How can a business achieve ‘sustainable operations’? It is not just a matter of preventing pollution or reducing energy consumption, although these might be significant sustainability issues for some businesses.
It is about planning and managing a business for sustainability and for the specific sustinability issues affecting the sector and the business. Some businesses might be faced with customer demands for ‘green’ products and need to focus on sustainability in the supply chain. Others might have a bad reputation and need to address their community relationships.
Businesses need to be able to identify their sustainability risks and opportunities so that they invest in activities that really have an impact. The Sustainable Operations qualifications focus on exactly these skills.
The Sustainable Operations units of competency are the building blocks of the qualifications. They describe skills and knowledge for sustainability across many areas of a business.
Developing and implementing strategic plans for sustainability relies on identifying potential improvements that target specific risks for the business and/or help to achieve its goals. Taking environmental, social and economic factors into account sustainability is a broad canvas to work from. So a systematic, risk management approach helps to focus the investment of time and money where it will really count.
Being strategic also means working out the best way to address the issues – by evaluating the feasibility, benefits and costs and coordinating with other business activities.
Measuring resource and energy use and emissions is seen as a fundamental of sustainability. But it is important to work out what to measure and how to get the measurement. It might be hard to get measurements for a specific part of a business rather than the total. But knowing the total consumption or emissions will not help to identify the specific problem areas and where to target reductions.
Measuring for sustainability is not just energy and emissions. What about measuring social sustainability improvements? It can be really challenging and needs some thinking ‘outside the square’. Firstly to really understand the range of social sustainability issues, then to decide whether there is something tangible to measure. If not, the next challenge is to find an ‘indicator’ that can represent or mirror the rate of change (positive or negative). One example might be monitoring the rate of complaints from locals to indicate the effectiveness of community information sessions.
Reviewing day to day processes
Most people can find ways to improve how their own work area impacts on the environment. Sometimes these are simple changes that can be done without a big budget or project approvals. Mapping out the key steps in the process is a good start. You can then find out what impact comes from each step and decide what will be a useful improvement. In a textiles factory this might mean reducing water consumption or finding less toxic substances for fabric treatments. In a cement manufacturing plant it might mean less run-off or capturing water so that it can be re-used.
Qualifications and levels
There are three Sustainable Operations qualifications covering skills for frontline managers, middle managers, senior managers, technicians and similar roles with some responsibility for developing and implementing sustainability in the business. For details about who the qualifications are for, and what skills they cover see: