Posts filed under ‘Environment’

Between Silos, Beyond Walls: The Product Stewardship Puzzle

Carol Singer Neuvelt

Last week I traveled to Boston for NAEM’s Product Stewardship conference, where we discussed best practices for complying with new product-focused regulations, internal collaboration, managing supply chain data, and engaging customers and suppliers.

Like many sustainability initiatives, “product stewardship” is an exciting concept, with the potential to spur innovation and transform the structures on which our current industrial ecosystem is built. Whether your company defines product stewardship broadly as “green product development” or in terms of compliance with product regulations, it involves re-thinking the fundamentals of how the product was designed, produced and labeled.

This is easier said than done.

From the outside, finding out what goes into your products might seem pretty straightforward: First, you ask your product development or research and development folks to tell you what materials go into your products. Then, you find out where those materials came from and document that information.  Simply talking to your first-tier suppliers, however, will not likely yield the full answers you seek. For diversified manufacturers with global supply chains, product stewardship is an exercise akin pulling a loose thread on a sweater and seeing how long it takes to stop unraveling. Where does it end? And how far back “beyond the gates” is your company accountable?

In the overall history of manufacturing, the era of transparency is in its infancy. Our globalized manufacturing platforms operate on systems which were designed to be predictable, reliable and cost-effective. Introducing a new variable may be the next step in the evolution of proactive environmental management, but meeting the challenge of this paradigm shift will take time to accomplish. Companies are not yet accustomed to disclosing the information their customers and the regulations are now requiring; companies might not have data management systems adequate to meet the challenge; suppliers might not have the data their customers are seeking; that data may require third-party validation before it can confidently relied on; and, the transparency of that data may be associated with unintended business risks.

In other words, it’s a process. A process that has yet to be mastered.

Our recent benchmarking survey on the topic revealed that among the leadership companies who belong to NAEM, there is not a consistent approach to defining, managing or leading product stewardship efforts.  Given the systemic nature of this challenge, many companies have responded by creating a cross-functional team composed of representatives from environment health and safety (EHS), procurement, legal, research and development, operations and marketing. The outstanding management question companies are struggling with, however, is who should be ultimately responsible for the outcome of the collaboration?

It’s likely that each industry, each company and each business team will answer that question for itself. But the issue of accountability is yet another thread on the sweater, a reminder that like many sustainability initiatives, the product stewardship challenge involves as many questions as answers.

May 15, 2012 at 6:10 pm Leave a comment

Extended Producer Responsibility: Recycling for the 21st Century

Dania Nasser

In April, Dania Nasser, a graduate student at Yale University and a member of NAEM’s Emerging Leaders group, sat down to speak with Michael Washburn, Director of Sustainability at Nestlé  Waters North America,  about why the company is supporting an innovative approach to recycling called extended producer responsibility (EPR).

DN: Michael, what exactly is EPR?

MW: Common in Europe and Canada, EPR requires industries, such as the beverage industry, to pay for the collection and recycling of their products once they reach the end of life. We hope to bring the financial responsibility of recycling back to the industry, while collaborating with municipalities to increase access to curbside recycling and recycling away from home.

In 2010, Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA) supported the launch of an EPR program in the Canadian province of Manitoba, featuring four key elements: curbside recycling, public spaces recycling, commercial/institutional recycling and a public education plan. Results thus far have been encouraging, and will provide key learnings for EPR in the U.S.

DN: Why does NWNA support EPR?

MW: At Nestlé Waters, we seek to capture and reuse every Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) beverage container, so we put ourselves on the front lines of advancing recycling, whether it is in the lab, the field or at the policy level. While PET containers for bottled water make up less than 1 percent of all U.S. municipal solid waste, much work remains to ensure these, and all valuable recyclable materials, stay out of landfills.

It’s really in our best business interest as well: EPR serves as a risk-reduction strategy around our materials. Volatile commodity prices are an issue for us, and the ability recoup materials can help stabilize our costs.

To evaluate how to get our bottles back for creation of recycled PED (rPET) bottles, we examined a variety of recycling programs and found we’d need a multi-pronged approach that includes institutional and commercial recycling, as well as curbside and away-from-home. We see EPR as the only way you can do it, by folding fees into a broad variety of packaging, isolating them – importantly, outside of government – and then using funds derived from those fees to meet recycling goals that are set by state government.

Speaking of recycling goals, we hope that EPR will help to double U.S. recycling rates for all PET plastic bottles to 60 percent by 2018, a Corporate Citizenship goal we set in 2008.

DN: Some states have redemption incentives for in place for people. Did you examine this approach as well?

MW: We don’t want to dismantle bottle bills, but we do want to out-perform them,   and so we are focusing our current efforts on non-bottle bill states. But there are other challenges to consider. Among other issues, bottle bills reinforce the notion that plastic bottles and beverage containers are the problem, when, in fact, these are only part of a broader societal problem in which too much valuable packaging material is going to landfills.

We want to have a deliberate, fact-rich dialogue on what EPR is and how it works, so we are working to launch EPR in states that don’t have a bottle bill, but have good recycling infrastructure and support in place, like Minnesota and Maryland. This will mean we can collaborate around EPR as a new model, without having to delve too far into the relative wisdom or merits of bottle bills.

In addition, we want to engage the kinds of stakeholders who traditionally support bottle deposits so they can come with us on this journey and understand that we can get higher rates of recovery with a different tool, and – from an environmental and efficiency standpoint – can ultimately out-perform bottle bills.

DN: What kinds of industry players and other stakeholders are you working with in support of EPR?

 MW: We’re working with a really broad range of stakeholder groups, including consumer product companies, beverage companies, various trade associations, commodity groups, private haulers, municipalities, state legislatures, environmental NGOs, grocery retailers, other retailers, the forest product industry and more.

I’ll share one example of a stakeholder group. Recycling Reinvented is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to advancing recycling rates of waste packaging and printed material in the U.S. through an EPR model that would require brand owners to develop and fund effective recycling programs. We are directly supporting Recycling Reinvented’s efforts, both through funding and our CEO Kim Jeffery’s leadership as a member of the organization’s board.

In addition, many people are aware of a dialogue process facilitated by a group called Future 500 that has brought together 30 organizations to talk about the best attributes of an EPR program that could work in states in the U.S and how to craft a legislative package and a strategy to successfully pass that package. We’re going to try and move legislation in 2013.

DN: Obviously, you’re hoping for the legislation to be successful. What’s its best selling point from a societal and government perspective?

MW: This is really the most rational approach to what is a challenging dynamic around the disposal of valuable materials in this country. Taxpayers should be uncomfortable with contributing to a system that brings only a 30 percent recycling rate for plastic bottles. So this is deeper than our own interests in the issue. We’re going to see a louder drumbeat growing over time from the standpoint of commodity associations that want this material back, municipal governments who are fiscally burdened by the current system and stakeholder groups that think that companies should shoulder this responsibility. I think that’s where our broader culture is headed—more and more, companies are expected to take responsibility for their products, from the sourcing of ingredients to disposal of packaging.

Dania Nasser is completing a Masters in Environmental Management at Yale University. She is  Director of Environmental Affairs at a New York law firm specializing in environmental and construction law and a member of the Board of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce Green Finance Committee. Ms. Nasser has an undergraduate degree in environmental engineering and a law degree. 

May 10, 2012 at 12:43 pm 1 comment

Happy Earth Day 2012

Rock Creek Park cleanup 2012

This past weekend I started my Earth Day celebrations with a Cub Scout-sponsored cleanup of one of the DC area’s greatest natural treasures – Rock Creek Park.  And according to my fifth-grade son, he and I have been participating in annual park clean-ups since he entered elementary school.

What is special in this seemingly ordinary experience is that to him, Earth Day is a normal, annual ritual.  While he was running to join the others rock-hopping across the narrow bend in the creek, I overheard him say, “My mom works to take care of the environment all year round.  Earth Day is a big deal around our house and we’ve got a lot of activities planned.”  Those words were uttered with both nonchalance and pride.  What a difference a generation makes.

Earth Day is every day at NAEM.  Each of us believes that in fulfilling the association’s mission of empowering corporate EHS managers with knowledge and practical insight, we are making a difference in helping the planet.  The staff at NAEM is joined together by a shared values orientation, and we are proud to support a community of professionals who work hard to meet the ethical obligations for compliance, reduce their company’s environmental footprint and help to make workplaces safer and healthier for their fellow employees.

But even though we have chosen to work at place that reflects our personal beliefs, the weeks around April 22 are especially fun for our staff.  Last year we created some wonderful videos from our Green TIPS Guide. This year we’d like to share with you some of the ways our personal practices reflect the work we do at our jobs.  Whether it’s our passion for the outdoors, rehabbing an older home or riding a bike to work, I hope you will enjoy the NAEM facebook page and we welcome your pictures and stories of Earth Day celebrations.

As I was walking back from my morning of playing in the river beds, walking on logs across the creek and following my son holding a full bag of garbage, this thought came to my mind:

We pay attention to what we value…. We value what has meaning to us... That meaning comes from our heart, our community, and our experiences.

I hope that you will get to celebrate Earth Day in your way, and I encourage you to commit yourself to taking action every day.

April 20, 2012 at 12:09 pm 1 comment

Who really cares about sustainability data?

Mike Wallace

Like so many environment health and safety (EHS), and sustainability professionals, you are probably working hard to make sure sustainability is a core part of your organization’s overall business strategy.  This means integrating it into your company’s operations, providing a constant source of relevant information, continuous operational improvements and, of course, a return on investment.

But does anyone really care about all that effort? Fortunately, the short answer is, “Yes!”

We’ve seen significant changes in the public’s interest in sustainability issues, with more concern and media attention to issues like global warming, human rights, conflict minerals and corruption. For business, this has meant much closer scrutiny of environmental and social impacts, and in many cases, a demand to see disclosures on more than just the typical environmental metrics.

This has resulted in a multitude of ways for companies to be transparent about their activities, from publishing sustainability information right in their financial reports, to signing up for initiatives like the United Nations Global Compact or disclosing to initiatives like the Carbon Disclosure Project.  And in the past decade or so, producing more extensive sustainability reports. In this series of five blog posts for the Green Tie, I’ll look at who’s asking for sustainability data, what that means and how you can make sure your information effectively and efficiently reaches your intended (and unintended) audience.

The audience for sustainability information is much wider and more varied than you might think. Stakeholders come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from investors and business partners in the supply chain, to employees and even your local mayor. These stakeholders are analyzing and evaluating your company’s performance on a variety of levels, using data directly disclosed by companies, sustainability listings and an ever-growing number of rankings and ratings.

How do you distinguish good raters from bad, useful from useless? How do you make sure the questionnaires you answer give you an entry point to the right people?

All the surveys you’re getting are just the tip of the iceberg, hinting at the proliferation of rankings, ratings, listings, research tools and sustainability indices. Companies aren’t fully aware of how many entities constantly monitor, analyze and convey sustainability information about them and their competitors, entire industries and/or entire indices.

Mainstream investors are increasingly examining sustainability information (sometimes through the intermediaries mentioned above) and even stock exchanges around the world are exploring what sustainability means to their institution and to their listed companies.  Business decisions are no longer solely based on financial information.

It seems obvious that requests for disclosure are only going to increase and a GRI report is the recognized method of communicating sustainability performance.  More than 80 percent of the Global 250 are using the GRI Guidelines to report on their sustainability performance, and those are just the ones that we know.  You can see a snapshot of those in the North American GRI Reporters based on a review we did in January 2012. There is a clear upward trend in the number of organizations that are reporting across all regions and sectors.

In this sea of information, how do you keep it real? Efficiently gathering the relevant information and transforming it into a credible communication for the mix of interested stakeholders is key. To understand who is looking at sustainability information and how this information is being measured, take a look at my presentation Measuring Sustainability Performance.

In closing, there are a couple of key questions you might want to consider:

If you are using the GRI Guidelines for your sustainability report, does GRI (and the world) know it?  Search the global GRI database and register your report at – http://database.globalreporting.org/

Are you fully aware of the Application Level and how and why it is being used by reporters?  Get the latest at GRI’s Report Services https://www.globalreporting.org/reporting/report-services/Pages/default.aspx

Mike Wallace is Director of the U.S. Focal Point for the Global Reporting Initiative and is responsible for supporting the growth of sustainability reporting in the United States.  You can follow him on Twitter at @M_A_Wallace.

February 21, 2012 at 6:26 pm 1 comment

How a New Design Revolution will Change Supply Chain Management

Howard Brown

Stories about Henry Ford’s genius with manufacturing abound, though it’s rarely clear which ones are actually true. One of my favorites is his insisting that parts manufacturers deliver their products to his plants in wooden crates of his design, which he then dismantled and used as floorboards in his cars.

Supply chain management has grown in sophistication and importance since Ford’s time. The quality movement, just-in-time manufacturing, corporate responsibility initiatives, enterprise-wide information systems, environmental impact analyses like life-cycle assessments, and growth in transparency and public access to information have all brought about major changes in supply change management. Now a new design revolution is about to create an even bigger change in supply chain thinking. The change will come both from new materials and products and from new manufacturing technologies.

Radical new materials and products (such as the ones we feature in the dMASS Insights newsletter) will themselves disrupt traditional supply chain relationships. For example, there are composite materials that exhibit behaviors with the potential to replace mechanical appliances, tools, and other machinery – even entire factories. There are materials that can be used to generate electricity by movement, temperature differences and solar energy conversion. Others have the ability to interfere with the growth of harmful bacteria, actively transfer heat or emit light with minimal energy subsidy. The cumulative effect of new materials and products will be shorter and simpler supply chains.

New manufacturing technologies will be at least as disruptive as the products themselves. Nano-scale manufacturing technologies such as Additive Layer Manufacturing (including 3D printing) and bio-manufacturing (the growing of products) stem from recent advances in the scientific understanding of how nature organizes itself at the most fundamental levels of matter and energy.  Similarly, biomanufacturing stems from new discoveries in the fields of genetics and micro-organisms. The common thread among each of these technologies is a growing knowledge of nature’s tendency to self-organize, and an ability to leverage this knowledge.

Three-dimensional (3D)printing, in particular, has the potential to drastically cut resource demands, costs and dependence on resource-intensive supply chains, as well as pollution and waste. Advanced computer-aided design (CAD) systems bring design down to the level of individual molecules. The entire downstream supply chain for a 3D-printed product can be a set of printer cartridges containing different chemical elements. When laid down in precise proportions, the atoms arrange themselves into material structures with the desired characteristics. Printing can often be done in small shops, portable facilities, or even in the home. There is little or no need for high-temperature smelting in parts manufacturing, high-speed grinding or stamping that produces manufacturing scrap, or glues, adhesives, staples, rivets and other parts to hold separate pieces together.

Henry Ford’s tactic saved resources a century ago by creatively taking advantage of existing supply chain resources and harvesting value from waste. Nano- and bio-technologies will radically transform supply chain management in a new way. Business success will increasingly require understanding these technologies and taking advantage of the changes they will bring about.

What are your thoughts?  Have you begun to experience supply chain changes due to commodity prices or supply problems, or due to the availability of new materials, products, or technologies?


Howard Brown is a noted entrepreneur and the founder of dMASS.net, an organization focused on helping businesses improve resource performance. For more than 20 years, he was CEO of the consultancy RPM Systems, Inc. (Resource Planning and Management), where he worked with companies such as International Paper, Mobil, BP, Duracell, Avery- Dennison, Whirlpool, SaraLee, and Wrigley, earning a worldwide reputation for developing practical strategies that merge environmental and business goals. To learn more about dMass, visit: http://www.dmass.net/wordpress/

February 6, 2012 at 2:48 pm 2 comments

Meet the NAEM Board of Directors: What are the EHS and sustainability trends to watch in 2012?

As part of NAEM’s 2012 Member Appreciation Week celebration, we sat down with members of the NAEM Board of Directors to talk about the EHS and sustainability trends to watch in 2012. Featuring Michael Miller of Dean Foods; David Newman; Mark Hause of DuPont; and Verne Shortel of NRG Energy.

February 2, 2012 at 1:09 pm Leave a comment

Life in the Fast Lane: Electric Vehicle Observations

The following post first appeared on The Applied Materials blog.
Bruce Klafter

Bruce Klafter

Recently I had the opportunity to use a Nissan Leaf™ for several full days, a much more interesting exercise than a simple test drive. As someone working in the sustainability area, as a co-chair of the California Clean Cars campaign and as a likely car buyer in 2012 (my current vehicle has over 230,000 miles on it) I am very interested in the electric vehicle (EV) market.

Nissan’s Leaf™ is among the handful of low emission cars that are presently authorized to carry a Clean Air Vehicle Sticker, entitling a single occupant to use the carpool lanes during rush hours – a very nice side benefit to EV ownership that helped speed my commute this week.

My general impression of EV driving is very favorable. This particular model is roomy, it has all the bells and whistles (bluetooth, navigation, backup camera, etc.) and most importantly, it really drives well. Acceleration, handling and power are all indistinguishable from a gas powered vehicle.

The only issue I’ve had this week is the one that continues to slow down growth in the EV market, namely range anxiety and ease of recharging. I have been charging the vehicle at home and at work using conventional 120v outlets and while the process is simple and easy, it certainly takes a while, e.g. 11 hours to get a full charge last night.

When I left my home the range indicator read “100 miles”, but 35 miles of highway driving depleted that amount to 42. In other words, at 60+ miles per hour, a 35 mile trip used up 58 miles of driving range. Keep in mind, I tried to use the EV just like I use my current one, driving as fast as usual as opposed to crawling along in the slow lane just to conserve the charge. With the indicator staring at you the entire time, you also start thinking about all of the devices that consume electricity in the car, such as the lights, the radio, and the seat warmers and so on. Since I want a fully functional vehicle, the notion of driving around in a dark, cold vehicle is not a selling point.

My conclusions: I love just about everything in the EV experience other than the limitations on range. If the car had a 200-mile range, I would be placing an order tomorrow. Until batteries are improved, however, fast charging 240v stations are essential and the buyers for whom EVs work perfectly may be limited. By the way, Applied Materials is among the companies working to address some of the battery issues. It will also be exciting to see a whole slew of new EVs and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) in 2012.

Bruce Klafter is head of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at Applied Materials, Inc. and leads the effort to fulfill the company’s commitment to sustainability in the design and implementation of business strategies and worldwide operations.

January 10, 2012 at 3:06 pm 5 comments

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