You’ve heard of carbon dating — but in Japan and the UK at least, consumer product companies have begun rolling out “carbon labels” on what they sell. The labels tell purchasers the amount of carbon dioxide released during the manufacturing, marketing, distribution and likely disposal of the product. Procurement professionals are adept at looking back through a supply chain — but this approach also has us “forward thinking” through the whole lifecycle of a product.
I think sustainability initiatives are likely to be with us over the long haul. They are themselves sustainable, if you will, so we should be prepared to manage them. One of the basic steps is to establish your enterprise’s standards for evaluating environmental impact. The rise and fall of ethanol is a great example of how an idea for moving away from fossil fuels was tarnished by questions about its overall impact and the pressure it puts on food supplies.
Japan, the UK, and Scandinavian countries are moving quickly to create independent assessments of sustainability. The carbon labeling is just one example. Here in the U.S., we have Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards for buildings. A Green Restaurant trade group has set up a certification process for “sustainable dining,” and you can look to your own industry groups to find out how they are setting standards for sustainability.
In the absence of industry metrics – you might follow the example of Herman Miller, which set itself these goals by 2020:
• zero landfill
• zero hazardous waste generation
• 100% green energy
• all buildings LEED Silver certified
• 100% of sales from products designed for the environment
Those targets may be aggressive for your company, but they do provide a good framework for prioritizing and measuring green progress. Back them up by planning and executing steps to reach them. Once your own house is in order, you can turn to your suppliers – wherever they are – and negotiate standards for them.
What is absolutely clear is that companies can no longer ship their environmental issues to offshore suppliers. Even in countries where regulations may be lax, watchdog groups are vigilant, and bad news travels at Internet speeds.
The imperatives are clear, but like any transformation, it may not happen overnight. Still, with continuous support, you can turn your company into a lean, green, global machine.