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The Quest for Personal & Organizational Sustainability- The Path to 2011 & Beyond

24 Dec

A great article was brought to my attention this past week by sustainability colleague and sage Gil Friend (@gfriend) this week.  The article by Peter Shallard talks about ditching New Years resolutions and reminding yourselves that you are on a journey- a quest.

“The holidays give you the window of opportunity to do this important thinking – not the date on the calendar. Take advantage of the time you’ve got to review the past and be grateful. Then, think of the future and be excited….Dismiss the date. Embrace the introspection.”- Peter Shallard

For individuals, organizations and communities, sustainability can be a walk in the forest, a chance meeting or a seminal event that jogs the mind, creating an urgent call to action that is transcendent.   For me at least, this shift towards sustainability has truly been a quest- sometimes a quiet, almost transparent change, other times a deliberate, “in your face” awakening. Either way, questing for sustainability involves embracing whole systems thinking that allows us to view ourselves and the business relationships that we have with others differently perhaps as a value chain of innovation and creativity.

My Journey

A few moments come to mind in my journey toward sustainability and my professional path (dates are approximate) that I’d like to share- come along with me please- read on:

Riding the Range (South Central Montana, 1964)- that's me on the left with my Dad & brother

1964: My family takes “The Great Western Road Trip”- one month in a loaded Ford Country Squire, exploring the wide open Western U.S., riding horses in Montana, exploring the Colorado back country, and marveling at Yellowstone National Parks natural wonders.  I vow to move west one day. I eventually do in 1977 to finish out my college education in natural resources ecology and management.

1969: Memories of recycling glass, plastic and newsprint with my Dad at the huge new recycling center in my hometown (Highland Park, Illinois).  I liked the shattered glass sounds.

1972-1976: Camping in Wisconsin’s Northwoods and making a conscious decision while on a “walk in the woods” to pursue a natural resources career.  I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Ed Abbeys Desert Solitaire and am changed forever.

1982: I developed and unveiled a groundbreaking employee environmental training program that changed the way of thinking for hundreds of coal miners in Utah.  Their changes in behavior and proactive efforts led to a stellar number 1 environmental compliance ranking and state-wide recognition.

1983: I watched the groundbreaking movie Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance while I was working for a coal mine in New Mexico.  As I saw smoking, exposed coal seams from the surface mining activities, I began questioning if who I was working for was contradictory to my belief in natural systems, conservation and environmental protection.  So I reached out to Amory and Hunter Lovins (@hlovins) at the newly founded Rocky Mountain Institute for advice on how to manage my moral and ethical environmental center.  Their sage wisdom enabled me to continue my environmental work.  I embraced  internal change management, policy development, environmental awareness and education,  advocacy for proactive compliance management and supporting land conservation and  site restoration.

Emergency Site Cleanup-Utah, 1986

1984-1990: I called this period ” the Tyvek Years”.  I had numerous transcendent experiences conducting high profile federal and state-led hazardous waste site investigations and emergency cleanups.  It was sometimes very nasty work.  The experiences left me wondering how to prevent future environmental calamities like the ones I was helping to clean up.  This  led me toward developing proactive compliance and environmental management frameworks for clients and take a more active role in community planning groups.

1990: Captain Planet and the Planeteers debuts on Turner Broadcasting.  The Captain Planet Foundation still exists to support hands-on environmental projects for youth in grades K-12.

Mr. Science goes to pre-school for Show-and-Tell (1991)

1991: My four-year old son brings me to pre-school as his show and tell project.  He introduces me as follows: “This is my Dad- he saves the Planet”.  What a better way to spend the lunch hours in enlightening the next generation about environmental issues and the wonders of science.

1993:  I participated with an international team in a solid waste facility siting project in Barbados.  The political process trumps good engineering and science, and demonstrates lack of value placed on natural parklands and sustainable development.  The government ignores all technical recommendations made by the team following years of study and eventually sites the project in the middle of a proposed national park.  Really!?  I leave the island tanned but disillusioned and even more committed to advance science in effective sustainable development policy-making.

1995: I complete my Masters degree in Environmental Policy and Management as a charter member of University of Denvers groundbreaking and pioneering post secondary education curriculum.  My Capstone Project, an “Environmental Policy Toolkit” becomes available to hundreds of small to large businesses through the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.   While the younger grads are passing alcohol filled bota bags at graduation ceremonies, my professional colleagues and I are passing “Tums” around!  My son gets to see his Dad who “saves the planet” walk up to accept his diploma- that was cool.

1996: Recalling my talk in 1983 with the Lovins’, I was confronted by an old time miner while working at my company’s booth at a mining expo in Spokane.  He saw that I worked for an environmental services firm and said: “so I see you’re an environmentalist- so, are you ‘fer or ‘agin mining!?”  I answered ” I’m ‘fer environmentally responsible mining”.  That stumped him but he said he’d “accept that” answer.  I gave him trinkets for his five grandkids, and he left happy.

1998: I had the pleasure of planning and developing several successful and industry groundbreaking ISO 14001 environmental management system (EMS) certifications (the first of more than three dozen I have installed since).  Bubble shattered in 1999 by a retired Washington state Senator, who quipped to me on a Washington D.C. street that environmental policy is not science-based.  I am dumbfounded (post script: last week the Obama administration finally released its  long awaited “scientific integrity” policy statement).

City of San Diego Water Department ISO 14001 Champions (I'm in the 3rd row)

1998-2004: The public sector years.  During this time I assisted major water, wastewater and solid waste utilities in implementing award winning ISO 14001 EMS’s, improving operations and saving taxpayers millions in real and avoided environmental liabilities.   I knew I could flush, drink water and recycle in confidence knowing that my city operations were “doing the right thing”.  After my latest utility client successfully received its ISO 14001 certification in 2004, one of  the organizations chief protagonists quietly pulled me aside to thank me “for getting us to do what they would not have done themselves”.

2010: I finally seek out and find the link between my Jewish identity and environmentalism.  I become a Bar Mitzvah and find that the Torah and Jewish scholars have taught extensively about environmentalism over the past 5771 years- guess I was a little late to the party!.  Many Talmudic themes specifically center around the concept of “sustainability”. Here in the U.S., the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) has helped tens of thousands of Jews make a connection between Judaism and the environment.  There are even green tips to have an ‘eco-kosher’ New Year.

A quest is superior to a goal because the journey itself is rewarding. It’s an epic ongoing voyage which will immediately go down in folklore as a story worth telling.  Ditch your goals in favor of choosing the journey that you want to go on. Pick a quest that will necessitate the accomplishment of your goals along the way.

So that’s my story….or at least some of the highlights.  There’s more to share but that’s perhaps another chapter in this journey.  I hope you found this first story worth the telling.  As you can see, sometimes its the little things that (when I take the time to think about it) have slowly moved me forward, or sometimes the events have been larger and have catapulted me further .

A Call to Action

Mr. Shallards piece distills preparation for a successful quest as a series of four essential steps.

…focus on equipping yourself for your journey.  Ask yourself:

  • What kind of person do I need to be to be the hero in this story?
  • What beliefs and values do I need to hold?
  • What capabilities do I need to develop?
  • What habits and behaviors do I need to master?

The suggestions by Mr. Shallard can easily be adapted to an organizational  and supply chain level when considering best methods to transform a “business-as-usual” organization into a sustainability-minded one, or instill changes in policy and implementation at the community level.   A few other ideas to turn your organization toward a “top-line”, first mover one can be found here as well.

I can’t begin to reel off the names all of the family, friends, colleagues, teachers and organizations that have made such a huge difference in my quest  of the past 50 plus years on this planet.  Suffice it to say that it takes many wings to fly in this world and I am indebted to each and every one of you who’ve made a small or large contribution to my quest along the way.   I will thank Gil Friend though for bringing Mr. Ballards perspective to my attention.   Meantime, I’ll just simply say that if you are reading this, I truly appreciate your continued support and interest in my ideas and experiences this past year.

I’d love to hear your stories too and hope you’ll share them in the comments below!

Here’s to a very happy, health, sustainable & prosperous 2011!

Paz- Dave

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Solving the Sustainable Sourcing & Green Supply Chain Management Puzzle: A 2010 Rewind

22 Dec

2010 is nearly ‘in the books’, and I vowed that I would not fall prey to the endless lists and recounting of annual accomplishments.  However, never in my 30 years in the sustainability and environmental business has there been so much attention paid to the influence of supply chain management and its role in the greening of business.  2010 has been truly remarkable in a number of key areas of green supply chain management from a number of perspectives, including: policy and governance, operations and optimization, guidance and standardization and metrics.  The green pieces of the supply chain and sustainability puzzle appear to be nicely falling into place.  Key themes that I can glean from this most incredible year are:

Big Industry Movers and Government Green up the Supply Chain- over the past year, observers and practitioners read nearly weekly announcements of yet another major manufacturer or retailer setting the bar for greener supply chain management.  With a much greater focus on monitoring, measurement and verification, Wal-Mart, IBM, Proctor and Gamble, Kaiser Permanente, Puma, Ford, Intel, Pepsi, Kimberly-Clark, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Herman Miller among many others made a big splash by announcing serious efforts to engage, collaborate and track supplier/vendor sustainability efforts.  Central to each of these organizations is how vendors impact the large companies carbon footprint, in addition to other major value chain concerns such as material and water resource use, and waste management.  Even government agencies here in the U.S. (General Services Administration) and abroad (DEFRA in Britain) have set green standards and guidelines for federal procurement.  More and more companies are jumping on the green train and the recognition is flowing wide and deep.

Supply Chain Meets Corporate Social Responsibility- Adding to many companies existing concerns over environmental protection, large products manufacturers such as Nestle, Corporate Express, Danisco, Starbucks, Unilever and the apparel industry stepped up in a big way to address human rights, fair labor and sustainable development in areas in which they operate throughout the world. Each of these companies and others like WalMart have embraced the “whole systems” approach that I’ve previously written about in this space and that underscore transparency and collaboration the “value” in the supply chain.  Each company recognizes that to be a truly sustainable organization, it must reach deep beyond its four walls to its suppliers and customers.

Emerging Sustainability Standards Embrace Supply Chain Management- This year, the international Organization for Standardization (ISO) unveiled its ISO 26000 Corporate Social Responsibility guidance document.  In addition, two prominent organizations, UL Environment and Green Seal unveiled and vetted two sustainability focused product (GS-C1) and organization (ULE 880) standards, both of which may markedly affect supply chain behaviors in the future.  Central to all these standards and guidelines is how important supply networks are in supporting the entire product ‘value chain”, not only from an environmental perspective, but from a social and community focused perspective.

Transparency and Collaboration Take on a Green Hue– in April, I had the honor of addressing C-suite supply chain managers and practitioners at the Aberdeen Supply Chain Summit in San Francisco.  A central theme of this conference involved the critical importance of collaboration throughout supply networks to enhance efficiencies and optimize value.   My talk (linked here) focused on how the most successful greening efforts in supply chains (like those used by Unilever, Herman Miller and Hewlett Packard) were based on value creation through the sharing of intelligence and know-how about environmental and emerging regulatory issues and emerging technologies.  Suppliers and customers can collaboratively strengthen each other’s performance and distributing cost of ownership.  Practitioners have found “reciprocal value” through enhanced product differentiation, reputation management and customer loyalty. And the continuing Wikileaks controversy is boldly reminding the business world that accountability and transparency and corporate social responsibility is vital and may even be a game changer in how products and services are made and delivered to the global marketplace.

Logistics Turning to Greener Solutionsnumerous studies and surveys conducted by peer organizations this year underscored how sustainability among carriers and shippers was central in the minds of most logistics CEO’s.  Whether it was by land, air or sea, shipping and logistics embraced sustainability as a key element of business planning and strategy in 2010.  I also had the pleasure of visiting briefly with FedEx’s Vice President, Environmental Affairs & Sustainability (@Mitch_Jackson) this fall and learned of the myriad of operational innovations and sustainability focused metrics that the company is tracking throughout its operations and maintenance activities. And UPS even mentioned its efforts to manage its carbon footprint in its catchy new brand campaign “I Love Logistics”.  Finally logistics companies are partnering with manufacturing to support reverse logistics efforts designed to manage end of life or post consumer uses of products or resources.

Lean Manufacturing Meets Green Supply Chain as manufacturing continues its slow rebound from the Great Recession, companies are recommitting themselves to implementing less wasteful production as a way to leverage cost and enhance savings.  Parallel efforts are in play also to incorporate more environmentally sustainable work practices and processes.  Enhancing this effort to lean the product value chain is recognition of upstream suppliers and vendors work practices and possible impacts they may have on manufacturing outputs. Lean efforts have been demonstrated to yield substantial environmental benefits (pollution prevention, waste reduction and reuse opportunities) as well as leverage compliance issues.  More and more, companies are exploring the overlaps and synergies between quality-based lean  and environmentally based ‘green’ initiatives.

Supply Chain and Climate Action Rounding out the year, the climate summit in Cancun (COP16) produced modest results (given the low expectations all around, what was accomplished looked huge by comparison to Copenhagen).  Activities at COP16, especially by the private sector were geared toward identifying key linkages between supply chain sustainability and climate change.   Perhaps the biggest news to emerge from the two-week conference was an effort by apparel manufacturers to enhance supply chain social responsibility and an internet database that will list the energy efficiency of most ocean-going vessels, in a scheme designed to reduce shipping emissions by nearly 25%.  As I noted, this effort is important not only because it recognizes shipping and transport as a backbone” of commerce (as other industry sponsored programs have recognized already), but because of the value of transparency in enhancing supply chain efficiencies.

Looking Forward to 2011

Yes indeed, it’s been a big year for supply chain management and its intersection with sustainability.  I see little for 2011 that will slow down this upward green trajectory, and naturally I am glad.  I am glad that more businesses “get it” and don’t want to be viewed as laggards in leaning towards a business ethic that values sustainability and socially influenced governance. I am glad that more companies are seeking out green innovation through new technologies and being ‘first movers’ in their respective business spaces.

And I am glad that you (my readers) and I am here to be part of the change.

Lean, Green Manufacturing Intersects with Sustainable Supply Chain Management, Creates Value

16 Dec

An efficient manufacturing process is the essence of sustainability…and is by its very nature, green.  This was the gist of the business case that I posted last year and that is captured in an article published in the MIT Sloan Management Review.   MIT presents two ways of thinking:

  • Old Thinking: Companies have long mistakenly thought that adopting environmentally friendly processes adds costs.
  • New Thinking: Green practices like recycling, reusing and reducing waste can cut costs because they make a company more efficient.

Recalling Michael Douglas’ character “Gordon Gecko “ in the 1987 film “Wall Street” statement that “Greed is Good”, MIT Sloan’s basic message is a bit of a twist- “Green is Good”.  Manufacturing is showing with increased frequency, that companies incorporating lean practices in manufacturing, are (by design or accident) becoming more “green”.  In fact a 2009 study by a research group suggested that “lean companies are embracing green objectives and transcending to green manufacturing as a natural extension of their culture of continuous waste reduction, integral to world class Lean programs.”  This is especially true for companies that integrate a number of proven methods e.g. ISO quality and environmental management systems, to meet environmental compliance and stakeholder needs.  This is more rapidly accomplished with a dedicated corporate commitment to continual improvement, and incorporating ‘triple top line’ strategies to account for environmental, social and financial capital.

What is “Lean”?

‘Lean’ Manufacturing is a set of continuous improvement activities closely connected with the Toyota Production System (TPS) and Just-In-Time Manufacturing systems.  One emerging working definition of Lean is “The elimination of waste everywhere while adding value for customers”.  This definition is a natural fit with sustainability and the “Lean and Green” business ethic.  Lean manufacturing has demonstrated how companies have saved or avoided enormous operating and maintenance costs and significantly improved the quality of their products.

Lean manufacturing looks at manufacturing from a systems perspective, which includes a thorough evaluation of upstream and downstream process inputs and outputs.  Viewed this way, suppliers and customers play a critical role in successful lean manufacturing.  Heavy emphasis is placed on design and innovation and obtaining  input of from supply chain partners, individuals and organizations through a process called ‘value-stream mapping’ (hey that’s my blog name too- ironic?…not).

The Lean, Green and Supply Chain Intersect

As I have previously said, even without specifically targeting environmental outcomes, lean efforts have been demonstrated to yield substantial environmental benefits (pollution prevention, waste reduction and reuse opportunities etc.). However, because environmental wastes and pollution are not the primary focal points, these gains may not be maximized in the normal course of a lean initiative. This is because lean waste is by its nature not always in sync with typical environmental wastes.[1] I argue that by looking deep into your your value chain (upstream suppliers, operations and end of life product opportunities) with a ‘green’ or environmental lens, manufacturers can eliminate even more waste in the manufacturing process, and realize some potentially dramatic savings

Where ‘lean’ creates a positive view (future state) of a process without waste, ‘green’ creates an alternative view of a sustainable future for organizations that play in the global marketplace or offer a unique disruptive innovation.  Lean and green approaches to manufacturing not only leverages compliance issues but also puts companies on the path to going beyond compliance. The graphic below from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency applies the key ‘lean waste’ types in an environmental context, and crosswalks how lean waste issues can have direct environmental impact on an organization.

Using an example set by Subaru of Indiana,the MIT study shows how there are many proofs to the axiom that prevention of pollution and continually improving efficiencies with an environmental benefit works even in lean economic times. Subaru found that:

1.      Profits come by increasing efficiency and reducing waste—but they don’t always come immediately.

2.      Management’s leadership is vital in setting goals and getting departments to cooperate.

3.      The front line workers have to be engaged to spot opportunities to reduce, reuse, recycle, and find other ways to create efficiencies.

4.      Sustainability initiatives achieve maximum benefit from involvement of their supply chain.

5.      All waste by-products are potentially new products

6.      Green initiatives foster creativity and can enhance competitive advantage.

 

Source: Green, Lean, and Global Supply Chain Strategies, Univ. of Tennessee

As previously mentioned, becoming a green organization as part of a lean initiative occurs sometimes by design, and sometimes by accident.  A research study from the Sustainable Supply Chain Group at the University of Tennessee, College of Business Administration found some interesting results when evaluating how lean manufacturing, sustainability and supply chain management may at times be complementary.   The study found, among other things that: 1) Firms tend to have more sophisticated lean strategies than green strategies, and because of this awareness of ‘sustainability’ in supply chain management circles is less mature; and 2) Lean and green initiatives overlap, where projects that meet lean objectives often provide unanticipated green benefits.

Extending Lean and Green to the Supply Chain

Establishing initial goals for manufacturing efficiencies include maximizing parts, machine and material utilization, human movement and of course reducing waste. This series of continuous improvement steps offer a cornerstone for reaching both a green and efficient supply chain. But how can manufacturers work beyond the ‘four walls’ of their organizations to green their supply chain?  A green focus in supply chain management requires working with upstream suppliers and downstream customers, performing analyses of internal operations and processes, reviewing environmental considerations in the product development process, and looking at extended stewardship opportunities across the life-cycle of one or more intermediate or final products.

Lean Tools You Can Use

So far, I’ve laid a foundation for Lean Manufacturing and the intersection with supply chain management. This next section presents a couple of widely accepted practices that are used in Lean design and manufacturing, which can be modified to capture supplier network considerations.

Value-Stream Mapping

A strategic approach to mapping  environmental and lean opportunities would be to map the ‘value-stream’  of one or more products as a way to seek where the greatest waste  reduction and environmental impact reduction opportunities are. Value stream mapping arrived on the business process landscape with the emergence of Lean engineering, design and manufacturing.  A process-and systems based methodology, value stream mapping can help organizations to identify major sources of non-value added time and materials resources i.e. waste that flow into the manufacturing of a particular product or (even) service; and to develop an action (or “Kaizen”) plan to implement less wasteful practices and processes.   From an environmental perspective, practitioners can also look at processes from an environmental, health and safety point of view, focusing on processes tending to use great amounts of resource inputs and that generate waste outputs.

To illustrate what I mean, a value-stream map example (presented below) in a report issued by the U.S. EPA on Lean and the Environment depicts how supply chain vendors can interact in the production of a product and the resource waste that can result.  The areas noted in green represent interaction points with environmental, health and safety and related environmental loads associated with intermediate production steps.  Clearly the four vendor points of interaction can carry their own environmental footprints just in the trucking and distribution of raw materials and products (air and waste emissions for instance).

Typical steps in value stream mapping include:

  1. Select a product or process(es)
  2. Through interviews and work observations, collect data on the ‘current state’ of the value stream (inputs and outputs)
  3. Using a cross functional team (CFT) of knowledgeable staff, develop a ‘current state’ value stream map; focus on identifying over consumptive or waste generating activities
  4. With the CFT in place, brainstorm ideas to improve resource use, production flow, waste capture and reduction, reuse and off spec material reuse, and labor/time management
  5. Create a future state’ value stream map that identifies areas, targets and key performance metrics for continual improvement.
  6. Develop a implementation plan, complete with authorizes and responsibilities
  7. Develop continual improvement measurement and monitoring program
  8. And last but not least…get started!


 

Vendor Survey and Qualification

Manufacturers also supplement their Lean efforts by surveying their supply chain partners and  asking a series of questions designed to identify where the resource consumption and waste management opportunities may lie.  These  questions will help determine if technology, operational practices,  enhanced training and awareness or other tools can make their company  more sustainable and lead them down the path to make the decision that  best meets their business needs. These questions include but are not  limited to:

  1. How can I leverage my manufacturing capabilities and processes in a way that optimizes per unit material resource consumption?
  2. Can I reduce waste generation through improving material use, scrap/off spec reuse and improved equipment maintenance?
  3. Can  I work collaboratively with my intermediate parts or materials  suppliers to use life cycle design practices and manufacture parts with  lowered environmental footprints?
  4. How  can I encourage suppliers to increase equipment efficiency, reduce  manufacturing cycle time, reduce inventories, streamline processes or  seek quick returns on investment?
  5. Can I improve my sales and operations planning to optimize production runs and reduce resource loads or generated wastes?
  6. How  can I work more closely with logistics and transportation partners to  optimize shipment schedules, customer deliveries, warehousing, routing  and order fulfillment?
  7. Can  I work with my customers and product designers to improve packaging to  optimize space reduce materials use and improve load management?
  8. How can I collaborate more closely with customers to enable reverse logistics and profitable product reusability?
  9. What  types of value-added training and development programs can I develop to  promote lean and green opportunities with my suppliers?

Lean-Green Synergies Are Not Without Challenges

The  same University of Tennessee authors who explored the intersect of  lean, green and supply chain also discussed found that some potential  conflicts with certain types of lean strategies leading to changes in  supply change management.  For instance, they noted that  “lean strategies that require just-in-time delivery of small lot sizes  require increased transportation, packaging, and handling that may  contradict a green approach. Introducing global supply chain management into the green and lean equation increases the potential conflict between the green and lean initiatives.”

So  as companies begin to implement lean and green strategies in supply  chains, especially large and complex global supply chains, manufacturers  need to explore the overlaps and synergies between quality-based lean  and environmentally based ‘green’ initiatives, and understand the  various trade-offs required to balance possible points of conflict.  If  your organization been reluctant to engage your supply chain or  implement or maintain environmental initiatives in your product  manufacturing because of the perception that you can’t afford it, then  think again.  It is more likely that you cannot afford to ignore it.


[1] Typical classifications of environmental ‘waste’ nodes include: Energy, Water, Materials, Garbage, Transportation, Emissions, and Biodiversity

In Supply Chain Logistics Management, There’s a Reverse Gear–and It’s Green–Part 2

12 Oct

In Part 1 on this series, I presented some definitions of reverse logistics from a traditional versus sustainability focused mindset, and extended product responsibility.

Reverse logistics includes processing returned merchandise due to damage, seasonal inventory, restock, salvage, recalls, and excess inventory.  It also includes recycling programs, hazardous material programs, obsolete equipment disposition, and asset recovery.  While product “take-back programs” have been a part of many companies operational playbook for some time, more sophisticated approaches are emerging which involve greater degrees of coordination and planning among multiple suppliers.

For a logistics practitioner, the best value choice for disposition is still often determined by the most profitable alternative:

  1. Reconditioning – when a product is cleaned and repaired to return it to a “like new” state
  2. Refurbishing – similar to reconditioning, except with perhaps more work involved in repairing the product.
  3. Remanufacturing – similar to refurbishing, but requiring more extensive work; often requires completely disassembling the product
  4. Resell – when a returned product may be sold again as new
  5. Recycle – when a product is reduced to its basic elements, which are reused – also referred to as asset recovery.

Product take-back programs

Product take-back programs are particularly popular in the retail sector, as manufacturers reap the benefits for material recovery while customers find convenient ways to jettison used products for recycling (printer cartridges, used computers, aluminum cans, tires, batteries, etc).  As my first post mentioned, restricted materials directives in Europe such as WEEE and RoHS have for years been dictating how manufacturers manage “end of life” equipment issues.  In his book aptly named “The Truth about Green Business”, Gil Friend describes a series of steps that retailer Patagonia and manufacturer Hewlett Packard (HP) have taken to close the loop on product manufacturing to mutual benefit.  In particular, to meet the growing demand to manage end of life issues for computers and other electronics, HP and mining company Noranda crafted a take back system in the early 2000’s that is unique. The system covers pickup, transportation, evaluation for reuse or donation, and recycling for products ranging from printers to scanners.  Noranda provides HP and other OEMs with disassembly, product testing and metal recovery services.  Part of this process involved installing efficient warehousing systems that electronically tracked materials through the recycling process. About 3.5 million pounds of materials are processed annually.  Dell Computer Corporation also has a similar take-back program, aimed at its leasing customers and other large companies that may have Dell units. Dell Financial Services handles the asset recovery for customers and the viability of the units determines how they are recycled/

Turning Trash to Into New Products

In a post this week  by author Marc Gunther, Walmart announced that as part of its efforts to reduce its waste streams from its retail and distribution centers, they are working with one if its suppliers (Worldwise) to begin what it calls the Full Circle program.  This program creates a closed-loop system that takes old plastic bottles, clothes hangers, plastic bags and corrugated cardboard and makes new products from materials that would otherwise be waste- and turns them into eco friendly pet products that are in turn resold in Walmart stores. And there you have it-trash to treasure through “upcycling”.

Quoting Gunthers post, “We’re committed to creating zero waste,” explains John Kunkel, senior buyer, pets for Walmart. One way to get there is to take things that Walmart throws away and instead of sending them to a landfill, make them into something useful.”  The effort reportedly took more than a year and was coordinated with “seven or eight different divisions of the company.” according to Mr. Kunkel.  After Walmart’s waste is baled, it is separated into its components at materials recycling facilities.  Then the baled waste is trucked to supplier Worldwise’s North American manufacturing plants. The products that result are then shipped to distribution centers and to all of Walmart’s U.S. stores. “We’ve had to create a playbook,” Kunkel said. “Now other manufacturers can implement a closed loop in their business.”

Getting Started

Reverse logistics deals with five basic questions:

  1. What alternatives are available to recover products, product parts, and materials?
  2. Who should perform the various recovery activities?
  3. How should the various activities be performed?
  4. Is it possible to integrate the activities that are typical for reverse logistics with classical production and distribution systems?
  5. What are the costs and benefits of reverse logistics, both from an economical as an environmental point of view?

To first address these questions, ask yourselves which products are suitable for reverse logistics?  Base your decisions on “recoverable” characteristics that a product might have such as:

  1. The product size
  2. Volume of sale of products
  3. Hazardous components
  4. Design cycle and product life cycle
  5. Product traceability
  6. Product modularity

As an example, the  graphic below presents a conceptual supply chain “total carbon  footprint” and the various touchpoints from a manufacturing and reverse  logistics perspective (graphic via  Reverse Logistics – Turning Green to Gold, Reverse Logistics Magazine, Aug/Sept 2008).

Once you can get a handle around which products pose the greatest asset value in terms of recoverability, the next phase is in looking for potential ways to reprocess or reuse waste byproducts or other manufacturers that may be turn your waste into their product feedstock.  Either way it’s a win-win-win- for your company, your customers and the environment.

Further posts will focus on proactive steps that companies can take to design sustainability in product manufacturing, and ways to coordinate reverse logistics campaigns with suppliers and customers.

Meantime, it would be valuable to this readership if you’d consider sharing what your company is doing to “lighten the environmental load” on the planet and in your manufacturing process.