Caring for quality and the environment, differences and similarities

In Innovation, Strategic Quality by Willem BaeldeLeave a Comment

In this edition of the newsflash I want to share some thoughts about caring for quality and for the environment, two topics of interest for many companies. Noticeable is that there are large differences in requirements and expectations of various interest-holders but also that there are significant similarities in how to meet these requirements and expectations.

Let’s first look at caring for quality. For a company the importance of taking care of good and reliable quality is clear: by reliably supplying good quality products and services one can earn the trust of the customers and by doing so ensure that customers come back and new customers turn into loyal customers.
If one wants to reliably supply high quality goods and services one needs to look beyond the customers’ expectations only. One of the first steps when making a quality plan is to create a clear overview of all stakeholders and their expectations. Do not only consider your customers but also suppliers, customers of your customers, governments and even competitors. When making such overview it turns out that each of these stakeholders has their own demands and expectations and that one needs to consider them. Considering these expectations does not mean meeting them but one should know them. Especially the latest issue of the ISO 9001 standard pays considerable attention to making and maintaining good insight in the demands and expectations of stakeholders and the associated risks (both threats and opportunities).

When one looks at caring for the environment the direct interest for a company is less obvious. Often the need for adequate environmental care is clear for the society as a whole but the direct interest for an individual company is much less clear. The cost and investment have to be paid by the company but do such investments result in additional value for the customer and is the customer willing to pay for it?
Because the added value for the company of proper environmental care is not always clear it is even more important to gain clear insight into the demands and expectations of all other stakeholders in the area of environmental care. Stakeholders can be governments, interest groups but also other groups or individuals that can influence the public image of a company in a positive or negative way. Especially the importance of social media should not be underestimated.

When looking at realizing the ambitions for quality or the environment there are striking similarities. In both cases the starting point is to define and agree on the ambition level the company wants to achieve. Based on that the various interests can be assessed and targets set. Next a concrete plan can be made, including a thorough assessment of risks and opportunities and how to manage them. A major condition for success is that management actively supports execution of the plans and demonstrates commitment. The clear similarities between caring for quality and for the environment are also apparent in the relevant standards (ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 respectively): requirements for management processes such as planning, risk management and management review are almost identical in both standards.

What is the impact of these similarities in real life? Improving the performance on the area of quality as well as on environmental care starts with setting the ambition for the company. Especially when looking at improving the environmental performance one needs to not only look at measures during production but also at (re-)design of new or modified products (consider RoHS, Restriction of Hazardous Substances, or REACH, Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of CHemicals).
To realize the ambitions for both quality and the environment management has a very similar set of management tools and processes at its disposal. Examples are assurance of environmental requirements using design quality processes, combined improvement plans for quality and environmental performance or a combined Management Review of the effectiveness of planned measures.
A good understanding of the differences and similarities in improving quality and environmental performance will make a company better equipped to realize its ambition in both fields. And that is in the interest of many more stakeholders than only customers and shareholders.

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