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Is Sustainability the New Quality?

29 November 2016
Companies which are registered to TL 9000, or plan to get registered, have a new reason to be interested in sustainability. Find out why!

Sustainability is a topic that is already on the agenda for many if not most companies, depending on factors such as the type of business they’re in and who their customers are. If one of your customers happens to be AT&T, for instance, then you’ll probably have had to tell them all about what your company’s status is with regard to sustainability. 

If you’re in the business of recycling or disposing of electronics, then your customers may be requiring R2 (Responsible Recycling) certification. Or you may be an organization which, for any of a number of reasons (such as helping to ensure regulatory compliance), is certified to the ISO 14001 environmental management system standard.

Sustainability in TL 9000: new or not?

Companies which are registered to TL 9000, or plan to get registered, have a new reason to be interested in sustainability. TL 9000:2016 (R6), which became effective on September 15th, includes a new requirement, 9.1.3.C.3 Sustainability Assessment, which states, “The organization should assess the status of its sustainability efforts as appropriate to its organization, products and services”.

In fact, though, sustainability is nothing new in the TL 9000 Requirements Handbook. As far back at least as R5.0, references to sustainability were peppered throughout the standard:

  • 5.4.2.C.1 Long - and Short-Term Quality Planning

5.4.2.C.1 - NOTE 1 Example factors which might be considered for planning are … g) sustainability

  • 7.1.C.1 Life Cycle Model

7.1.C.1 - NOTE 2 The Life Cycle Model should take into consideration sustainability practices such as reduction of energy and resource consumption, ecologically-responsible disposal and proper end-of-life treatment.

  • 7.3.1.C.1 Project Plan - The project plan should include … k) design for ‘x’ plans as appropriate to the product life cycle (plan examples include, but are not limited to, … Sustainability)

  • 7.3.2.C.2 Design and Development Requirements – Design and development requirements … should include … d) safety, environmental, sustainability and security requirements

  • 8.5.1.C.1 Continual Improvement Program(s)

8.5.1.C.1 - NOTE Inputs to the continual improvement program may include … emerging technologies supporting sustainability.

And the Glossary defined Sustainability as “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

In R5.5, the examples of specific DfX plans moved out of 7.3.1.C.1 itself and into a note; and 8.5.1.C.1 wasn’t carried forward into R6 because Annex SL’s wording around improvement seemed to meet the need. But the point is that sustainability is not new in R6 – only the requirement for a broader organizational assessment is.

What's environmentalism doing in a quality standard?

Granted, the TL 9000 Glossary definition of Sustainability does seem to equate it with environmentalism. But sustainability is more than just that – and, yes, it does align with quality.

So let’s step back a bit. What is “quality management” – if it isn’t “business management”? What goals of a quality management system are not the fundamental goals of the business implementing it? Look at the very first sentence in ISO 9001:2015’s Introduction: “The adoption of a quality management system is a strategic decision for an organization that can help to improve its overall performance and provide a sound basis for sustainable development initiatives.” Not only does this sentence align quality with business strategy and overall performance, but it also draws in sustainability. And it’s not talking about environmentalism: it’s talking about the business’s ongoing viability and success – about sustaining the organization itself (not “just” the planet). Look too at ISO 9001’s companion document, ISO 9004: its actual title is Managing for the sustained success of an organization -- A quality management approach.

So sustainability isn’t just tree-hugging, or flushing only on every other visit: it’s about the success of the business. And that’s quality.

How do we perform a sustainability assessment?

If you don’t mind ponying up a bit of cash, QuEST Forum has made it easy with its newly introduced QuEST Assessor tool. It’s based on the QuEST Forum Sustainability Assessment Model which was developed by QuEST Forum in collaboration with British Telecom and epi Consulting. (A description of the model is available from tl9000.org’s Resources page.) In QuEST Forum’s own words, the Assessor “is an online tool which is used to benchmark an organization’s approach to sustainability against best practice. It provides a performance rating which measures your performance against industry best practices in ten different elements of sustainability.

In addition to the benchmark assessment, users get a personalized, ranked set of improvement recommendations … based on your priorities, your customers’ priorities and the ease of implementation and impact on the bottom line.”

The QuEST Assessor costs USD $300 for QuEST Forum members, USD $500 for non-members. This entitles you to perform ten assessments; so, for example, you could perform individual assessments of a range of sites; or you could take successive snapshots to track your sustainability performance improvement over time.

If you don’t want to spend the money on the tool itself, you can still use the model to help you get your arms around the sustainability assessment exercise, using the ten elements referred to above for guidance:

  • Level 1 – Operational

    • Environmental management
    • Resource efficiency
    • Carbon footprint & ozone depletion
  • Level 2 – Organizational

    • Corporate social responsibility (CSR)
    • Supply chain management
    • Stakeholder engagement
    • Organization engagement & capabilities
  • Level 3 – Commercial

    • Eco design
    • End to end delivery
    • Circular economy

So how does sustainability benefit my company?

Want the short answer? It improves both your top and bottom lines, and makes your business more successful. The clients of epi Consulting, mentioned above, have reported the following benefits:

  • Brand enhancement
  • Supply chain spend and cost reduction
  • Defect reduction and quality improvement
  • Operational cost reduction
  • Customer engagement and relationship management
  • CSR risk elimination
  • Product and service innovation

For starters, many capital expenditures in support of sustainability objectives – for instance, replacing fluorescent tubes with LED lighting – have a surprisingly quick payback. In the case of the lighting, the reduced energy costs immediately start boosting the bottom line. And the staff will find that the LED lighting is better to work by, and so do better work. (I recently visited a client that was partway through their fluorescents to LED transition; and the positive difference in the quality of the light was really dramatic!).

Here’s another tie-in with quality: a company that’s truly invested in sustainability feels better to work for, so employee morale is higher, so the attrition rate is lower, so more of the workers are experienced, so there are fewer defects and, consequently, less scrap and rework.

As Stephen Bernard points out in this short AT&T blog post, the words “economics” and “ecology” share the same Greek root, “eco”, meaning “house” or “household”. So even the very words themselves tie together the economic success of our business “household” and the ecological well-being of the “homes” we all share: our communities and our world.

For more thoughts, take a look at epi Consulting’s presentation at QuEST Forum’s 2014 Americas Best Practices Conference, “Why Sustainability Really Pays, Both in Bottom and Top Line Benefits”.

Aafter the assessment: your sustainability journey

Once you’ve performed your assessment, you can start your company out on its sustainability journey. Need some travel tips? Michael Foliano of ADTRAN shared a great presentation, at QuEST Forum’s recent Service Provider Summit, on the lessons the company drew from its sustainability initiatives. (The presentation should be available soon in QuEST’s Knowledge Library.) What did ADTRAN learn about driving improvement in the area of sustainability?

1. Keep it simple – make it easy.
2. Start with the no-brainers.
3. Integrate into the fabric of the management systems.
4. Watch it take on a life of its own!
5. Small changes can lead to big results.

Other observations, that came out of the Summit’s Sustainability workshop, included:

1. Start with environmental management; then progress to employee health & safety and CSR management.
2. There is a positive correlation between the implementation of a CSR program and a company’s financial success.
3. Integrate sustainability into your supply chain assessment process.

Go to QuEST Forum’s Sustainability page to find out more about its Sustainability Initiative and how your organization can help to create a sustainable future for the ICT industry.

Author: Rick Hill, TL 9000 Program Manager