The S.W.I.T.C.H. diamond – an analogy for success in sustainability and becoming ‘future ready’


The first blog in 2011 is the already announced continuation of my earlier blog in which I explained S.W.I.T.C.H. – my view of the essentially needed ‘paradigm dimensions’ to understand sustainability; in total I described six of them ( Whenever I am assessing the sustainability approach of an organization I am more or less looking at the ‘future readiness’ of this organization and the way they have given shape to an operationalized approach on how to follow the six S.W.I.T.C.H. paradigm dimensions. After many different trials and having seen many different existing assessments, the ‘S.W.I.T.C.H. diamond’ crystalized as a visual expression of my assessment, a hexagon shape that carries ‘six areas of readiness’.

Why a diamond? 

Well, the hexagon shape of my early drawings automatically made the impression to look like some sort of a diamond. But the more I thought about it the more I loved the idea, simply because a diamond is also an expression of desires, value and longevity. ‘Diamonds are forever’ as they say, and isn’t that what we want to achieve in sustainability as well – seeing our planet as a precious, beautiful and long lasting home for all species?

There are a couple of additional remarks to make about the diamond idea. First of all a rough diamond will only reveal its full beauty when all sides of it have been grinded and polished to perfection, an attraction, a seduction, a must-have. It will not absorb and reflect light as it could if parts of it are left untreated.  The same is true for the S.W.I.T.C.H. diamond: just dealing with one or the other ‘area of readiness’ will leave patchwork and the approach towards sustainability will be ineffective, in danger to be seen as greenwashing, and most likely not understood.

Secondly, there is the art to present a nice diamond, the genius jeweller’s touch to find the right symbiosis to create a mounted jewel and therewith making it a complete artwork, together with the ring. I see the parallel  with the S.W.I.T.C.H. diamond in that the ‘areas of readiness’ are surrounded by the six ‘paradigm dimensions’, giving it the necessary embedding.

Thirdly, there is the ring itself which enables the owner to develop the personal bondage with the diamond, this unbelievable feeling of care and the pride to wear the precious ring, becoming ONE and in the end BECOME part of the artwork. Without the ring, the diamond would remain simply something to look at, but will remain somehow ‘disconnected’, a pure investment in a bank safe or under glass in a museum. Translated to the S.W.I.T.C.H. diamond idea it means that the ring represents all of us who bond with the idea of a holistically implemented sustainability identity in an organization, meaning that those organisations will be more ‘attached’ to us, and BECOME part of our wanted identity as a people. We support them by our willingness to buy their goods, support them through governments through the right sort of recognition (including financial and tax support), support them from society urging for more transparency and better education, and support them through the academic and professional institutions that will help to translate sustainability into new measures of success and standards.

Fourthly, diamond is the hardest natural material known, where hardness is defined as resistance to scratching, which is graded between 1 (softest) and 10 (hardest) using the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. Diamond has a hardness of 10 on this scale.  Therefore, whereas it might be possible to scratch some diamonds with other materials, the hardest diamonds can only be scratched by other diamonds. Related to S.W.I.T.C.H. the parallel is clearly that those rock-solid approaches by the proactive companies are those that can’t be scratched by the short term lobbyism and interest of others. These organizations have it ‘crystal clear’ given the holistic approach towards sustainability they took, an atomic strucure which connects the areas of activity in which people unfold the robustness of the approach.

One last point, let’s say a disclaimer: I am very aware that diamonds have a bad connotation in the sustainability community given the shameful abuse of mine workers, producing what is called ‘blood diamonds’. It has taken the mining industry a long time to approach this shameful practice, but examples like the ‘Kimberley Process’ show that there is willingness to address necessary change. Let’s park this here, o.k.?

The six ‘areas of readiness’

Back to the six ‘areas of readiness’ of the S.W.I.T.C.H. diamond, which you can see in the image below; they are surrounded by the six ‘paradigm dimensions’, forming the ‘mounted jewel’. Working on all six areas of readiness is necessary to adhere to a systemic, worldwide, integrated, transparent, collaborative and holistic approach to achieve ‘future readiness’ and being sustainable. Working on these six areas doesn’t have to happen in parallel, but logical through a well thought-through roadmap approach. The idea is that the S.W.I.T.C.H. diamond can be applied to generically all kinds of organizations, but surely best practice in different sorts of organizations is just natural – something that needs to be further explored later on this blog.

Figure 1: The S.W.I.T.C.H. diamond with the six ‘paradigm dimensions’ and the ‘ six areas of readiness’

Product and service readiness directly relate to the purpose of the existence of the organization, meaning their direct output to clients and society, so how an organization serves us all. Infrastructure readiness covers the material assets and additional throughput needed to be able to produce outputs; those have their own footprints and impacts, and many of them are not subsumed in the assessments of wanted output. Behavioral readiness has to do with the way human beings treat and respect each other inside the organisation, but also how to relate with all other human beings outside the organisation that have a stake in the organisation, may it be direct or indirect. System readiness and stakeholder readiness are partially the outcome of behavioral readiness, but vice versa can also contribute to increased behavioral readiness. System readiness, stakeholder readiness and behavioral readiness are the enabling areas that help structure the other three areas of readiness and make sure the result is ‘a diamond’. They are the sort of coding how all the atoms have to be placed to produce the shiny diamond that is so extremely hard. Finally, future readiness is the outcome of the teamplay of all the areas of readiness.

The following blogs will cover each of the six areas in more detail: what are the issues that need to be covered in all of them to make an organization sustainable and what work programs derive from them? Many of them are by far not new, but they will only work if they are logically interlinked with each other (again the analogy to the atom structure of the diamond). For example: how to think about a cradle-to-cradle strategy if the overall need of it is not clear to top- and mid-management and not rewarded. How will this work if the organization has no proper view of the needs from stakeholder involved? How will it be possible to manage such a program if the right data are not available, not organized, or simply not right? And finally, how should this work if the infrastrucure of the organization has a high ecological or social footprint?

A note of caution at the end: While the S.W.I.T.C.H. diamond tries to accurately capture the different areas in which an organization needs to move (and remain open-minded at any moment, securing progress at any time) the next question normally is ‘but where do I start’? Many top managers will prefer the product and service area because that’s where the money is made and where in their view ‘ the rubber hits the road’! My view is different: I learnt myself that sustainability has so much to do with trust and authenticity that I recommend to first look at the enabling areas: system readiness, stakeholder readiness and behavioral readiness. The better they have been managed, the quicker and more effective the organization will in the end make steps towards infrastructure readiness and product and service readiness. I’ll therefore start with stakeholder readiness, so stay tuned!

If you like to comment on the idea, the areas, the logic so far presented, please do so! I do see my blogging as an open discussion in which all of us can learn and an invitation to contribute!