Following on from my thoughts published in the April 2019 issue of The Solutions Journal, I started to reflect on what was written and wondered if it would be of interest to readers to know how this management approach has been implemented within a business.

To re-cap, an organisation has “Un-sustainable Activities”, wherever it sits within the framework of “supplying needs satisfaction” to the population at large and because of the activities it is involved in it creates negative side effects, social and/or environmental. Looking at these identified “activities” the SD practitioner then has to try to address the issues that give rise to the “unsustainabilities”.

Almost 20 years ago the Chemical Engineering Profession was being reminded that it had to accept that SD was a concentricity principle1 (Fig. 1b) and not a co-planer one (Fig. 1a) as had been advocated earlier.2 It was pointed out then that Economics is constrained, firstly by Environmental and secondarily by Society limits. It is subservient to both in a sustainability context!

However driven by unsustainable economics and constrained by environmental laws, business has resorted to trade-offs on environmental damage or social degradation for economic gains; this amount of environmental degradation or social inequity is “acceptable” within the “Triple Bottom Line (TBL) Groupthink” compromise. Unfortunately, this TBL definition has alas been accepted within higher educational teaching establishments exacerbating the problem further.3

An insight to the present state of Sustainable Business practices; common perceptions of corporate sustainability professionals; shifting priorities and challenges in corporate sustainability4 illustrates the huge range of issues that these “professionals” have to cope with trying to present a meaningful “Corporate Image”. This “beyond TBL” total sustainability approach should at least allow the Sustainable Development (SD) professional scope to identify, question and clarify those areas over which their company has serious long-term issues with respect to maintaining their company’s survival.


Bottle Filler.  Bottling Rack.

Total Sustainability (TS) thinking.

The term Total Sustainability (TS) has crept into the literature over the last 40 years without necessarily clearly defining exactly what it is describing or meaning. However, in an excellent review of SD-CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility reporting5 gives us the answer. If all three areas of SD have been “considered” that can be claimed as TS; the consensus being that this kind of integral thinking reflects good CSR.

However the central concept to TS is the acceptance of the fundamental values6 which are not negotiable, namely: ecological sustainability, basic human needs, intra-generational equity and inter-generational equity, and, the true TS concept demands that economics is constrained, firstly by environmental and secondarily by social limits. (Fig. 1b)

This does lead to a rather crucial conclusion: an enterprise, wherever it sits within the process or system that supplies “welfare” must, if it is to achieve TS, accept that there is no undermining of resource availability either environmental or social in any of the processes or systems it has in place in supplying this welfare to the population or the individual.7

Total Sustainability Management-TSM

As mentioned in the 10(2) article as there has been a rapid rise in the number of management systems (MS) published and adopted by businesses over the last three decades (Table1) it was only natural to try and “ride on the back of” the procedures that have now become common practice in managerial terms. So, using the style and format of ISO14001, and, with the capacity for continuance of a company being the guiding principle, the SD practitioner can develop a strategy plan which can progressively move the company away from its current unsustainable behaviours/activities. In doing this he/she must:

  • Initiate a procedure that identifies the current risks from unsustainable behaviours;
  • Assess their significance in terms of the long term threat to company continuance; and
  • Plan strategies to reduce and even eliminate their effect on the company.
Table 1. Popular International Standards Organisation (ISO) Management Systems

The procedural framework8 has gone through changes over the last 15 years, helped by the need to “communicate” effectively with post-grad students3, but with the clearly defined reality of business SD, a simplified Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) approach9 has made the ISO style framework into a rigid and dedicated Management Strategy Tool (MST) for continuance.

Sustainability Risk Assessment-SRA

So, where to start?

To coin a Rogers and Hammerstein lyric: “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start”.

For any organisation this means: – areas of “activity/ aspects” over which the company has direct control within their factory fence.

It is necessary to “build-up” a schematic of what actually goes on there. (Fig. 2) And the initial steps then are to consider each and every “operation” separately, looking at the “activity” and what it takes in and gives out i.e., the “store” accepts the raw materials from outside of the factory fence; stores them, then they are distributed within the factory. (Fig. 2a)

The awareness of those “operations” that take in and give out “across the factory fence” are of particular significance. For example, in this simplistic situation, the “washing activity”, water input and wastewater output cross the factory fence and at this initial stage of TSM it is those particular operations that inter-act with the external (beyond fence) social and environmental subject areas that need to be highlighted. This identification is carried out for all the “activities” within the factory.

(A) Internal operations

(B) Up/Down-stream operations
Figure 2. Simplistic profile of the internal/external operations

However as things progress the sustainability practitioner will have to explore those external “aspects” up and down the supply chain beyond the factory, including transport (T) (Fig. 2b). It is advisable to “monitor” these through labelling (Fig. 3) as each will have some significance in respect to the infringement of a resource on which the company relies.

The strategic plan at the heart of sustainability for the company is to try to eliminate as many of those aspects that cause a resource infringement not only within the factory but also up and down their supply chain.

So three things have to be done, (Fig. 4):

  1. Identify what are the critical aspects i.e. activities, unit operations, deeds, behaviours, cradle-to grave.
  2. Review why these aspects are necessary and highlight their “significance” with respect to Resource Availability Infringement.(RAI)
  3. Set up a priority list of those “most significant” and explore the opportunities on how they may be alleviated.

(Left) Figure 3. External aspects labelling.  (Right) Figure 4. Aspect analysis.

However, removing that resource infringement can cause a “wee problem”, the classical business TBL dilemma: “Sorry but that is not profitable”. However, using this approach, the SD practitioner can create an action plan basis on total sustainability with a “sky’s the limit” scenario where economic considerations are ignored. This in essence identifies what really needs to be done; what Resource Availability Infringements (RAIs) need to be removed to close the actual sustainability gap between current operation and a Totally Sustainable version of company operations.

However to calm down “The Board” and keep the Finance Director employed, a second action plan is set up with rearranged priorities within the prevailing economic constraints of the moment.

With the SRA completed, based on the significance given to the loss of the individual resource availability, a portfolio of RAI’s is built up and from this Assessment the Senior Management, at their “review meeting”, prioritise action with respect to the corporate image it wishes to reflect having been presented with:

1.  Those RAI’s within the factories that have a direct relationship with the social and natural environment.

2. Those RAI’s that have an indirect relationship, namely those that are associated with the upstream or downstream activities, many of which will have serious direct and indirect relations with the social and natural environment.

Management Review (MR)

As mentioned in the 10(2) article, any un-sustainabilities inherent in the company are easily identified without spending an unwarranted amount of time and energy on feasibility studies.

Often it becomes apparent that some operations are inherently unsustainable and should be removed, but, the frightening realisation is that some within the company will never be sustainable! The Management in their review have a clear long term strategy to consider:

1.  Diversify,

2.  Change direction, or

3. Phase-out that operation altogether!

In addition the studies will have highlighted key issues and activities over which the company has limited control within its supply chain and some of these “external operations” may well be accounted for by an inappropriate TBL vision of SD10 or even worse, not even been considered.

However, their negativities represent a risk to this company’s future viability since those RAI’s are being imported into the factory and therefore cannot be ignored in the company’s own Management Review!

So, management now has a much clearer vision of those areas within their direct and in-direct control and influence. A strategic plan to tackle these RAI’s within the framework of the prevailing economic climate can now be implemented. This Review also identifies those “aspects” that are being “imported” from supply chain companies over which they have little control or influence. Strategic steps can now be taken to address these.

The MR now gives the Board of Directors a strategic plan that it can “hang its hat on.” 11

Oil Refinery. Image:


I have been working with this concept for over 20 years and there is no doubt familiarity does breed contempt! My colleague, Dr. Boron and I, along with a small body of academics, have demonstrated how it can be taken on board by Undergraduate and Postgraduate students when they are asked to look at specific company‘s process operations.

The procedure, approach and definition of SD have been an integral part of the courses for at least 15 of those 20 years both here in the UK and France. It was also tested in a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) funded program with a local industrial company.

It is frustrating therefore that the “group think” TBL acceptance has essentially remained un-challenged while the world out there adapts, modifies, and “re-calibrates” SD beyond all recognition: “business as usual” with a few tweaks!

My grandchildren and now great grandchildren are being handed down this unsustainable legacy:

“Why Great-Granddad did you not do something?”

“What was that, Henry? I didn’t quite hear you. Sorry, not got my hearing aids in.”


  1. Mitchell, C. (2000). Integrating Sustainability in Chemical Engineering Practice and Education: Concentricity and its Consequences. Trans. IChemE (part B), Process Safety and Env.Protection .
  2. Clift, R. (1998). Engineering for the Environment. The 1998 Mc Lennon Oration, Melbourne University, Australia.
  3. Boron, S., Murray, K. R., & Thomson, G. B. (2017). Sustainability Education: Towards Total Sustainability Management Teaching. In Leal Filho, Brandli, Castro, & Newman (Eds.), Handbook of Theory & Practice(pp. 37-51, Vol. 1). Springer.
  4. sources/BSR_Globescan_State_of_Sustainable_Business_2018.pdf
  5. Alshehhi, A., Nobanee, H., & Khare, N. (2018). The Impact of Sustainability Practices on Corporate Financial Performance: Literature Trends and Future Research Potential. Sustainability, 10, 494.
  6. Daly, H. E. (2007). Ecological Economics and Sustainable Development, Selected Essays of Herman Daly. Elgar, Cheltenham, UK.
  7. Murray, K. R. & Boron S. (2019). The Necessary Paradigm Shift in Sustainable Business Practice, part 1 J. of Man. and Sust. ; Vol. 9, No. 1; 2019 ISSN 1925-4725 E-ISSN 1925-4733
  8. Boron S. and Murray K..R. (2004). “Bridging the Unsustainability Gap: a Framework for Sustainable Development”. Sustainable Development, 12, 65-73.
  9. Selmes D.G., Boron S. and Murray K.R. (1997). Industry, Life Cycle Assessment and Sustainability. I. Chem. E. Research Event, Vol.1, 153-156.
  10. Craig R. Carter, Dale S. Rogers, (2008) “A framework of sustainable supply chain management: moving toward new theory”, International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, Vol. 38 Issue: 5,pp.360-387,
  11. Perspectives, pp.30-33, Solutions, April 2019

Keith Murray

After 9 years in the chemical equipment supply industry joined Edinburgh’s Heriot Watt University, Chemical and Process Engineering Department in 1970 and spent the next 35 years teaching, researching...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *