The Red Queen, in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There, told Alice that she couldn’t stand still — she had to run as fast as she could just to stay where she was. “Now, here, you see,” she told Alice, “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”
Biologist Leigh Van Valen thought of the Red Queen when he developed a statement about evolution: no matter how well a species has adapted to its current environment, it must continue to evolve because its competitors in its space are also evolving. There is no point at which it is secure enough to rest on its laurels and feel confident that it has conquered its environmental niche.
Many people have seen a similarity in business, and Jeff Amerine described sustainability, in the most recent episode of 8th & Walton’s Saturday Morning Meeting, as a “Red Queen problem.” Suppliers, in other words, have to keep innovating and improving in order to be in as good a position tomorrow as they are in today.
Jeff Amerine spoke with The Sustainability Consortium‘s Dr. Jon Johnson and Dr. Sarah Lewis. TCS, pronounced “tissy,” is working on a Sustainability Measurement and Reporting System (SMRS), a framework which will allow consistent communication within and among industries.
Currently, there is no common, agreed upon way to measure and discuss sustainability. Different groups will assign different levels of importance to various aspects of sustainability and there are no shared benchmarks suppliers can use to judge their progress.
This can lead to greenwashing, accusations of greenwashing, and plain old confusion on the part of consumers and suppliers alike. The lack of consistent measurement and language makes it hard to compare one product with another or to identify points along the supply chain where meaningful change can be made.
“I think companies should expect to have more conversations with buyers at Walmart and other retailers around sustainability,” says Johnson.
Having useful conversations requires a shared language and a shared understanding of sustainability issues, and that is where TSC comes in. “The tools that TSC develops are based in lifecycle assessment and are being used to really improve that decision making capability,” Lewis points out. “What issues should I focus on? Where can I make improvements? What practices can I implement to really create efficiency — but also to be able to communicate progress and really market that progress to customers?”
Listen to the entire conversation, plus much more, by watching the video above or enjoying the podcast below.