Green Productivity

Green Productivity - An Introduction

The concept of ‘green productivity’ is an attempt to show that productivity can be enhanced whilst maintaining a concern for the environment. The concept stems from the 1992 Earth Summit and was picked up enthusiastically by the Asian Productivity Organization, a body which brings together productivity centres and institutes from throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

(At the closing of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, more than 178 Governments adopted Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the Statement of Principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests. This was perhaps the first time that rhetoric started to be translated into results.)

The challenge, of course, is to operationalize the concept – to show how green productivity works in practice. In particular to demonstrate that a concern for the environment is not a drain on business – an additional cost – but an opportunity to change businesses practises AND increase productivity.

Thus a definition of Green Productivity might be:

a strategy for simultaneously enhancing productivity and economic performance to achieve overall socio-economic development. It involves the combined application of appropriate productivity and environmental management tools, techniques and technologies that reduce the environmental impact of an organization’s activities, products and services whilst enhancing profitability and competitive advantage.

Why – in an era of growing concern for environmental issues – do we need to pursue the concept of green productivity? More importantly, why do YOU?

Not because it is altruistic nut because it is good business. If we don’t pro-actively examine and address our impact on the environment, there will become a time when legislation and regulation forces us to do so … and being forced to do something is much more painful and often more expensive. More importantly, though, there is a shift in the attitudes of customers and other stakeholders – who increasingly look at not only our financial performance but at our performance in other – especially environmental and social – arenas before deciding whether they want to do business with us. There is a definite trend from a focused concentration on ‘stakeholder value’ to a focus on ‘stakeholder values’.

Together these issues have been reflected in the movement towards greater focus on ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR). However, CSR is often discussed as en ethical issue; green productivity is most definitely a business issue.

One key element of green productivity – which helps distinguish it from ‘simple’ environmentalism – is the realisation that it is necessary to move from attempting to clean up the damage created by a particular process ( a so-called ‘end of pipe’ approach) to focus ‘beginning of pipe’ and ‘all pipe’ prevention. For example rather than focus on scrubbers at the top of the smokestack to prevent air pollution, change the characteristics of the incoming fuel that will eliminate the need for the scrubbers.

This line of reasoning is directly comparable to the lessons learned in the quality revolution. In the initial phase of quality, end of the line inspectors sorted good product from bad product. As we moved into the era of quality control, the focus was on prevention so we moved inspection from the end of the process to the beginning of the process (e.g. incoming inspection) and added the use of statistical sampling methodology. Further improvement led to the elimination of inspection of incoming parts altogether by choosing and certifying suppliers who demonstrate the ability to deliver error-free parts and components on time.


It is possible to 'go green' and still run a successful business. In fact, your business can be more successful by ‘going green’.

If you don't do it voluntarily now, you might in the future have to play 'catch up' as compliance rules toughen.

If you want to do it effectively, you have to take a holistic view of the entire organization and all of its processes


Productivity is my 'bag' ... it is what I know about. I am President of the World Confederation of Productivity Science - and Director of the National Productivity Centre in the UK - go to this site for some good free resources and some (paid for but low price) e-learning on productivity. I also edit the International Journal of Productivity & Performance Management. My views on productivity and on learning (which I think are related) are su...

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