scenario. More than ever we can make a difference with the work that we do; in fact, it is key we keep going yet we need to be smarter and apply a holistic view.

The System

On a macro level we can observe the efforts from governments globally, we can see that their plans are, in my opinion, too slow and clunky for what is needed. Back in 2015, the Paris Climate Conference took place. Countries around the world signed agreements to combat climate change. In my view, those have failed. Most countries have not hit the goals they committed to. Policies and laws are not fast enough and have loopholes. We can’t wait for laws and policies that invite failure, we need to be more Agile.

At a different angle we can observe the recent efforts to raise environmental awareness amongst the masses... the individual consumer. How Sir David Attenborough’s lifetime service has made our population aware of the irreversible facts from our behaviors. How Greta Thunberg, the then 15-year-old who skipped school, showed a mirror to the world, revealing the devastating threats to our livelihoods. I personally have adjusted my behaviors, my consumption, my choices.

Aside from these two angles—politics and population—I see the biggest target gap that needs to be addressed today: Organizations. So here we are. That’s where we all can make a big dent. By focusing on organizations and their contributions towards sustainability, all of us can make a big difference to making the world a better place. Choice by choice, day by day. Being better off than the current (most often oblivious) spiral of self-destruction that organizations are in now.

A Better Way

The good news is that organizations / companies are composed of individuals and we can do both, do good and do well. In fact, it’s more rewarding. People, Planet & Products is a trifecta.

A trifecta that we need to combine in our day to day to guide our decisions. To make our efforts worth it.

But how? I will give you three words: Sustainable, Happy Profit.

What you can do will obviously depend upon your context. Are you the CEO of a multinational company? Or the unpaid intern at a small, local non-profit? Both of you, and everyone in between, can contribute. 

There is nothing fluffy about happiness at work. At the time of writing my latest book, whilst working with a consultancy for a few months, the CEO confessed to me that at first the concept sounded like baloney, but was then confirming that within just a few weeks, even he found himself happier and could visibly see the repercussions that the change was having to the work he does and the impact in the rest of the organization. He described the impact as profound.

It is not only possible but desirable for an organization to increase its sustainability and the happiness of its people whilst also building profits. In fact, focussing on all three of these things, rather than one or two, creates a whole benefit which is greater than the sum of its parts.

A concept that can be applied to our day-to-day lives, as individuals, teams, households, relationships, and communities, as well as the professional organizations we are part of and interact with. There is where we can make a dent.

The carbon impact of the web is largely caused by electricity use. In fact, 55% of current emissions are down to energy2. Did you know that: “The internet consumes a lot of electricity. 416.2TWh per year to be precise. To give you some perspective, that’s more than the entire United Kingdom.

And that's only the internet! Think of all the other related energy items required to support the work we do, as well as the users of our applications. At quite a high level, websites use electricity in data centres, telecoms networks, and end user devices. This makes one think.

A Quest

So, I decided to go on a quest. Over the past two years, I have been researching and speaking with companies that have made important shifts to progress their sustainability efforts. I did this so that I can learn, and so that I can share. Ultimately, my quest took the form of a book, Sustainable Happy Profit: Products and Organisations that Thrive. My hope is to help bridge the gap between theoretical agreement and much-needed action that can be applied in practical terms.

Combining this after much research, and speaking with companies that have achieved all three (Sustainable Happy Profit) it is possible, albeit not a walk in the park, nor a dictate of instructions to delegate-it requires conscious effort from all individuals.

  • From energy companies which switch 80% fossil fuel to 80% renewables, doing so increasing their supply capability and achieving an increase of profits by 28%.
  • How health care services can move from 4 staff to 10,000 in 8 years with a yearly turnover of EUR 280 million.
  • How manufacturing slashed in half waste. Imagine a world where every employee is a problem-solver with the mantra of continuously improving.

Amongst these many more industries, teams and individuals stories.3

Think about our digital world and our domain of work. It can be all-encompassing, and includes all forms of devices including applications, programs, and servers - things that many organizations use every day.

To help measure your own impact on the world, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Assess: How can you understand and measure what your consumption is today?
  • Action: How can you reduce your footprint by at least 50%?
  • Account: How can you measure your impact, not just your activity?

An Impact

Achieving our climate goals requires transforming not only our energy systems but also how we produce and consume products. Achieving an environment where we can thrive in our planet, which is not ours alone, requires a conscious effort to leave the ‘place better than how we found it’ including how we organize and treat each other.

We are in a moment in history where we have the data, we well know the consequences if we don’t act, we have the skills, knowledge, technology, influence… to make a difference. Past generations haven’t had all of these. Future ones won’t have the timing. It’s a pivotal time. We can make a dent, we can be part of the solution. It's important to make a start, and measure your impact: "Account for what’s important, not just what you can count.

There is a better way to do business, the question is: Are you willing to be part of it?

References

  1. Ines Garcia, Sustainable Happy Profit, (Get Agile Ltd, 2021)
  2. Ellen Macarthur Foundation.org, 2019 Completing The Picture
  3. Ines Garcia, Sustainable Happy Profit, (Get Agile Ltd, 2021)

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