As sustainability professionals, we are all looking for organisational actions that deliver sustainability benefits AND profit improvements within the year (let’s call them Sustainable Wins). Four often-overlooked actions are suggested below and the conversation continues at the Twitter hashtag #SustainableWins.
Pressure to produce in-year Sustainable Wins
As sustainability budgets are shrunk, sustainability professionals are under ever-increasing pressure to deliver environmental, social and economic benefits – all in the one year before budgets and KPIs reset and the annual cycle starts over again.
To achieve in-year profits, sustainability actions need a short lead-time, rapid payback (or low capital requirement) and of course significant environmental and/or social impact. There are not many Sustainable Wins like this and, in our experience, they can be easily overlooked.
Here are four Sustainable Wins that we have found which are new to many organisations:
- Remanufactured office furniture
Taking the long life elements of quality office furniture (like steel and aluminium frames), checking, recoating and then reassembling them with new outer parts to as-new condition is known as remanufacturing.
While this circular economy approach is new to the office furniture industry, most brand name photocopiers have seen up to seven previous lives, demonstrating the high quality results of remanufacturing.
Because the long life elements of office furniture are the most expensive (economically and environmentally), remanufacturing reduces the cost of a quality furniture item by around 50% and its environmental footprint by 80% (Giuntini & Gaudette, 2003; McKenna, 2012).
Image: NHS Public Health Wales Cardiff office, designed and provided with remanufactured furniture by Rype Office. 94% of the furniture was remanufactured or refurbished.
You can read more about the project at the NHS Cardiff case study.
Remanufactured office furniture can be used for a new office or refurb, and also to replace individual chairs when they reach the end of their current life. Remanufacturing existing furniture reduces waste, embodied GHG and creates local jobs.
- Treasure Hunts
Treasure Hunts are a fun way for staff to take a fresh look at how a company’s day-to-day operations to find energy, water and waste savings.
Dividing up a site using teams and tracking progress to harness competitive spirit, staff examine everyday practices to find savings with zero or minimal capital requirements, This engages and trains staff, leading to long term behaviour change.
A structured Treasure Hunt process can be done in as little as half a day and focuses on immediate or short term actions.
The savings are usually substantial. For example, a half day Treasure Hunt designed and facilitated by Lavery/Pennell for a global FMCG company identified savings of around €200,000 over the following year.
GE has used Treasure Hunts to train more than 3,500 of its employees globally to think about wasted energy and water in a different way. Those individuals have identified more than 5,000 projects worth $111M in operational cost savings and 700,000 tCO2e of GHG emissions reduction (Hancock, 2009).
Merck & Company, a pharmaceutical manufacturer, used Treasure Hunts to identify more than $12 million from five plants over a two year period. This achieved 20% of the company’s GHG reduction goal, while building employee awareness and enthusiasm for finding energy waste (US EPA, 2014).
While these examples are for manufacturers, Treasure Hunts can be used for all organisations to reduce waste, change staff behaviour and save money.
- Cut waste to landfill
In 2008, Unilever’s global manufacturing network sent 140,000 tonnes of waste to landfill. By 2015, 240 sites in 67 countries had diverted all of their non-hazardous waste away from landfill to uses including biofuel, compost and building materials, saving €200M p.a., generating new revenues and creating hundreds of new jobs.
In 2016 alone, 400 additional Unilever sites achieved zero hazardous waste to landfill, demonstrating that substantial progress and savings can be achieved in one year. Wastes included manufacturing waste as well as food waste from cafeterias, showing that savings are available for organisations beyond the manufacturing sector.
Reducing waste to landfill avoids disposal costs (including landfill taxes in the UK), creates revenues from sales of unwanted materials, reduces an organisation’s environmental footprint and generates employment.
Key to Unilever’s success was their crucial first step of thinking about waste as a resource which has value. This reframing of waste as a product to be sold enabled the team to find customers for each waste stream.
Where customers could not be found, alternative materials were sourced to ensure that the waste was saleable.
- Blow them all up
It is a little-known fact that four vehicle tyres under-inflated by 25 per cent (for example 24 instead of 32 psi) increases fuel consumption by approximately two per cent (Energy Saving Trust, 2013).
Correct inflation also saves on tyre replacement costs; when tyres are under-inflated, the contact patch with the road surface is concentrated towards the two outer edges of the tread. This leads to rapid wear on the shoulders, reducing tyre life.
There is also an HSE issue; under or over inflation of tyres affects grip and braking, reducing safety.
Checking tyre pressures does not have to be manual; some cars now come with tyre pressure monitoring on the dashboard and trucks can fit automatic tyre inflation devices (although this incurs capex which may take several years to pay back).
These are four Sustainable Wins that any organisation can do. Please add your ideas, thoughts and comments at Twitter hashtag #SustainableWins and keep checking in to find other great ideas.
Which of these Sustainable Wins will you be doing this year? If you have already done some of them, what were the savings that you achieved?
Energy Saving Trust, 2013. Cut business costs through improved van fleet management, Department for Transport, January. Accessed on 8 January at http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/sites/default/files/Van-fleet-management-best-practice-guide.pdf
Giuntini, R., Gaudette, K., 2003. Remanufacturing: The next great opportunity for boosting US productivity, Business Horizons, Nov-Dec, p. 44.
Hancock, 2009. How GE’s ‘Treasure Hunts’ Discovered More Than $110M in Energy Savings, Greenbiz, 13 May. Accessed in 2013 at http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2009/05/13/how-ges-treasure-hunts-discovered-more-110m-energy-savings
Lavery, G.J., Pennell, N., Brown, S., Evans, S., 2013. The Next Manufacturing Revolution: Non-Labour Resource Productivity and its Potential for UK Manufacturing, July.
McKenna, R., 2012. President and CEO, Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, Testimony before the International Trade Commission on: Remanufactured Goods: An Overview of the U.S. and Global Industries, Markets, and Trade, Investigation No. 332-525, Feb.
Unilever, 2016. Unilever announces new global zero non-hazardous waste to landfill achievement, 11 February. Accessed on 5 January 2017 at https://www.unilever.co.uk/news/press-releases/2016/unilever-announces-new-global-zero-non-hazardous-waste-to-landfill-achievement.html
US EPA, 2014. Energy Treasure Hunt Guide: Simple Steps to Finding Energy Savings, Document Number 430-R-14-001, January.