When I ask friends, family and colleagues how they view the topic of sustainability, I usually get the expected buzzwords—green, environmentally friendly or recycling are leading answers. In the academic environment, I had more than one instructor quote the Seven Generation Iroquois proverb and push the ideal of giving back and correcting more than you have taken away and have destroyed. At this point one may still be left asking “What is sustainability, how do we convey it and how can you possibly measure it?”
Personally, I view sustainability as larger than just an environmentally friendly stance or a corporate mission statement. To be sustainable you must have an objective and path forward that promotes survival. For a business, this means making decisions in its own self-interest, while also being conscious of the environment. There is a balance that must be achieved between the planet and business, preservation and growth. Building a business and profits while also being able to limit one’s adverse effect on the environment should be the global sustainability goal of a company. Often a dichotomy exists between business and the environment that is unnecessary and unproductive. Packaging can be a tremendous asset for a company’s sustainability goals and is a great example of these two principles working together.
Whether it’s been fashionable to promote or not, package engineering is a discipline that has always worked towards sustainability. Of course it can be deviated from when not properly conducted, but the science of package engineering is not new and its goal of achieving optimal packaging supports business growth and resources. Distilled down, it is the minimal amount of packaging that is required to deliver a product undamaged to a customer. As engineers, we have specific tests and standards that we follow to scientifically determine if a package is within this optimal zone. Different materials, shapes, technology, marketing, deadlines and emotions will inherently play a role in the outcome, but science helps to dictate the optimal packaging solution which is the most sustainable.
Let’s see how packaging is a player in promoting sustainability and brings it full circle into helping a business’s bottom line. The proper selection of material equals less cost, which helps increase profits. Satisfied customers receiving functional items equal fewer returns and repeat business, which also translates into future profits. Minimal material and the use of recycled and/or renewable material helps reduce the impact on the environment. Together, these elements clearly play a huge role in achieving a business’s global sustainability goals.
Going back to science, it is through tools such as the WalMart Scorecard that we can assess and determine the amount a CO2 that is generated within the lifecycle from raw material(s) to one of our solution centers, where the product is packaged. Sustainability isn’t just CO2 or reduced or recycled materials, it is also reflected in other areas like pallet densities. For example, how much more can we fit on a shipping pallet through package size reduction? Any improvements will result in freight savings, which will result in reduced gas consumption – again, both a cost savings for the company and an environmental benefit.
A global view of sustainability well executed can almost always circle back to the company through profits, allowing the business to succeed and grow and implement even more new sustainable ideas. The integrated view best helps people realize the importance and understand the meaning and impact of corporate sustainability.
-Tyler O’Neill is a packaging engineer at ModusLink where he works with clients across the globe to develop new packaging designs that improve sustainability.
According to The World Bank, the global economy is experiencing strong headwinds in the form of Euro uncertainty with deleveraging from European Banks, fiscal consolidation from high-GDP countries while key developing countries are facing production constraint with their capacity utilization. All these drivers are translating to moderate growth for 2012.
All facets of business are buckling up in the wake of anaemic growth and poor runway visibility. This would imply to the supply chain function as well with newly laden pressures on raising the bar set on the balance between market responsiveness with cost efficiency. In the process of rationalising which process needs improvement, Michael H. Hugos in his book “Essentials of Supply Chain Management” provides 4 paradigms to frame supply chain performance measurement:
Customer Service: Defines the ability of the supply chain to meet the expectations of the customer in terms of product availability and delivery turnaround time. This expectation varies from market to market. Zappos, the online merchandising company known for its customer service and customer loyalty, overhauled its supply chain strategy by eliminating the drop ship model from its business in order to improve order fulfilment to its customers. In his book, “Delivering Happiness”, Tony Hsieh talks about how Zappos chose to run its warehouse 24/7 in order to maximize customer experience by getting orders to their customers as quickly as possible.
Internal Efficiency: Refers to the capabilities of the supply chain to achieve appropriate level of profitability that is associated with the market conditions. For instance, in some mature markets where demand forecast is more accurate with less risk and also profit margin, supply chain can take the opportunity to leverage economies of scale and commit large business volume to boost the company’s gross profit and to make up for gross margin. On the other hand, form factor can be a key cost efficiency driver. In situations where the core product, such as a digital camera, only takes up 30% space of the final product packaging but accounts for 90% of the product value, it would be more cost efficient to air freight the high value camera to the regional distribution center but have the package sourced and perform pack out near the end-user market. This is discussed in more detail in the article from Loadstar, A tale of two parts: why the high-tech supply chain is coming to Europe, where the author, Gavin van Marle toured ModusLink’s Brno facility.
Demand Flexibility: Flexibility here is two-fold. First, it refers to the ability to respond to uncertainty in demand forecast and the fluctuations that happen concurrently in different markets. Second, it is defined by the ability to respond to uncertainty in the range of products that may be demanded. In the white paper, “Meeting the Challenges of Supply Chain Management” we rationalized that shipping units in bulk to regional distribution centers near the actual end-user market and performing localized configuration and/or packaging there might be the strategic choice for a business that has lower forecast accuracy (which could result in excess and obsolete inventory) and/or in cases where there are different end-market configuration requirements for finished goods.
Product development: This capability involves evolving along with the markets served. It measures the speed to develop and deliver new products in a timely manner. These capabilities can be pivotal in a developing market where the climate is shrouded with uncertainty in terms of demand and supply and industry platform and standards are still emerging and on tectonic grounds.
What are the areas your company looks at when trying to improve Supply Chain? Write and share your experience.
As 2011 draws to a close, I think it’s worth noting this was a banner year for supply chain disruptions. Those disruptions covered the gamut from political upheaval to natural disasters and all had far reaching implications for supply chain professionals. During the last 11 months, the global market has been impacted by the Arab Spring, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan as well as the flooding in Thailand. Although the latter situation is still developing, we’re already feeling some of the impact – Honda, which has facilities in the flooded area, has been forced to roll back the availability of at least one of its new models.
While your operations or suppliers might not be in these regions, that doesn’t mean you won’t remain unscathed. Here’s why: disruptions on this scale will absolutely effect the world’s energy production and cost. And our modern supply chains are inextricably tethered to oil, gas, electricity and natural energy sources like solar and wind. Let’s take a minute and break down how we consume energy.
- Planes, trains and automobiles – Logistics account for a significant amount of energy consumptions worldwide. And that consumption comes with a price tag. As Dan Gilmore (@scdigest) states in an article on the topic, “… transportation is a huge element of supply chain costs, representing 6 percent or so of US GDP and even higher levels in many countries.” The political unrest in the Middle East has strained oil production in countries like Libya. In a March Special Report by Dun & Bradstreet, “The Global Fallout from the Middle East Crisis,” the disturbances were said to likely affect hydrocarbon prices and raise business costs. Additionally, natural gas supply disruptions were predicted that would significantly raise counterparty risk and have ramifications on supply chains in Europe and around the world.
- Manufacturing – The ability to sustain manufacturing operations is based on energy availability. We saw this first hand last spring in Japan. In September, CNN reported the Japanese government mandated big industrial energy consumers cut down their power usage by 15 percent to avoid blackouts. While the country’s manufacturing ability is improving, this isn’t a long-term solution. And if you rely on components from Japan, chances are your business has been impacted.
- Storage – Once made, products spend a certain amount of time in storage. Keeping those products cool and secure adds to the overall energy costs. While all products are likely to require high-tech security systems, storing temperature-sensitive products such as produce, pharmaceuticals and technology can add significant energy costs. Ensuring the warehouses had sufficient electricity in Japan this year was yet another issue raised after the tragic events of last March.
The popular saying, “When man plans, God laughs,” has special meaning for supply chain professionals. While there is no way to anticipate events that will impact energy availability and cost, there are steps you can take to mitigate those risks. Here are five tips for your consideration as you plan for 2012.
- Ensure you have visibility into your suppliers’ sub-tier suppliers so you can quickly recalibrate your supply chain if energy availability will comprise your ability to meet production quotas. Also, diversify your supplier base and develop relationships with suppliers in different regions around the world to ensure continuity if one region is impacted by a natural disaster.
- If your logistics costs are particularly high due to your industry segment or competitive pressures, consider hedging the price of oil.
- Adopt postponement strategies that allow you to finish products closer to the end consumer.
- Investigate more sustainable sources of energy. Place your storage facilities in areas that can tap into natural energy such as wind or solar.
- Redesign your packaging for further pallet optimization. This has additional benefits such as meeting retailer requirements and consumer demand for less packaging.
BP puts out an annual review of energy production and consumptions every June that is a veritable gold mine of information on the state of global energy. In the most recent report, BP estimates that global energy consumption rose 5.6 percent in 2010, the highest rate since 1973. It will be interesting to see how 2011 will compare given recent events.
With Earth Day this Friday, sustainability and the environment are top of mind. But it’s important to remember that small changes can have a big impact. Especially in packaging design. The infographic below highlights real-world examples of changes in consumer electronics packaging and the resulting amount of CO2 that can be eliminated.
ModusLink has helped our clients eliminate a combined 4,085 metric tons of GHG through package changes – the equivalent of 672 passenger vehicles not driven, 8,254 barrels of oil not used and 404,421 gallons of gasoline not used. Not only are these packaging changes good for the environment, they are also good for the bottom line, representing a $6.2 million annual cost reduction.
Do you have a package redesign success story? Share your experiences in the comments section below.
As I left Bentonville last week, wrapping up our semi-annual sustainable packaging meeting with the Walmart corporate team, I reminisce about a part of the meeting that made me feel a bit uncomfortable.
Having been deep in the sustainable packaging movement for years, I felt like we were up to speed. At ModusLink, we beta tested both the Walmart and COMPASS packaging modeling tools before their launches, have been actively involved in the ISO standardization effort, judging awards programs and co-chairing sessions and speaking at various events over the years. I thought we were at the forefront.
But an uncomfortable feeling came over me when the presentations started to roll. One after another, the birthing of new sustainable packaging organizations, councils and consortiums were being announced, layered onto the existing gaggle of sustainable this and sustainable that already in place. More meetings to attend on top of all our already saturated schedules at PIRA, SPC spring, SPC fall, ISTA, Walmart spring, Walmart fall, SPS, Esko, Pack Expo, East Pack, West Pack, etc etc … and that’s just grazing the U.S. events. As a global company we keep tabs on European and Asian programs as well.
I looked around in the room and saw familiar expressions of concern among my brethren at the event. During a break I had a conversation with a long time accomplice (we both have a reputation for boisterousness at the events). “Victor,” I said. “How are we going to keep up with all these meetings?” Victor owns a consultancy that prospers within the movement. Unlike my role within the supply chain innovation group at ModusLink, sustainable packaging is his practice … 24/7. “Chicago, then San Diego, now Bentonville …” Victor scowled. “And I’m starting to wonder why we need some of these new organizations.”
And that’s it. Redundancy. As we move through 2011 it will be more important than ever to harmonize our efforts within the movement. Or else we could lose valuable time stopping the train and removing some excess baggage. If we are ever going to make breakthroughs with sustainable packaging, educating the general public on what sustainability is and what they need to do to support the models we build behind closed doors within industry, we need to settle into an efficient stride. Maybe we still have room for some new organizations, councils and consortiums … time will tell.
Last month, I found myself in Bentonville, Arkansas at our semi-annual packaging strategy meeting with Walmart. It’s been a little more than four years since Walmart launched its sustainable packaging scorecard to its supply base, and the initiative is still thriving. Just last year Walmart announced its incredible goal of eliminating 100% of its packaging waste by reducing, recycling or reusing everything that comes into its 4,100 U.S. stores by 2025.
In our meetings, we discussed a wide array of initiatives, assessed the tracking of goals, the setting of new ones and held information sessions on everything from Bisphenol-A (BPA) linings in cans, the state of the recycling infrastructure for paper liquid containers and low-toxicity label adhesives.
The dialogue continues to be fresh and high spirited as Walmart and its hand-selected strategic partners continue along the journey towards zero waste and sustainable solutions for packaging across all sectors of business.
For me, the most impressive highlights are a commitment to pursue perpetual enhancements to the scorecard program (although it’s already the undisputed leading retail tool in the market) and the international expansion of the program beyond what Walmart has been able to accomplish already.
One of the most profound elements of the Walmart sustainability strategy is the colossal savings it has realized throughout this journey. From day one, Walmart has made it very clear that while the environment benefits from the company’s commitment to sustainability, a conscious eye is also focused on the bottom line and the efficiencies gained.
I haven’t seen a figure disclosed publicly, but would wager that Walmart has saved millions … maybe tens of millions of dollars over the past few years across all its sustainability programs. I continue to be amazed by its leadership in the field and while some retailers are certainly further along than others, I wonder when the rest of the U.S. retail community is going to commit to sustainability strategically, build a network of experts and begin the journey to efficiency. Why wouldn’t they?
What sustainable initiatives are you working on for your company? Share your experiences in the comments section below.
The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is a not-for-profit organization funded by governments and large corporate entities such as Microsoft and SAP. The purpose of the organization is to promote carbon reporting and assisting companies with putting a framework together to help with reporting.
The CPD just published its S&P 500 report. In this year’s report more S&P 500 companies reported their emissions up from 52% in 2009 to 59% in 2010.
The survey found that 70% of respondents plan to capitalize on opportunities related to climate change indicating that they see the value in carbon reduction strategies from both reducing costs and assisting in selling products or services. The survey found that 93% of the S&P 500 companies will be incorporating climate change risks or opportunities into there overall business strategy.
The survey also noted that outside the S&P 500 only 35% of companies are planning on integrating climate change risks or opportunities into their overall business strategy.
So what does the survey tell us about companies that are reporting and acting on carbon deduction programs? These companies are realizing opportunities by doing the following:
- measuring carbon footprint
- executing measures to reduce carbon footprint including:
- Making operations more efficient by utilizing energy efficient lighting and heating in buildings
- Reducing the dimension of packaging to reduce the amount of freight and components
- Designing eco-friendly products that are lighter and more power efficient.
- Disclosing their carbon reduction efforts
The survey overall is promising and shows that the leading companies in the world are taking measures to report and reduce carbon in their businesses.
How does your company measure its carbon footprint? What actions are you taking, or planning to take, to reduce your carbon footprint?
A guest post by Bob Ferrari
I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to be a guest blogger and contribute commentary to the Value Unchained community of followers.
I would like to reflect on some observations related to sustainability strategy deployment across the supply chain, namely important considerations in alignment of so-termed green supply chain strategies with contributing benefit to overall business strategies.
Previous commentaries on Value Unchained noted a recent University of Tennessee research study, “Green, Lean and Global Supply Chain Strategies.” In the posting, Beyond the Research Part Three: Green and Lean Global Supply Chain Strategies, the researchers at the University of Tennessee made a rather important observation. They noted that supply chain professionals understand what is meant in having a ‘lean supply chain’, but were uncertain as to what was implied in having a ‘green supply chain’. The researchers further observed that they were encouraged to hear that there was fundamental agreement with the concept that ‘lean equals green’ but green supply chain strategies are relatively new concepts that preclude the true synergy of both initiatives.
This observation did not surprise me. The notion of having a green supply chain is a term that many marketing professionals enjoy utilizing. The concept of lean initiatives has been around for quite some time, and is well understood among many functional teams. However, these observations, as to lack of alignment among lean and green, indicate a need for the education and cross-functional alignment that we often encounter in many supply chain wide initiatives, particularly when external marketing and internal operational goals differ. Instilling a “language of green”, as noted by the University of Tennessee researchers is key, and examples can be garnered from other firms.
Once the context of green and sustainable supply chain are linked to increased efficiency and reduction of waste, it opens a broader framework of potential strategies. That could include a range of activities from more sustainable and efficient packaging, increased leverage of supply chain postponement strategies, or broadly incorporating sustainability goals in overall supply chain network alignment and deployment. It becomes a matter of scoping need to desired business result.
Let us reflect on two examples where alignment is evident. Procter and Gamble has had a concerted sustainability strategy since 2002, when the company first established an external Annual Sustainability Report published to all audiences. A review of the strategy and goals of this P&G initiative outlines five complimentary strategies that align the need for development of ‘sustainable innovation products’ with complementary needs for P&G to improve the environmental profile of its own operations. The needs to track and improve overall energy usage, GHG emissions, water usage and waste disposal not only provide opportunities for where supply chain efforts need to align, but also a framework where management performance metrics can also be aligned. Another clear example has been P&G efforts in improving or simplifying product packaging, and requiring transportation carriers to report on GHG emission footprints. The notion of aligning ‘lean’ with ‘green’ becomes clearer in the minds of cross-functional teams, especially when these teams reflect on the best means to initiate broader lean initiatives that involve more than just individual production or distribution facilities. Green and sustainable initiatives such as packaging can then be easily aligned for cross-functional efforts.
Walmart is an even more pertinent example, since this global retailer fully understands two principles concerning its business. First, consumers prefer to shop at and return to a socially and environmentally responsible retailer. Second, supply chain drives the most considerable aspect of material and margin costs. The Walmart Sustainability Report outlines broad areas of scope, measurement and management accountability. It should also be no surprise that Walmart has communicated its intent to reduce billions of dollars in overall supply chain costs in the next few years through consolidated direct purchasing with vendors. Dealing with vendors directly also affords opportunities to drive complementary lean and green strategies, hence teams can easily align the needs of lean and green.
Some argue that the recent economic environment did not lend itself for active senior management support of green supply chain initiatives. I submit that when proper context is added, namely lean can equal and often does equal more green and sustainable strategy, the dots become well connected.
Note: Bob Ferrari is the Managing Director of the Ferrari Consulting and research Group LLC, and serves as the Executive Editor of the Supply Chain Matters blog, of which ModusLink is a sponsor.
I was in a client meeting recently when one of our Packaging Engineers was asked this question. He accurately read the room and gave an answer that was appropriate for the context. I think the most honest answer, however, is “it depends.”
Like so many aspects of the value chain business, package design is an exercise in balancing a number of goals and priorities, including some that may conflict with one another. The way to achieve this balance is through collaboration – between functions within an organization and among companies in the supply chain. It’s no use solving primarily for out-of-box experience if the result is going to be detrimental to logistics costs. Designing a package that lowers material costs and improves ease of manufacturability is great, but only if it meets retailer requirements for security.
We hear a great deal about a focus on sustainability in packaging, specifically, and in supply chain more generally. Many companies are finding that sustainability and cost frequently work in tandem. Improving the density of bulk packaging or using a postponement strategy to minimize the Asia-to-U.S. or Asia-to-Europe air freight component has a positive impact on both greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and freight costs. Working together openly and collaboratively is the most reliable and effective way to achieve these goals.
What do you think is the most important consideration when designing a package? Please share your thoughts in the comments.