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Sustainable development implementation stages for continuous organizational improvement

18 August 2016

Our previous articles on sustainable development mainly focused on its impact on the overall organizational performance, considering the economic, social and environmental dimensions of business management. We also presented several organizations who had successfully integrated sustainable development in their strategic decisions. In this article we will discuss a continuous improvement principle – which is at the basis of the BNQ 21000 standard – mainly aimed at the organizations wishing to gradually implement concrete elements that would enable them to become more responsible, sustainable and profitable.


BNQ 21000: A Standard for Continuous Improvement

The BNQ 21000 standard draws on the best practices (AFNOR, ISO 26000, etc.) as well as on the 16 principles set out in Quebec’s Sustainable Development Act, and applies them to the challenges the organization faces. Its language and tools are aligned with the current realities of business executives. The main tools to integrate sustainability into your business operations are available free of charge at www.bnq21000.qc.ca: implementation guidelines, a self-evaluation checklist (4 categories: social, environmental, economics and moral), as well as an overview of the best practices.


To support the BNQ 21000 standard, a team of 45 authors under the direction of Jean Cadieux and Michel Dion, both professors at the Université de Sherbrooke, wrote the handbook Manuel de gestion du DD en entreprise: une approche progressive. Mr. Cadieux was the BNQ 21000 leading researcher. This handbook describes in further detail the practical tools that first allow to identify and analyze the risks and challenges for the organization in order to recognize its current status and functioning, and then make an informed strategic decision to gradually advance towards a sustainable and responsible organization.


One of the key tools is a self-evaluation checklist that operationally transposes the best practices to be adopted by responsible organizations. The higher the score, the stronger is the commitment of the company to SD principles in its day-to-day management. The checklist allows the team to identify the current maturity of the organization according to each of the 21 challenges identified in the standard. These challenges are essential for any organization that aspires to be competitive, sustainable, profitable and responsible.


One of the challenges is to take a step back to complete self-evaluation as a team before taking action. Although for people of action, taking time to draw a realistic picture of the organization may seem optional, how can we take actions and track our progress if we don’t know the starting point? Another important motivational aspect of self-evaluation is to highlight the strengths which the team could build on to move forward. Indeed, some organizations may be applying certain SD principles without even realizing it, and this can be used as the foundation for further work.


Strategic Challenges

You will see that the 21 challenges listed in the standard should be taken into account by any organization committed to its success, to its stakeholders and to the environment where it operates. They include the strategic, profitability, social and environmental aspects of business.


Moral or transversal:





It is recommended to address and evaluate all the issues, even if some may seem less relevant. The issues will be then prioritized based on the individual business context.


Next Stage after Self-evaluation

An overview of the best practices, or the Management Guide for a more complete list, will set the team on the improvement path by suggesting actions in accordance with the level of advancement. Based on its strategic planning and resources, the organization can then prioritize the issues and prepare a customized action plan. The challenge here is to clearly define an action plan, naming a leader, a measurable goal and deliverables for each action. Motivation and commitment of senior management, tracking of the deliverables, achievement and progress measurement, and communication are all important factors to ensure business continuity.


Continuous Improvement: Philosophy behind the Standard

The philosophy at the heart of the standard is the development and progress of the organizational culture. Companies must first build a culture of performance measurement, then move towards a culture of learning, which in its turn is necessary for the emergence of a culture of continuous improvement. It is not about the destination, but about the road to get there and beyond. It is an on-going process that guides the decisions and actions of organizations so that they can advance in their development based on the priorities identified using the self-evaluation tool and according to their business realities. One way to give momentum to continuous improvement and to keep the troops motivated is to complete annual self-evaluation as a team and to adjust or to step up its measures.


In addition to self-evaluation, the guidelines give access to many of the best practices that can be implemented by organizations wishing to move towards the idea generator level. The Totem team can support you in the evaluation of your company, in the prioritization and implementation of actions to ensure profitability and sustainability of your business development.



Sylvie Grégoire, President

Totem Performance organisastionnelle


Marie-Josée Roy, Expert in Sustainable Development and Strategic Management

Totem Performance organisationnelle




Jean Cadieux

Professor, Université de Sherbrooke, and

Leading Researcher, BNQ 21000 and Sustainable Development

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