3 Ways to Use the 80/20 Rule for Sustainability
My new book, Accelerating Sustainability using the 80/20 Rule, draws heavily on The 80/20 Rule by Richard Koch. Koch takes the general idea of the 80/20 Rule – that 80% of outcomes are usually determined by just 20% of outcomes (and vice versa) – and illustrates it across a very wide range of applications, from investments to our personal lives. He proposes two different ways of using the rule, both of which can be applied to sustainability:
- 80/20 Analysis: where you carefully collect and analyse data to find the ‘vital 20%’ of inputs to focus on. An example of this would be when Procter & Gamble carried out a life cycle analysis of washing powder and discovered that 75% of energy use from cradle to grave was down to a single factor – heating the water in your washing machine. They then made this their number one priority.
- 80/20 Thinking: this is much more intuitive and based on experience. If you think about it, it is logical that the best place to start minimising waste is at the Goods Out end of a factory – this is where the product has maximum value and maximum environmental impact embedded in it. Likewise, it is perfectly clear that lengthy supplier questionnaires will absorb a huge amount of time and effort by both parties, but are unlikely to change much in practice – a more proactive approach is required.
To this, I would add a third – a combination of the two.
For example, on my intro video for the book (below), I use the case study of a company whose plans for employee engagement would have taken a huge effort to engage a very large number of people who have very little influence on the carbon footprint of the company. It took a combination of my intuition and their data to come to the conclusion that a different audience should be prioritised. By using 80/20 Thinking, the act of 80/20 Analysis can be streamlined, avoiding ‘paralysis by analysis’.
For most, I think this combined approach will deliver best results.