Sustainability at work demands a new productivity calculation


In business productivity is normally quoted as a straightforward financial measurement; output divided by cost over time. Like GDP it is often used as a simple, universal measurement of performance.  Certainly it has very little to do with sustainability.  And this, like GDP, is where some of the problem lies.

It’s like a sales person just talking about sell-price, or a buyer just focused on headline cost.  Both miss the wider opportunity to consider value.

So what would happen if we changed the underlying premise of the formula?  If our productivity measure became a more inclusive calculation of “consumption divided by contribution”.


We can then scope our consumption to include not just pay, energy and raw materials but all of the elements that go into us carrying out the work – including transport, food, healthcare, benefits, IT and communications.  In fact our entire work and social “footprint” becomes part of the equation, because who we are and how we live are an active part of what we do.

In my opinion our current sustainability challenge requires us not just to reduce our current consumption levels, but to actually refuse to engage with or purchase those products and services that fail to meet a minimum sustainability standard.

On the other side of the equation is our contribution.  Without a doubt our completion of work-based tasks is essential to productivity, but what about our other activities?  The time we spend unofficially mentoring and helping others, on childcare, caring for relatives or on charitable work.  On growing food and planting trees.  It is not just our work activities that are positive contributions to society and the environment.

We are increasingly dependent on citizens providing these unofficial services as the state lacks the budgets or will to do so, but the contribution goes largely unrecognised, never mind rewarded.

I’m not suggesting all of this should be formally (and certainly not officially!) monitored, but actually simple analytics around elements of it does help us identify our current balance of consumption vs contribution and encourage us to improve it.

A little guidance on today’s balance and some hints on what could be done to improve it in the future can help us all be more sustainable (and productive).

About the author:

IMG_2752 (2)Ewen Anderson is co-founder and CIO of Px3, a company which provides analytics and consultancy to help organisations improve their workplace sustainability.  Ewen has a background in management services, enterprise IT and executive leadership.  Over the last 20 years he has worked as a strategy consultant for many FTSE 100, public sector and Not for Profit organisations.  He can be contacted at

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