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 on May 30th’s post, investigating how to assess Dordan’s “carbon footprint” and/or develop operational sustainability initiatives at Dordan. The motivations for this new, internally focused sustainability initiative is multi-faceted: first inspired by the SPC’s call for collective reporting and then catalyzed by conversations with LCA practitioners into the value of performing a company-specific LCA, this inquiry was met today with further support via The Chicago Waste to Profit Network, a program U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Do you remember in mid-May me mentioning a meeting I was to attend at The Plant in Chicago, organized by the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development? It was intended to introduce local manufacturers to The Chicago Waste to Profit Network, which is basically a collaborative space where manufacturing commonalities are communicated, closed-loop relationships built, and savings incurred. Well, I never made it to The Plant as I was recovering from falling ill in Toronto for the SPC meeting. Luckily, the organizers of the Network were available to meet TODAY, using this opportunity to bring me up to speed about the value of the Network.

And if I could diverge, for just a moment, and emphasize how wonderful it is when an opportunity—which you didn’t even know you were looking for—presents itself at such an opportune moment it pushes you forward down a path you didn’t even know you were taking…

In other words, in mid-May when I was invited to The Plant I had not delved as deeply into my inquiry about how to take sustainability at Dordan to the next level as I have as of recent. While the Green Manufacturer’s Zero-Waste-to-Landfill workshop at Burt’s Bees I attended this spring introduced me to some of the resources available to companies looking to work towards zero-waste, I didn’t know how to apply said resources to Dordan’s scale. After all, Dordan doesn’t have the economies of scale that say…Subaru of Indiana has, making it difficult to quantify the price/savings of a zero-waste program. Moreover, when Dordan discovered corrugate was the “low hanging fruit” insofar as material diversion from landfill was concerned via internal waste audits and began collecting for recycling, we could not find anyone to take it off our hands! Consequently, it became Upper Management’s assumption that zero-waste at Dordan may not be an economically sustainable program. If only there was a support system out there that allowed manufactures to discover synergies between their process’s inputs/outputs and those within the same geographical boundary, creating economies of scale and facilitating environmental and economic savings. And enter the Chicago Waste to Profit Network.

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!

Phew, Chicago has survived NATO. For residents of Chicago, the assembly of world leaders at McCormick Place over the weekend was inconvenient but cool. The Loop essentially shut down for four days, as all were warned of the closures and delays. Some lucky ducks even had a 4-day weekend because offices closed in anticipation of the protestors. Metra passengers were not allowed to bring food or drink on the train, and all bags were screened prior to boarding. As a resident of downtown Chicago, I was totally impressed by the extensive yet organized presence of cops; they circled every compromised building and lined the protest route. While one violent squirmish did break out between police and demonstrators at Michigan and Cermak, it was provoked by only a handful of anarchist protesters (The Blak Bloc”) and was contained with minimum force soon thereafter. Check out this pic I took Friday afternoon; notice the homeland security SUVs parked as far as the eye can see?

Today we are going to talk about developments with my LCA inquiry introduced in May 11th’s post. AND, to follow, for your viewing pleasure, pictures of home compostable bioresins a year after being home composted. Oh the anticipation!

To recap, what I mean when I say “my LCA inquiry,” is I am investigating the value of conducting an LCA of Dordan’s conversion process in order to: (1) establish a baseline off which environmental progress can be gauged, (2) compare with industry average and/or other conversion processes, (3) submit to available LCIA databases in order to provide more current data on the environmental profile of thermoforming, and (4) understand the methodology and application of LCA.

This investigation was inspired by the SPC suggestion of collective reporting among its member companies in order to demonstrate to outside stakeholders the value of SPC membership; and, research into LCA as per Dr. Karli Verghese’s presentation at Sustainability in Packaging (click here to download the Report).

After reaching out to the SPC re: aiding in the development of tools to perform an environmental assessment of Dordan’s conversion process, it was suggested I propose the idea to the membership; if there was membership interest, I could start a member-led working group dedicated to creating methodologies for LCA application to manufacturing processes.

Since I last posted, I had the opportunity to speak with LCA practitioners in the SPC membership about my Dordan LCA inquiry. Here are a couple conversation takeaways:

It is in a company’s interest to perform an LCA of its processes if said processes are more efficient/innovative than the industry standard; the industry standard for thermoforming can be teased from the available LCIA databases, like EcoInvent and the U.S. Life Cycle Inventory Database.

A good way to determine if your processes are more efficient than the industry average, and therefore an LCA is warranted, is to perform an inventory analysis: First, determine what your process’s main resource consumptions are i.e. water and electricity. Then, collect all information pertaining to the consumption of these resources via energy and/or water bills. Consult the industry average’s rates for these environmental indicators and see how your processes compare in the context of electricity and water consumption per some functional unit i.e. 10,000 packages produced.

If you determine that a full LCA is warranted, there are MANY ways to go about it. However, it is crucial that the results/findings of which are 3rd party-reviewed in order to validate the study. This was explained to me as being quite the process, and comes with a price tag.

Based on these insights, I am going to conduct an inventory analysis of Dordan’s energy consumption per a-yet-to-be established functional unit in order to compare with the industry average for thermoforming. Stay tuned!

My next post will discuss feedback from the last portion of the Walmart Packaging SVN meeting.

As an aside, in previous posts I alluded to an S+S Sorting pilot that looks to compare the reprocessing of thermoform vs. bottle PET flake. Remember? Anyway, my colleague at S+S has yet to get back to me with the results of this pilot. Stay tuned!

AND, do you remember way back when, at the start of Dordan’s Bio Resin Show N Tell research (click here to download Report), when we tossed some of the home compostable certified bioresins (PHA, Cellulous Acetate) into Dordan’s home compost to see if the materials biodegraded? Well, this spring I analyzed the compost pile to determine the rate of biodegradation and am sad to report that little had changed in regards to the composition of the material: while lightened in color and somewhat more brittle, both the PHA and Cellulous Acetate, certified for home-composting, remain completely intact; you can even see the Dordan logo embossed on the cavity. Please note, however, that Dordan’s compost pile has had its fair share of growing pains and the “bioplastics composting trial” may not reflect a 100% active home compost.

Pictured: PHA, formed into tray with Dordan embossed logo on sample press, home composted Spring 2011.

Pictured: Melted PHA plastic from sample press forming; demonstrates lack of biodegradation.

Pictured: Close-up of Dordan logo embossed in PHA tray cavity

Pictured: Compilation of PHA and Cellulous Acetate scrap, certified for home-composting, a year after being composted.

Pictured: Cellulous Acetate scrap, certified for home composting, a year after being home composted.

Dordan LCA?

May 11, 2012

Hey guys. In a recent post I alluded to the investigation of a new sustainability initiative, indicating details to come. Well, here are the details!

As those of you who read my blog regularly will recall, at the last SPC member’s only meeting the idea of “collective reporting” was proposed to the membership; this entails the collection and reporting of environmental performance indicators, like water consumption and/or landfilled material, per membership company. Basically, a company-specific “LCA” that demonstrates the firms’ environmental inputs and outputs, akin to, though perhaps not as detailed as, the international standards for LCA, ISO 14040-14043. Some multi-national, publically-traded firms already collect and report environmental performance data via Corporate Sustainability Reports; this communicates to stakeholders the company’s environmental commitment and actualization of said commitment via sustainability initiatives.

The SPC intended that in encouraging this type of data collection, the value of SPC membership would be more concretely communicated to non-member entities. Such efforts would demonstrate the packaging industry’s commitment to sustainability, insofar as to my knowledge, no other cross-industry NGO working group like the SPC has been able to generate such environmental data collection and reporting among its membership. Moreover, in aggregating primary, LCIA data per industry vertical i.e. thermoforming, the membership would be in a position to submit said data for review to the available life cycle inventory databases, to which, all LCA-based software platforms derive data for comparative assessments. Because the lack of accurate data/data holes/outdated data is often sited as one of LCA’s shortcomings when it comes to presenting an accurate snapshot of a product or service’s environmental footprint, being in a position to provide new and verifiable LCIA data would put the membership in a position of value for the sustainability and LCA community.

After introducing this proposal to the membership, the SPC staff were met with a resounding NO. This may be in part to the composition of the membership itself, which includes a lot of small and medium sized firms and manufacturers that don’t have the means to collect the data requested. Moreover, while transparent CSR reports may benefit large, publically-traded firms insofar as it aids in communicating shareholder value, the same may not hold for privately-held companies; here, reporting consumption and emissions metrics may provide too much insight into the business’s internal operations.

So the suggestion pretty much died there.

Then, while attending Sustainability in Packaging I had the privilege of seeing Dr. Karli Verghese’s presentation on the available LCA tools and how different tools are designed for different functions (click here to download my report based on presentation findings): while blank-slate LCA tools like SimaPro can be used to answer any type of environmental performance question for any type of product or service, tools like LCA-based comparative packaging assessment COMPASS have already been designed with certain methodologies, parameters, and assumptions built in, thereby allowing the non-LCA expert practitioner access to this powerful environmental assessment.

This got me thinking— Dordan already uses COMPASS to assess the “sustainability” of its package designs; this tool pulls industry averages for materials manufacture i.e. PVC vs. PET, conversion i.e. thermoforming with calendaring vs. paper cutting, distribution, and end of life. COMPASS is helpful for indicating how different materials/designs/conversion processes inform a package’s environmental profile. That’s cool in all, but what about the “sustainability” of a Dordan thermoformed package vs. a competitors’ package? Because most LCA-based tools use industry averages, which are outdated and don’t reflect the implementation of lean manufacturing processes, how is Dordan supposed to understand it’s company’s “carbon footprint” in opposition to that of its competitors or the industry or other conversion industries for that matter?

I approached the SPC with this inquiry; that is, what tools and resources is the SPC willing to provide to its member companies looking to perform an environmental assessment of its process, as encouraged at the last meeting? Moreover, would the SPC be interested in developing a streamlined LCA tool like COMPASS for packaging converters looking to perform a company-specific LCA?

The SPC staff suggested I propose this idea to the membership to see if other companies were interested in this type of initiative; perhaps if other thermoformers were interested in this type of environmental assessment, we could collaborate on developing a methodology for performing a conversion-specific LCA?

The SPC staff articulated that the organization is not in a place to provide LCA consulting to its membership, and when it encouraged collective reporting, it was implying said data maintenance be performed independent of the SPC, via consultants or LCA practitioners.

A friend of mine recently conducted an LCA of his company’s innovative new packaging material, for which, no LCIA data existed; hence, no claims of environmental impact could be postulated. He used the SimaPro software and created all study parameters and methodologies. That inspired me: Just because LCIA data exists for packaging conversion via thermoforming doesn’t mean it reflects Dordan’s thermoforming environmental profile; we shouldn’t be complacent with the status quo; and, we shouldn’t talk the talk of sustainability without walking the walk. Ya dig?

I am reading The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to LCA and WOWZA is this stuff awesomely complicated; I feel like I am finally starting to understand the great debates of LCA and its application to business.

Stay tuned!

Hey guys! Guess what?!? Tomorrow I am presenting on “sustainability” to Woodstock High School students! I get two classes for 50 minutes each!

Dordan’s efforts with Woodstock High School go back to 2010 when I began participating in their Environmental Task Force meetings, which look to implement sustainable practices district-wide. It’s pretty neato; click here for more info. Anyway, another participant of the ETF is a science teacher at Woodstock High School who indicated interest in having me present to his pupils way back when. After a ridiculous amount of frustrating scheduling conflicts, his proposal is finally coming to fruition, no more than two years later, ha! 

Anywayyyyyyyy High School is somewhat of a distant blur for me (I think I have blocked out all my awkward moments, which comprises the better part of my pre-adulthood life), so I was extremely hesitant with how to go about it: I knew I wanted to communicate how COOL sustainability is—in hopes that it may elevate the dialogue around “sustainability” and perhaps, JUST PERHAPS, spark a future career interest; but, what does “cool” look like to compulsively texting teenagers? 

Luckily, I am a firm-advocate that the “green movement” is for the most part interpreted as niche and sophisticated by the younger generations, insofar as the environment is kind of a sexy topic. Think PETA and Green Peace—always doing provocative stuff, like photographing nude models cloaked in fur and propelling down skyscrapers—to communicate who they are and what they want; think Whole Foods and reusable tote bags…sort of a celebrity debutant thing going on there. So yeah, now I just had to weave in some real content—like LCA and EPR—into this fashionable foundation and ta da! And of course, I selected a pretty “hip” PowerPoint template, too.

To view the presentation, click the link below.

Sustainability N’ Stuff

Wish me luck! I hope everyone leaves their whoopee cushions at home!

My next post will pick up where we left off, describing feedback from Sustainability in Packaging. 

Hellllllooooooo my long lost packaging and sustainability friends! Oh how I’ve missed you!

Vacation was awesome (isn’t it always?). The Sustainability in Packaging Conference was pretty cool, too! AND, the big deadline—which meeting required all of my time—has come and gone! Click here to read my latest white paper (bottom of homepage), “The Value Good Buyers can deliver: How to Develop a Customized and Competitive Purchasing Agenda.” This research describes contemporary thinking on strategic sourcing and cross-functional supply-chains in order to allow for innovation. Its totally crazy because the last day of Sustainability in Packaging included a panel discussion titled, “Partnering for Long Term Innovation;” Jeff Waymen, Director of Strategic Sourcing for McDonald’s, Scott Vitters, General Manager, PlantBottle Packaging, and Randy Boeller, Packaging Engineering Manager, Hewlett Packard, described their experiences facilitating innovation at their respected firms through collaboration with supply chain partners. One story that really resonated with me includes that delivered by Mr. Boeller, who explained how purchasing needs to be compensated for total net savings—as opposed to simply price reduction—in order to allow for innovation. Consider the following case study:

HP discovered a low-weight plastic pallet that significantly reduced its airfreight expenditures. These plastic pallets were four-times more expensive than HP’s current, wooden pallets. When instructing purchasing to substitute its cheaper wooden pallets with the more expensive yet lightweight plastic pallets, the project manager was met with significant resistance albeit purchasing; s/he would be penalized if the pallet part price increased, though the overall net gain to the company was significantly higher than the savings incurred from cheaper pallet part price. Consequently, HP had to revise its compensation policy to allow purchasing management to benefit from a more value- vs. cost-based approach to sourcing.

After each presenter on its experiences generating innovation via supply chain collaboration, I asked the following question, which curtails on the above HP case study:

“Hello, it’s Chandler Slavin with Dordan Manufacturing, again (I had asked an annoying amount of questions in the days’ sessions). Randy (HP), you said, “the way we are measuring performance is driving away innovation.” Can you and the panel expand on how you believe other organizations can learn to integrate a more cross-functional approach to purchasing? I have witnessed experiences in which purchasing made a decision based solely on part price as opposed to taking a more holistic approach to sourcing that emphasized value added services, such as innovation and security of supply…”

Randy of HP explained that a cross-functional approach to sourcing—which is as much involved with the supplying company as its own internal agenda—“was key.” For Randy, “cross-functional” was synonymous with the retro buzz-word “matrix,” which has for a long time encouraged a more sophisticated and transparent approach to purchasing that demands an intimate relationship between the business, and sourcing, agenda(s).

 The rest of the panel agreed.

 So yeah, what a coincidinc! It’s awesome that in researching for my latest white paper I was able to establish the intellectual foundation on which I could ask the sharpest minds in the game what they thought about what I thought! I feel like I’m back in school again hurray!

OKKKK sorry about that tangent. Ok, my next post is going to discuss the first portion of feedback from Sustainability in Packaging. I took over 15 pages of notes so get excited!

Have a great weekend! It’s 75 and sunny in Chicago. I’m totally confused, but in an awesome way. 

WOW! As per my last post I was hoping my friend from Algix would get back to me with a more technical discussion of the company’s technology synthesizing bio plastics from algae and BOY HOWDY did I! Check out the awesome responses below.

QUESTION:

Please describe the relationship between textile manufacturers/dairy producers and algae. In other words, how does algae become a waste product of these industries’ process and how is it ideal for manipulation into bio-based plastics?

ANSWER:

Many types of algae and aquatic plants have been used for cleaning waters rich in inorganic nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus compounds. The high nutrient content accelerates the growth rates and increases the protein content of a variety of “nuisance” algae and aquatic plants or “aquatic macrophytes”. The enormous “algal blooms” are seen as not only a nuisance but an environmental hazard due to the oxygen demand the algal cells require during night time respiration which can suffocate fish and other animals if the excess nutrients run off or leach into nearby water bodies. Many industries produce large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus-rich waste-water, such as the agricultural livestock farms, i.e. dairies and swineries, fisheries, etc; as well as industrial sources such as processing plants for textiles, municipalities, distilleries, biorefineries, etc.

ALGIX, LLC is located in Georgia, hence we are focusing our efforts on industries in the southeast where we have longer growing seasons, a warmer climate and an abundance of water compared to north or southwest. The “Carpet Capital of the World” is located in Dalton, Georgia, which has over 150 carpet plants which produce millions of gallons of nutrient rich waste water. Research conducted at the University of Georgia, has demonstrated high growth rates from various strains of algae and isolated top performing microalgae strains for further development. ALGIX is in discussions with companies there to scale up biomass production and use cultivated algae as a bio-additive in their polymer containing flooring products. Likewise, we are also talking to a variety of compounders that can co-process and blend the aquatic biomass with other base resins, such as PE, PP EVA, PLA, PHA, etc. As product development progresses, various end use applications for algae-blended thermoplastics and bioplastics will arise, which will increase the demand for the raw aquatic feedstocks. The advantage is that industries can effectively capture their lowest-value waste product, i.e. nitrates and phosphates, through bioremediation using algae and aquatic macrophytes. Photosynthesis captures solar energy and converts the waste water nutrients into biomass which can then be used as a raw material for composite formulations to make resins and bioplastics.

As the demand for algal biomass increases, there will be an incentive for other industrial plants to build out algae based water treatment systems and sell the biomass. Livestock operations such as Dairies, Fisheries, etc located in the southeast and southwest can use algae to treat their manure effluents and provide additional biomass to the market. We are in discussions with large dairies companies for building out algal ponds for water treatment and biomass recovery. Over time the aquatic biomass will become a commodity product traded like other traditional agricultural crops. Currently, large amounts of corn are being diverted from food production and enter biofuel or bioplastic production. Thereby, introducing a new, low-Eco footprint biofeedstock will help alleviate the demand on food based crops for plastics and liquid fuel conversion.

QUESTION:

How is post-industrial algae synthesized into bio-based plastics? In other words, how is the protein in algae bound to the plastic components to allow for application to injection molding? What additives are required to allow for the synthesis OR used to increase the properties of the material? I remember discussions of protein-based materials (cellulous) vs. carbon-based (bio-PET) and how the former “connects” to the plastic molecule similar to how the calcium carbonate connects to the PP polymer, for example.

ANSWER:

Algae produced from wastewater treatment has been grown under nitrogen rich conditions, providing an abundance of nitrogen to make protein. During exponential growth phases in algae and aquatic plants, the composition of the biomass is dominated by protein, in the range of 30-60% depending on species. The higher protein content algae or post processed meals may have 50% or more protein which is similar to soy protein meal. Although some companies have announced efforts to refine the algal oils or ferment into ethanol, these approaches require additional refining for synthesizing into “bio-based” monomers and polymers identical to their petroleum counterpart, such as Bio-PET, or bio-polyethylene, etc.

The protein in the biomass is what our process uses as the “polymeric” material in the blends. Proteins, by definition, are polymer chains of amino acids, which offer a variety of hydrophobic and hydrophillic interactions based upon the amino acid profile. Through thermomechanical processing, such as twin screw extrusion, the heat and shear forces exerted on the native protein complexes force them to denature and unfold providing a network of elongated polymer-like threads when blended with a base resin. The proteins have hydroxl groups available that can hydrogen bond and covalently bond in the presence of polar side groups on polymer chains as well as maleated chemical interactions. By adding conventional coupling agents, tensile strength and moisture absorption can be significantly improved.

The remaining portion of the non-protein biomass is usually composed of carbohydrates such as cellulose, hemicellulose, polysaccharides, but have little to no lignin. The crude fiber portion of the biomass has been shown to act like a reinforcing agent, increasing stiffness and tensile strength, but reduces elongation. The Ash fractions can range from 10-30% depending on cultivation method, however we believe the ash or minerals, will behave like a mineral filler, similar to calcium carbonate as it will be homogeneously blended throughout the matrix along with the biomass. Algae grown for bioremediation generally have a low lipid content, around 10% or less, and in cases where algae is being grown for biofuels, with high oil contents, the oil will be extracted leaving a protein-rich post extracted meal which will be well suited for compounding. Other value added compounds, such as high value pigments and antioxidants may also be extracted which will help in being able to modify the plastic color from dark green or brown to a lighter color which is easier to mask with color additives. Biomass particle size is also an important variable and needs to be optimized depending on conversion technology and application.

We have been successful compounding algae blends with some base resins up to 70% bio, however the majority of our formulations used in injection molding are set at a 50/50 blend which provides stronger performance characteristics. However, pure 100% algae dogbones have been made under compression molding, but do not have the performance properties compared to the injection molded blends.

QUESTION:

What is the preferred end-of-life treatment of this unique bio-based plastic? Is it similar to the approach taken by PLA supplier NatureWorks, which looks to generate the quantity necessary to sustain the creation of a new closed-loop recycling process in which PLA would be recycled in its own post-consumer stream?

ANSWER:

In the case that Algae is compounded with biodegradable base resins such as PLA, PHA, PHB, TPS, PBAT, and others, the final bioplastic will have the same or higher degree of biodegradability. Since we are dealing with biomass, the algae component is consumable by microbes, and the slight hydrophillic nature of the resin allows water to penetrate and accelerate the biodegradation process under the proper composting conditions. ALGIX still is testing the biodegradability rate and cannot not comment on degradation curves yet, as most of our research has been on formulation, co-processing, and performance related milestones.

When biomass from any source is compounded with a base resin, the resulting formulation becomes distinct from the recyclable pure resin. This is even the case with different polymer composites that may have two or more resin constituents. Although the biomass will be able to sustain some level of recycling, due to the more fragile nature of the resins bio building blocks, the performance will likely decrease, as with most other conventional recycled resins. We do not necessarily see a unique algal-blended stream of plastics, just due to the numerous variables in the formulations. A recent study by the American Chemical Council found that the US has a dismally low recycling rate below 10% but the state of New Hampshire has an exceptionally high recovery rate of over 40%. Instead of recycling these materials, which requires sophisticated sorting equipment or lots of manual labor, an easier approach was to convert the non-recyclable plastic waste steam into energy using boilers for steam and electricity production. I believe they still recycled some of the more easily sorted materials, like plastic water/soda bottles, just used any non-spec plastic for waste-2-energy…This not only reduced the cost associated with handling and processing the numerous recycling streams, it provided a substantial amount of alternative energy. If algae blended with synthetic non-biodegradable polymers increases in usage, the biomass fraction essentially acts as a bioenergy source at the end of its lifecycle. The conclusion that the ACC drew was that there is a dramatic shift in the amount of states shifting their focusing from complex sorting/recycling to a more direct and streamlined waste-to-energy approach. As Waste-2-energy increases, the concern about having closed loop recycling, although a wonderful concept, will be alleviated because the “other” non-recyclable plastics now can be converted to energy instead of being landfilled. The algae fraction of the plastics represents a carbon neutral component of the resin and energy feedstock.

ALGIX is initially focusing on product streams of plastic that have a low or absent recycling rate due to various factors; these include paint cans, pesticides, fertilizers, mulch films, and carpet products. There exists active programs for recycling carpets by shaving the fibers and grinding the backings for use in new carpets (at some minor percentage) as well as pure post-consumer-grade base resins, usually PP based. New product lines can be generated using post consumer grade resins with post-industrial grade algae biomass to provide a bioresin with a very low eco-footprint. We have a research proposal pending on conducting an LCA based on the algae biorefinery approach for bioplastics to further quantify these environmental and economic benefits.

That should be enough for yall to chew on for a bit…

Let’s all give a big digital THANK YOU to Algix for being so informative and transparent with their exciting new technology!

YUM!

June 13, 2011

Hi!

Sooo my long-winded rebuttal to the NYT’s article generated 150+ hits in two hours, a recyclablepackaging.org record! Hurra my packaging and sustainability friends; let the truth rein free! I plan to submit a more concise and possibly sassy letter to the editor, though I am not sure how much more time I want to devote to this silliness. Stay tuned!

Anywhosie, our organic Victory Garden is coming along swimmingly!

We now have several different types of lettuce, arugula, leeks, beans, radishes, bell peppers, tomatoes, basil, and much much more growing as we speak! YUM!

OH, and I totally forgot to tell you guys—remember how last summer we started composting Dordan’s food and yard waste in our journey toward zero waste; and, remember how we threw some “Vincotte OK to Home Compost” certified resins into the composter to see if the plastic disappeared over the winter (check out October 21st post)? Well guess what: it did! The farmers emptied the contents of the compost early this summer to spread on the plot as fertilizer and did not detect any plastic bits in it. CRAZY!

Check out the phresh off the press photos below!

AND, coming soon to recyclablepackaging.org:

The truth about ocean debris as per the SPC’s panel discussion thereof

Dordan’s updated Bio Resin Show N Tell for Pack Expo 2011 featuring two NEW non-traditional resins

More paper vs. plastic goodness, yippee

AND, my article contribution to Plastics Business, a quarterly publication for injection molders, blow molders, and thermoformers; in other words, my people!