With the advent of the Internet, I get more than my share of requests for information, help, financial assistance or medical advice. While filtering through this unsolicited mail, I find queries from students at least twice a year. November is one of those times. And, since I believe that youth seeking truth should be rewarded (particularly those who call me “expert” or comment on the high quality of my writing), I try to oblige.
This year’s fall harvest has produced an interesting and rewarding bumper crop of requests. Although geographically desperate, the theme and tone has ignored international borders.
Here’s a sample of what I mean: “I am a senior in mechanical engineering at Kansas State and have been hired by Amazon.com upon graduation as an operations engineer. I am working on a proposal for Amazon and a course requirement about making its facilities ‘greener,’ in particular, by eliminating wastes in packaging and using more eco-friendly products.”
Ah, yes. In November, I received about a half dozen of such notes from across the U.S., Italy and Finland. Sometimes, students call. I like that because I get to ask them why they’re doing this or that. Some really care about the subject; others say they’re doing it because their professor says it’s a good idea.
And, therein lies, or underlies, part of the challenge of creating the critical mass we’ll need to get sustainability issues into the boardroom. Too many people are getting involved because someone else said it’s a good idea. The movement is taking on an eat-your-broccoli feel. Why eat it? “Because it’s good for you,” says grandma.
Is that true? Can something so difficult to swallow really be good for you? Here are a few examples of companies that find the taste of sustainability to their liking.
Rebox Corp. (Montreal, Quebec) is the largest corrugated box recycling company in North America. Its mission is to recycle and reuse corrugated. Each ton of reused corrugated cartons eliminates the need to cut down and process 17 trees. Last year, with the help of its suppliers, Rebox was directly responsible for saving more than 500,000 trees.
Franklin Associates (Prairie Village, Kan.), a Division of ERG, is a consulting company specializing in lifecycle analysis and solid waste management. New research shows that, when compared to the other common shipping platforms—one-way pallets, exchange pallets and corrugated slip-sheets—Chep pooled pallets produce much less solid waste, require less total energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The study indicates a one-way system produces 20 times as much solid waste, requires 125% more total energy and produces 135% more greenhouse gas emissions than does the Chep block pallet for an equivalent number of pallet trips.
Using Georgia-Pacific’s (Atlanta) Packaging Systems Optimization team, Snyder’s of Hanover (Hanover, Pa.), the nation’s largest pretzel manufacturer, was able to identify a variety of areas for packaging material reduction and line efficiency improvements. In addition, Snyder’s upgraded its shipping fleet from 42- to 53-foot trailers, increasing the capacity of each shipment, thereby reducing shipping and fuel costs.
Sustainability is going to be driven by corporate America. Big things and little things. Build your product in America, and cut greenhouse gas emissions generated by huge container ships. Or, little things, like creating a carton that fits the product. Sustainability is not going to happen through government mandate—we hope. No company wants the feds telling it how to run its business, no matter how good it’s supposed to taste, nor whatever the nutritional benefits.