mcdermid-230By Mac McDermid, WMEP Manufacturing Specialist

Environmental sustainability is no longer a fringe topic for manufacturers.

To a large percentage of industrial companies, sustainability has become part of the fabric of their operations while boosting the bottom line.

In 2010, GreenBiz.com published a blog by Bruce Klafter entitled “10 Questions a Sustainability Manager Should Be Prepared to Answer.”  Flash forward to today and these are questions that every manager should be prepared to answer:

  1. What’s our carbon footprint?
  2. How “green” are our products?
  3. Where do we stand relative to our competitors?
  4. How do we become a greener company?
  5. How educated and engaged are our employees?
  6. Who are our “stakeholders” and what do they think of our performance?
  7. With which groups do we need to partner?
  8. What are our key sustainability metrics?
  9. How do we set improvement goals in this area?
  10. How do we innovate and offer greener products and services?

Almost every client of the WMEP is fielding questions from customers about sustainability.

Manufacturers are realizing financial savings and reducing risk by embracing sustainability. This has translated into several million dollars in new business from environmentally aware customers.  Disciplined use of the ten questions above led one manufacturer to significantly change its practice and save money.  The company originally used 39 raw materials categorized as high or suspected risk to the environment or health. By focusing on reducing risk, that number was reduced to three. At the same time, the company realized a significant reduction in raw material costs.

There is nothing magical about the questions.  Be ready to provide answers when your customers question your environmental practices. It’s just a matter of developing sane, organized strategies that result in new opportunities.

In the past, it was thought that these questions would apply only if a business was large enough or profitable enough to have a sustainability manager.  There also was a sense that sustainability applied only to certain parts of the organization, but today sustainability encompasses the entire operation.

A company-wide strategic plan that includes sustainability goals is essential for today’s business.

The WMEP’s work with Sustainable Product and Process Development has created practical strategies based on effective metrics and ways to actively use that data to focus management and improve profits.

The key is to incorporate the “10 questions” in your company’s business practices – that way, providing answers and addressing issues is not just a reaction.  Most companies on this journey have found that they have untapped resources and undiscovered opportunities.  Please take a closer look at the questions and, in particular, at the value proposition that Bruce poses in the final paragraph of his original blog.

It can be tiring to continually deal with environmental surveys or questions from customers.   Clearly, there is value in having an organized approach for responding to these questions, and it’s even better to have that approached backed by a company-wide strategy that includes environmental metrics and goals.

Please feel free to contact us if you would like to talk more.