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Using Data to Empower Sustainability Programs


Friday February 9, 2018

Supply chain professionals know that the answers to many questions lie in the data. Of course, the first step is to collect the data needed for analyses. A recent article in GreenBiz highlights how large-appliance manufacturer Whirlpool implemented a data collection and management initiative that ultimately helped the company’s leaders solve some of the business’s challenges and enabled them to make smarter investments.

Whirlpool leaders invested in data tracking and analytics to better understand the company’s global manufacturing operations, including its energy use, water consumption and waste metrics. In some cases, the data management solutions were implemented to give site managers feedback about their individual sites and help them identify process improvement opportunities. However, when Whirlpool’s sustainability team looked at the aggregate data from all the sites, they uncovered information that enabled the company to make meaningful sustainability decisions.

The Greenbiz article points out three success stories from this data management initiative:

1. Turning packaging waste into sustainability savings

A few months after implementing Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure software dashboards at three of Whirlpool’s Ohio manufacturing sites to monitor consumption and waste, the company’s sustainability team noticed that the facilities shared a common operational problem. They all had more than 20 million pounds of corrugated cardboard packaging leftover from incoming components. Although the company could have let the site managers find individual solutions for this waste challenge, the sustainability team instead negotiated bulk recycling deals. As a result, the company is on track to save at least $1 million during the next two years.

2. Creating customized energy plans

For five years, Whirlpool experts diligently monitored the business case for on-site wind and solar energy collection to determine where to invest in new energy infrastructure. Based on the collected data, leaders decided to make strategic investments in solar power in India and Italy and in wind power in Ohio. Late last year, the company announced plans to add three wind turbines to its Greenville, Ohio, site. These turbines will generate more than 12 million kilowatt-hours of power each year to partially power the facility’s operations. Three other Ohio sites also are collecting wind power for on-site use.

The same data analysis led company leaders to realize that solar or wind energy investments would not make as much sense in Brazil, where there is a higher percentage of power available on the central grid. Having this information upfront helped the company avoid spending money unnecessarily.

3. Meeting sustainability goals ahead of deadline

Also in Brazil, facility operators used the EcoStruxure dashboard to track more than 100 different waste streams. The experts looked at how the company makes new products and introduces new separation techniques. Based on this analysis, leaders invented new material segregation processes, adding value to materials before they leave the facilities, according to Ron Voglewede, global sustainability director for Whirlpool. By reconfiguring operations based on these insights, the Brazilian facilities met their zero waste-to-landfill goals two years ahead of schedule.

Now the company is applying the lessons learned from these facilities to operations in the United States, Mexico, Europe and China. By 2022, Whirlpool hopes to

  • produce zero landfill waste
  • reduce energy and water use in manufacturing by 15 percent
  • achieve 90 percent full material transparency on new parts.

How do your numbers measure up?

Whirlpool leaders found that examining operations data is crucial to achieving its sustainability goals. In addition, awareness of your company’s operations metrics can help you determine how your business’s performance compares with that of others. This is known as benchmarking, which the APICS Dictionary defines as: “Comparing products, processes and services to those of another organization thought to have superior performance.”

APICS offers tools to help you benchmark your company’s performance against your peers. APICS Corporate Affiliates have access to the SCORmark benchmark tools, which contain 20 years of Supply Chain Operations Reference (SCOR) data across a variety of industries. You can use the SCORmark data to define your supply chain competitive requirements, measure internal performance, compare your performance to a custom data population, calculate performance gaps, set performance goals based on SCOR metrics and develop company-specific roadmaps for improving supply chain performance. Learn more at