When it comes to sustainability, everyone is a stakeholder. Whether they realize it or not, everyone benefits from sustainable living and is affected by the lack of it. Our society, immediate environment, and even our individual and collective well-being, all require not only environmental sustainability but also social and economic sustainability to survive and prosper.

Sustainability is increasingly becoming more important to consumers and the fundamental shift that is visible in the industry is the move from pure profit maximization of yesteryears to a new definition of growth that considers the health of the society and the planet in addition to the profits. This new approach considers what is called the triple bottom line (economic, environmental, and social) and is reshaping the world with its additional focus on using sustainable processes and products and ensuring responsible social engagement. This definition of the triple bottom line was adopted by the United Nations in 2015 when it issued its universally accepted definition of sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” and issued 17 sustainable development goals (SDG) that categorize sustainability into environmental, social and economic sustainability objectives.

While many still associate it with the environment alone, Sustainability is not just an environmental initiative. It is a larger concept that aims to ensure that progress must be made toward sustaining business operations and that the sustainability of business cannot be ensured without ensuring the sustainability of the larger environment in which it must exist.

One way to implement sustainability is to integrate environmental, social, and economic considerations into the organization’s existing quality and management operations, strategy, and decision-making processes. This integrated approach suggests that organizations can achieve increased efficiency and cost savings if they make use of their existing management systems and use quality management approaches (methods and tools) to achieve sustainability objectives.

Because on the surface the concepts of sustainability and quality appear to have different objectives, many organizations choose to implement them in silos. However, when we look at the commonality of features and the objectives of Quality and Sustainability initiatives, it makes sense to consider them holistically and implement sustainability by utilizing the firmly established and ingrained principles and methods of quality management.

To achieve integration, it is important to first identify the areas where these two initiatives have commonality, and then also identify those aspects where the two initiatives can support and benefit each other even if targeting different end objectives.

Areas where Quality & Sustainability Converge:

  1. Alignment: Both the Quality as well as the Sustainability initiatives must be aligned with the Vision, Mission, and Objectives of the corporation.
  2. Strategic Planning: Strategic Planning of the organization must consider quality as well as Sustainability as core values. To be successful, both these tenets must be embedded in the core strategy of the organization.
  3. Customer Needs & Expectations: Organizations must determine the needs of their customers and stakeholders for quality as well as sustainability. Both quality and sustainability targets must include customers as major stakeholders.
  4. Document & Record Management: Both the Quality and the Sustainability management systems need an established document management system that addresses policies, procedures, and work instructions as well as records. Organizations can implement sustainability documentation using the same tiered document management system that is part of the existing QMS and is trackable and auditable.
  5. Metrics (KPIS): The adage “you cannot manage what you cannot control” is just as applicable to Sustainability as it is to quality. Both need to be measured in terms of the performance indicator metrics that are identified as the criteria for their respective success.
  6. Supply Chain Management: To implement a sustainability program, the Quality suppliers/vendors must also be aligned with the primary organization’s efforts to implement the two systems.
  7. Holistic Thinking: Quality and Sustainability both require system-wide thinking to be most efficiently implemented and managed.
  8. Transparency: Organizations that put a premium on delivering the truth establish quality and sustainability systems that are transparent and it always pays dividends in the long run. Transparency in the reporting of quality and sustainability efforts builds trust and sets forth a precedent that transcends individuals and offers the best results for the organizations.
  9. Independence: To objectively determine compliance, both initiatives are best achieved when the leadership of these two functions is directly reporting to the senior-most leadership of the organization or project.
  10. Continuous Improvement: Continuous quality improvement can happen through several means but it is generally measured through improvement indicators in terms of efficiency, effectiveness, performance, accountability, and outcomes. Likewise, Sustainability improvements must be measured in terms of measurable aspects of performance efficiency that are sustainable. Some examples of continual improvement in Sustainability include energy conservation, dust control, pollution control, noise control, air quality control, reduction of the usage of potable water, use of sustainable materials and methods. When organizations focus on implementing sustainable processes rather than just focusing on sustainable end products, it becomes possible to link quality and sustainability through process improvements in all measurable aspects.

Areas where Quality & Sustainability may NOT directly Converge

1. Environmental Sustainability: Environmental sustainability was historically considered an isolated target, but the integration of world-recognized standards such as ISO-9001 (for Quality Management Systems), and ISO-14001 (for Environmental Management Systems) showed that that it is possible to build on the existing functioning processes that are familiar to a team through their quality management system. Instead of reinventing the wheel, simply adding the environmental management requirements to the QMS makes it the Quality and Environmental Management System (QEMS). It is possible to implement the aspects of management systems that are common to both systems.

In addition to environmental compliance, the Management systems can be organized for other standards such as ISO-50001 (Energy Management Systems), and ISO-37101(Sustainable Development in Communities) which are also available to organize the environmental sustainability program under subareas in a manner that complements the Quality Management System of the organization.

Smart organizations use quality tools to compare their baselines to the environmental targets that the organization wants to achieve. Process Decision Charts, Process Maps, Relationship diagrams, Checklists, Pareto Charts, Stratification Templates, and a host of other quality tools can be used to achieve, track, and present the results of environmental sustainability in addition to the quality of the Products as well as the Processes. The use of quality methods and tools to achieve environmental sustainability is not only possible, it has been accomplished by many organizations.

2. Social Sustainability: The social aspects of Sustainability measure what is also sometimes called the “quality of life.” This includes measuring the well-being of the society. This is a rather difficult measure to track, but by applying quality methods and tools, it is possible to break down social sustainability into practical and measurable actions that can be reported for performance and excellence.

Social sustainability can be achieved by enhancing public health and safety, minimizing pollution levels, improving air quality, and improving the mobility of the community through sustainable transportation methods (such as carpooling and more convenient public transportation). These are all aspects of sustainability that directly affect the social well-being of the employees and the stakeholders and can be measured and reported by using time-tested quality tools.

Similar to Environmental Sustainability, ISO-26000 (Social Responsibility) and ISO-20400 (Sustainable Procurement) are formal standards that can be efficiently implemented by organizations to complement their existing Quality Management Systems and achieve greater collaboration within the previously considered silo initiatives.

3. Economic Sustainability: Economic sustainability refers to practices that support long-term economic growth without negatively impacting the social, environmental, and other aspects of the community’s welfare. Of the three primary aspects of sustainability, this is the easiest one to track and report as it follows the traditional model of business success measurement in terms of financial profits (or losses) only.

The measurement of economic sustainability and its continued tracking and reporting can also use quality tools and methods that have been successfully employed to manage quality and business management systems across the world.


Considering the performance metrics of environmental and social attributes in addition to financial performance is a newer concept in organizational management. This concept empowers organizations to achieve progress and accelerate business growth while ensuring that the environmental and social systems remain capable of sustainable existence. It represents “systems thinking” which is the basis of quality management and continual improvement.

Using the quality management systems approach, organizations can align all components in the same direction and create greater value by implementing the best practices and proven quality methods and tools to implement social and environmental sustainability. The above-noted ISO standards that have been issued for Sustainability, Environmental, and Quality Management systems can be effectively integrated instead of considering these functions as stand-alone initiatives. This leverages the ability of organizations to streamline their processes and offers a more practical and sustainable future in all aspects of their business performance.