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PollutionEngineering November 2012 : Page 22

ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY: A DIRECTION A sustainability consultant provides an in-depth perspective on environmental sustainability in the United States. T By MICHAEL S. RICHARDSON, P .E., SUSTAINABLE DESIGN SENIOR PROJECT MANAGER, SGS NORTH AMERICA INC. In some cases, a waste stream such as a used tire might provide a revenue stream instead of a waste disposal cost. he often-repeated classic definition of sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without compro-mising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It is succinctly accurate and fully valid. Yet it is not at all specific in terms of what it means for individual entities, whether they are people, corporations or countries. In light of this lack of specificity, com-panies actively addressing sustainability typically develop their own definition of what sustainability means to them, or what their policy on addressing sustain-ability shall be. This is partly because, given the number of different needs for the nearly 7 billion people currently on Earth, and the many ways we meet these needs, there is no real way to quantitatively state with certainty what is sustainable. Even extremely poor practices may be sustainable, if they are only engaged in at a small scale. To avoid the complex calculation this quantita-tive view of sustainability may bring us towards, and to instead try to generate positive progress, many organizations are focusing on simply moving in the direc-tion of sustainability. 22 Pollution Engineering NOVEMBER 2012 Generally moving in this direction means making positive meaningful change to reduce and negate the impacts of their operations, products and services. Indeed some specific practices have been elimi-nated based on a determination that they are truly not sustainable, such as continu-ing to sell a species of fish that is close to being endangered. But most sustainability improvements are really a matter of mak-ing changes to reduce and void negative environmental impacts. ability; perhaps only addressing a few issues or driven strictly by some form of public relations or marketing efforts. Additionally, there are still some organiza-tions where sustainability has made the radar screen, possibly even the to-do list, but actions have yet to be taken. Start from where the client is To try to engage those companies mere-ly addressing sustainability in a peripheral way (seemingly the majority within the United States), the consulting engineer’s approach may be to forego a comprehen-sive program in the interest of securing buy-in to a smaller commitment. A good way to begin the process with an organiza-tion that is not highly motivated is to work with the entity at their level on one or two issues of interest to them, or their custom-ers, as an economic, environmental or other motivating concern. Small successes in these areas can help build credibility and momentum. With an outside perspec-tive and different expertise, a sustainabil-ity consultant can add value to this process by helping identify important areas for improvement, refocus priorities, assist in accurate environmental communication, avoid pit falls and help train staff among Ideal engagement From a sustainability consulting per-spective, the ideal way to address the subject is with a comprehensive strategy that is based on the specific operation of the company and the products or services it sells. In this way, the organization can develop a prioritized approach to tack-le important issues and ensure relevant matters are not overlooked. This is the approach often taken by industry leaders: although they may not be communicat-ing on their initiatives, they are steadily and discreetly working on a number of fronts. Smaller companies and industry non-leaders are more likely to be engaged in a less structured approach to sustain-

Environmental Sustainability: A Direction

Michael S. Richardson

A sustainability consultant provides an in-depth perspective on environmental sustainability in the United States.<br /> <br /> In some cases, a waste stream such as a used tire might provide a revenue stream instead of a waste disposal cost.<br /> <br /> The often-repeated classic definition of sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It is succinctly accurate and fully valid. Yet it is not at all specific in terms of what it means for individual entities, whether they are people, corporations or countries. In light of this lack of specificity, companies actively addressing sustainability typically develop their own definition of what sustainability means to them, or what their policy on addressing sustainability shall be.<br /> <br /> This is partly because, given the number of different needs for the nearly 7 billion people currently on Earth, and the many ways we meet these needs, there is no real way to quantitatively state with certainty what is sustainable. Even extremely poor practices may be sustainable, if they are only engaged in at a small scale. To avoid the complex calculation this quantitative view of sustainability may bring us towards, and to instead try to generate positive progress, many organizations are focusing on simply moving in the direction of sustainability.<br /> <br /> Generally moving in this direction means making positive meaningful change to reduce and negate the impacts of their operations, products and services. Indeed some specific practices have been eliminated based on a determination that they are truly not sustainable, such as continuing to sell a species of fish that is close to being endangered. But most sustainability improvements are really a matter of making changes to reduce and void negative environmental impacts.<br /> <br /> Ideal engagement <br /> <br /> From a sustainability consulting perspective, the ideal way to address the subject is with a comprehensive strategy that is based on the specific operation of the company and the products or services it sells. In this way, the organization can develop a prioritized approach to tackle important issues and ensure relevant matters are not overlooked. This is the approach often taken by industry leaders: although they may not be communicating on their initiatives, they are steadily and discreetly working on a number of fronts. Smaller companies and industry non-leaders are more likely to be engaged in a less structured approach to sustainability; perhaps only addressing a few issues or driven strictly by some form of public relations or marketing efforts. Additionally, there are still some organizations where sustainability has made the radar screen, possibly even the to-do list, but actions have yet to be taken.<br /> <br /> Start from where the client is <br /> <br /> To try to engage those companies merely addressing sustainability in a peripheral way (seemingly the majority within the United States), the consulting engineer’s approach may be to forego a comprehensive program in the interest of securing buy-in to a smaller commitment. A good way to begin the process with an organization that is not highly motivated is to work with the entity at their level on one or two issues of interest to them, or their customers, as an economic, environmental or other motivating concern. Small successes in these areas can help build credibility and momentum. With an outside perspective and different expertise, a sustainability consultant can add value to this process by helping identify important areas for improvement, refocus priorities, assist in accurate environmental communication, avoid pit falls and help train staff among Other value-added services. Specific services offered from the sustainability consulting tool chest might include: <br /> <br /> Holistic Building Audits – Going beyond the basic energy checklists sometimes offered by utility companies, which focus on generic improvement tips, this type of audit generates a tailored list of recommended actions with projected savings and implementation costs. By looking at the building as a whole, conducting modeling, assessing applicable financial incentive programs, examining alternative waste disposal options, etc. significant savings that go directly to the bottom line can be achieved in specific areas.<br /> <br /> Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) – A methodology used to assess the impacts (e.g. carbon footprint, acidification, ozone depletion, etc.) of a product or service throughout the course of its lifecycle, from raw materials production, through manufacturing, product use, to disposal and all transportation in between. This information can help identify where the biggest impacts lie, allow for benchmarking improvements and provide a more complete accounting of the environmental impact of the product or service.<br /> <br /> Sustainable Design – A process where the design of a product (typically) is conscientiously improved to reduce its environmental impact. By making the client aware of the important environmental impacts of their product and considering them as criteria during the design phase (along with cost and technical requirements) the new product design can have a significantly lower impact on the environment, while still balancing cost, desired features and technical constraints. Often LCA results are used to determine where the hot spots in the life cycle of the produce exist and where to redesign it for improvement. Training and guidelines can be developed for clients as well to guide redesigns.<br /> <br /> Environmental Labeling/Communication – Environmental labels and communications are tools used inform customers about environmental impacts and allow them to make more informed purchases. Assistance can include reviewing claims and providing guidance to avoid green washing, or conducting an LCA and gathering information to produce an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) document. An EPD is a very robust and comprehensive form of environmental communication. Such forms of environmental communication can be used by clients to distinguish their product from the competition.<br /> <br /> Corporate Carbon Footprint – This calculation of all the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for a corporation (by mass equivalents) allows a company to measure its contribution to one of the more important environmental impacts. GHG emissions are often closely linked to energy consumption, an important consideration for many organizations’ bottom line. In the same way an LCA helps identify environmental hot spots in a product life cycle, a corporate carbon footprint can identify areas for improvement within a company’s operations. This initiative also demonstrates to shareholders and customers that the company is addressing its GHG emissions, an environmental concern and potential regulatory risk in the future, as well as energy demand reduction.<br /> <br /> Implementation costs <br /> <br /> In addition to any initial costs associated with holistic audits, product studies, or other consulting services, there is the question of how the implementation of sustainability initiatives may add to costs. As one might expect, these costs will depend on the specific initiatives. Such expenditures can range from a significant up-front capital investment (for more efficient equipment or additional insulation) or a slight increase in raw material costs (for a material with a lower environmental impact) to a no-cost behavioral or procedural change in materials handling. Of course, many of these costs have direct savings associated with them that are easily calculated from reduced utility use or potential revenue streams from repurposing waste materials.<br /> <br /> Additionally, some changes may indirectly contribute to the bottom line. Improving product performance and its environmental image can contribute to increased sales. Certain types of certifications or environmental reporting can open up new markets or increase market share. Better management of environmental issues or changes in raw materials can reduce incidents of violation and accidents or overall potential risk. In general, when assessing cost effects of sustainability initiatives, a complete long-term accounting approach should be conducted for a proper calculation and associated decision making.<br /> <br /> Client interest <br /> <br /> At a minimum, most companies want to say they are doing something regarding sustainability. Indeed most are, but without pressing forward in all applicable areas, nor at a rapid pace. With a less than robust U.S. economy, many companies are hesitant to move beyond their initial forays into sustainability citing budget and personnel concerns. However, there are still some leading companies and industries (i.e. the outdoor apparel and equipment industry) keen to develop projects to improve the environmental performance of their products, package and supply chain. In fact, the supply chain has definitely become a focal point of interest in the area of sustainability. Many companies are asking suppliers to provide more information on their environmental practices and performance, as well as following up with supplier environmental audits, training and incentivized sourcing programs.<br /> <br /> Although working to address the impacts of their own operations are still positive activities with respect to sustainability, and therefore should continue to be vigorously pursued, many large U.S. based companies, particularly brands and retailers, realize that the major impacts associated with their business actually reside within the portion of the product life cycle that occurs before it reaches the display case, i.e. the international and often complex supply chain. This realization has led to the great increase in the data requests, audits and training activities occurring mainly in Asia to help reduce the impact.<br /> <br /> The overall trend in client interest is clearly positive. Whether rapidly or slowly, more companies are working on sustainability, which will only grow as: the economy improves, customers become increasingly aware, the standard of living in developing countries rises and resources become more constrained.<br /> <br /> Sustainability success stories <br /> <br /> Packaging - at the request of a client interested in reducing the complexity and environmental impact of their packaging, while still maintaining its luxurious quality, a packaging design assessment was conducted. This assessment worked through numerous design attributes of the package, within five over-arching categories such as, product-package interplay, dimensional efficiency and end-of-life, and provided a score for each. Based on the point distribution of the assessment, specific areas for improvement were identified and an alternative design was developed that successfully addressed these issues while retaining the luxury aspect of the packaging.<br /> <br /> LCA – as part of a large product LCA and labeling initiative, an innovative cell phone design was evaluated. The product had a small solar panel attached to it in an effort to allow the phone to be charged via renewable energy. Indeed, the intention behind this design was good. However, when the impacts from the entire lifecycle were calculated, it was identified that the energy used to produce the solar cell itself was not fully offset by the energy the cell would save. The product was subsequently discontinued. This particular project demonstrated the importance of examining at the full lifecycle of the product to ensure that environmental burdens are not overlooked, or shifted to other stages in the lifecycle, where they may actually result in higher impacts.<br /> <br /> Holistic Building Auditing – during a waste and recycling evaluation at a nationwide distribution facility chain, it was determined that the cost to dispose of used tires via its current recycling company was over $200,000 annually. By identifying an alternative recycler, the client was able to turn a cost into a revenue stream.<br /> <br /> Sustainable Design – an electric teapot manufacturer was interested in implementing the sustainable design process for their product. The project started by conducting an LCA on the product to establish its current environmental impacts and their distribution. The study revealed that the product-use phase was, by far, the greatest contributor to most of the different impact categories (and contributed over 80 percent of the climate change impact). By training people involved in the design and sourcing of the product, the information from the assessment was used to fix reasonable objectives to address this design weakness.<br /> <br /> Specific design changes were then targeted to: heat only the water desired (instead of boiling three cups of water when only one is wanted) and heating the water to just below the boiling point, saving energy. The design/engineering team then developed the technical solutions to make these objectives a reality by adding an instantaneous heating element and a cup adjusted dispensing system. The next step in the sustainable design was to perform an LCA on the redesigned product, which demonstrated reductions of five to 30 percent across all impact categories except raw materials depletion (RMD). The RMD category does increase, but it is due to the additional components, which actually allow for the new and improved functionality as well as reducing life-cycle impacts.<br /> <br /> Going forward <br /> <br /> It is acknowledged that most companies are addressing sustainability in some way. Going forward, taking on sustainability at a higher level and with broader scope will become even more conventional. For now, environmental consultants work with companies by starting from where they are, while aiming to inspire and encourage them to go further by showing the benefits of taking positive action.<br /> <br /> Michael S. Richardson, P. E., is the Life Cycle Assessment and Sustainable Design Senior Project Manager for SGS North America Inc., located in Fairfield, N. J. For general inquiries and additional information, email him at cts. Media@sgs.com.

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