Front Line: Triple Vision

Feb. 1, 2009
Can we live in a one-dimensional world?

If you think the recession will put the brakes on sustainability, think again. Programs that focus on green—and its counterpart, corporate social responsibility—will probably accelerate.

Why? Because when the U.S. credit market collapsed, iconic institutions went belly up and corporations begged for handouts, something snapped in the public consciousness. Average people everywhere wanted someone or something to blame for the colossal mess.

Pundits, always doling out easy answers, said greed, excess and free-for-all capitalism were the culprits. As evidence, they pointed to offshoring, golden parachutes and corporate jets. If you listened carefully, you heard the word “Enron.”

Rightly or wrongly, their words sunk in. And, it changed everything.

the smart, perceptive ones, anyhow—started describing business objectives in three dimensions. Instead of focusing only on the financial bottom line—which consumers saw as the evil that got us into trouble—they used the term “triple bottom line.”

Turns out the phrase was coined back in 1994 by John Elkington, founder of Londonbased business consultancy SustainAbility. He said there were three ways to measure a company’s progress: environmental impact, contribution to society and economic strength. Yes, that last one is profit—the original bottom line.

Clearly, one bottom line isn’t enough anymore. We now have three. Businesses have to think three dimensionally, linking disparate practices into one big survival strategy.

One-dimensional thinking is traditional, transactional and commodity focused. It’s the slap-and-ship mentality that says green is just a feel-good slogan. It’s appearance, not action. It’s talking, not doing.

Appearances only get you so far. The commitment has to be woven into the fabric of corporate strategy.

And, material handling plays a crucial role in a company’s long-term performance. Competitive material handling depends on simultaneously meeting the demands of three primary business dimensions: customers, employees and supply chain partners.

The buying public is sizing up your responsibility scorecard. The next generation of employees demands corporate accountability. Your supply chain partners just might force it on you.

So, the question we should ask is: Can we live in a one-dimensional world?

Here at MHM, we’re leading the charge. Our new, more contemporary look complements the stories inside, which are more inviting, timely and relevant to today’s challenges.

Also new this month is Peter B. Alpern, MHM associate editor. An accomplished journalist, Peter has written extensively about difficult issues facing high-throughput manufacturing leaders across North America. He will oversee our Workforce, Transport Packaging and Automation sections each month, while I continue to cover Powered Vehicles, Facilities and Technology.

As you’ll soon see, MHM is not a conventional trade publication, nor is it a coffee-table book that just collects dust. MHM is a tool—a utility—designed to be read, marked up and passed around.

We have a three-dimensional goal: to build your professional success, boost your company’s competitiveness and facilitate important dialogue in the material handling community.

Let us know how we’re doing from time to time. MHM is not our magazine—it’s yours.