Project SIGMA - The evolution of a new breed of Management system

3 Years ago the British Department of Trade and Industry, Forum for the Future, the British Standards Institution and AccountAbility joined forces to explore the possibility of producing a set of Guidelines that would help business effectively meet challenges posed by social, environmental and economic dilemmas, threats and opportunities.

This joint venture was titled: Project SIGMA. SIGMA standing for Sustainability: Integrated Guidelines for Management.

Project SIGMA is one of the first collaborative projects of its kind seeking to provide practical guidance on how organisations can develop in more sustainable ways. SIGMA's unique value is its focus on the provision of guidance as opposed to prescription and therefore avoids furthering the so called 'check-box' mentality.

The project is generating great interest worldwide and its guidelines (launched in mid 2003) are viewed as a model of how to implement and improve sustainability management in organisations.

The Guidelines:

The Guidelines consist of three main sections: Principles, Management Framework and a Toolkit. The Principles were designed to help organisations to understand sustainability and their contribution to it; the Management Framework shows business how to integrate sustainability issues into core processes and mainstream decision-making.

Each of the tools has been developed in collaboration with organisations that are acknowledged leaders in their field. For example the much acclaimed Sustainability Accounting Guide was developed with the Association of Chartered and Certified Accountants, the Cooperative Bank and Wessex Water.

Looking to the Future:

It is without a doubt that the SIGMA guidelines represent an interesting and thought provoking insight into the future of management frameworks in this field, but where does Project SIGMA go from here? Well the British Standards Institution has convened a technical committee (SDS/1) chaired by Simon Zadek, chair of Accountability and Sue Slipman chair of the Financial Ombudsman Service to investigate/direct its translation into a British Standard. Meanwhile, a number of proactive companies are ensuring that key staff are trained in the dynamics of the guidelines. But it is not just UK and European companies that are interested, the SIGMA Guidelines have received a great deal of global interest, for example, a masterclass was recently run for a group of Japanese executives - translated simultaneously into Japanese.

Considering that the trends that led to the development of SIGMA show no sign of abating it would perhaps be pertinent to observe that its significance and influence will continue to grow. Perhaps one day the successor to the SIGMA Guidelines will follow the footsteps of ISO 9001 and ISO14001. If so, first mover advantage will not be insignificant.

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