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Integrated approach to sustainable development

Companies are wrestling with how to integrate profitable, social sustainability into their business operations in an environmentally friendly manner. Professor of Organization Development Kristina Lauche’s team developed two tools that allow organizations to execute production in a more sustainable manner.

Ever since her teenage years, researcher Kristina Lauche has felt a responsibility to look out for the future of our planet. This moral sensibility has now led to a method that enables companies to engage in sustainable product development.

Lauche: “Ever since the 1970s, companies have been trying to find more sustainable production methods. They often use the triple-P approach: people, planet & profit. But what you see is that these three aspects are all being handled separately from each other in product development. There are plenty of examples in the food industry; when production starts for a new type of yoghurt, pasta or soup, the entire focus is on profit. Only when the packaging stage is reached, do they start paying attention to how green or social they can make something. We want to help organizations take a fundamentally new approach to the process.”

Sustainable development

Force fields

Researchers at the Institute for Management Research are developing two tools to expedite a more sustainable product development process. One is focused on changing the innovation process. The other centers on mapping out the various force fields in play that the companies have to navigate, such as political authorities, suppliers and clients.

Lauche: “Organization change is always difficult, especially with intangible future-driven goals such as sustainability. The short term on the other hand is very tangible: Where can you book a profit today? That’s why we have created the first tool that makes all of the long-term investments and effects visible. Only then can you view people, planet & profit in relation to each other and develop a product that meets the requirements of all three.”

The RichWaterWorld project

No matter how much companies work on being sustainable, they are dependent on their environment. And this is what the second tool addresses.

Lauche: “The RichWaterWorld project in Park Lingezegen is a good example. This project exemplifies integrated infrastructure planning with water playing the starring role. It involves water storage, water purification with water plants, and the production of for example glue or green manure from the waste products of the purification process. Naturally this requires great levels of cooperation between political authorities, universities, agricultural firms and the local water company. As a company you cannot solve this singlehandedly, you need all parties to be on board.”

Both tools are meant to enable a systematic unfolding of the thought processes involved. They serve as memory assists to guarantee all important factors are included in the development stage. That process itself is more important than the final result. “The tools are meant to enable logical decisions,” says Lauche. “To achieve that you need to collect data systematically, inside the organization as well as beyond. The data collection allows companies to gain a firmer grasp of the choices and challenges facing them.”

Change management

The scientific contribution of this project stands at the interface between change management and strategic decision-making. Lauche: “We aim to make a contribution to the evolution of theory within the field of change management. How does change towards a more sustainable business actually progress? Literature reports that change is usually effected in a top-down process, but in the case of sustainability the middle ranks generally seem to be the driving engine. What we’ve seen is that it tends to take one charismatic person with a long-term vision to inspire the others. We are researching ways in which that person can initiate this process.”

Link

  • Tools for Orchestrating Value Chains for Sustainability

This project is funded with support from the IOP IPCR in the framework of the research project ‘Tools for Orchestrating Value Chains for Sustainability in New Product Development (IPCR 1118)