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24 September 2012

Ove Arup, Total Architecture and Sustainability

Last night, I was on one of my now regular night-time strolls trying to get squalling baby to sleep. To keep me sane, I often give myself a mission on these walks so I'm not just wandering around in circles waiting for silence to envelope my tiny banshee. And last night I went to find the blue plaque on a nearby house where the legendary civil engineer Ove Arup was born in 1895. We can do quite a bit of an engineering tour around my neighbourhood, if that sort of thing turns you on - William Armstrong was born half a mile a way and educated a couple of hundred yards away, and from my window I can see the site of the first stationary steam engine built by George Stephenson after he went into business for himself, just before he started putting them onto wheels.

Ove Arup is most publicly well known for designing the Sydney Opera House, but known within the construction industry for his development of the idea of 'Total Architecture' where the boundaries between disciplines are broken down and everybody takes responsibility for all aspects of a design.

When engineers and quantity surveyors discuss aesthetics and architects study what cranes do we are on the right road. 

When I interviewed Chris Jofeh of Arup for The Green Executive, he drew a line between the Total Architecture ideas of the firm's founder and the work the company now does on sustainable buildings. One of my very, very few regrets about the book I now have is that I didn't pick up on the 'Total' meme at the time and dub the highest level of corporate sustainability 'Total Sustainability' as this kind of deep integration of sustainability into everybody's responsibilities and mindsets is what I was proposing.

I did draw a parallel between what I called 'Full Integration' of sustainability and Total Quality Management (as does John Elkington in The Zeronaughts), but the more I think about it, Total Architecture may be a more appropriate analogy. Quality control is an internal, managerial issue, architecture is more outward looking, often inspirational and occasionally groundbreaking - what sustainability should be.

More food for thought for my nocturnal meanderings with the noisy boy!



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10 February 2010

Bloody Toyota!

Toyota owners must be furious with the current recalls to fix serious problems across their range. I'm furious for a different (and non-life threatening) reason as in my talks I use Toyota as an example of:

1. An iconic green(ish) product - The Prius (now being recalled).

2. A green(ish) company beating the old GM (with their dirty Hummer) to the #1 motor manufacturer slot - triggering a green overhaul in GM. Do you think Toyota will be #1 next year?

3. The company's Total Quality Management/Toyota Production System as a model on which to develop into a sustainable company. And then they foul up on, you guessed it, quality.

The gist of the points I'm making hasn't changed, but it is harder to make the case when the company is under such disgrace.

There's a lesson in here for green companies - no matter how well you build your case and your brand, one slip and it can all come tumbling down.

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16 September 2007

Sustainability Lessons from Total Quality Management

One of the criticisms of Environmental Management Systems (eg ISO14001) is their reliance on mere continual improvement of environmental performance. It has always surprised me that environmental management has not pinched more ideas from its big brother, quality management.

The Total Quality Management (TQM) movement was conceived in the USA in the 50s but took off in Japan, where it has been credited with turning the phrase 'made in Japan' from shorthand for cheap tatty products into a badge of prestige. The motor industry in particular took it up with a vengance and ended the dominance of US and European models in the global market, until the West started adopting the same techniques.

TQM has two types of change:

• Kaikaku - big radical changes that align the whole system to deliver quality products.

• Kaizen - continual, incremental improvements within that system to squeeze the best performance out of it.

Kaikaku can be considered as 'doing the right thing' and Kaizen as 'doing things right'.

I strongly believe that industry should adopt a similar model for environment performance - big radical changes (like sustainable product development, adopting cleaner manufacturing processes or shifting to product-service systems) should be complemented with basic waste minimisation and energy efficiency techniques. If the success of TQM could be replicated in environmental management, we'd be a long way down the road to sustainability.

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