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Sustainability Rating Gone Overboard?

I just read a really good article in a Business Week issue from last November. You can find it here: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/the-race-to-decide-whos-greenest-11232011.html. The article titled “The Race to Decide Who’s Greenest” reminded me of the swell during the late 80’s and 90’s when Total Quality and Standards saw a surge or in some cases a “scourge” of rating systems, rating organizations and rating consultants jumping into the field. For the manufacturer, particulary small and medium, trying to navigate and understand it all could be a nightmare. What was necessary, useful and of value could be hard to determine. With the regulatory and market pull for social, economic and environmental responsibility  it seems, as the Business Week article demonstrates, we once again have a surge of confusion.

This also brings up for me the issues we quite often come up against when trying to differentiate what PROBE Best Practice benchmarking is all about. Quite often in presentations I like to point out how benchmarking and the data it generates has an unfortunate tendency to be used predominantly as a ranking system rather than as a learning and improvement system. As the Business Week article comments “It’s in our collective American culture to rate.”

We are perhaps in a confusing and somewhat ugly process of emergence when it comes to issues of sustainability. When we created the PROBE for Sustainable Business best practice benchmarking product we had to navigate the rabbit warren of rating systems. It was perhaps one of the toughest tasks in building the product. I think the question for organizations who are faced with this issue is “what is it you are seeking to learn and how do you intend use it.” Collecting data for regulatory compliance issues be they local/industry, regional or international is fairly straightforward to understand. You comply with what you must comply with. Yet the more important aspect in collecting sustainability data is perhaps how do you intend to use it to develop your organization, expand the learning gained from it and maintain your competitiveness?” In this regard perhaps not all rating systems and approaches are equal or as valuable. Like manufacturing commonly shared principles, practices and measurements will emerge on a global basis. Such I believe is true in the world of sustainability but it will take time. What’s true for me though is now and in the future you’re better to get out of “rating” and get into “learning.” That’s where the value equation gets clearer.

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Posted: Monday, December 12th, 2011

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