The Dunphy scale
For our purposes, this continuum is as useful a model of corporate evolution as any other. It’s not hard to overlay it with the typical graphical depiction of the evolution of man and it’s easy for most with even a mild degree of curiosity to get the idea of what managing for sustainability means. All organisations exist somewhere on this path.
The Dunphy scale is the work of Dexter Dunphy, who retired in 2008 from his role as Distinguished Professor at the University of Technology in Sydney.
The premise of this blog and of the Accelerated Sustainability sustainability-management model is, however, that generally anything that shifts organisations rightwards on the scale is good for business, good for Australia (where this site currently resides) and good for the world.
Essentially, the Dunphy scale paints a picture of the health of an organisation in relation to society. What happens on the arrow within the organisation is mirrored by its contribution to or impact on the rest of the world.
If you work in a large organisation, it’s probably in the middle, doing just enough by way of compliance with society’s standards to protect the directors from going to jail, but little more. Climate-change deniers are obviously to the extreme left
We happily acknowledge in creating these words that we have borrowed both liberally perhaps even literally from Dexter’s writing in Organizational Change for Corporate Sustainability* (2003). We must also apologise for compressing his original six-point scale to one comprising just five in the above diagram: most organisations will find the abstraction of the five challenging enough to grapple with. The sixth, the “sustaining corporation”, although listed beneath, represents a state so ethereal that none of us is likely to attain it in any foreseeable time frame, no matter how rapidly we accelerate our corporate progress on sustainability.
We can add detail at a later point (the book is still in print if you need more), but for these purposes we can keep the Dunphy scale simple, digestible and usable by reducing it to the bullet points beneath.
Dexter points out that the simplicity of his summaries of the stages he describes assumes consistency in an organisation's sustainability stance across both its human- and ecological management domains.
Phase 1: Rejection
Rejection portrays a strong belief that the organisation exists simply to maximise profit and that any other claims by the community are dismissed as illegitimate.
- Employees and subcontractors are regarded as a resource to be exploited
- Health and safety features ignored or paid lip service.
- Disadvantages stemming from ethnicity, gender, social class, intellectual ability and language proficiency will be systematically exploited to advantage the organisation.
- Force, threats and abuse may be used to maintain compliance and workforce subjection.
- Training costs are kept to the minimum necessary to operate the business
- Expenditure on personal and professional development is avoided.
- The organisation takes no responsibility for health, welfare and future career prospects of its employees nor for the community of which it is a part.
- Community concerns are rejected outright.
- The environment is regarded as a “free good” to be exploited.
- Owners and managers are hostile to environmental activists and to pressures from government, other corporations or community groups aimed at achieving ecological sustainability.
- Pro-environmental action is seen as a threat to the organisation.
- Physical resource extraction and production processes may be used which directly destroy future productive capacity and/or damage the ecosystem.
- Polluting by-products may be discharged into the biosphere causing damage and threatening other living processes.
- The organisation takes no responsibility for the environmental impact of its continuing operations, nor modifies them to lessen future ecological degradation.
Phase 2: Non-responsiveness
Non-responsiveness usually results from lack of awareness or ignorance rather than from active opposition to a corporate ethic broader than financial gain.
- Financial and technological factors dominate business strategies to the exclusion of most aspects of human resource management.
- Industrial relations or employee relations strategies dominate the human agenda; labour is viewed as a cost to be minimised.
- IR/ER strategies are directed at developing a compliant workforce responsive to managerial control.
- Training agendas centre on technical and supervisory training.
- Broader human resource strategies and policies are ignored; likewise issues of wider social responsibility and community concern.
- The ecological environment is not considered relevant in strategic or operational decisions.
- Financial and technological factors dominate business strategies to the exclusion of environmental concerns.
- Traditional approaches to efficiency dominate the production process.
- The environment is taken for granted and environmental resources which are seen as free or subsidised (air, water, and so on) are wasted.
- Little regard is given to environmental degradation resulting from organisational activities.
- Environmental risks, costs, opportunities and imperatives are seen as irrelevant or not perceived at all.
Phase 3: Compliance
Compliance focuses on reducing the risk of sanctions for failing to meet minimum standards as an employer or producer.
- Financial and technological factors still dominate business strategies but senior management views the organisation as a “decent employer”.
- Human resource functions such as training, IR, organisation development, and total quality management may be instituted but possibly with little integration between them.
- The organisation pursues a policy of benevolent paternalism with the expectation of employee loyalty in response.
- Community concerns are addressed only when the company faces risk of prosecution or where negative publicity may have a damaging impact on its financial bottom line.
- Compliance is undertaken mainly as a risk-reduction exercise.
- Financial and technological factors still dominate business strategies but senior management seeks to comply with environmental laws to minimise the organisation's potential liabilities from operations that might have an adverse impact on the environment.
- The most obvious environmental abuses are eliminated, particularly those which could lead to litigation or strong community action directed against the organisation.
- Other environmental issues, which are unlikely to attract litigation or strong community action, are ignored.
Phase 4: Efficiency
Efficiency reflects a growing awareness on the part of the dominant elite in the corporation that there are real advantages to be gained by proactively instituting sustainable practices.
- Systematic attempts are made to integrate human resource functions into a coherent HR system to reduce costs and increase efficiency.
- People are viewed as a significant source of expenditure to be used as productively as possible.
- Technical and supervisory training may be augmented with human relations (interpersonal skills) training.
- Organisation may institute programs of teamwork around significant business functions and generally pursues value-adding rather than cost-reduction strategies.
- There is careful calculation of cost–benefit ratios for human resource expenditure to ensure efficiencies are achieved.
- Community projects may be undertaken where funds permit and where cost benefit to the company can be demonstrated.
- Poor environmental practice is seen as an important source of avoidable cost.
- Ecological issues that generate costs are systematically reviewed in an attempt to reduce them and increase efficiencies by eliminating waste and by reviewing the procurement, production and distribution process.
- Active involvement may be undertaken in systematic environmental-management approaches such as Environmental Management Systems (based on ISO 14001).
- Environmental issues are ignored only if they are not seen as generating avoidable costs or increasing efficiencies.
Phase 5: Strategic sustainability
Strategic sustainability moves the organisation further along the scale by making sustainability an important part of the organisation's business strategy.
- Workforce skills mix and diversity seen as integral and vitally important aspects of corporate and business strategies.
- Intellectual and social capital is used to develop strategic advantage through purposeful innovation in products and services and the development of consistent workplace practices to this end.
- Programs are instituted to recruit the best talent to the organisation and to develop high levels of competence in individuals and groups.
- Skills are systematised to form the basis of corporate competencies so that the organisation is less vulnerable to the loss of key individuals.
- Emphasis is placed on management, business model, product and service innovation and speed of response to emerging market demands.
- Flexible workplace practices become strong features of workplace culture and contribute to the workforce enjoying more balanced lives.
- Communities affected by the organisation's operations are taken into account and initiatives to address adverse impacts on communities integrated into corporate strategy.
- The corporation views itself as a member of the community and as a result contributes to community betterment by offering sponsorship or employee time to participate in projects aimed at promoting its cohesion and well-being.
- Proactive environmental strategies supporting ecological sustainability are seen as a source of strategic business opportunities to provide competitive advantage.
- Product redesign is used to reduce material throughput and to use materials that can be recycled.
- New products and processes are developed that substitute for or displace existing environmentally damaging products and processes or satisfy emerging community needs around sustainable issues (reforestation; treatment of toxic waste).
- The organisation seeks competitive leadership through spearheading environmentally friendly products and processes.
Phase 6: The sustaining corporation
In this final phase (which is not shown in the diagram as it is too abstract and far removed from present reality), the strategic elite has strongly internalised the ideology of working for a sustainable world.
- The organisation accepts responsibility for contributing to the process of renewing and upgrading human knowledge and skill formation in the community and society.
- It is generally a strong promoter of equal opportunity, workplace diversity and work–life balance as workplace principles.
- It adopts a strong and clearly defined corporate ethical position based on multiple stakeholder perspectives.
- It seeks to exert influence on the key participants in the industry and in society in general to pursue human welfare, equitable and just social practices and the fulfilment of human potential of all.
- People are seen as valuable in their own right.
- The organisation becomes an active promoter of ecological sustainability values and seeks to influence key participants in the industry and society in general.
- Environmental best practice is espoused and enacted because it is the responsible thing to do.
- The organisation tries to assist society in acting in ecologically sustainable ways and uses its entire range of products and services to this end.
- The organisation is prepared to use its influence to promote positive sustainability policies on the part of governments, the restructuring of markets and the development of community values to facilitate the emergence of a sustainable society.
- Nature is valued for its own sake.
Clearly we have a lot to learn if we are really to make companies at the virtuous right-hand extreme of this continuum spring into life. But the technologies and much of the necessary early thinking already exist.
We must get to work on accelerating their widespread acknowledgement and use.