Pressure from governments, investors and end customers is making environmental sustainability a key business issue facing all organizations today.  Companies must grapple with the issue of how they can reduce their use of energy, water, create less waste and reduce their and CO2 and GHG emissions.  Reducing energy usage and waste is not an easy task.  The rewards can be huge if advantages over competitors can be developed along the way.  Consumers are becoming more aware of what goes into what they are buying and with more disclosure will come more awareness.

The first step on the road to corporate sustainability is to develop a thorough awareness within the enterprise of the issues involved and how they impact the company.  How aware are you on the subject of sustainability?  What is the environmental impact of the technologies and processes in your industry?  Many people are aware there is an issue, but few understand the specifics nor the urgency in a sufficient level of detail nor from a business perspective in meeting the risks and opportunities that sustainability brings with it.

Before you can decide where you need to go, you need to know where you are.  The second step on the road toward sustainability comes from understanding the current situation.  How much energy is being consumed at the various locations and steps within the company processes?  Where is the company in relation to compliance with current regulations and what risks are on the horizon with potential new regulations?   Are there any resource saving projects underway and are there any new projects being considered or suggested?  What key metrics need to be added to the corporate dashboard?   How does the company compare with competitors?  How are they meeting the challenge?

Once an understanding of the current situation has been developed, work can begin on a reduction strategy taking the top resource cost impacts and risks and working down the list.  Are there key technologies ready for adoption that just haven’t made it to the top of the project stack Are you properly recognizing the expected (and increasing) costs of resources in evaluating your projects?   Are you aware of subsidies that could help put your programs over the top?  There is a lot of money out there just waiting for resource saving projects.

It’s important at this stage to identify easy to implement and high impact ‘Low hanging fruit’ projects that can lead to early success and build momentum throughout the enterprise.  Your employees and customers will get the message that you are serious about leading the charge, and properly handled, it won’t be lost on the supply base.   Focused work group projects and Kaizen events are excellent tools to use to get the message out and for developing ideas for new resource and waste saving projects.

For many companies, most of the impact is defined outside their direct control.  Most manufacturing companies cost base is in the supply chain and naturally the highest resource consumption is upstream.  Supply Management must add sustainability prominently to the already complex mix of issues involved in developing and maintaining a strong and competitive supply network.  The good news is that most of the strong companies are leading the charge here and making the job easy.   The bad news is that marginal and weaker companies are at risk of falling further behind or worse.

Do your suppliers know where their impacts are?  Early discussions with key partners when you are in evaluating your current situation are a good idea at this stage.  Their impact may be greater than yours and they may already have a good strategy in place.  Have they completed or do they plan to do Life Cycle Analyses (LCA)?  Those ‘low hanging fruits’ are most often hanging in one of your supplier ‘trees’.  Collaboration projects with major suppliers on new designs and new technologies is a very smart way to lead to major breakthroughs.


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