What is Sustainable Development?
The concept of Sustainable Development has been staged globally as a political and ethical guideline for dealing with the world’s environmental and social crisis in the last two decades.
Its growth is often associated with the numerous environmental movements, more popularly by the World Commission on Environment and Development, also known as the Brundtland Commission in 1987.
But some studies have found out that its history can be further traced back as early as the European Enlightenment when German Kameralists began to be concerned about handing down “undiminished” dynasties to future generations.
In the 1987 Brundtland Report dubbed as Our Common Future, Sustainable Development is defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
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How Sustainable Development applies to Operations Management?
Sustainable Development has important implications to Operations Management (OM) primarily because business operations largely depend on human and natural resources, in addition to physical and financial capital.
If the enterprise aspires to stay long and productive, its economic activities must not irreparably degrade or destroy these natural and human resources.
This means finding business approaches that enhance profits while meeting the goals for environmental protection, social well-being and economic development.
More often than not, business focuses heavily on efficiency and profits and stricter environmental regulations are as inhibiting factors for growth. Hence we have modern plant technologies contributing to the worsening air pollution or we have vegetable produces relying heavily on chemicals, thereby, diminishing the quality of human health and soil long-term fertility.
With sustainable development as a business pursuit, there are now environmental and social regulations that companies need to adhere to. OM needs to develop processes and materials that are environmentally and socially friendly. Those that will earn local and global community goodwill while such efforts are reflected in their bottom line.
For example, a 3M manufacturing plant scaled down a wastewater treatment operation by half, simply by running cooling water through its factories repeatedly instead of discharging it after a single use and McDonald’s made its well-publicized move from plastics to paper the cornerstone of a much broader, but less visible, waste reduction strategy.
But OM will only be successful in integrating sustainable development in its processes if
decision-making at all levels (from the Board to the Senior Management and to the staff) will become more responsive as well to the issues arising from sustainable development.