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Green with Gusto

By Joanne Gorski, CFPIM, CSCP | November/December 2013 | 23 | 6

There is no doubt that actively evaluating and making business decisions that include sustainability initiatives will help differentiate your organization and its products and ensure success. Moreover, being aware and responsible influences brand image and thus can attract customers and talented, engaged employees.Getting your team excited about sustainability

Sustainability is about making responsible, long-term choices that enable a lasting, successful future. There is no doubt that actively evaluating and making business decisions that include sustainability initiatives will help differentiate your organization and its products and ensure success. Moreover, being aware and responsible influences brand image and thus can attract customers and talented, engaged employees.

Getting there
First things first: Management buy-in is of course a key prerequisite to getting your green program embraced by the whole organization. When employees at the top see sustainability as part of the strategic direction and critical to success, the path to green is enhanced. Managers are not going to do the majority of the work; they simply need to provide support and enable employees to work on projects that deliver more sustainable results. Employees will not invest—or risk—taking the time to work on anything they feel is unsupported by their supervisor or the overall corporation. When a team runs into a barrier or issue, management’s job is to help overcome or eliminate the challenge.

I have seen thriving sustainability programs come to a halt simply due to management turnover or loss of focus. In order to make sure programs continue, companies must possess solid governance programs. This means that the business’s commitment to sustainability is documented and ingrained in corporate objectives, scorecards, and performance evaluation criteria from the top of the organization and down to entry-level positions. This avoids the perception that sustainability is just another fad that will run its course and fall out of favor.

Employees are essential
Perhaps the most fundamental feature is educating the workforce on green concepts. Here is a great opportunity to teach people about the waste hierarchy and why sustainability is an important corporate initiative. Great results depend on everyone in the organization being able to identify wasteful practices and harmful materials that can be replaced with more eco-friendly alternatives, as well as taking advantage of opportunities to support the local economy and businesses that embrace greener development. Businesses must remain competitive in today’s evolving marketplace. As such, employees should know that ignoring sustainability issues ultimately threatens the organization’s financial security.

When educating employees on sustainability, start with the basics. First, define it. Sustainability encompasses the following key concepts: Environmental, social, and financial outcomes are in balance. Efforts ensure current needs are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In any sentence, “sustainable” can be replaced with the adjective “responsible.” Employees also must understand the waste hierarchy, which essentially says that the most efficient way to deal with waste is not to create it in the first place. (See Figure 1.)
There is no doubt that actively evaluating and making business decisions that include sustainability initiatives will help differentiate your organization and its products and ensure success. Moreover, being aware and responsible influences brand image and thus can attract customers and talented, engaged employees.

Cross-functional teams are an integral piece of the green journey. For every process, location, plant, department, event, or other meaningful unit of your organization, the formation of a cross-functional sustainability team is an opportunity to achieve meaningful results. The composition of the team can be fluid, but try to include individuals from finance, operations, purchasing, research and development, and supply chain.

Much has been written about the significantly higher productivity of engaged employees. These workers take ownership and strive to improve their individual results—and, thus, their organizational results. They have lower turnover rates because they like their jobs and want to stay. And, as most people have a natural desire to make a difference in the world, giving employees sustainability-related responsibilities taps into this need while enabling them to channel their energy toward strategic goals. Many employees will willingly work extra hours, even unpaid hours, if it benefits green initiatives.

One way to increase employee participation is to explain how the fundamental concepts apply to their home and work lives. Through the education you offer, they can learn to save money and resources in both places; improve their communities in all areas of the triple bottom line of people, profit, and planet; and, as individuals emerge as leaders or project champions, become further energized by the recognition and encouragement you give them.

Now that you have engaged cross- functional teams, it’s time to put them to work on an impacts assessment. First, identify the environmental aspects of activities, products, or services over which the team can have control and that are within the scope of the area being managed. (This activity is a basic part of the ISO 14001 process.) An environmental aspect is an element of a facility’s activities, products, or services that can or does interact with the environment. These interactions and their effects may be continuous in nature; periodic; or associated only with events, such as emergencies.

Once the team has listed all environmental aspects, score and rank their impacts on the environment. Let’s take the very simple example of a weekly lunch meeting. One major aspect for that event is the lunch service. Sourcing for the lunch and the criteria required of the food vendor will have a significant effect on the environment due to the waste stream generated and the impact of the lunch vendor’s supply chain. All the aspects are ranked and weighted based upon frequency 1–5 quantity (volume) 1–3 severity (risk to environment, safety, or resource reduction) 1–5 control (permits or regulations) 1–3 public image influence 1–5.

A total score is tallied, giving the planning group a quantitative list of items to manage. The higher the number calculated in the ranking, the more significant the environmental aspect. A score of 15 or higher is considered significant. The lunch example can be quantified as seen in Table 1.

There is no doubt that actively evaluating and making business decisions that include sustainability initiatives will help differentiate your organization and its products and ensure success. Moreover, being aware and responsible influences brand image and thus can attract customers and talented, engaged employees.


With a score of 17, lunch is considered significant; its environmental impact can and should be improved. Figure 2 can help team members identify changes possible in inputs, processes, outputs, and the product’s end of life. Cross-functional teams should work together to develop sustainable purchasing measures, identify related significant improvement ideas, and consider where the product ends up. Always try to prevent the output from ending up in a landfill. Careful planning in the input stage can help minimize product end-of-life issues.

There is no doubt that actively evaluating and making business decisions that include sustainability initiatives will help differentiate your organization and its products and ensure success. Moreover, being aware and responsible influences brand image and thus can attract customers and talented, engaged employees.

Sustainable purchasing
Purchasing dollars equal power—and, as purchasing is the gateway into a business, the activity deserves a great amount of effort. Creating a greener procurement policy will help set guidelines and criteria that transfer control over sustainable performance to your organization. This document guides the purchasing professionals in managing their jobs to match the policy and organizational goals. It also will drive the marketplace toward adopting sustainable practices for long-term improvement. Following are some proven tips for achieving sustainable procurement: Encourage the use of recycled or sustainably produced materials. Ensure fair labor and compensation. Drive the reduction of waste. Avoid harmful or toxic substances. Ensure compliance with environmental and social legislation.

Analyzing the items on which an organization spends money helps identify improvement areas. For small companies, the total annual dollars spent can simply be ranked from highest to lowest. A simple ABC classification will identify the top 20 percent of the items. Next, the cross-functional team can choose which items can be sourced in a more eco-friendly way, where consumption can be reduced, where local sourcing could be implemented, supplier improvement initiatives, and so on. Products and services both should be evaluated.

Now, thinking about the weekly lunch, apply sourcing criteria to the vendor supplying food. The vendor would be asked to

  • use compostable serve ware from approved sources 
  • attend a waste-minimization workshop 
  • make sure all goods and services are approved and consistent with the organization’s mission and values 
  • keep disposable items to a minimum 
  • source responsibly and locally for at least 50 percent of ingredients 
  • use fair labor and compensation practices 
  • label local ingredients 
  • sort all waste into recycle, compost, and landfill categories, with landfill waste being greatly minimized.

 

Measure and improve
Understanding the importance of a few key metrics is invaluable. If your organization wants to reduce solid waste to the landfill, but is not measuring it, there will be no way to know when the process is out of control. The amount of waste generated from the weekly lunch, for example, should be measured, recorded, and communicated to all interested parties. A more sustainable event could be attained via this metric: Achieve a 25 percent reduction in the annual number of pounds of waste landfilled per person attending the lunch event versus the previous year.

Here, the SMART acronym is useful: Simple—examine the waste going to the landfill per person Measurable—use quantifiable units, such as pounds Achievable—a 25 percent reduction is a realistic goal Reasonable—“per person” makes sure the measure takes into account increases or decreases in attendance Trackable—compare last year’s landfill waste per person to this year’s landfill waste per person.

Finally, make sure you are continuously improving your sustainability efforts in order to keep the initiative moving forward. Document lessons learned, ask for feedback, implement changes as needed, keep educating team members, do what you can to remove obstacles—and don’t forget to thank people for their efforts. Then just watch the magic happen!

Joanne Gorski, CFPIM, CSCP, is president of Sustainable Insights. She is a subject matter expert in green manufacturing, an ISO 14001 and 20121 auditor, and an accredited professional for the Sustainable Event Alliance. Gorski may be contacted at joanne.gorski@sustainableinsightsllc.com.

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