Hey guys!

Today we are going to pick up where we left off on June 22nd’s post, “How the Waste-to-Profit Network Facilitates Synergies: Introducing Cirrus.”

For those of you who follow my blog regularly, you may have noticed a theme emerging…

Starting with the SPC’s suggestion for “collective reporting” among its member companies (company-specific analysis of environmental inputs and outputs), and deepened with Dordan’s Score on the “Green Strategy Index” (see May 30th’s post), the theme of “operational environmental optimization” continues to come up in conversations pertaining to taking sustainability at Dordan to the next level. While Dordan has developed many tools that aid our clients in developing sustainable packaging systems and prides itself on being a lean manufacturer as a critical component to being a successful medium-sized custom thermoformer, we have yet to quantify our environmental “performance;” that is, how Dordan’s operations compare to the industry average and/or how our “lean” manufacturing practices equate to environmental savings, in the form of carbon emissions, waste to landfill, etc.

At first I considered conducting a full-blown LCIA of Dordan’s conversion process per some type of functional unit i.e. 100,000 packages produced and/or per 6th months of production. After starting “The Hitchhikers Guide to LCA,” however, it became apparent that performing a blank-slate LCIA via SimaPro or Gabi required an extremely intensive investment, including that necessary for a third-party reviewing process, where the outcome dictates the validity of the entire study: its methodologies, assumptions, parameters, metrics, and findings. In order to try and quantify the value of conducting such a sophisticated analysis of Dordan’s production process I reached out to a friend in the LCA and packaging world; here it was communicated to me that one should only make the investment in a blank-slate LCIA platform IF one assumes that ones production process is more sustainable than the industry average and/or if said production process is completely innovative and new, in which case, no LCIA data exists.

Ok, so how do I know how Dordan’s operational environmental performance compares with the industry in order to determine if a full-fledged LCIA is warranted? Research but of course! My LCA-practitioner friend indicated I conduct an “inventory analysis” of Dordan in which all expenditures pertaining to environmental requirements i.e. electricity, water, waste, etc. are collected and reviewed. This information will indicate Dordan’s main environmental requirements, providing a metric i.e. water consumption, to compare with publically available LCI data via the US Life Cycle Inventory Database or Ecoinvent. Neato!

While walking down this prim rose path of data mining and compilation, I met with representatives from the Chicago Waste-to-Profit Network, which as per June 12th’s and 22nd’s posts, is a regional working group where manufacturers share environmental input and output requirements with the Network, discovering “by-product” synergies. Examples include using one company’s waste as feedstock for another company’s production i.e. recycling in its most pure form, piping one firm’s off gasses to another as power for another production process, etc. Perhaps Dordan could discover by-product synergies via Network companies in regards to its waste to landfill, aiding us in working towards zero-waste; an initiative that has all but lost its steam due to the realities of waste management in which quantity necessitates the economic feasibility of commercial recycling. Moreover, perhaps the Network could provide the tools for Dordan to better execute its operational environmental performance LCIA-prep work? An energy audit? Quantifying operational environmental performance in a functional, easy-to-comprehend metric, like GHG emissions per package produced x packages produced per 6th months? Am I operating in stream of conscience mode?!? I think so!

Obviously I got quite excited about the potential of the WTP Network and approached my father and Dordan CEO to test the waters around this new sustainability direction at Dordan. I proposed I be allowed to investigate the potential of operational environmental optimization at Dordan via inventory analysis compared with industry average coupled with application to the WTP Network to serve as a support team for this ambitious project. I explained how I believed I could save Dordan money in purchasing via WTP Network by-product synergies AND reduce the waste to landfill; also, develop an operational environmental performance benchmark that would allow us to gauge optimization progress.

To my total and utter surprise my father wasn’t super gong-ho about this proposition. He explained how Dordan already operates extremely efficiently and any savings incurred would pale in comparison to the cost of my time (aw, shucks!). Furthermore, while Dordan’s sustainability efforts have branded us a thought leader and generated a ton of media interest, few opportunities generated via sustainability services have facilitated sales.

Like marketing, how to you quantify the ROI of sustainability investment, he inquired?

Goodness gracious we are back to business again! Since my employment at Dordan I have discovered that at times, the academic challenge embedded in the investigation, like the clamshell recycling initiative, overshadows and distorts the primary goal; that is, to increase profit. While I believe conducting the initiatives described above would be super awesome and demonstrate Dordan’s unwavering commitment to sustainability, how is it going to help us sell more thermoformed packaging?

GAAAAA, frustrated, I returned to my cubicle.

I emailed the WTP Network that Dordan would not be able to sign on, and tucked my “Dordan Operational Environmental Optimization” folder deep into my filing cabinet. I know I am being dramatic but that is just because I am trying to set the stage for THIS:

Several days later I received an email from the WTP Network, explain how they understand how hard it is to “sell” the membership to companies for the inability to understand its value at the point of application. Consequently, they are offering a FREE TRIAL to qualifying companies, which allows said companies access to the transparent data management software Cirrus AND registration to several working shop meetings, where synergies are investigated and illuminated. NO WAY.

How can my boss object to a FREE trial in order to determine if any of my assumptions outlined above are even feasible?!?!

He didn’t. 🙂

Stay tuned!