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Life After Hype

By Dave Turbide, CFPIM, CIRM, CSCP | November/December 2012 | 22 | 6

Enterprise InsightsThe death and rebirth of corporate sustainability practices

Sustainability and its surrounding issues have gotten a lot of attention over the last several years. As people became aware of the relevant issues, there was great discussion and concern over resource conservation and global climate change, and consumers expressed a strong interest in the environmental stances of the products they buy and the companies that produce them. Many businesses responded with a variety of initiatives aimed at reducing energy consumption, reexamining the amount of landfill waste, substituting renewable materials for traditional ones, and recycling and remanufacturing whenever possible.

Now, a kind of fatigue has set in. Environmental issues do not get the headlines like they once did, and companies seem less interested in initiating sustainability efforts. But fear not: This is not the beginning of the end of the environmental movement. Instead, sustainability is entering a new stage, a stage likely to be more sustainable itself. Sustainability has become a more mature pursuit that will last a lot longer than the hype-fueled surge of recent years.

Long live the green
Fads driven by hype have relatively short lives and often are measured in months or, at most, a few years. After public interest moves on to the next big thing, the previous fad often fades into a vague memory. Sometimes this is accompanied by a chorus of “What were we thinking?” Other times, however, the idea has merit, later reemerging as a worthwhile business objective unencumbered by the strains of political correctness. 

While some of the glamour may have faded from the environmental movement, time has proven that many of the actions taken in the name of sustainability and resource conservation are smart from business and economic perspectives. This is precisely how sustainability will survive and spread. 

Companies have learned that renewable materials can be perfectly reasonable substitutes for standard materials, and they are less likely to be subject to the price fluctuations recently seen in petroleum products, precious metals, and rare-earth minerals. Because of the increasing market for renewables, more suppliers enter the market, making prices relatively stable and even declining in many cases. Additional sources of renewables should develop as sustainability demands continue.

Energy conservation is always of interest, of course, especially in these days of wild price fluctuations and the ever-present risks of supply disruptions. Concerns such as those have led to the development of energy-saving processes and equipment, as well as the maturation of renewable sources and techniques. The shake-up in the solar and wind energy markets is further proof that hype-based development often tries to override market logic, but it cannot change the realities of the marketplace. 

In nearly every aspect, the market is speaking and the results are becoming clear. Sustainability will continue as a key part of manufacturing strategy—but only to the extent that it delivers measurable benefits.

Dave Turbide, CFPIM, CIRM, CSCP, CMfgE, is a New Hampshire-based independent consultant and freelance writer and president of the APICS Granite State chapter. He may be contacted at dave@daveturbide.com.

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