Column: Safety as Sustainability
Once upon a time, sustainability was a nonissue in business because it seemed pretty simple: keep getting sales orders, deliver in a way the customer stays happy, and everything else takes care of itself. As business ramped up into our current hyper-competitive environment, supply chain managers began to carefully scrutinize what their partners were doing to ensure that their operations would be sustained and they would be around in the future.
Part of this scrutiny dealt with “sustainability” related to environmental management, the practice of making responsible business moves that do not place the short-term financial interests of the company before the long-term needs of the ecological environment. Business decisions are scrutinized to make sure they consider the physical, chemical, and biotic factors acting upon the ecological community.
Now, sustainability is increasingly being viewed through a much wider lens that scrutinizes the business footprint being left on the environment, the community, and, to some extent, global politics. Until recently, for example, few small and midsized manufacturers worried about using so-called “conflict minerals” that originate from regions of the world being torn apart by military conflicts that are, in turn, often funded by the consumption of these same minerals. Yet today, many companies are now required by law to prove that they aren’t buying conflict minerals.
What does this wider view of sustainability have to do with worker safety? Safety—or more accurately, the lack of safety—can play a profound role in the level to which a company is considered sustainable.