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Modeling Sustainable Manufacturing

By Elizabeth Rennie | N/A 2010 | 5 | 12
While working on the November/December issue of APICS magazine, I had the opportunity to interview APICS magazine's "Relevant Research" department author Richard Crandall, Ph.D., CFPIM, CIRM, CSCP, and his son William "Rick" Crandall on the topic of sustainable development in operations and supply chain management. Although sustainability has been consistently growing in popularity and adoption, many professionals are resistant to--and even resentful of--the need to change. What is required in order for manufacturing industry leaders to choose to make sustainability a fundamental part of their business operations?

"Just as individuals need role models for personal motivation, so do industries," write Crandall and Crandall in their recent paper "In Search of Sustainable Development: Moving Toward the Tipping Point."

They continue: "Because of the great influence business has on the global environment, it is imperative its influence be a positive one." They call for industry role models to benchmark world-class sustainable undertakings. 

One company we discussed during our interview is Atlanta-based Interface, a manufacturer of modular carpet. In recent years, the organization has made significant strides toward sustainable development and, according to the paper, today is a "leader in sustainability and a role model all companies can seek to emulate." Most importantly, perhaps, Interface shares its progress with other businesses, and company executives push for other organizations to set bold goals in the pursuit of sustainability. 

In addition to its Mission Zero commitment to eliminate negative environmental impact by 2020, the business recently announced it would obtain third-party validated environmental product declarations (EPDs) on all InterfaceFLOR products globally by 2012. Company leaders say this initiative will require full transparency, create new standards of accountability, and ultimately spur innovation.   

 "Our EPDs will be based on the most rigorous, third-party-verified life cycle assessments used anywhere," says Interface founder and chairman Ray Anderson, adding that the EPDs will measure and disclose environmental impacts throughout the supply chain, "from well-head and mine to end-of-life reclamation and recycling." 

Interface is particularly meaningful to the sustainability discussion because the modular carpet manufacturing process consumes considerable energy, and the product requires significant landfill space when thrown away. Crandall and Crandall explain that, in its quest to be a leader in sustainable development, Interface created a graphic model of the desired closed-loop process for manufacturing and disposal.  The model, which can be found here, incorporates seven principles:
  1. Eliminate waste: Eliminate all forms of waste in every area of business.
  2. Benign emissions: Eliminate toxic substances from products, vehicles, and facilities.
  3. Renewable energy: Operate facilities with renewable energy sources--solar, wind, landfill gas, biomass, geothermal, tidal, and low-impact/small-scale hydroelectric or non-petroleum-based hydrogen.
  4. Closing the loop: Redesign processes and products to close the technical loop using recovered and bio-based materials.
  5. Resource-efficient transportation: Transport people and products efficiently to eliminate waste and emissions.
  6. Sensitizing stakeholders: Create a culture that uses sustainability principles to improve the lives and livelihoods of all [Interface] stakeholders--employees, partners, suppliers, customers, investors, and communities.
  7. Redesign commerce: Create a new business model that demonstrates and supports the value of sustainability-based commerce.
The authors believe the willingness of Interface's company decision makers to make their business a role model for industry is fundamental to helping other businesses achieve their own sustainability goals and continue to advance. 

Anderson adds, "This we know: Openness, honesty, and collaboration are key to environmental progress--not only for Interface, but for any business." 

Indeed, Interface's approaches have prompted other business leaders to seek counsel from the company for help transforming their operations. In fact, Interface professionals work with many other companies to help make those organizations more sustainable. 

To learn more about the Interface approach to zero environmental impact, visit interfaceglobal.com.

Elizabeth Rennie is managing editor for APICS magazine. She may be contacted at editorial@apics.org.

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