Linking quality to sustainability

Sustainability is a complex concept. It is about a sustainable development ecologically, socially and economically – both in the world and in the individual organization. There may sometimes even be conflicting relationships between the different dimensions of sustainability. For example, reduction of consumption in order to minimize environmental impact can have a negative impact on economic and social sustainability.

 The most used definition comes from the United Nations and states that a “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Through Agenda 2030 UN has specified the actual sustainability focus by stating 17 global development goals covering a number of, for humanity, very important areas.


So far, sustainability has mainly been discussed from a macro-perspective with focus only on the various consequences and effects on planet earth caused by humans. Incorporating the knowledge and methodology from quality management and systematic improvements gives new opportunities to succeed in achieving long-term sustainability in the wider sense.

 To deal with sustainability, working from a macro-perspective is not enough. The problems must also be tackled from a micro-perspective, i.e. within the processes of organizations, where resources are transformed into customer value. Today, huge waste and losses occur. Only a very small part of the resources used are actually converted into direct customer value. This means that there is a great potential for sustainable development in the operations themselves.

In the knowledge area of quality management, philosophies, methods and tools required to work with value creation and sustainability at the micro-level, are available. The objective of quality development is to meet and exceed customer needs and continuously improve efficiency, i.e. how a higher customer value can be created by using less resources.

 By integrating the knowledge and methodology used in a successful quality work into the sustainability efforts, sustainability could be developed in a real way. In such a way that environment, social responsibility and economy go hand in hand.


The two sustainability competences

To succeed with sustainability two competences are needed. The sustainability macro competence is needed to understand how different environmental, social and economical sustainability factors affect humanity and planet earth. This competence represents the traditional knowledge available about environmental, social and economic effects. Researchers and experts all over the world have since many years developed this competence to a very high level.

 The second competence needed to succeed with sustainability is about dealing with the factors that results in sustainability effects. This sustainability micro competence is about improving organizations, developing processes, solving problems and creating new innovations that are of importance for a more sustainable development. Experts and researchers within quality management has since more than 100 years working with the development of this knowledge area. Today the philosophies, methodologies and tools needed to create a more sustainable development are available through concepts like TQM, Six Sigma, Lean and Kaizen.

Quality Body of Knowledge (QBOK), developed by ASQ, JUSE, IAQ and a number of other quality related organizations, represent the knowledge needed to develop sustainability from a micro perspective.

Learn more about quality and sustainability