Sustainable DiscontentmentAugust 17, 2011
"The contented do not grow smarter. They grow moss." When I first read this in Todd Buchholz's new book Rush: Why You Need and Love the Rat Race, I was taken aback. Is there no room for contentment in our personal lives, professional careers and enterprise pursuits? Buchholz originally intended to write a book on why we are losing our souls in the ever-frantic chase to get ahead. Ironically, Buchholz changed his position and took the counterargument.
Being discontented, or shall we say displeased, about our procedures and policies we employ in our personal and professional lives can be a good thing. Yes, we can appreciate the progress we have made, savor it and reflect; nevertheless, examining and asking the obvious question is perfectly in order: can we do better?
Nowhere does this seem more pertinent than with the issue of sustainability, and, moreover, when it comes to the ROI for sustainable initiatives, especially in the workplace. Sustainable solutions should include tangible economic returns as well as viable environmental benefits. Including a bit of discontentment to uncover improvements is an ongoing task, and even a responsibility for "green-minded" enthusiasts and company stakeholders alike to form a balanced approach to the economic, environmental, and social aspects of corporate health.
A few examples for consideration:
Recycled toner cartridges: The early days of recycled toner or remanufactured cartridges were littered with horror stories about exploding containers within copiers and printers, low yield and bad print quality. Today select remanufacturers equal or surpass OEM (original equipment manufacturer) performance. In addition, companies like Staples have programs to pick up used, remanufactured cartridges that are subsequently ground into composites used to make the next generation of toners. The discontented IT and Output Manager takes advantage of the improved recycled toners, but goes the extra mile and asks how to eliminate the demand for printing documents: double-sided printing, cost-effective, multi-function machines, managed print program and, of course, encouraging virtual print over "hard copies."
Recycled paper: With recycled copy paper, the rub was yes, this is environmentally responsible, but with a premium price. Generally the recycled copy paper remains more expensive than comparable virgin paper. The discontented office manager promotes recycling of all paper along with similar virtual print incentives to reduce paper demand. A blend of recycled copy paper and print reduction is a prudent formula.
Green cleaning: Until recently, many cleaning products contained chemicals with potential hazards including carcinogens, irritants, VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and even endocrine disrupters. The discontented facility manager demands a better way without sacrificing efficacious results. Cleaning solutions such as Sustainable Earth by Staples® with Green SealTM Certification and other similar cleaning products use alternative green chemistry to achieve favorable results and lower total cost primarily associated with reduced health and handling risks.
Plastic water bottles: The commonly recognized critique of water bottles over tap water includes problems with environmental waste, not being safer than tap, and increased costs. The discontented office manager considers again the merits of the water cooler and encouraging reusable containers for drinking water.
In each case leveraging the triad to reduce, recycle and reuse begins with discontentment about the status quo.
An important component to promote sustainable workplace initiatives features partners who not only propose proactive solutions, but also are willing to challenge the way they are servicing their customers. For a company like Waste Management, it could be asking the question, "How can we help you reduce waste?" For Staples, it might be, "How can we assist you in reducing paper consumption?" The questions might seem counterintuitive for companies whose core business is the management of waste disposal and selling paper along with associated office products, respectively; however, challenging one's comfort zone to explore what is the best solution for the customer and client is the proper focus for the prescient company. In the end, firms embracing such an approach not only solidify the relationship, but generate consideration for new and creative adjustments to market engagement.
Being content does not lead to new and innovative problem solving. Sometimes the path is uncomfortable, but resistance to take this risk not only dismisses potential savings, but more importantly, makes a partnership vulnerable to those willing to go the extra step. Consequently, competition in all facets of this economy dictates that sustainable and perhaps benevolent discontentment is an advantage.
The list of companies, institutions and organizations relying or resting on the contentment of previous successes portends similar results. Many are either no longer in business or struggling to swim in the current economic waters. Aggressive pursuit of sustainable practices with acute attention to ROI not only benefits the environment, it enhances the bottom line while raising social awareness. If I may, I would paraphrase Buchholz's line: Contented companies do not grow. They become unsustainable.
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