Miyerkules, Disyembre 15, 2010

The Earth Equation by Jolito Ortizo Padilla

All around us we are bombarded with messages telling us that we need to change, that the the earth is warming up. The messages are insistent and shrill but diverse, incoherent and all about our symptoms rather than the addiction we suffer: the hugely ineffective use of the resources that our one planet provides.

Clearly the earth as a system is dynamic and complex. Any attempt to describe it quantitatively and accurately is unlikely to lead to any clearer picture of useful action. What we need is a mind model, something that is powerful and evocative enough to provoke the right questions of societies, communities and organizations. Such a conceptual or mind model is the earth equation.

We are told that we are enjoying a "three planet lifestyle"- a lifestyle that consumes so many resources that we need three planets in order to cope. This tells us that what we are doing is not a sustainable state of affairs , but it is not clear what we need to do.

We have in fact only one planet. If we look at consumption as an equation, the left hand side of the equation in a resource -constrained environment is always fixed at one. The right hand side of the equation is made up of population (P), its consumption of goods and services (C) and the factor that balances the equation -the resource intensity (I).

So at our starting point we have I=P x C x I, or I=I x Ix I. As we move forward from this point , the one planet remains the same, which means that the right hand product always needs to equal one. The only way this can happen in a resourced constrained environment is if the resource intensity is never allowed to be more than I divided by PC. In round terms, on predicted growth scenarios, we will need to reduce resource intensity by a factor of between ten and 100 by the year 2050.

Genichi Taguchi inspirationally made the observation and processes without loss were of perfect quality and, conversely , that less than perfect quality created a loss to society. In terms of this article, that loss results in an increased resource intensity.

We have thought of over the last 20 years or so that we can treat losses in processes and systems as separate. We have looked at quality as a function within an organization , focused on the customer, rather than that which maximizes the value added to society that results from the creation , use and disposal of products and services. Losses in processes and systems can be environmental, social or economic and are best minimized by seeing the goal of resource intensity reduction as a journey of integrated , continual , quality improvement.

These are the drivers of virtuous circle that using an organization's stakeholders and their combined knowledge and skills, will enable process learning. This will then drive the process in the direction of sustainability. As the process becomes more sustainable , the losses are by definition minimized , reducing the need for appraisal costs and eliminating the costs and risks of internal and most importantly , external failures.

The message is clear: we have to change, but how? Our symptoms are plain for all to see but our addiction, the ineffective deployment of resources to create, use and dispose of the products and services we consume, remain untreated. Our task is simple, if not easy to accomplish, and can be reduced to key questions:
- Is our business model relevant to such future?
- Does our leadership and management enable the liberation of the creativity
required to continually reduce the resource intensity of the goods and
services we produce , consume and dispose of?

This will need the most massive effort of quality improvement the world has yet seen. The earth equation is immutable , it drives our futures whether we choose to ignore it or not, and e have no option but to enter the future, either by design or negligence.

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