Aligning Sustainability Goals, Vocabulary

Sandy Nessing

Sandy Nessing

When it comes to sustainability, defining it depends on who you talk to. That was eminently clear recently when the Electric Utility Industry Sustainable Supply Chain Alliance (“Alliance”) held a stakeholder roundtable with about 30 suppliers to the industry.  The objectives were to identify and share best practices, hear about challenges and to network.

Not surprising, there were two familiar themes that came from the discussions.  The first was that suppliers and utilities are in agreement that sustainability is a bottom line business issue. Suppliers and utilities said that if making changes to business practices improves their return on investment, they wouldn’t hesitate to do it. The second theme was the  need for more consistency around the definition of sustainability. There was unanimous agreement that the overall inconsistency in defining sustainability within a company or an industry makes it challenging to understand the vision or to justify investments without certain payback. (On the flip side, some suppliers said they never would have undertaken changes to reduce water use or improve energy efficiency, for example, if the Alliance hadn’t asked about it.)

The suppliers have a good point about the need for clarity. I’ve heard these same types of complaints with regard to safety performance expectations for contractors. Every utility has different safety standards and requirements for contractors and the lack of a single set of industry expectations is confusing, putting contractors and company employees at risk of harm.

Without clear direction and a business case, how can we set expectations? I believe the Alliance is on the right track with its vision for a sustainable supply chain and much progress has already been made. But based on the feedback from suppliers, there’s still a lot of work yet to be done. Not the least of which is to more clearly define what a sustainable supply chain looks like for the electric utility industry.

What are you doing to offer clarity around ‘sustainability’ for your customers and suppliers? What definition of sustainability do you use?


About Sandy Nessing

Sandy Nessing is the Managing Director of Sustainability & ESH Strategy & Design for American Electric Power Co. Inc. She wrote and published AEP’s first Corporate Sustainability Report in 2007, and in 2010 published AEP’s first integrated Corporate Accountability Report, a combination of the annual sustainability report and Annual Report to Shareholders. Follow her on Twitter at @Watts4U.

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  1. Carlos W. Moreno

    May 25, 2012

    American Power Company
    Ms. Sandy Nessing,

    “Sustainability” is what needs to be done to maintain the world a place to live. (next we have to define “live”, but I’ll skip it).

    As it relates to sustainability, we, Ultramax Corporation (UMC), are concerned mostly with the use of energy with bad effects, including emissions. This is part of the more general issue of using scarce resources.

    Let me share one way to present “sustainability” it to production / manufacturing businesses that will make sense, described in This, of course, will not solve all problems, but it is an extremely easy step forward – this being UMC’s contribution.

    Let me know whether we could contribute to you, American Electric Power, or NAEM.

    Yours truly,

    Carlos W. Moreno, Ph.D.
    CEO & Founder
    Ultramax Corporation
    35 Oliver Rd.
    Cincinnati, Ohio 45215, USA

    +1 (513) 469-8629 Advanced Process Management™ (APM™)

  2. Sustainability IT

    July 30, 2012

    My belief is that the way to successfully sell sustainable initatives is to sell them based on 4 prirorities. And they are in order, direct cost savings, increased company value due to sustainabile policies, increased PR benefit due to the consumers positives responses and lastly the benfit to the planet.

    As such a good business case should underpin any and all business projects, and that includes sustainable ones.

    My approach to defining sustainablility is a positibve environmental and business impact from the project.

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