My longtime friend and industry colleague Pam Gordon blogged today about the role trade associations should play in driving the industry toward sustainability practices. In it, she writes
Associations will not necessarily push members to the next level of sustainability practices. But members can raise the baseline through their involvement and commitment — emphasizing that the industry’s continued profitability and continuity rests in good part on meeting customers’ increasing efficiency requirements, avoiding dependence on dwindling materials, and reducing costs through design-for-environment principles.
I agree with all that. But Gordon also mentions a colleague’s discussion of the possibility of trade groups offering certification in supply-chain sustainability, suggesting that those that do not are behind the curve. There, I’m very reluctant to concur.
I am a huge fan of standards, but I also recognize their limits. I view sustainability as an extension of innovation. And innovation is not something that can be standardized. Those companies that consistently adapt fastest to market demands are always the winners in the long run. I think the same will be true with design for recycling and reuse and other such initiatives. Companies will either pursue that course or not, but to add a layer of bureaucracy in the form of yet another pursuit of paper isn’t the way to go.
Pam writes that some associations help members raise their own sustainability goals above the level of current regulations by giving them workable frameworks, such as the codes of conduct from the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition. I have long felt the EICC’s code of conduct is a sham. Under Labor, for instance, the first rule is, “Participants are committed to uphold the human rights of workers, and to treat them with dignity and respect as understood by the international community.” Yet EICC members include Foxconn and Pegatron, which are routinely cited by watchdog groups for worker abuse. It may be a code, but its toothless.
Pam is tuned in to the industry and always makes her readers think. Her note that the industry lacks roadmaps for best practices in sustainability is dead on. A roadmap isn’t a certification, however, and that’s where I call on trade associations to draw the line.