Reflections from ISSP2011 – Entering “Stage 2” of Sustainability Management Maturity

The conference is over and the votes are in: the first ISSP Fall Conference was by all accounts a broad success across many fronts.  First, the attendance numbers and the portfolio of attendees (both geographically and in terms of their participation across sustainability fields) suggested this is a viable and engaged community.  With several hundred attendees representing four continents, the broad global perspectives shared enhanced the platforms dominated by US-based speakers due to proximity.  Second the call to action for the Society – largely as part of the engagement exercise on Friday morning – created a sense to the participants that this was their society and not a society where direction would be through a governing board only.  Finally the companies sharing their stories as well as in attendance – including Mattel, SAP and Dell Computers – illustrated an interest in the society and what their members were actually moving forward in way of the community.

While I did not stay for the Friday afternoon session of the Lexicon Project, it does worth mentioning even if the meeting produced little progress.  The Lexicon Project is the first of its kind attempt to arrive at a common vocabulary of sustainability terminology.  Since “sustainability” can mean many different things to different people based on viewpoint, materiality, and applicability, this initiative is extremely important and will play into FASB and other financial reporting directives from the Integrated Reporting (IIRC) initiative.

With that we can look at the overall broad sustainability field and suggest that the field of practice as a management science is moving to a Stage 2 of maturity.  Stage 1 generally considers defining what the initiative is and why is it relevant.  There are enough proof statements, case studies (including those of the late Ray Anderson and his firm Interface, Inc.) to show that good sustainability practice is good for the bottom line.  Sustainability is with us now for the long run – as the Borg would say from Star Trek, “Resistance is futile.”

As far as sustainability management goes, resistance is futile.

Which leads us to Stage 2 of the maturity, where we can begin to define common structures, vocabulary, management practices, and frameworks on a very broad basis.  While many will argue that sustainability as an accepted management practice is only at Stage 2 – and not entering Stage 3 where broad proficiency in delivering management practices, or Stage 4 where great efficiencies of delivering these practices occur – I would submit that there exist only pockets of expertise on a broad aggregate.  The view of sustainability as a management practice is much more advanced in EU than in the Americas, and inside the Americas much more advanced and practiced in locations such as Portland (Oregon) than say Little Rock (Arkansas).  In addition, while the practitioner community is not charged with distilling the 50-100 guidelines, standards and frameworks applying to all industry segments and all applications of sustainability management, the development of a simple, “lowest common denominator” past “triple bottom-line approaches” really has yet to be developed and repeated on large, broad scale.  Think back to the Deming Quality days when “plan, do, check, act” came into being. It took many years to reach broad adoption as to what that meant consistently at a common level across all organizations.  This Stage 2 maturity is where that tough rationalization all happens.

The conference behind us now the call to action is for the ISSP members and other industry practitioners to move in a consistent fashion and create the common lexicon, approaches, outcomes and methods needed to advance sustainability management practices to the next level of maturity.

For more information on the Lexicon Project and ISSP membership visit the society site at


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Filed under Change Management and Leadership, Compliance, Program Management, Risk Management, Strategy, Sustainability

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