Sustainability is such an overused word, in it’s most general use, it describes one part out of the many threads which build up a system or at its worst, it is applied as a green washing tool or “smoke and mirrors” to help sell a product or service. There have been many new words and thinking added to the sustainability oeuvre. It has moved from being an environmental concern only to now encompassing cultural, social and economic sustainability among others, we have moved some practices from just sustainable to regenerative. This evolution of thinking around practices, behaviors and language got me questioning how to simplify this complex systems thinking for the food businesses I work with.
The idea evolved slowly each time I worked with a food business or product. There were similarities in the questions I was asking or the areas I could see gaps in thinking, and I love a good framework to help clarify and simplify thinking and actions plus it uses less brain energy. 🧠
Let me introduce Jane’s mapping framework ( yes I am a research geek)
Mapping step 1
History• Ancestry• Beginning
What is the origin of your product?
Where do your raw materials come from?
What is the history of the use of those ingredients?
Why did you choose to use those ingredients or components?
Where do you/your product fit within this history?
These questions are centered on social, cultural, and environmental sustainability … how is your product/business supporting a pattern of regenerative culture?
Mapping step 2
Money• Reward• Impact
Who benefits from your purchase of goods/materials?
What impact does your business have?
Who is being supported by you?
Is your business financially viable?
These questions are centered around economics, people and environmental sustainability. Where you chose to spend your money impacts people, places, cultures, histories. What impact is your business having?
Mapping step 3
Equitable• Even• Continuation
Are your packaging materials given as much thought as the sourcing of your ingredients?
Are your distribution channels as sustainable as the product you are making?
How are you making /working in a way that balances the input and the output?
How are you paying it forward?
You are at the axis of sourcing and distribution, is it balanced?
By using sustainable thinking it strengthens your business and others.
Mapping step 4
Unique• Different• Rethought
What makes your product/business different?
How are you rethinking something that already exists?
Are you doing something unique?
This is business sustainability but is also social, environmental or cultural sustainability.
In almost every case your business idea already exists so dig deep, what is it that YOU do?
Mapping step 5
Clearly• Open• Understood
Can a customer ask you questions about your product/service and do you know the answers?
Do you know the where and how of your supply chain?
Is there some “slight of hand” happening, are you skimming over an answer because “it won’t sound good”?
To be sustainable you have to know every aspect of your product/service/business. But there are times when the technology, component, supplier that you would like is not available to you, be honest about it, address that gap in your product or service.
Mapping step 6
This is central to my thinking, you have to get curious…. is my product as sustainable as I can make it? Is my business agile enough to change when more sustainable components are able to be sourced? What are the sustainable parts of the businesses I buy from? What areas of sustainability are important to my customers? and what areas are important to me ? Always…ask the questions.
Mapping step 7
Seen• Unseen• Connection
Sustainability is about connection, what you do affects others in both obvious and subtle ways. Can you look at each part of your product/business and see how they are connected to each other, the past and the future? This is the infrastructure of sustainability, no longer just a 2 dimensional circular way of thinking but an evolving, questioning 3 D sphere of connection and communication.