Hey!

Today we are going to pick up on the old’ integrating a sustainability management program at Dordan discussion. As those of you who follow my blog know, I have begun investigating how to implement a program for optimizing Dordan’s production efficiency—be it by working towards zero waste to landfill or reducing energy consumption—ever since the SPC’s call for “collective reporting” among its member companies. However, we all know you can’t manage what you can’t measure, which lead me to consider conducting an LCA of Dordan’s thermoforming process; this would allow us to compare our performance to the industry average, establishing a baseline off which progress can be gauged. That assumption directed me to the book “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to LCA,” an insanely intimidating treatment about life cycle assessment methodology and application. I contacted my friend—a practitioner of LCA—inquiring into the value of performing a blank slate LCA (SimaPro, Gabi) for Dordan’s manufacturing process. Here it was articulated that one should only invest in such an analysis if one believes that their process is more “sustainable” than the industry average and needs to document it for business development goals. Obviously there are many benefits to performing a company-specific LCA from the internal management perspective, but in the context of bottom line performance, such an investment for a medium sized manufacturer like Dordan can only be warranted in the anticipation of transparent data that communicates optimized performance.

“Okkk…but how do I know if Dordan has optimized performance when compared with the industry average, thereby warranting a blank slate LCA,” I asked my friend?

“You perform an inventory analysis” he explained, “in which data is collected pertaining to some key performances metrics, like energy and water consumption as per monthly bills, and compare THAT to the average consumption for your specific industry. This simple assessment can be performed via an Excel spreadsheet and will quickly illustrate how your process compares to the average.”

Cool, I thought to myself. I began the inventory analysis process, during which I was introduced to the Chicago Waste to Profit Network where I was offered a free trial of their transparent data-management tool, Cirrus; this platform allows participating companies to discover “by-product” synergies i.e. one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. By imputing data pertaining to materials going to landfill (and looking for a home) and needed materials, companies are granted insight into “the industrial food chain;” this facilitates the recovery and reuse of a lot of materials otherwise being landfilled.

Dordan announced the goal of zero waste to landfill some time ago, after which I performed a waste audit, segregating the “low hanging fruit” like corrugated for “recycling.” The problem was it cost more for Dordan to “recycle” the corrugated material than landfill it. This discovery quickly killed the mojo of the initiative, which I later revisited after attending The Green Manufacturer Network’s zero waste conference at Burts Bees. This is where I learned about the “milk man” concept; that is, if one company doesn’t generate enough of one type of material destined for landfill to warrant the cost of recycling, companies could collaborate, using one truck to pickup the material from each location, after which, the participating companies split the material rebates.

One more random story and then I will tie all these loose ends together.

Remember some time ago I published “How to Assess Sustainable Packaging: An Overview of the Tools and Resources Available” (click here to download)? This, as the name would imply, describes the differences between a blank slate LCA, a streamlined LCA tool, and a company specific LCA tool. Anyway, this Report, which derived most of its content from a presentation given at Sustainability in Packaging by Dr. Karli Verghese, caught the attention of a representative of EarthShift; this is a soon to be commercialized software, created by the people who brought us PackageSmart. Like PackageSmart, this is a simplified LCA tool that allows manufacturers, like ME, to quantify their environmental footprint without going through the meticulous implementation of a blank slate approach. SWEET. Problem is, its expensive.

Ok, so here I am, wanting to perform an environmental assessment of Dordan’s thermoforming process in order to implement an Environmental Management program (establish baseline off which progress can be measured). The best way to do the former is by conducting a blank-slate LCA, which I don’t know is warranted because I don’t know how Dordan’s production process compares to the industry average as I have yet to complete the suggested “inventory analysis”…and even if it were, I doubt Upper Management would be super thrilled about such a hefty investment. EarthShift is an awesome option, but again expensive, and it only pulls industry data while one builds out their process flow chart in order to provide a streamlined approach…this will provide no competitive angle to Dordan vs. its competitors’ environmental performance; consequently, I would have a hard time “selling” Dordan Upper Management on the initial investment. We now have access to Cirrus, which shows us what materials are available at other facilities, but I don’t have upper management support to work cross-functionally i.e. production & purchasing. Today I input some of the materials Dordan is currently sending to landfill based on the waste audit but quickly discovered that again, our quantities don’t warrant the shipping necessary to cement the by-product synergy. AHHHH what is a Sustainability Coordinator supposed to do????

Solutions are just around the corner; stay tuned!

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!

Hey guys!

Sorry about the delay in getting back to you re: Chicago Waste to Profit Network. Here are the deets!

The WtP Network is a “member-driven organization focused on local and regional sustainability issues that affect organizations within the Greater Chicago Area” (WtP Overview PPT). The goals of the Network are: (1) To provide a collaborative network to address sustainability related issues important to member companies; (2) provide a structured process through which companies can identify and vet partners; and, (3) help companies identify and implement synergies where wasted resources at one facility are used at another.

“By-Product Synergy” is defined as “the matching of wastes and wasted resources from one facility with potential users at another facility to create new revenues or savings, environmental and societal benefits”; and, “wasted resources” are those resources (including by-products, excess transportation and storage capacity, energy, etc.) that are left over after a product has been made or a service provided (PPT).

Unlike the “typical manufacturing process,” which is described as utilizing inputs such as material, energy and water to yield a product for market and waste for disposal, the WtP Network boasts a more cyclical material flow, whereby the output of one process becomes the feedstock of another; not unique from the process of recycling. Click the link below for a process flow chart.

wtp1

Examples of synergies facilitated via the WtP Network include: Using glass cutlet waste derived from engineering glass products in mosaic counters and tabletops; re-purposing industrial bleach from Abbot Labs to create clean process water for a steel manufacturer; and, using unrecyclable mixed plastics for remanufacture into parking lot stops and noise barriers.

Overall, the Network boasts a $20 million dollar savings for participating companies, diverting 225,000 tons of waste from landfill (2006-2010).

This all sounds fine and dandy, but how are said synergies discovered? It’s almost as though member companies have access to all inputs and outputs of regionally contextual manufacturers in some type of transparent, portal-like software…

It’s not almost as though, it is! The software is called Cirrus, and it is a web-based application of the “management and reporting of resource and synergy data” (PPT).

Click the link below for access to screen shot of the software.

wtp2

Therefore, the Network facilitates synergies by providing a platform where interested parties can go scavenger hunting for various materials and resources that can be of use to their specific manufacturing requirements. Cool, eh?!? And, it’s not only “waste” that is the foundation of company synergies but transportation and energy and water use. An example of this type of synergy includes Waste Management facilities where the methane emitted from landfill is trapped and re-routed to adjacent companies.

For more information on the Network, visit www.wtpnetwork.org.

So what does this mean for taking sustainability at Dordan to the next level? Details to come!

Hey guys!

Today I am going to pick up where I left off in my last post re: Dordan LCA.

Okkkk so way back when a sustainability coach reached out to me, requesting an interview about Dordan and sustainability. He was interested in what different sized manufacturers were doing in the green realm. Over the next 30-minutes, I explained with great enthusiasm Dordan’s approach to sustainability, which to-date, has been of an educational and customer-centric nature; developing tools and resources that aid our clients in developing sustainable packaging systems. I referenced COMPASS, our 4-Step Design for Sustainability Process and Bio Resin Show N Tell, and various research reports, as validation of our integrated and academic approach to sustainability.

It wasn’t until several months later that I heard from my interviewer—he had finished his research and assembled the findings in a white paper. Titled “Taking Manufacturing Sustainability to the Next Level,” it begins,

Over a period of six months, we interviewed 23 sustainability leaders at 20 manufacturing firms in a variety of industries.

This brief white paper summarizes why most manufacturing companies act tactically (limiting their thinking to “lean production”) rather than strategically when undertaking sustainability efforts. We then provide some ideas on how to take sustainability efforts to the next level.

Visit www.skibaconsulting.com for the white paper and additional information.

Huh I thought to myself as I skimmed the white paper. In manufacturing companies large and small alike, sustainability efforts have been for the most part internally focused, as conveyed through zero-waste and energy/water consumption reduction initiatives. The Green Manufacturers Network is an example of a collection of manufacturers who have implemented this type of approach to sustainability.

A week or two later Zbig Skiba—the sustainability coach —phoned me, asking if I would be interested in a “free coaching session;” this would help me get a better feel for how Dordan performs. Why the heck not?!? I thought to myself.

Don’t worry—there is a point to this narrative in the context of my recent investigation into performing a Dordan LCA and I am getting there…

Sooooo Zbig asked me a series of questions about Dordan’s sustainability efforts; attention was paid to upper management support and the reach of internal and external efforts. While running through the questions, I realized something I have been tiptoeing around for some time now: the reality that I have done nothing on the operations side to allow for more sustainable manufacturing. Production at Dordan is a well-oiled machine that I have very little to do with from inside my one-woman department of Sustainability/Marketing. While I have Upper Management support, as demonstrated by the sheer fact I have the titled of “Sustainability Coordinator” and have been given the freedom to investigate sustainability at Dordan how ever I see fit, my efforts have thus far been of a sales/marketing focus. That being said, it has been difficult to quantify the ROI of these efforts, which leads me to entertain the following inquiry: If operational sustainability efforts could have a direct impact on the bottom line, insofar as waste diversion and reduced energy consumption is concerned, then perhaps Dordan Upper Management would be more enthusiastic about implementing sustainability efforts internally?

I would like to note, however, that Dordan has always been a lean manufacturer as that makes economical sense: we resell/recycle internally-ground plastic scrap/aluminum, installed energy-efficient lights, compost, are trying to reach zero-waste, etc. But as my previous posts have foreshadowed, I don’t have any idea how Dordan’s conversion process i.e. thermoforming, compares to our competitors’ and/or the industry average; hence, my suggestion of performing an environmental analysis of Dordan’s production process.

Follow the link below to see the results of Dordan’s Sustainability Strategy as per Zbig’s follow-up questionnaire.

Green Strategy Index Dordan

Dordan scored well on “Breadth of Efforts”, due to our emphasis on product design and marketing, and not as well in leadership involvement and understanding of impacts. In a nut shell, Dordan has done the exact opposite of most manufactures when it comes to sustainability: we began with developing strategic tools for our CUSTOMERS, not ourselves, whereas most begin with developing strategic tools for leaning up manufacturing operations. Crazy/cool, right?!?

So this brings me BACK to the inquiry about performing a Dordan LCA in order to (1) establish a baseline off which environmental progress can be gauged, (2) see how Dordan’s conversion process compares to our competitors/industry average/other conversion industries, (3) provide updated LCI data to the various LCIA databases, (4) and, develop an understanding of LCA methodology and application. Not to mention, get an A+ on Zbig’s Green Strategy Index, ha!

I encourage you to contact Zbig at freeassessment@skibaconsulting.com if interested in a free 30-minute assessment of your sustainability efforts (using the Sustainable Strategy Index).

Just some food for thought.

HELLO!

I apologize for my absence! Been crazy busy coordinating Pack Expo, reaching out to media outlets to advertise presence at Pack Expo, and working out kinks of new website.

I have some exciting news! Drum roll please…

Yours truly has been selected for the COVER of Green Manufacturer Magazine!!!

Green Manufacturer is a print/digital publication and Website that brands itself as “your guide to adopting green manufacturing processes.” Each issue’s cover highlights a different manufacturer that has made efforts to become more sustainable in their processes/services. Topics covered include alternative energy, zero-waste, etc.

I reached out to the editor way back when to introduce myself and the work Dordan was doing in sustainability but our story wasn’t a good fit at the time. Imagine my surprise when the editor emailed me two weeks ago asking if I wanted to participate in an article about sustainable packaging and then offered me the FEATURE STORY! While I can’t divulge the focus of the story just yet, know that it is going to be AWESOME. Hopefully I don’t look like a dork and the editorial reflects well on Dordan and can serve as inspiration for other manufacturers looking for alternative approaches to green-up their operations and corporate positioning.

Wish me luck at the photoshoot! Cover of Green Manufacturer today, cover of Vogue tomorrow, ha!

Day 3: Oct 13, 2009

January 25, 2010

One of my professors from undergrad, Dr. Scott Paeth, continues to be a sounding board for my inquiries about ethics, even several months into my post-grad life. As my academic advisor and my Senior Thesis mentor, I had the opportunity of developing a relationship with him that expanded beyond the parameters of the classroom; I still consider him a great friend and mentor.

Two months into my new job as the Sustainability Coordinator at Dordan Mfg., I was struggling with the “ethics of sustainability.” I shot Dr. Paeth the following email, looking for any direction to point my ethical compass towards:

Hey! 
 
How is the school year going? Good stuff? 
 
Okay, so consider the following: 
 
I went to a contract packaging facility on Friday, which basically assembles the different components of the package i.e. paper card, plastic clamshell, sticker, product, etc. They don’t make anything, they just put it together. This facility is the home of the Chia pet. Ironically, the Obama Chia is made in
China, imported to the US, packaged in the US, and then distributed in the US. Similar products are made in China, packaged in China, and then distributed in the US. How can companies market themselves as green, while the product and often tines package is made in China under lax environmental regulations and poor working conditions? 

In a nut shell: I am trying to figure out how to market ourselves as an ethical company, both environmentally and socially, but am having a difficult time because marketing in general seems disingenuous…why do consumers care about being green when they don’t even consider the people that are making the product and the conditions they are working in? 
 
Sorry to ramble– I am just so frustrated. I keep trying to sell our product to people who get their packaging from overseas. Yet they market themselves as green. I can’t tell if the green washing acts as a distraction from the reality– that the only thing that matters is money– even at the expense of people’s lives. 
 
If you have any insight, or books, or information pertaining to the ethics of advertising or environmental advertising or overseas manufacturing or anything that you think might provide some clarity to this cluster of craziness, I would be very happy. 
 
Oh, the real world is hard! 
 
I look forward to hearing from you! 
 
Best, 
 
Chandler 
 
I met up with Dr. Paeth the following week, who gave me a bunch of books on business ethics and the “corporate soul.” To be honest, however, this was the first time that I realized that his extensive knowledge didn’t apply to my new job: he was not able to provide me with the data I was requesting nor was he able to explain why certain information, even information about consumer products’ and their packages, could be classified as proprietary. I believe that this initiates the schism between the academic and the corporate for me; the great divide where one world no longer informs the other—a.k.a. “the real world.”

Paeth did hook me up with one of his colleagues in the science department. Although we never met, he suggested I look into the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which, he offered, may shed some light on why it is difficult to find environmental information on different packaging materials. While I found some vague information on this Act, it wasn’t until January 4th of 2010 that an article came out in The Washington Post that described this Act in laymen’s terms; I have included the pertinent sections of the editorial below:

Use of potentially harmful chemicals kept secret under law

By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 4, 2010; A01

Of the 84,000 chemicals in commercial use in the United States — from flame retardants in furniture to household cleaners — nearly 20 percent are secret, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, their names and physical properties guarded from consumers and virtually all public officials under a little-known federal provision.

The policy was designed 33 years ago to protect trade secrets in a highly competitive industry. But critics — including the Obama administration — say the secrecy has grown out of control, making it impossible for regulators to control potential dangers or for consumers to know which toxic substances they might be exposed to.

Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, manufacturers must report to the federal government new chemicals they intend to market. But the law exempts from public disclosure any information that could harm their bottom line.

Government officials, scientists and environmental groups say that manufacturers have exploited weaknesses in the law to claim secrecy for an ever-increasing number of chemicals. In the past several years, 95 percent of the notices for new chemicals sent to the government requested some secrecy, according to the Government Accountability Office. About 700 chemicals are introduced annually.

“You have thousands of chemicals that potentially present risks to health and the environment,” said Richard Wiles, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization that documented the extent of the secret chemicals through public-records requests from the EPA. “It’s impossible to run an effective regulatory program when so many of these chemicals are secret.”

Of the secret chemicals, 151 are made in quantities of more than 1 million tons a year and 10 are used specifically in children’s products, according to the EPA.

The identities of the chemicals are known to a handful of EPA employees who are legally barred from sharing that information with other federal officials, state health and environmental regulators, foreign governments, emergency responders and the public.

YIKES! It appears as though I have opened up a can of worms. Tune in tomorrow to see where this information takes me.