Friday, September 30, 2011

Zero Waste - Increasing Business Sustainability and Maximizing Resource Efficiency

By Thayne Carper 

Business sustainability movements strive for zero waste, which is when businesses do not produce any solid waste (garbage), hazardous and eWaste, as well as emissions. While the zero waste system may seem to be a radical movement, its fundamental principles help maximize resource efficiency within organizations. In the zero waste system, every resource within your company has a dedicated purpose, including the waste, which is produced as a result have the manufacturing or operational process. In terms of business sustainability, zero waste is the ultimate goal, in that the organization is self-sustainable.

The typical American manufacturing plant takes more than it produces, as it utilizes energy and materials to create a product that becomes waste in a set period of time. Additionally, manufacturers almost always order more materials than they need, which expire and become waste. For example, if a company produces boxes of cookies, the packaging of the product enters landfills once the product is consumed. A successful zero waste program captures the waste and puts it to use, rather than having it pollute the environment.

America's waste problem is most noticeable in the packaging of consumer edibles that come in disposable containers. While the product may have a shelf life of three months, the packaging takes thousands of years to biodegrade. The problem is a growing concern given the mass amount of pre-packaged foods Americans purchase each year. In a zero waste system products have longer shelf lives and the packaging is either reusable or biodegradable.

Profitability of Business Sustainability

Business sustainability and zero waste measures are good for the environment and offer substantial financial incentives. Source reduction is at the root of the zero waste initiative, which is the money a company saves by minimizing waste in the organization. Waste is an expensive byproduct as it is expensive to produce and sometimes equally expensive to discard. Zero waste is lucrative and sparks innovation within an organization, achieving results that far surpass similar prevention or reduction programs.

Successful corporations such as Hewlett Packard, Xerox, and Interface saved millions of dollars by implementing a zero waste initiative. For example, Interface, a carpet manufacturer, successfully saved $165 million in waste by recycling carpet - turning old carpet into new flooring, which reduced the amount of oil they required. Additionally, their factory was partially powered by solar energy. Xerox, one of the world's top-grossing copier firms, saved $2 billion by reusing printer and copier parts in new machines. Additionally, HP saved $800,000 by using reusable pallets for the transportation of its products.

Implementing a Zero Waste Initiative

The cost savings and environmental benefits of the zero waste initiative outweigh the upfront capital and human resources it takes to launch such a program. The process of reaching zero waste takes several months to complete, with most organizations seeing viable results after the first year. The hands-on process involves every member of the organization, with a core team or steering committee overseeing the initiative. The first step to launching a company-wide initiative is to introduce the concept of zero waste to management, particularly those in charge of making environmental decisions. Employees and other management should not be aware of the initiative until company executives approve it.

Once management approves the business sustainability initiatives, develop a team of dedicated employees throughout the organization. Once the committee is staffed, schedule a launch meeting to kick off the project. The first meeting establishes the mission statement, purpose of the project, and reinforces the company's commitment to reducing waste. Review the documents, rules, and policies provided by management, designate roles, review time commitments, and provide an overview of business sustainability.

Collaboration and brainstorming are essential elements of a successful business sustainability plan. Develop a list of waste categories that your organization needs to target. Do not limit the number of ideas, however; once the brainstorming is complete vote on the top ten categories. Rate the categories in order of importance and disseminate the results to committee members for future reference. Next, identify the sources of waste within the organization followed by real life examples of each. Communicate the results of the initial investigation with business sustainability executives and employees affected by the findings.

To achieve zero waste one must identify how much waste exists in the organization prior to the initiative. Work with company executives and waste management officials to determine the amount of waste created in each of the categories drafted previously. Additionally, break down the waste by type, providing a preliminary business sustainability report for management. Consider using visual aids such as pie charts and bar graphs to display your results.

Review the results in committee, identifying the categories producing the most waste. Focus on the top grossing waste categories by producing a list of questions to ask appropriate shareholders. Consider who has the information you need to know and how you can communicate effectively with that person. The questions and answers serve as the basis for the business sustainability investigation.
Once the priority groups have been defined, begin to brainstorm business sustainability and waste reduction strategies used to increase business sustainability. Vote on the top three strategies that reduce the most waste while increasing profitability. Research and flush out the strategies, bringing the results to management. Identify the best strategy with management.

The business sustainability steering committee is responsible for the execution of the project. Create an overall objective for the project, followed by specific roles and responsibilities of each committee member. Create a step-by-step plan identifying what will be completed, by whom, when, and at what cost. Provide a list of resources and an acceptable timetable. Execute the steps and review the project results with appropriate shareholders. Once the project is complete, tackle the remaining strategies until zero waste and business sustainability is achieved.

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