Six cost-effective changes for better sustainability

“[We need a] new refrain for economic success, personal happiness and the survival of the planet” -Bob Doppelt

Our manufacturing technologies and the chemistry they employ were developed in a very different era. When our industrial production and consumption systems were developed, global population was more than a third less than it is today. Environmental problems were small and localised, not global and potentially catastrophic as climate disruption and ocean acidification are now. The level of toxicity and waste were minimal.

Under these conditions, businesses had no reason to pay attention to the adverse impacts of what they produced, purchased or used. To the contrary, people were rightfully thankful for the benefits of burning coal, oil, and gas to build their organisations, make travel easier and power the economy. They appreciated cheap, light-weight plastics for the ease they provided over heavier metals and glass. They revelled in the availability of a vast array of synthetic chemicals to meet all sorts of needs. These goods and services raised the standard of living and gave the appearance of progress, so people were oblivious to the costs of these well-meaning choices and the toll they took on the planet and its people.

But conditions have fundamentally changed and we now know that grave perils face humanity. Yet the methods, composition and impacts of the things we make, buy and use on a daily basis today are still for the most part the outcomes of decisions and processes made 50-100 years ago. As a result, most production processes, goods and services have significant adverse impacts in our workplaces–and on the natural environment that is the source of all life.
The economic rule of thumb for the past century — that more and cheaper is better — must be supplanted by a new refrain for economic success, personal happiness and the survival of the planet: Sustainable is better, healthier and morally just.

Here are six cost-effective changes every organisation can make to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly and ensure it increases its longevity:

1. Complete a value-chain wide “life-cycle analysis” of the environmental and social impacts of your goods and services. Most firms don’t realise the benefits of such an analysis, but they are substantial. It will help your company see the systems it is part of and understand the consequences of its current activities on those systems.

2. As the life-cycle analysis is being completed, undergo an energy audit and carbon footprint analysis for your production, distribution and retail facilities to understand how energy is used and the greenhouse gas emissions generated. This is an easy and inexpensive way to find ways to save money.

3. Hold a company-wide dialogue and adopt a clear set of ethical tenets to guide all of the firm’s activities focused on doing no harm to the natural environment and other people, here or abroad.

4. Then, demonstrate a commitment to that tenet by setting an ambitious target — say 30 per cent — and implementing an efficiency and conservation plan in your facilities to reduce energy use. Then, look for ways to achieve similar energy reductions throughout your company’s entire value chain.

5. Similarly, develop a plan to phase out the use of coal, oil and gas fossil fuels throughout your entire value chain within five to ten years. Use a combination of increased energy efficiency and clean renewable energy such as wind and solar power to achieve that goal. This is very doable.

6. Set another ambitious goal — again, say 30 per cent — and phase in a plan to reduce the waste sent to landfills by increasing reuse and recycling at all of your facilities. Then, look for ways to achieve similar goals throughout your company’s entire value chain. This is another relatively easy cost saver.

This post is adapted from an article by Bob Doppelt for Sustainable Business Oregon. You can view the original here.

Bob Doppelt is the executive director of the Resource Innovation Group (TRIG) and an adjunct professor in the Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management at the University of Oregon where he teaches systems thinking and global warming policy. He is the author of From Me to We: The Five Transformational Commitments Required to Rescue the Planet, Your Organisation, and Your Life and also Leading Change Towards Sustainability: A Change Management Guide for Business, Government and Civil Society.

Buy From Me to We direct from Greenleaf Publishing and receive a 30% discount off paperback and 10% discount off the PDF eBook. Just use voucher code FMTW49 at checkout.

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