A greenprint for action
Because there are so many ways a company can achieve sustainability, it can be confusing to know where to start.
For Playworld Systems, the desire to establish a company-wide green action platform grew organically out of the company’s purpose: to bring all the healthful benefits of play to the world for generations to come.
Other manufacturers looking to develop a sustainable action plan should assess their own purpose and align their objectives accordingly. For example, electronics manufacturers like HP and Dell have established electronics recycling goals, and the Coca-Cola Company has set a goal of neutralizing its water footprint by 2020.
Playworld Systems’ green initiative was built on environmental, social and economic values, sometimes referred to as “the triple bottom line”:
The environmental pillar is concerned with the physical space of the facility and the byproducts of its manufacturing that impact the carbon footprint. Does the facility have high performance attributes? Is there a recycling program in place? Are resources such as water and energy conserved? Are greenhouse gases and toxic byproducts eliminated or reduced? Is there a lean manufacturing process where waste is minimized and materials are reused whenever possible? Many manufacturers are now thinking in terms of a cradle-to-cradle approach, where byproducts and waste from one generation may be used as raw material for the next.
Our green action started with our employees when they joined together years ago to form a “Free Market” to exchange and donate gently used items for reuse. Since then, our green action strategy has helped us accomplish big changes. Engaged, thriving and dedicated employees are the drivers of successful sustainability programs. Therefore, it is not only vital to foster a culture of environmental sensitivity among employees, it is also necessary to care for employees themselves through equitable hiring practices, workplace fairness and shared accountability.
It may go without saying that the first two pillars are meaningless unless the manufacturer stays in business. Manufacturers must make a profit in order to continue making the goods that serve their customers’ needs. Therefore, engaging in environmentally sound business practices should not be a financial burden. In fact, many manufacturers are realizing that a balanced approach to sustainability can lead to increased profitability. The environmental actions need to be appropriate for your company’s values, your financial situation, and your customer’s buying patterns.
A “Greenprint” for Action
Once the sustainability pillars are in place, companies must commit to tracking the environmental impact along the entire manufacturing chain over time. A smart step is to assign a dedicated team to lead the company’s sustainability effort.
Playworld Systems established an Environmental and Materials Engineering (EME) group to focus on product and material content safety and lead the company’s environmental effort. The EME works to:
- Analyze business from a holistic perspective
- Gain an overview of environmental benefits and costs
- Implement guidelines and standards company-wide
A highly useful implementation tool for us is our own adaptation of a green action strategy pyramid which serves as a guide for prioritizing sustainable opportunities (i.e., the first priority is to eliminate detrimental byproducts and actions; if unable to eliminate, then reduce; if unable to reduce, then reuse; etc.):
- Eliminate: Eliminate potentially toxic or high carbon footprint materials and processes. For example, work to eliminate dioxins and phthalates. Eliminate water bottles in vending machines to avoid negative impacts on landfills, energy usage for chilling and the transportation carbon footprint.
- Reduce: Reduce energy, water and waste. Consider using local suppliers to reduce energy used in transportation. Install motion detectors to control lighting and faucet aerators to reduce office water consumption. Invest in teleconferencing equipment to reduce the corporate travel carbon footprint.
- Reuse: Use recycled materials whenever possible. Repurpose shavings, powders and other byproducts for use in products. Reuse cardboard packaging for sending out tests or photography orders.
- Recycle: Recycle materials like steel and sheet plastic, not just office paper.
- Offset: Offsetting efforts should not be a large part of any green action strategy because they do not directly affect behavior and provide only indirect sustainability benefits. An example of offsetting is planting trees to compensate for a part of a company’s carbon footprint.
Curtis Cleveland is director of Environmental and Materials Engineering for Playworld Systems Inc.