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Sustainability: A Holistic Approach

Trade association's commitment to holistic sustainability includes bringing innovative ideas, options, solutions and initiatives to the decorative surfacing industry.

By Paul “Max” Le Pera

Sustainability is a term most of us hear every day with increasing frequency, typically referred to in light of the effect we have on the environment. This includes renewable energy, water stewardship and the preservation or conservation of natural resources. But sustainability is a term that has tendrils in most every area of our personal and professional lives. These areas include — but are not limited to — finance, operations, culture, relationships, security and leadership. 

A central pillar of my role as the champion of sustainability for the International Surface Fabricators Association (ISFA) and the efficacy of our team, will be to elucidate how sustainability encompasses a “paradigm of operating” or the mindset we have when it comes to a way of being. Why this is so important speaks to one of the most basic definitions I have come across, which is: the capacity to endure in a relatively ongoing way across various domains of life. 

The elegance of such a definition, however, is much like an iceberg. A beautifully simplistic premise (what you see above the water) becomes a behemoth when trying to execute its total value (everything below the water). This is classically exemplified by solutions that change situations, but at what cost and for how long? Questions of capacity for change, competencies, core values, integration, stated goals and personal beliefs are among some of the more critical inputs that need to be considered when embracing a sustainable way of being. 

Addressing these issues for our members is woven into the very mission of ISFA. ISFA exists to help fabricators and other industry professionals increase product quality, improve safety measures, encourage professionalism and elevate profitability by facilitating education, standards and camaraderie. ISFA values innovation, dependability, trust, honesty, ethics and serving others above all else.

In 2022 and beyond, ISFA is committed to forming a sustainability committee. The charge will be to systematically address the various pillars of sustainability mentioned above. Indeed, there will be strong focus on the four R’s: reduce, recycle, reuse and reform. Manufacturers, distributors and fabricators alike can help establish new product iterations, workflow alternatives, best practices and leadership when it comes to environmental stewardship and accountability. 

In other areas, such as business sustainability, ISFA will encourage a holistic approach where customer service, finance, marketing, manufacturing and logistics are considered. Deeply embedded in this holistic sustainable business model is governance. 

ISFA’s mission will be to address some of these emerging areas:

  • Embracing new products and formulations aimed at mitigating health risks.
  • Establishing standards which elevate transparency and disclosure.
  • Encouraging products with recycled, repurposed or reformed raw materials.
  • Recycling despite lack of municipal or state mandates to do so.
  • Preventing pollution and ground contamination.
  • Conserving and recycling water and investing in renewable energies.
  • Demonstrating financial stewardship to ensure funding for sustainably responsible projects.
  • Managing our people and culture to embrace the sustainability mindset.

Ultimately, the more a corporate culture centers around sustainable business practices, the more harmony and synergy are produced. All companies want to improve and seek efficiencies; however, herein lies one of the biggest traps in a truly integrated business model. Efficiencies can be sustainable but not necessarily so since they are typically viewed as financial optimizers. 

Two imminent threats that challenge sustainability proliferation are ignorance and the unidimensional pursuit of profit. The former presents ISFA’s responsibility to education and awareness; the latter, frankly, has already proved to be unsustainable. Lawsuits, turnover, deaths, sickness, superfunds, bankruptcies — the list is endless. 

The bull’s-eye to our holistic approach rests in pursuing sustainable efficiencies where all decisions will align with a corporate mission statement that focuses on sustainable practices. Companies must instill this guiding light because without it, alignment tends to dissipate, thereby creating imbalance, confusion, and ultimately, a sense of unease and/or distrust in the company.

Sustainable leadership requires intention and a commitment to alignment with the company’s mission. Strong leaders create future leaders, and highly effective sustainable leadership is at the very core of what ISFA will be focusing on to serve our members in countless new ways.

Finally, I’d like to appeal to the “family” in our family businesses. Consider this: Do future generations hold rights today? Is this a matter of law, ethics or both? Should future generations have rights to inherit a home that is safe, beautiful, honored and preserved? 

This is a journey, not a race. We must all walk together, set a fair pace, and leave the planet —  our land, oceans and air — to those who did not ask to be here, but were invited to be and thus deserve at least as good, if not a better home than we all inherited.

ISFA’s organizational commitment to holistic sustainability is a fresh new chapter for us. We will journey together and bring innovative ideas, options, solutions and eventually initiatives. ISFA is happy to have you on board because we know you’ll agree that sustainability matters. 

Paul “Max” Le Pera is the president and founder of Proprietary Ventures, LLC, a boutique-style global firm devoted to researching, discovering and deploying disruptive and sustainably oriented proprietary products and technologies. He serves on the ISFA board of directors as vice president of standards. He can be reached at paul.l@proprietaryventures.com.

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