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Scalable Consumption + Supply Chain + Circular Economy = Hope for Sustainable Economies

1 Mar

Consumers have unprecedented opportunity to be active shapers of the products and services they buy and use, rather than passive receivers, taking whatever companies provide.  Apples most recent litmus test on corporate social responsibility with its key Chinese supply chain manufacturing partner, Foxconn, and resulting consumer outcry is but just one example of the power that consumers have to sway products manufacturers to alter their business patterns.

At the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Aron Cramer (CEO and President of Business for Social Responsibility or BSR) observed at one workshop the “fast-changing relationship between businesses and consumers. The question on the minds of many of the business executives in the room was “is this good or bad for business”. The answer to this particular either/or question is undoubtedly both. Companies that stay ahead of this curve by involving consumers in product design; providing transparent information about the social and environmental content of these products, and looking at new models to provide value in new ways will prosper. Those that don’t will find growth hard to come by.”

Scaling Consumption in a Smart and Sustainable Way

The WEF has devoted a great deal of attention to the issue of scaling consumption sustainably as the world economy shifts both demographically and economically. WEF examines these issues in a report entitled: More with Less: Scaling Sustainable Consumption and Resource Efficiency. The study properly takes a “systems view” of sustainable consumption.  In other words, rather than focusing just on the demand side, WEF looks at the challenges and possible solutions through a value-chain centric lens of what they describe as:

  • consumer engagement (demand)
  • value chains and upstream action (supply)
  • policies and an enabling environment to accelerate change (rules of the game).

“Making your business sustainable in today’s world is an absolute imperative. The business case for sustainable growth is clearer than ever and the urgency of the issues we face means that business leaders have no choice but to act. ” Paul Polman. Chief Executive Officer, Unilever

As WEF explains, “The main outcome is the identification of key focus areas for business leadership through concrete goals and collaboration across industries”.  For this report, WEF engaged with chief executive officers, business leaders and experts worldwide, seeking answers and thoughts centered six key questions:

  1. What are the key trends in sustainable consumption?
  2. What is the size of the opportunity for countries, companies and consumers?
  3. What are the barriers to scaling existing models of sustainable consumption?
  4. What does getting to scale look like?
  5. What new solutions are needed to get to scale in sustainable consumption?
  6. How can we achieve scale by working collectively and creating action on new fronts?

 Barriers, Mind Sets and Complexities- Oh My!

To no surprise, the report identified a number of internal and external barriers to staving and influencing scalable and sustainable consumption, notably (according to the report):

  • Consumers lack incentives for sustainable consumption and are confused by mixed messages. The study noted that one survey of British consumers indicated that 70% were uncertain about the environmental performance of the products they buy.  I have seen similar surveys here in the United States that compare with the British results
  • Supply chains are complex, opaque and interconnected. Deep supply chains, like Apples or the textile industry, create many complexities that place  limits to in certainties sustainable sourcing
  • Technology remains costly and inadequately deployed.   The study notes that “Fewer than 20 facilities in the world are certified to melt down and recycle the cathode ray tubes of old television sets, and all are in Asia. E-waste, which at present largely originates in the US and Europe will travel across multiple countries and continents for recycling – putting the environmental benefits into question and causing additional social concerns”.  That being said, more collaborative enterprises across industries and economies can replace the linear economies that characterize western industrial nations, and create more opportunities to expand technologies further and wider.
  • Policy incentives remain weak. The report notes that “trade systems and tariffs rarely differentiate between unsustainable and more sustainable alternatives, preventing a potential increase of 7–13% in the traded volumes of sustainable products
  • Short-termism dominates the landscape, and traction in fast-growing markets remains low. Typical of capitalism and free enterprise, most companies growth targets rarely look out father than a few years, and seek short term gains to keep shareholders happy.  The WEF report noted that “55% of FTSE 100 company sustainability targets were to be achieved within 1–2 year timeframes, while only 18% looked out to 2018–2020”.

The graphic below suggests some strategies in the report to overcome these barriers along the three key value-chain points as described above.

Solutions for Scaling Economies (Source, WEF, 2012)

Moving Toward a Circular Economy

Something else also happened “on the way to the Forum” (well actually at the Forum) that may offer some insights and solutions that are discussed in the WEF report.  At Davos, Ellen MacArthur, head of the non-profit Ellen MacArthur Foundation, suggested that while” rapid technological evolution across all major industry sectors,{was taking place] … very little change within the economic model itself {has been occurring]. The economy is still based on a linear “take, make and dispose” model.”  A new report Towards the Circular Economy, analyzes the international business case behind the idea of shifting from a linear to a more circular economy.

“The essence of the circular economy lies in designing goods using technical materials to facilitate disassembly and re-use, and structuring business models so manufacturers can reap rewards from collecting and refurbishing, remanufacturing, or redistributing products they make. In this model all things are made to be made again, ultimately using energy from renewable sources[and in a less toxic manner]. Companies shift to focusing on selling performance in the place of product, and consumers now become users.” – Ellen MacArthur

Make sense?  Well if Ms. MacArthurs numbers are correct, “embracing the circular economy model could lead to an annual economic opportunity of up to $630bn a year towards 2025.”  Where do I sign up!!??  Still interested?  Read more about the circular economy, ways to leverage the entire supply chain and build sustainable, scalable consumption here and view a fascinating video here. .

As Aron Cramer mentioned in a GreenBiz article in January, the time for sustainable consumption is now.  “The need to develop new consumption patterns is the mother of all innovation challenges. The race to dematerialize is on. Some of this will come from the digital revolution, as newspapers can now be delivered wirelessly to e-readers instead of plopping dead trees on the doorstep. But some of the innovation will come from redesigning business models.”  Perhaps Mr. Cramer and Ms. MacArthur are onto something.

Are you, as consumer, as manufacturer, product designer or corporate executive, or even as fellow Planet-eer, ready to help make that change?  We can change the rules of the game together, for a stronger, more circular economy. As Captain Planet says, “The Power is Yours”.

Will Apple Finally Embrace Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainability w/ Tim Cook at Helm?

19 Jan

If you have been a frequent reader of this space, you’d know my position on Apple and the manner in which it’s conducted its supply chain sustainability programs…or hasn’t.

2011: Game On (or the Collective Karma Ran Over Your Dogma)

Last fall, I wrote about the follow up efforts by Chinese NGO Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), who performed five more months of research and field investigations and reported that “the pollution discharge from this enormous industrial empire has been expanding and spreading throughout its supply chain, seriously encroaching on the local communities and their environment… the volume of hazardous waste produced by suspected Apple Inc. suppliers was especially large and some had failed to properly dispose of their hazardous waste.”

Six months before that (nearly a year ago), I presented my thoughts about the IPEs report that leveled complaints against the IT/Electronics industry and the overall performance of nearly 30 major manufacturers and their respective key parts suppliers.  The report focused on “the openness of IT firms and their responsiveness to reports of environmental violations at suppliers”.  Concerns were raised in the report regarding levels of environmental toxins and pollutants being discharged in rivers and streams and into air sheds.

Many people have asked me over the past half-year why Apple is being uncooperative or secretive.  Well, “secrecy” has always been part of the Apple mystique, but of course so has evolutionary and disruptive innovation. The problem as I saw it then (and this thought has now been vindicated) is when it comes to corporate social responsibility and sustainability, transparency is the name of the game, not secrecy.  I also suggested that Apples supplier network may be too big to handle and they lack the tools, systems and technologies to perform adequate supplier training and oversight.  Combined with inconsistent Chinese regulatory agency oversight on its industrial manufacturers, this presented difficult challenges to a workable, and meaningful sustainable supply chain solution. But Nike did it, so why couldn’t (or wouldn’t) Apple, I asked?

My advice last September to Apple and new CEO Tim  Cook was to step up and be as evolutionary on corporate social responsibility and sustainability matters as it is with its products.  My exact words were: “show humility, take responsibility, and act swiftly and collaboratively.”

Gladly I am happy to report that Apple has wised up and stepped voluntarily under the glare of public scrutiny.

2012: Enter Mr. Cook…the New, Improved, Socially Responsible Apple?

"Good Apple"

In its Supplier Responsibility 2012 Progress Report, the company states it is “committed to driving the highest standards for social responsibility throughout [its] supply base”. It adds: “We require that our suppliers provide safe working conditions, treat workers with dignity and respect, and use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes wherever Apple products are made.”

The 156 companies it lists alongside the report on its Supplier Responsibility website account from more than 97 per cent of what Apple pays to suppliers to manufacture its products.  A complete picture of all the thousands of suppliers in Apples supply chain may be daunting, but at least the company has captured the suppliers where the “greatest spend” is.

Highlights from the 2012 Report

  • In 2011, we conducted 229 audits throughout our supply chain — an 80 percent increase over 2010 — including more than 100 first-time audits. We continue to expand our program to reach deeper into our supply base, and this year we added more detailed and specialized audits that focus on safety and the environment.
  • Apple-designed training programs have educated more than one million supply chain employees about local laws, their rights as workers, occupational health and safety, and Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct.
  • Our audits have always checked for compliance with environmental standards. In 2011, in addition to our standard audits, we launched a specialized auditing program to address environmental concerns about certain suppliers in China. Third-party environmental engineering experts worked with our team to conduct detailed audits at 14 facilities. We uncovered some violations and worked with our suppliers to correct the issues. We will expand our environmental auditing program in the coming year. [violations unearthed included dumping wastewater onto a neighboring farm, using machines without safeguards, testing workers for pregnancy and falsifying pay records]
  • We have a zero-tolerance policy for underage labor, and we believe our system is the toughest in the electronics industry. In 2011, we broadened our age verification program and saw dramatic improvements in hiring practices by our suppliers. Cases of underage labor were down significantly, and our audits found no underage workers at our final assembly suppliers. [Apple said it found six active and 13 historical cases of underage labor at some component suppliers, but none at its final-assembly partners]
  • We offer continuing education opportunities at our suppliers’ facilities free of charge. More than 60,000 workers have enrolled in classes to study business and entrepreneurship, improve their computer skills, or learn English. And the curriculum continues to expand. We’ve also partnered with some local universities to offer courses that employees can apply toward an associate degree.

Apple has vowed to deal with worker abuses, hoping to deflect criticism it was turning a blind eye to cases of poor working conditions in a mostly Asian supply chain. Perhaps in a huge move, Apple will allow independent auditors from the Fair Labor Association to also be part of the future auditing process.  In an interview last Friday, Mr. Cook said Apple’s vow to double the number of supplier audits along its supply chain is “raising the bar” for the entire high technology industry, and that more change is on the way.  Cook said “All of this means that workers will be treated better and better with each passing year…It’s not something we feel like we have done what we can do, much remains to be done.”

The San Jose (California) Mercury News quoted analyst Ken Dulaney with Gartner Research who wondered why this may have taken so long to happen. “Who knows why they didn’t do this sooner? It could have been because of Steve Jobs. Maybe with Cook’s financial background he’s trying to move Apple toward less secrecy, which would be a very good thing. It’s part of their trying to be a good global citizen.”

Under Scrutiny

Either way, Apple will continue to be under watchful eyes, as environmentalist and labor activists continue to push for more reforms by American companies doing business overseas.  Apple still will need to double down its efforts to respond more proactively to the many environmental impact related issues reported in the past by its major suppliers, especially in China.  But for a company that has played its cards extremely close to the chest, it’s a major breakthrough, if time proves the intent to be true.

Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum in Washington, D.C, said that how the industry as a whole responds” depends how engaged they [Apple] are going forward. You see companies make these commitments and there’s often a lot of fanfare, but it doesn’t always pan out the way they say it will.”

Maybe Mr. Cook is the one “Good Apple” that will save the bunch.  Let’s hope so.

“COP-Out”- The Durban Climate Talks and the Tragedy of the Climate Commons. Will Business Innovation Save the World?

15 Dec

Feeling a bit like the holidays for sure.  And I feel like humanity just got “scrooged”.   A year ago, I wrote about the COP16 U.N. Climate Conference in Mexico City and how governments were playing “kick the can” with climate policy. I noted that there was “some progress on establishing more robust means to appropriate and distribute micro-finance funds to support development of technologies in developing countries that lack the dollars themselves to manage their own greenhouse gas footprints.”  I also noted that many companies, rather than countries were taking unilateral initiatives to reach deep into their supply chain to develop innovative, new products that are less impacting to the environment and that can help developing-nations likely to be hit hard by global warming.

Based on what has (or has not) transpired at the recently wrapped up COP17/CMP5 in Durban the past two weeks, I am left feeling that global consensus on this issue, while not completely out of the question, is getting closer.  But the incremental, baby step pace of progress is (according to most climate scientists) insufficient to avert seemingly unstoppable rise in year over year average global temperatures.  It’s not the science that appears in question, rather it appears that there appears to be ongoing hesitancy to bear accountability and resolute responsibility on the part of those who carry or deny the mantle of developed nation status (hint: United States, China, India).  Despite the last minute efforts of the 194 nations in attendance and working past the official end of the conference, hopes for a meaningful and comprehensive global agreement appeared to be faltering.

As an example, the recent article in the Guardian stated that “The EU has found it hard to push through its “roadmap” that would establish an overarching, legal agreement committing all countries to emission cuts”.    So, the EU got what it wanted.  Also, according to an African delegate, “The US has what it wants. There is no guarantee that the new agreement will legally bind governments to cut emissions.”  The U.S. indeed got what it wanted. China and India continue to maintain they are still too undeveloped on the whole to be accountable in the same manner as western, industrialized nations and also claims they are implementing what they have already pledged to do at prior UN conferences.  Um…show me.

The one big victory I did hear that came out of the past two weeks was on an agreement on establishing a $100 billion/year climate fund to help developing countries address climate change.  But before we celebrate that breakthrough, there’s a small outstanding issue …there is no clear mechanism for how that money will be raised. In the recent words of GOP candidate Gov. Rick Perry… “Oops”.  In addition, rich countries would be allowed to offset their emissions by making payments to poor countries which protected their forests.  Is this a bilateral effort or are poorer counties expected to bear 100% of the burden of making that happen.  What is thought to be enough isn’t.  Tim Gore, policy adviser for Oxfam, stated “Governments must really get to grips with the climate crisis.”  That’s an understatement if I ever heard one.  Gore summed up his take on the winners, losers and likely impact on the poorer nations here.

So, while COP17 by most measures succeeded where prior UN gatherings failed, the agreements on which progress will be measured (using the 2015 and 2020 yardsticks established at Durban) may not be swift enough to stem the slow bleed that climate change is bringing on around the world.

Supply Chain Sector Gets Some Attention

Going into the climate conference, two key supply chain sectors, aviation and shipping, were targeted for discussion. According to the Civil Air Services Navigation Organization, “After a number of days of tough negotiations on aviation, there was still no decision on some of the key aspects of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) and how they relate to aviation and shipping, and the ability for countries negotiation under the UNFCCC to tell negotiators at ICAO what to do.

In the final agreed Durban Platform text on aviation, there was a brief placeholder text:  “International aviation and maritime transport Agrees to continue its consideration of issues related to addressing emissions from international aviation and maritime transport;”

Basically, there was no agreement was reached …end of story.  That being said, I have written countless posts on the administrative and technological advances underway by large intermodal shippers and transporters and the aviation industry to quell fuel use and has been exploring how to develop sustainable aviation biofuels, including in developing countries to meet the Climate Fund goals established in Durban.  Aviation and transportation stakeholders have concluded that “agreement amongst nearly all countries [is] that [International Civil Aviation Organization] ICAO is the most appropriate place to deal with aviation emissions. The industry will continue to engage with ICAO to ensure that an ambitious work program can deliver an outcome on aviation emissions by the next ICAO Assembly in 2013”.

Moving past Durban

The Huffington Post summarized the main outcome of COP17, the so-called “Durban Platform”, including the “establishment and empowerment of an “Ad Hoc Working Group” to develop a new protocol and to “complete its work … no later than 2015 in order … [for the new protocol] … to come into effect and be implemented from 2020.” The new protocol is to be a “legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” with this critical stipulation: “applicable to all Parties.” Nowhere in this agreement do the words “common but differentiated appear.” (Full details in this draft document: “Establishment of an Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.”)”

Writer and author Marc Gunther summed up the positive and negative spins on the Durban conference, and suggested that perhaps the evolution of climate negotiations will transcend universal treaties, relying more on regional, collaborative agreements and technological advances as the primary means of progress.  Gunther nails the takeaways by suggesting that “First, those companies that worry about climate change need to bring their voices more forcefully to the policy arena; they can’t assume that governments are on the right track. Second, companies ought to prepare for climate change–when they site new facilities, for example–because it’s unavoidable.”

The Durban Platforms emphasis on more dialogue, more planning and lack of clear immediate is tragic.  Not for the planet.  No sane person can look me in the eye and say with a straight face that seven billion people, with all their wants and needs, have not affected the global ecosystem.  But despite all the perversities and ravages that we’ve inflicted on Earth, the planet will survive.  But for us, the larger mass of humanity, we hold our own fate in our hands …and we are blowing it.  Why?  Because there are nations (the EU, United States, China and India among them) that cannot…or will not…move past their “self interest”.  They are just kicking the can down the road.

The Tragedy of the Commons

In 1968, ecologist Garrett Harding published “The Tragedy of the Commons in the journal Science. I was introduced to Hardin’s theory many times during my undergraduate and graduate environmental law studies. His highly controversial and criticized theory presented a hypothetical situation involving herders sharing a common parcel of land, on which they are each entitled to let their cows graze. Hardin theorized that it was in each herder’s “self interest” to put more cows onto the land, even if the quality of the common is damaged for all (through overgrazing). The herder receives all of the benefits from an additional cow, while the damage to the common is shared by the entire group. Further if all herders make the same choice, the common will be depleted or even destroyed, to the detriment of all.  Systems ecologists called this an exceedance of “carrying capacity” resulting in other tragedies likie overfishing, depletion of forest resources, water supplies and arable land.   And while the acts of an individual or one corporation may singularly have little impact, the cumulative effect can be overwhelming and often leave irreversible impacts.

Hardin’s theories have been widely criticized from an economic point of view.  Political scientist Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Economics (2009), showed that the “Tragedy of the Commons” (its overuse and destruction) doesn’t happen, at least when all the people who share the commons can get together and talk about it.   Ostrom found that, when there are no internal or external forces preventing the “commoners” from a free, open and robust discussion of how they should agree to govern and limit their use of it so it doesn’t get overgrazed and thus ruined for all, then the commons goes on thriving.

And that, dear friends and readers is the tragedy of the Climate Conference in Durban…the political process and governmental self interest appeared once again come up short, co-opting the outcomes “to the detriment of all”. As noted in a National Public Radio broadcast in 2009, “Every nation wants to act in its own interest but that may not be the same as the global interest.”

Innovation, Technology and a Collective Conscience

I believe now, as I believed and wrote about during COP16 in Mexico City and after COP15 in “Nope”nhagen that governments were putting off today what we can technologically achieve now. What happened?  Has humanity lost its mojo…or is something else going on?

In a fascinating article by venture capitalist Roland Van Der Meer, Holding Off the Tragedy of the Commons, he describes some of the underlying factors that he believes have contributed to the global decline in natural resources, and lack of environmental stewardship…and it comes down to innovation.

Both governments and corporations are institutions that exist for the reason of self promulgation, actualization, and advancement (to further itself, to continue to exist, to not change). The methodologies that they deploy and back is their best practice, it is what they believe, what they will hold on to and how they will exist and thrive. And this is the failure point. It is not meant to change. Its very survival depends upon the lack of change.

What is missing is a catalyst for change. Why change? Because what worked best 100, 50,  20 or even 10 years ago is no longer the best methodology or practice.

The institution is good at doing what it was designed to do and it stubbornly holds on to that design at the expense of its own destruction or the method it protects. Change is needed.

The incumbent companies and regulations are stuck in a process and framework which prevents and disincentivizes change. They even go further to lock out or block change because it would lead to their own destruction…. it is our collective resources that are at stake. We need to be open and create the new enterprises that will create, invent and adapt in the basic resources areas.

I believe, as do organizations like the Responding to Climate Change (RTCC) that the private sector can “pick up the slack” in tackling climate change where government agreements have (up to this point) failed.   However, to effectively incentivize innovative technologies, the private sector must continue to be a part of the larger policy debate.  There is a way out of the mess we have made and one of my personal life influencers, Amory Lovins, has a plan.  In his new book, Reinventing Fire- Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era offers “actionable solutions for four energy-intensive sectors of the economy: transportation, buildings, industry, and electricity”. The Rocky Mountain Institutes Lovins states “business can become more competitive, profitable, and resilient by leading the transformation from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. This transition will build a stronger economy, a more secure nation, and a healthier environment.” Imagine if this approach can be applied at a global level, with a combination of government/business and monitored, measurable multi-national collaboration and a collective common conscience. What have we got to lose?

When it comes to real action on climate change, the upside of heretical innovation is huge…and the downside unthinkable.

With a Change in Workplace Comes Reflections on Society, Sustainability and a Balanced World

30 Nov

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tsa1/5543988340/

You may have noticed that this space has been “dark” of late.  Why, since I’ve been gone and the world has spun round and round: the Occupy Wall Street launched (and perhaps corporate social responsibility entered the public eye), Kim Kardashian got married AND divorced, Libya fell, the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series,  the debt ceiling crisis…well that’s still with us.   No, I didn’t disappear into the abyss after my Africa trip in August.  No, I didn’t burn out or give up.  Instead, I’ve moved forward a notch in the journey.

I’ve always maintained to family, friends and colleagues that “change is good”, and that it continues to drive us to continually improve on a personal and professional scale.  As I announced in early October to 800 of my closest personal friends and colleagues on LinkedIn, I recently started a full time position as Associate Director- Environment, Health & Safety (EHS) for Elan Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in South San Francisco, CA.    A long time client of mine, Elan is at the forefront of neuroscience based biotechnology.  Elan’s work includes research and development activities for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease and autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis.   I am proud to be aligned with a company that is focused on tackling some of the most troubling and challenging diseases of the mind and body, some of which have affected members of my own family.

With my days (and occasional evenings) fully committed with Elan, I’ll be placing ValueStream Performance Advisors on hiatus. Despite the change in venue, my enthusiasm and passion for heretical thinking, innovation, systems-based management and organizational sustainability, remains the same.  I’m happy with what ValueStream was able to accomplish through from 2009-2011 along with my many collaborators and clients

However, while my social media presence may change in the months and years ahead, I will nonetheless continue to be an ardent advocate for organizational sustainability, and proactive EHS compliance and management (which Elan has graciously endorsed as well).  I am truly appreciative of all of the support you, as readers have given me and continue to value the business relationships that we’ve established. To date, over 90,000 (!!!) visits have been made to this site to learn, share, argue and discuss key ideas and issues focused around sustainability.

Managing Change and Life’s Risky Balance

Like my change in workplace, you will also see some changes in the look and content of this site as well, starting with the banner photo.  This was a shot of the iconic acacia trees that I took while on a mini-safari this past summer in the Spioenkop Nature Reserve in the Drakensberg, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.  Riding on horseback among the roaming wildlife (among them rhinos, giraffe, zebras and hartebeests) I was reminded of how critical it is that we all take a moment to reflect on the nature of humankind, how far we have come in a relatively short period of time on this planet, and how easily we have drifted away from lifes precious balance.    Not far from the ancient cave dwellings of the aboriginal San people, I realized how out of step humanity is with what’s around them, and what a ruinous course we may be on.  We are perhaps the species most at risk.  I also noted in my related post following that South Africa trip discussing environmental, health and safety, that ” companies must take care of basic HSE issues and lay a firm foundational framework for continual improvement first before they can progress along the sustainability journey.  …Regarding sustainability, it makes little sense force feeding a business approach that has little immediate bearing on managing organizations immediate risks.”  This is one of many reasons why I elected to refocus my career work on managing basic EHS issues to assure that a solid foundation is in place to support systematic sustainability efforts.

We are at a critical juncture on this fragile planet of ours.  We all have a moral imperative to passionately recast our “lot” in a much larger, infinitely complex global ecological system.  As Gregory Reggio so eloquently and powerfully captured in his epic 1982 film, “Koyaanisqatsi”, we live in a world…a life, out of balance.  How ironic that the United Nations COP17/CMP7 International Climate Conference has convened this week in  Durban, South Africa, to discuss  the most critical “out of balance” issue of our lifetime, climate change. …just a few short hours away from where the banner shot on this page was taken.

Humanity has the combined technical capability to use science, politics,  innovative technology and cultural awareness  to reshape the global natural, social and economic environment  to a point of balance and equity.   Do we have the collective wisdom to use that knowledge to achieve and maintain that balance?    I think we do, but like the sustainability journey we are on together,  it’ll take many steps and the political will to get there.

Please take a moment to add my new email to your contact list. I’ll retain dmeyer@valuestreamadvisors.com  address as a general professional networking address, or you can reach me here or at Elan — my new contact details are pasted below. And of course, you can still find me on Twitter and my commentary on Sustainable Business Forum, Sustainable Plant, Kinaxis Supply Chain Expert Community, and other media sites.

All the Best!

Dave R. Meyer, Associate Director- Environment, Health & Safety

Elan Pharmaceuticals Inc.

800 Gateway Blvd., South San Francisco, CA 94080

Direct: +1 650.877.7624

Email: david.meyer@elan.com

Chinese NGO Claims Apple Supply Chain Sustainability is ‘Rotten to the Core’. Will Consumers Agree?

2 Sep

Photo by i.hoffman under CC License

Here we go again.  Six months ago, I presented my thoughts about a report by Chinese NGO Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) that leveled complaints against the IT/Electronics industry and the overall performance of nearly 30 major manufacturers and their respective key parts suppliers.  The report focused on “the openness of IT firms and their responsiveness to reports of environmental violations at suppliers”.  Concerns were raised in the report regarding levels of environmental toxins and pollutants being discharged in rivers and streams and into air sheds.

Worker complaints about unsafe working conditions and acute health problems were presented.  The IPE gave opportunities to every company referenced in the report to initiate an open and two-way dialogue, and most did …except Apple Electronics.  According to the report, Apple was more secretive about its supply chain than almost every other American company operating in the China.  Apple came up among the laggards among 29 major electronics and IT firms in a transparency study drawn up by a coalition of China’s leading environmental groups.

These are the iPad and iPod guys for crying out loud!  The evolutionary wizards who have shaped and fundamentally changed the way that most consumers behave, work, interact and get on with their daily lives.  Those guys who at one point this summer became the wealthiest company in the United States…this before iconic CEO Steve Jobs retired.

Apple- Skinned Again

Following the early 2011 report, the IPE performed five more months of research and field investigations and reported that “the pollution discharge from this enormous industrial empire has been expanding and spreading throughout its supply chain, seriously encroaching on the local communities and their environment… the volume of hazardous waste produced by suspected Apple Inc. suppliers was especially large and some had failed to properly dispose of their hazardous waste.”

The IPE reported (rather colorfully I might add) that 27 suspected suppliers to Apple had known environmental problems.  The IPE noted that in Apples ‘2011 Supplier Responsibility Report’, “where core violations were discovered from the 36 audits, not a single violation was based on environmental pollution. The public has no way of knowing if Apple is even aware of these problems. Again, the public has no way of knowing if Apple has pushed their suppliers to resolve these issues. Therefore, despite Apple’s seemingly rigorous audits, pollution is still expanding and spreading along with the supply chain.”

IPE reported that “during the past year and four months, a group of NGOs made attempts to push Apple along with 28 other IT brands to face these problems and the methods with which they may be resolved. Of these 29 brands, many recognised the seriousness of the pollution problem within the IT industry, with Siemens, Vodafone, Alcatel, Philips and Nokia being amongst the first batch of brands to start utilizing the publicly available information. These companies then began to overcome the spread of pollution created by global production and sourcing, and thus turn their sourcing power into a driving force for China’s pollution control. However, Apple has become a special case. Even when faced with specific allegations regarding its suppliers, the company refuses to provide answers and continues to state that “it is our long-term policy not to disclose supplier information.

The IPE offered its opinion that “Apple has already made a choice; to stand on the wrong side, to take advantage of the loopholes in developing countries’ environmental management systems, and to be closely associated with polluting factories.”

IPE concluded that Apple needed to own up and be accountable for its supply chain for the following four reasons:

  1. “… any company that produces a large amount of hardware must bear the responsibility for the environmental and social costs incurred during the manufacturing process.
  2. Secondly, the suppliers who violate the standards for levels of pollutants emitted and who ignore environmental concerns and workers’ health do these things with the aim of cutting costs and maximizing profits.
  3. Thirdly, Apple Inc. understands that when passing the blame for social responsibility it can be difficult to pull the wool over the eyes of the general public…; and
  4. Fourthly, many people do not understand that Apple and other brands’ outsourcing of production is not the same as ordinary purchasing behavior. Various sources of information show that Apple is deeply involved in supply chain management—from the choice of materials to use to the control of clean rooms in the production process.”

So What’s Wrong With Apple?

Apples image problem appears to be getting worse before it gets better and it may be more than just a public relations problem; and it’s not just in China that Apple is facing criticisms.  Apple, like most consumer electronics manufacturers is a major user of highly sought after precious minerals, many of them associated with conflict areas (so-called ‘conflict minerals’). Apple in fact sources tin from 125 suppliers that use 43 smelters worldwide.  That’s an awful big challenge from a supply chain management perspective. But Apple was still a bit slow to step up like other key IT companies like Dell and Intel and collaborate with the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition in developing a framework to address conflict mineral traceability.

Further complicating the issue is the sheer size of Apples supply chain and the general difficulty that comes in managing dispersed multi-tired supply chains in other countries.  In an excellent piece published in GreenBiz this week, Environmental Defense Fund Project Manager Andrew Hutson suggested that  “If you’ve got an office in Shenzhen or Hong Kong, it’s very  hard to keep tabs on the perhaps thousands of factories you have across  China in any given moment”.  The article went on to discuss how scrutiny can sometimes  lead contractors to move factories to more remote areas, farther away  from watchdogs, suggesting that “the sheer distance from headquarters created by chasing low-cost labor  to developing countries can effectively reduce accountability”. While cheap labor in far off lands certainly has its benefits, clearly it has its disadvantages and Apple is paying the price.

Many people have asked me over the past half-year why Apple is being uncooperative or secretive.  Well, “secrecy” has always been part of the Apple mystique, but of course so has evolutionary and disruptive innovation. The problem is when it comes to corporate social responsibility and sustainability, transparency is the name of the game, not secrecy.  In this “WikiLeaks” world of ours, mystique only gets companies mired deeper into areas of suspicion and distrust.

Photo via Michael Holden under Flikr CC License

But perhaps there is more to the issue to noodle on. Is it entirely possible that Apple isn’t ignoring the problem, but rather its supplier network is just too big to handle and they lack the tools, systems and technologies to perform adequate supplier training and oversight?  Or is it that Chinese regulatory agencies also lack the resources or institutional oversight necessary to monitor compliance over in-country industrial manufacturers that service multiple consumer brands?  Or is it possible that as consumers our insatiable appetite for Apple products is partly responsible for creating such high demand that Apple must reach out to hundreds if not thousands of suppliers to fulfill its orders and keep Apple product lovers happy?   Or is the problem a combination of rampant, unsustainable consumerism, poor regulatory oversight, a supply chain ‘gone wild’, AND a deviated moral center on the part of Apple (as the IPE suggests).  You see, its complicated and maybe, just maybe, we should all take a close look in the mirror and question our own culpability in this mess.

For any of my dedicated readers, I am by no means being an apologist for Apple.  You all know where I have stood in the past by constructively calling for Apple to step up and be as evolutionary on corporate social responsibility and sustainability matters as it is with its products.  I noted in my prior post the many key steps that Apple can and must take to effectively make a difference in its supply chain.  In addition Treehugger writer extraordinaire Jaymi Heimbuch offered some outstanding advice to new CEO Tim Cook, not the least of which was “requiring transparency in the supply chain and being more direct with suppliers about standards”.  My advice is simple Mr. Cook: show humility, take responsibility, and act swiftly and collaboratively.

Rest assured there are more activist organizations shaking Apples tree.  And what I fear (as Apple should too), is that one day all that shaking will bring that big old tree down.

This One’s for Ray- Reflections on the Passing of a Sustainability Giant & Radical Industrialist, Ray Anderson

8 Aug

Ray Anderson died this week.  Most of us in the business just called him “Ray”, because he really was such an approachable guy.  I saw him speak in San Diego three years ago, and even to a business green business veteran like me, he was sage-like.  To most outside the world of sustainability in business, the name hardly rang a bell.  But to those of us within its three concentric circles, Ray was an icon.  As many know, Ray Anderson ran InterfaceFLOR.  As the leader of a major global carpeting brand, which at that time relied on heavy use of industrial chemicals, hydrocarbon based products, energy and water use, InterFaceFLOR, like other carpet manufacturers was enduring a major challenge to rethink how its products were being made.

By the mid 1990’s when Ray had become the company’s CEO, more customers were asking questions about the company’s sustainability efforts.   In 1994, Ray had an awakening of sorts (his so-called  “point of a spear into my chest” moment), when after having a number of meetings and discussions with his staff and reading Paul Hawkens the Ecology of Commerce,  he became an enlightened, radical industrialist. He had come to the  conclusion that the environment was at risk and a lot of that was caused by industry and companies such InterfaceFLOR  that were based on petrochemicals and energy.

I, myself, was amazed to learn just how much stuff the earth has to produce through our extraction process to produce a dollar of revenue for our company. When I learned, I was flabbergasted. We are leaving a terrible legacy of poison and diminishment of the environment for our grandchildren’s grandchildren, generations not yet born. Some people have called that intergeneration tyranny, a form of taxation without representation, levied by us on generations yet to be. It’s the wrong thing to do.-Ray Anderson

The Radical Industrialist Takes on the Supply Chain

Ray was simply on a mission- for InterfaceFLOR to not only cut waste, but to be a leading, responsible business.  He became the face of the “radical industrialist” (the title of his last autobiographical  book which I received signed by him just two months ago is called Confessions of a Radical Industrialist) and in 1994 launched InterfaceFLOR into a first mover role to reduce its environmental and social footprint.  The data is quite extraordinary in the 17 years since the company launched its many environmental initiatives. Of course, Ray started with a plan- one that by necessity started small- but was across the board, an overhaul affecting every link of the supply chain.  Ray also smartly knew that go get his shareholders on board, he needed “obliterate costs/footprint associated with waste; silencing the shareholders that were uncomfortable with the risk involved with completely revolutionizing your company”.

We began to tackle the face of mountain we identified as waste. We defined waste, by the way, as any cost that we incurred that does not add value to our customer and that translates to doing everything right the first time, every time. It’s not just waste material, scrapped and low quality and so forth. If you send something to the wrong destination and have to get it back and reship it — that’s waste. If you incur a bad debt — that’s waste. So we defined waste very broadly and over time we actually said that any energy that comes from fossil fuel by our definition is waste and we need to eliminate it. We really began to think in different ways about our business in terms of climbing this mountain and it became very clear very quickly this was the smart thing to do. Not only did we start to generate answers for those customers, they embraced us for what we were trying to do. The goodwill in the market place has just been stunning. The rest of the business case is pretty simple. I cost it down not up. – Ray Anderson

According to Lindsay Parnell, InterFaceFLOR’s CEO for Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, the company has “reduced waste to landfill by 80 per cent since 1996, curbed water use by the same amount, reduced energy use per unit of production by 43 per cent, and cut greenhouse gases 44 per cent, partly by generating 30 per cent of its energy from renewable.  But what also stands out (and what made Ray such a business visionary) was that there was a phenomenal financial payback that could be realized from “going green”.  According to Parnell, “We could see that the millions of dollars were stacking up.  Between 1995 and 2010 we have saved $433m – that is a huge amount for a company with revenues of around $1bn. There is no way we have invested $433m in this, but that is what it has saved.”

It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. – Ray Anderson

Climbing Mount Sustainability

Rays efforts were noticed for sure.  Time Magazine featured him in an article this past spring and Fortune Magazine called him “America’s greenest CEO”.  He went out and “evangelized” over 150 times a year, until his fight with cancer started to finally slow him down.  The awards and honors bestowed on Ray and the companies over the past two decades are too many to mention here. Recently, Interface ranked 11th worldwide in the 2010 Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study & Research Project by MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group.  They ranked second behind Unilever in the 2011 Global Sustainability Leaders Survey from GlobeScan Inc. and SustainAbility Ltd.  Suffice it to say though that InterfaceFLORs efforts disruptively changed the way the carpet, building materials and textile industry operate today as compared to 20 years ago.

Meanwhile, in the last couple of years the company launched its highly ambitious  Mission Zero ™  sustainability strategy, which aims to turn InterfaceFLOR into a zero-impact organization.  Ray often spoke about how climbing the sustainability mountain in business was akin to climbing Mount Everest and that there were seven paths or fronts to get there:

  • Eliminate Waste: Eliminating all forms of waste in every area of business;
  • Benign Emissions: Eliminating toxic substances from products, vehicles and facilities;
  • Renewable Electricity: Operating facilities with renewable electricity sources – solar, wind, landfill gas, biomass, geothermal, tidal and low impact/small scale hydroelectric or non-petroleum-based hydrogen;
  • Closing the Loop: Redesigning processes and products to close the technical loop using recovered and bio-based materials;
  • Resource-Efficient Transportation: Transporting people and products efficiently to reduce waste and emissions;
  • Sensitizing Stakeholders: Creating a culture that integrates sustainability principles and improves people’s lives and livelihoods;
  • Redesign Commerce: Creating a new business model that demonstrates and supports the value of sustainability-based commerce;

Making the Business Case

When you are being asked to make the business case for sustainability – perhaps ask them to make the business case for being un-sustainable. – Ray Anderson

You see, for the past 30 years I’ve been evangelizing like Ray for organizations to make “the business case” on behalf of reducing waste of any kind (be it over-consumption, generation of waste, human productivity waste, etc) so the bottom line is optimized and employees, communities and the environment are protected.  To me it’s a “no brainer” and for folks like Ray it took an epiphany to make that realization.  Since Ray’s awakening in 1994, and especially in the past half decade or so, more CEO’s and manufacturers with local to global reach are coming to their own realizations and drawing their own conclusions.

Ray stepped out of his comfort zone to challenge the status quo.  He forged a new business normal that called for a respect of the land, responsible use of resources, smart design and innovative end of life (cradle to cradle) management of products.  Mission Zero will continue for the many thousands of employees of InterFaceFLOR around the world- all because of one man’s vision. All because of Ray.

As Ray said back in 2008 when I saw him, “There are noble fortunes to be made in the transition to sustainability.” That inspirational quote stands right up there with my son’s from back in 1991 when he introduced me to his pre-school class as the Dad who “saves the planet”.   Sometimes, being radical is not such a bad thing.

Mr. Anderson…er, Ray, thanks for all the inspiration- this one’s for you.

Greenpeace Takes Global Clothing Brands and Chinese Textile Supply Chain to the Cleaners. Who’s Responsible?

15 Jul

“I make my living off the evening news

Just give me somethin’, somethin’ I can use

People love it when you lose

they love dirty laundry”(Don Henley)

(from Greenpeace Report, "Dirty Laundry")

I was reminded of that Don Henley (The Eagles) solo hit from back in the 1980’s when I read about Greenpeaces latest initiative and report…aptly titled…you guessed it, “Dirty Laundry”.  The report focuses on the high levels of industrial pollutants being released into China’s major rivers like the Yangtze and the Pearl and commercial ties between a number of international brands such as Adidas, Nike and Li-Ning with two Chinese manufacturers responsible for releases of those hazardous chemicals.  Greenpeace has also launched the challenge ‘Detox’ Campaign, calling “brands, especially Adidas and Nike, to take the initiative and use their influence on its supply chain.”  The organization unfurled its characteristic banners at Adidas’s main retail store in Beijing this week.

There are several nuances to this story that are important to pass on and collaborative opportunities (rather than the finger-pointing that has plastered Twitter and other media the past 24 hours) to explore.

Supply Chain Challenges …Again!

This latest supply chain environmental wrinkle underscores the challenges multi-national organizations (MNC) are facing daily in oversight and enforcement of first tier, second tier or lower contract manufacturers.  If it’s not Apple under the radar, its Nike, or Adidas, or GE…who’s next?  Recent events concerning Apple Computers alleged lax supplier oversight and reported supplier human rights and environmental violations only shows a microcosm of the depth of the challenges that suppliers face in managing or influencing these issues on the ground.

To be fair, although the pollution is real and the threat of toxics contamination very real, it’s possible that Greenpeace may be sensationalizing Nikes and Adidas’s culpability.  In fact, neither company directly is involved with the key manufacturers labeled in the Greenpeace report.  The two manufacturers are the Youngor Textile Complex in Ningbo, an area near Shanghai along the Yangtze River Delta, and Well Dyeing Factory Ltd. in Zhongshan, China, along the Pearl River.  The Younger Group is China’s biggest integrated textile firm.

“Game on, Nike and Adidas.  Greenpeace is calling you out to see which one of you is stronger on the flats, quicker on the breaks, turns faster and plays harder at a game we’re calling ‘Detox’,” “Whether you’re ‘All in’ with Adidas or believe in the Nike motto to ‘Just do it,’ you can challenge the brand you wear to win the race to a clean finish.” -Greenpeace DeTox campaign’s website.

(from Greenpeace Report, "Dirty Laundry")

Both Nike and Adidas admitted jointly that said their work at Youngor is limited to cut-and-sew production — not “wet processing” such as dyeing and fabric finishing that Greenpeace says is the cause of the chemical discharge.  Greenpeace did not hide behind that fact but made the point (perhaps rightly so) that “As brand owners, they are in the best position to influence the environmental impacts of production and to work together with their suppliers to eliminate the releases of all hazardous chemicals from the production process and their products”.  I agree on the grounds that effective supply chain sustainability practices and corporate governance must be driven by the originating manufacturers that rely on deep tiers of suppliers and vendors for their products.

That being said, I think that to call out Nike and Adidas specifically (along with other companies like Puma) is to suggest that they are not doing the right thing as regards sustainability in the apparel industry.  For instance, Nike has learned from its mistakes if the past (especially on the labor/human rights side of social responsibility) and implemented aggressive governance frameworks and on the ground oversight programs.  Also, the  Nike Considered Index evaluates solvents, waste, materials, garment treatments and innovation, and the company has an internal working group constantly evaluating Restricted Materials lists.

Kick ’em when they’re up

Kick ’em when they’re down

Kick ’em when they’re up

Kick ’em all around- (Don Henley)

Chinese Laws and Regulatory Oversight- Not in Sync

As I noted recently, China is still in the “ramp-up” phases of economic development.  Plus it’s been evident for some years that enforcement of environmental laws and regulations by government agencies has not been on par with the intent of the laws.  According to the report, samples taken from the facilities contained heavy metals and alkylphenols and perfluorinated chemicals, which are restricted in the United States and across the European Union.  These chemicals have reproductive and hormone disruptive effects Therein lies another institutional problem…the laws in the home countries of the MNC’s are not in sync with those in the host manufacturing country- in this case, China.

Writing yesterday in China Hearsay, Beijing based lawyer Stan Abrams offered this up.  “This is a classic law versus CSR problem. The law here in China allows for this activity, yet the allegation is that this is a harmful activity. Should the companies in question merely follow the law or “do the right thing” and either sever ties with the polluter or pressure it to change its behavior?”

It’s likely that (for the foreseeable future) Chinese political and economic systems will remain focused on rapid development at all costs. So it’s critical that local/in-country government policies be aligned as well to support capacity-building for companies to self-evaluate, learn effective auditing and root- cause evaluation, institute effective corrective and preventive action programs and proactively implement systems based environmental management systems.

Multi-Sector Collaboration is the Answer

The apparel industry as a whole has taken a very proactive stance in looking at ways to redesign sustainably, produce its goods taking a cradle-to cradle perspective, and manage toxic chemical use and waste streams so that human and environmental exposures are minimized.  The multi-stakeholder Sustainable Apparel Coalition ironically includes Nike, the Gap Inc, H&M, Levi Strauss, Marks & Spencer, and Patagonia (some of whom are also being targeted by Greenpeace).  Over 30 companies have committed to collaborating in an open source way to drive the apparel industry in developing improved sustainability strategies and tools to measure and evaluate sustainability performance.  In addition over 200 outdoor products companies from around the world have been working together on sustainability best practices and standards, called the Eco-Index, led by the Outdoor Industry Association and European Outdoor Group.

The most successful greening efforts in supply chains in “tiger economies” are based on value creation, sharing of intelligence and technological know-how, and support in developing environmental regulatory frameworks that have the force of law. MNC’s and contract manufacturers can collaboratively strengthen each other’s performance, share cost of ownership and social license to operate and create “reciprocal value”.  Greenpeace wants MNC’s to establish “  clear company and supplier policies that commit their entire supply chain to the shift from hazardous to safer chemicals, accompanied by a plan of action that is matched with clear and realistic timelimes”.  Agreed with that sentiment, but many hurdles remain to cross.

Youngor Textiles, Adidas and others cited in the report have not hidden from the findings, and Youngor has committed to working jointly with Greenpeace to find a workable solution to remove potentially harmful toxics from the apparel manufacturing supply chain.  Solving this problem on the ground will take a multi-stakeholder effort to 1) balance contractual arrangements among many parties, 2) craft good law and enforceable regulations, 3) drive clean chemistry, 4) redesign production processes and use advanced manufacturing technology, and, 5) develop, implement and maintain robust contactor monitoring.

I will be watching carefully to see how this collaborative effort with an NGO giant and big business unfolds…er, should I say “unfurls”.

Nothing Says “Green Supply Chain’ Like Innovative, Sustainable Packaging

8 Jul

Courtesy Tiny Banquet Committee under CC License

The pea pod is possibly the greatest sustainable packaging design nature can provide.  It packs a lot in a small space, efficiently uses the minimum amount of resources…and best of all its compostable…well sort of unless I eat it!

And like the simple pea pod, few sustainability attributes in a supply chain come together across the value chain than packaging.  Packaging and repackaging is ubiquitous along every step of the chain, from product design, prototyping, procurement production, distribution, consumer end use and post consumer end-of-life management.  And the more parts that are in use in making of a product, and steps along the way to deliver the parts, the greater the packaging (and hence environmental footprint) involved along that chain.  And for every packaged part that comes from someplace else to make a product, a similar carbon, energy and resource use can be measured.

That’s why sustainable practices in packaging are so important in driving supply chain efficiency…and why innovation in the ‘green’ packaging sector has been “white hot” the past several years. A study by Accenture found that retailers can realize a 3 percent to 5 percent supply chain cost savings via green packaging initiatives. So if you extrapolate that type of savings out across multiple tiers of supply chain activity, where packaging is the common denominator, the efficiencies and savings can rack up quickly.

A new report from research organization Visiongain finds that because of a variety of drivers such as carbon emissions, extended producer responsibility and waste reduction targets plus advanced packaging technologies, the sustainable and green packaging market’s worth is expected to reach $107.7 billion in 2011. Their report shows varying degrees of growth from developed to developing nations; however what’s striking is that the growth trend is weathering the slumping global economy and higher production costs.

Sustainable Packaging 101

Sustainable packaging solutions deliver around two colors according to the Accenture report: black (deliver reduced costs) and green (reduce environmental impacts). Sustainable packaging relies on best engineering, energy management, materials science and life cycle thinking to minimize the environmental impact of a product through its lifecycle.  Given the past decade or so of science and engineering work around sustainable packaging, there are some discovered and tested attributes, such as:

  1. Reducing packaging and maximizing the use of renewable or reusable materials
  2. Using lighter weight, less toxic or other materials which reduce negative end-of-life impacts
  3. Demonstrating compliance with regulations regarding hazardous chemicals and packaging and waste legislation ( such as the European Directive 94/62/EC  on Packaging and Packaging Waste)
  4. Optimizing material usage including product-to-package ratios
  5. Using materials which are from certified, responsibly managed forests
  6. Meeting criteria for performance and cost (e.g., minimize product damage during transit)
  7. Reducing the flow of solid waste to landfill
  8. Reducing the costs associated with packaging (i.e., logistics, storage, disposal, etc.)
  9. Reducing CO2 emissions through reduced shipping loads

Best in Class Examples

I have seen companies stress the importance of the 6 R’s of sustainable packaging (refill, reduce, recycle, repurpose, renew, reuse;  Walmarts 7 R’s of Sustainable Packaging (Remove Packaging, Reduce Packaging, Reuse Packaging , Renew(able), Recycle(able), Revenue (economic benefits), and  Read (education);  and even the 10 R’s eco-strategy (Replenish, Reduce, Re-explore, Replace, Reconsider, Review, Recall, Redeem, Register and Reinforce).

Associations are stepping up to the plate as well as manufacturers in a variety of consumer product markets.  In March of this year, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) announced the results of survey research by McKinsey that indicated elimination of more than 1.5 billion pounds (800 million pounds of plastic and more than 500 million pounds of paper) since 2005, and another 2.5 billion pounds are expected to be avoided by 2020.  Over 180 packaging initiatives were identified and evaluated.  The GMA estimated that the reduction would be equal to a 19 percent reduction of reporting companies’ total average U.S. packaging weight.

In the fast moving consumer goods category Coca Cola’s packaging efficiency efforts just in 2009 avoided the use of approximately 85,000 metric tons of primary packaging, resulting in an estimated cost savings of more than $100 million.  The company rolled out of short-height bottle closures, reducing material use, implemented traditional packaging material light weighting; and used more recycled materials in packaging production.  At the end consumer point, the company has also supported the direct recovery of 36% of the bottles and cans placed into the market by the Coca-Cola system and continues to work with distributors on increasing recovery efforts.

In the electronics space, Dell Computer committed in 2008 to reduce cost by $8 million and quantity by 20 million pounds of packaging by 2012 centered around three themes (cube, content, curb):

  • Shrinking packaging volume by 10 percent (cube)
  • Increasing to 40 percent, the amount of recycled content in packaging (content)
  • Increasing to 75 percent, the amount of material in packaging to be curbside recyclable (curb).

As an example, Dell wanted to find a greener, more cost efficient way to package its computers by eliminating foams, corrugated and molded paper pulp.  The solution was sustainably sourced bamboo packaging certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.  So far, Dells efforts have resulted in eliminating over 8.7 million pounds of packaging, and they have nearly met their recycled content goal.

Perhaps most significantly, WalMart took a huge step in 2007 to seek supplier conformance around packaging.  Since then, despite the initial uproar, there has been an uptick in design and innovative product activity by thousands of key suppliers in response to the mega-retailers challenge.  By reducing packaging in the Wal-Mart supply chain by just five (5) percent by 2013, that would 1) prevent 660,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, keeping 200,000 trucks off the road every year (that’s a green attribute) and save the company more than $3.4 billion (a black attribute).  Walmarts bottom line was to put more products on its shelves in the same space, and also recognized the sustainability attributes that change would make.  They also knew that most consumers (me included) just despise excess packaging.  Here are two examples of Walmart supplier efforts from a small and large supplier:

Alpha Packaging: the company has a new bottle design for Gumout Fuel Injection Cleaner.  The company concentrated the product and switched from PVC bottles (which are not recyclable) to much smaller bottles made from PET (which is recyclable and has 30% post-consumer recycled content).  This led to 1) reduced product weight by up to 51% and 2) capability to transport a truck filled with new 6 oz products (formerly 12 oz) equating to 153,600 bottles as opposed to 61,000 originally.

General Mills: the company took a novel approach and they looked at the product first.  They straightened its Hamburger Helper noodles, meaning the product could lie flatter in the box. This, in turn, allowed General Mills to reduce the size of those boxes.   According to the company, that effort saved nearly 900,000 pounds of paper fiber annually.  The company effort also managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 11 percent, took 500 trucks off the road and increased the amount of product Wal-Mart shelves by 20 percent.

Win-Win-Win.  For the environment, for manufacturers and suppliers, and for consumers.

Full Circle Collaboration is Vital to Drive Sustainable Packaging

What makes sustainable packaging compelling is that it’s one of the key elements of a product that consumers can see, touch and feel.  Over packaging or improper packaging can produce high reaction levels, right? (remember last year’s noisy Sun Chips compostable bag dust up?)  But in an interesting post last year in Packaging Digest by Katherine O’Dea of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, she mentioned the critical importance of collaboration between brand owners and retailers. What was a scary statistic is that “brand owners and retailers may have direct control over as little as 5 percent of the environmental impacts of packaging and only indirect control over the other 95 percent.”  On the other hand another study conducted by the market research firm Datamonitor showed of U.S. consumers surveyed, 49% felt that packaging design has a medium or high level of influence over their choice of food and drink products.

Just as there are challenges to drive consumer acceptance of more sustainable types of package designs (especially aesthetics), there are equally challenging design factors (such as package strength, permeability, and other physical factors that may compromise product integrity during shipment.

Opportunities to Leverage the Supply Chain from Design to Post Consumer Package management

High performing manufacturing companies are clearly using sustainable packaging design and manufacturing as a way to lever efficiencies through the product value chain.  Companies are finding that using less complex packaging helps cut sourcing, energy production and distribution and fuel costs across the supply chain.  The glory days of corrugated packaging as the one stop solution are being replaced with reusable packaging options.  Also, reducing the consumption of raw materials, carbon emissions and waste generation reduces manufacturing costs.

Since disposal by consumers is one of the largest waste streams in the supply chain, using less packaging of direct-to-consumer shipments also offers great opportunities for supply chain optimization.  The previously mentioned Accenture report recommends that through route planning and sourcing software, “collaboration across the companies in the supply chain is necessary to maximize freight utilization. In particular, retailers need to proactively encourage vendors to provide pallet or “trailer feet” specifications for collecting shipments… retailer’s planners can determine the optimum transportation mode and look for multi-stop opportunities.”

Optimized Supply Chain (Accenture)

As shown in the accompanying diagram, Accenture suggests there are opportunities to reduce the packaging/un-packaging cycle by addressing the product life-cycle and optimized material use.   Through ongoing recycling and the use of alternative materials throughout the product value chain, opportunities are created to reduce the volume of packaging waste. Also, take back programs create a two-way transportation flow, with reusable packaging materials being sent back up the supply chain rather than to a landfill.

Remember too that there are several key association and initiatives that can be tapped into, including:

  1. Sustainable Packaging Coalition: http://www.sustainablepackaging.org/default.aspx
  2. Greener Package: http://www.greenerpackage.com/
  3. Sustainable Packaging Alliance: http://www.sustainablepack.org/default.aspx
  4. Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative http://www.sustainablebiomaterials.org
  5. Reusable Packaging Association: http://reusables.org/

Some final pointers to consider when designing packaging and using the supply chain to drive sustainability:

  • Source alternative sustainable packaging materials- the innovative options are plentiful.
  • Evaluate product life-cycle impacts as a way to discover design options that could lead to less packaging.
  • Anticipate the total energy and resource use over an entire products package life
  • Evaluate materials disposal and post consumer end-of-product life opportunities
  • Design products for efficient transport
  • Schedule and optimize transportation networks
  • Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate!

Whether Baked or Embedded, Experts Agree: Sustainability is Part of Organizational & Supply Chain DNA

14 Jun

In a new report, sustainability in the supply chain is one of four key indicators covered.  The report is entitle The Chief Supply Chain Officer Report 2011 and is  co-authored by Dr. Hau Lee (from the Stanford Graduate School of Business), and Kevin O’Marah (group vice president, supply chain research for AMR Research).  Over 750 global executives completed the survey, including SCM World members and non-members, with over 50% of respondents at VP-level and above within their organizations.

The authors prioritized issues across four key areas:  value-driving supply chain management, globalization, sustainability and talent management.   One of the key findings (and it’s no surprise in my mind is that sustainability “ increasingly forms part of the DNA for high performing supply chains, with 65% of respondents characterizing pressure from senior management and the board as the source of sustainability efforts “.    The second source of sustainability efforts is pressure (interesting enough) comes from customers (46%), followed by pressure from government (35%).

The study also surveyed whether the use of the “carrot” or “stick” had greater effectiveness in encouraging supplier collaboration. The study found that companies appear to react to supplier breaches in sustainability standards by warning i.e. the “stick” and then taking punitive actions, while some act even more promptly without warning.  Most companies use reduced business as the “stick” (73% would reduce business after warning and 56% would reduce business without warning), while some act even more drastically, terminating the business relationship with suppliers (36% after warning and 42% without warning). On the “carrot” side of the study, enhancing  business relationships through “ preferred supplier status” or increased business engagements were found by most companies surveyed to be effective in supplier collaboration  (66% and 48% respectively).  The study compared well with some thoughts I shared in this space last year on the effectiveness of the carrot and stick approaches in changing supplier behavior (using examples such as Walmart, GE and Hewlett-Packard).

The authors concluded that “Ultimately, customer relationships and business opportunities with customers form the most important cornerstone of all sustainability activities” and that that the survey results positively indicate that “sustainability forms an integral part of a company’s supply chain improvement journey”.  So besides working within its own four walls, organizations continue to realize this year (like the previous few years) that sustainable supply chain management and responsible procurement has taken a solid place in business circles to enhance the corporate brand and deliver further value.

Embedded, Baked or Bolt-on?

The Chief Supply Chain Officer report  finding  on supply chain sustainability lends itself well with a key thought communicated at last week’s Sustainable Brands ’11 conference by Dr. Chris Laszlo (I was there and hopefully some of you found my Twitter stream).  Laszlo and Dr. Nadya Zhexembayeva have coauthored a new book, Embedded Sustainability: The Next Big Competitive Advantage, which explores the operational advantages, cost efficiencies and reputational gains that can be made from embedding sustainability, rather than taking a “bolt-on” approach.  Being a fan of baked goods, I have often referred to “baked in “sustainability practices, but it’s all semantics when you get down to it and the outcomes remain the same.

“Embedded Sustainability is the incorporation of environmental, health, and social value into the core business with no trade-off in price or quality – in other words, with no social or green premium.”- Laszlo and Zhexembayeva

Source: European Financial Review

As noted in the graphic, the goals, scope and outcomes associated with embedded sustainability (as compared to a “bolt-on” approach) drive  deeper and farther . In their research, the authors noted some interesting “lessons learned” from the many leading, innovative global companies that have embraced an embedded sustainability perspective.  One of those takeaways was that “the pursuit of sustainability involves hidden choices – whether to reduce negatives or provide positive solutions, and whether to pursue incremental change or heretical innovation – which are proving crucial to business strategy.”  In other words, it’s not easy to make the types of change needed without making some tradeoffs along the way.

In a crisp summary by Jen Boynton (@jenboynton) of Triple Pundit,   Dr. Laszlo deftly summarizes “three ways that sustainability initiatives build value for a firm:

  • Declining Resources-as energy and other inputs get more expensive, it makes financial sense to conserve them.
  • Increasing Expectations– customers, investors, regulators and employees expect more (as I mentioned above) and therefore a company has to deliver more in order to remain competitive.
  • Radical Transparency, often associated with CSR reporting, puts NGOs, unions, and government officials on the outside looking in with no secrets. A company has to do good things, otherwise their reputation and brand value will quickly suffer.”

As both authors noted in a European Financial Review article, “the linear throw-away economy, in which products and services follow a one-way trajectory from extraction to use and disposal, can no longer be supported, as we are simply running out of things to unearth and place to landfill. Consumers, employees, and investors are beginning to demand socially and environmentally-savvy products without compromise, while radical transparency is putting every company under a microscope.”  Just as I stated in last week’s blog, which addressed the threats and impacts of increased consumerism on sustainability itself, both businesses and consumers have an obligation to rethink the entire “make-consume” model, and explore design and end of life product management at both ends of the value chain.

The authors suggest that for companies to embrace the embedded approach to sustainability, “four interdependent and interconnected lines of action [can] help guide the journey:

  • Getting the Right Start: mobilizing, educating, and acting around specific low hanging fruits. Building momentum in the organization for sustainability projects that support existing business priorities and provide demonstrable pay-off.
  • Building the Buy-In: aligning company, value chain, and all other stakeholders around the vision of embedded sustainability.
  • Moving from Incremental to Breakthrough: developing clear but unorthodox goals, designing the strategy and capturing value through co-creation and innovation.
  • Staying with It: managing learning and energy while making sustainability ubiquitous but largely invisible in the business practice.”

So before you leap, plan ahead.  Build a system to plan, implement, measure and check progress of your sustainability initiative.  Look for the quick wins.  Build an innovation-based culture and reward positive outcomes.  Bake the initiative into the governance, operational, and communications of every corner of the four walls.  Expand your reach upstream to your key suppliers and spread the word to your customers.  Measure, manage, report and build on the early wins.  But more than anything, keep on baking…

What’s Consumer and Business Responsibility Got to Do with Economic Prosperity & Sustainability?

7 Jun

The past few weeks I have been wrapped up in some circle of life issues involving my aunt and mother, so writing has taken a back seat.  During this time,  I have been observing the dissolution and redistribution of my 91-year-old aunts’ household and supported the challenge of deciding which belongings should go temporarily with my 86-year-old mother to assisted living.   My current role as a duly appointed member of the ”sandwich generation” is fulfilled too when my teenage daughter asks to go on yet another trip to the mall to view the latest fashions.  All these events have brought to mind the material possessions that we accumulate over the course of our lives, the ingrained value we place on “things” and how they somehow give us more pleasure or worth.

Ironically, last week I also had the chance to participate in a number of one on one and group discussions revolving around the role(s) that we as consumers have in managing resources, waste generation and sustainable development.  I weighed in on the responsibility that consumers have in the 21st century supply chain (related to conflict minerals), just as I had mentioned in a keynote speech to the European Petrochemical Association this March.  Other participants reflected on how individuals bear a high degree of responsibility for the explosive growth in electronic and other consumer product waste.

What is abundantly clear is that we (as consumers) are all accountable for our own individuals actions in deciding what we buy, how much, how long we keep and maintain what we do have, and what we replace it with.  From cell phones, to cars, to clothes and home products, Western society has lost the passion for “thrift”.  I believe, like my parents generation did, that thrift is one of the key principles that built this great nation, but it has seemed to have gotten shoved aside in the name of consumerism and  growth,  which by the way is different than prosperity.  Of course Keynesian economists will take me to the woodshed about the meaning of  thrift in growing an economy. According to an article by the CATO Institute, ” The paradox of thrift refers to how–in the Keynesian model of the economy–an increase in saving reduces production and employment. This supposedly occurs because a decrease in spending leads to a decrease in employment, which leads to a further decrease in spending, which leads to a further decrease in employment, which leads to a yet further decrease in spending, and so on. Thus, if people try to increase their saving, there will supposedly be a decrease in spending, and a fall in employment and production.”

Prosperity versus Growth?

“Economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity. Higher incomes should mean better choices, richer lives, an improved quality of life for us all. That at least is the conventional wisdom. But things haven’t always turned out that way.” 

So states Professor Tim Jackson (Director of the Research group on Lifestyles, Values and Environment (RESOLVE) at the University of Surrey) in a very important and compelling work, Prosperity without Growth.  The research was commissioned in 2009 by the U.K. Sustainable Development Commission and puts in focus the rather serious nature of what “progress” really is in society and the norms on which its measured.

Courtesy Christian Science Monitor

The economic slump of the last three years has also sharpened this debate over whether more is better, whether growth in consumer goods and spending really supports a sustainable economy and whether the environment and human rights are placed in harm’s way in the name of economic growth.  As Jackson notes, “The profit motive stimulates a continual search by producers for newer, better or cheaper products and services. This process of ‘creative destruction’, according to the economist Joseph Schumpeter, is what drives economic growth forwards.”   The past several years have prompted a series of key questions that I’ll throw out here for thought:

  1. Has quantity in life trumped quality in life?
  2. Does producing more and having more truly lead to a prosperous economy and long-term sustainability?
  3. Does producing more and having more truly lead to a prosperous economy and long-term sustainability? Can we still flourish?
  4.  Does having more truly make us happier, lead more productive lives and allows us as a society to be the better social animals that we are wired to be?

All tough questions, and way more to ponder in the limits of this one post for sure.  But Professor Jackson’s commission report and follow-up book on the subject mirrored what was reflected the conversations that participated in last week.   Jackson himself admits that “Prosperity has undeniable material dimensions.  It’s perverse to talk about things going well where there is inadequate food and shelter (as is the case for billions in the developing world). But it is also plain to see that the simple equation of quantity with quality, of more with better, is false in general.”

I’ve no doubt that economic growth is vital for stimulating an economy that appears to be headed toward a dreaded “double dip” recession.  However, what is critical for policy makers, economists, the financial community and electorate to grapple with is what types of investments are best to lead us out of this morass and into a future that is stable and prosperous.  Jackson, among others has argued that “targeting that investment carefully towards energy security, low-carbon infrastructures and ecological protection offers multiple benefits [in other words a more sustainable, green economy]. These benefits include:

• freeing up resources for household spending and productive investment by reducing energy and material costs

• reducing our reliance on imports and our exposure to the fragile geopolitics of energy supply

• providing a much-needed boost to employment in the expanding ‘environmental industries’ sector

• making progress towards demanding global carbon reduction targets

• protecting valuable ecological assets and improving the quality of our living environment for generations to come.”

Producers vs. Consumers- Who Holds the Key?

So am I arguing in favor of a reaching a “steady state economy” with no growth?  To be honest, I’m not sure at this point.  There have been debates over this concept for generations, and I am no economist.  Jackson himself admits that no clear model exists for achieving economic stability without at least some measure of consumptive growth.  While goods producers have control over what they make, where they source their goods to make the things we buy, the “making” side of the economy is but one side of the debate that is in play here.  There is also the “using” side of the debate that drives deep in the social fabric and psyche of the consuming public. We as consumers can shape the debate around and effects that can have on the products that are made, mass-produced, sold and consumed.   This is perhaps the toughest nut to crack, because it’s the consumer that drives the demand that in turn drives production, which then drives consumption of resources, which of course determines the stresses on the environment.  You see, we hold the key…as the old Pogo cartoon says, “We have met the enemy and it’s us”.

In a recent article in the Guardian Sustainable Business Blog, Tim Jackson again weighs in on the strong psychological attachment that humans by nature have to material things and their feelings about the environment.  “People do indeed hold deeply felt motivations to protect the environment. Occasionally they can even save money by doing so. But powerful psychological forces still hold them in thrall. The creeping evolution of social norms and the sheer force of habit conspire to lock us into expanding material aspirations.”

You see, letting go of things that make us feel good is hard.  But the instant gratification that comes with these choices has undoubtedly led us all down a slippery slope, which only we can muster the power to crawl back up.  But only if we make sound, greener choices that recognize a balance between consumption, thrift and ecological limits.

These questions and issues, among others will be reflected upon to some degree this week at Sustainable Brands ’11 in Monterey CA.  I’ll be there also with over 750 other sustainability, corporate social responsibility, consumer marketing/ branding and industry professionals to learn, communicate and exchange ideas.  Look for my occasional tweets (@DRMeyer1) and observations as the event rolls along.