Every day brings new and alarming stories about the environment. The buildup of plastic in the oceans, increasing levels of carbon in the atmosphere, and water shortages in some areas make it apparent that there’s a lot we can do to make our planet a healthier and more beautiful place to live. The well-being of the environment is a universal issue, and companies are increasingly looking into environmentally friendly business practices to address public concern and secure their own long-term profitability.
Tips for businesses looking to become more sustainable often focus on the office environment. They instruct workers to use less paper, plastic, and energy in daily work. These practices are worthy of attention, but don’t always apply outside an office environment. However, the same logic can apply to any business or supply chain; the idea is to do more while generating less waste. For any company looking to build more sustainable business practices, it’s necessary to develop an individualized plan to reduce time, energy, and resource waste.
Learning Lessons from Coffee Cups
The single-serve coffee maker may very well be the ultimate expression of the business model of the last seventy years or so. Single-cup coffee makers cost more than traditional coffee makers, work only with proprietary cups that are more expensive than buying regular whole or ground coffee beans, and produce only a single cup of coffee. They cost more to operate and with each cup, they produce non-biodegradable plastic waste that takes centuries to decay. Their sole advantage over a traditional coffee maker is the convenience of making a single cup at a time. It is the ultimate expression of the take, use, and discard business model.
The circular business model has widespread support.
Environmentally friendly business practices seek to overturn this model. They use packaging and materials that can be reused–much like a coffee pot. It is a simple concept, known as a circular business model, and has widespread support. However, applying circular business practices to an entire supply chain is a long-term challenge and will require rethinking everything from the way products are shipped to how they are packaged and marketed to consumers.
Making a Business Eco-Friendly: Where to Start
Transitioning to more environmentally friendly business practices can be complicated; it takes time and effort to change a business’ processes. Sustainable business practices focus on the following areas:
- Materials: Environmentally friendly practices should consider the materials used to make a product. It is not enough for a material to be non-toxic and safe for everyday use–the life of the material after use should also be taken into consideration. Ideally, products and their packaging should be made of a material that is reusable, recyclable, or easily biodegradable.
- Water: The use of water by industrial and consumer product manufacturing is of increasing concern. Manufacturing a product should not require so much water that it negatively impacts reservoirs or aquifers. The discharge of spent water should be free of chemicals or waste products that can damage water quality and wildlife.
- Energy: The single biggest environmental concern of our time is the buildup of carbon in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels. To be able to claim that their business practices are environmentally friendly, a company must take their energy consumption and carbon footprint seriously. Energy-efficient devices and practices, renewable energy, and carbon offsets should be investigated in order to reduce carbon emissions.
- Waste: Another big environmental issue is the amount of trash that ends up in landfills. Reuse of equipment and materials, reprocessing of used equipment, and recycling of materials and packaging are all ways to reduce and eliminate waste.
- Sourcing: It matters where materials come from and whether they were harvested in a sustainable way. Consumers will object to companies calling themselves environmentally friendly if they use produce that was grown using slash-and-burn methods in the Amazon rainforest. In order to be sustainable, materials and ingredients must come from responsible and ethical sources.
Going green is likely to cost less in the long run than doing nothing at all.
Environmentally friendly business practices are about more than just changing out inefficient incandescent lightbulbs for efficient LEDs. Making a difference in how your business affects the environment means rethinking the entire lifecycle of each product, from the source of the materials used to make it to the packaging it is shipped in to the final disposal of that packaging. While it can be hard to convince decision-makers that major change is worthwhile, going green is likely to cost less in the long run than doing nothing at all.
Tips for Adopting Environmentally Friendly Business Practices
It can be difficult to institute environmentally friendly business practices in a large business. A major production and supply chain has so many moving parts that it can be tricky to identify exactly what needs to change, let alone the conditions under which materials were grown and harvested half a world away. These basic tips can help get you started:
- Start Small: There is a reason that we’ve talked so much about coffee makers and light bulbs. It’s because these are some of the easiest changes to make. They may seem small, but changes like these can result in waste and energy savings that add up substantially over time.
- Hire Experts: It is impossible for any one person or group to know everything necessary to make a business environmentally friendly. Employ experts to audit operations for efficiency and designers to develop reusable or recyclable products and packaging.
- Employ Lean Principles: Often, the experts best qualified to increase efficiency in a task are the ones who do the task every day. Lean supply chain management opens up a line of communication with your employees so they can offer ideas about how to increase operational efficiency in order to save fuel, power, water, and other resources.
- Share Resources: It may seem counterintuitive in the competitive world of business, but cooperating with other businesses can improve the efficiency of transportation and storage. Coloading–in which two products share space on a truck–can significantly reduce the number of trips that need to be made, saving on fuel and reducing carbon emissions. Businesses should look for opportunities to cooperate in order to save money and reduce their environmental footprint at the same time.
Environmentally friendly business practices aren’t easy to develop and implement. They require an eye for detail and a willingness to entertain unusual solutions and to follow through on them. They also require patience as incremental changes are made that gradually add up over time. Yet, there is one particular environmentally friendly business practice that can be implemented immediately.
Plastic pallets are directly recyclable into “new” plastic pallets, which helps reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.
Shipping platforms aren’t often discussed in the debate about our environment. Yet, choosing lighter and more durable shipping platforms like plastic pallets over traditional wood ones is a very environmentally friendly practice. Since plastic pallets aren’t made from wood, using them spares carbon-sequestering forests from being cut. And since plastic pallets are lightweight, they also require less energy to transport. For loads that ship by cubing out—filling all of a truck’s volume—lightweight pallets lower the total weight of the load substantially, increasing the average fuel mileage for the trucks transporting these loads. When plastic pallets are used for loads that ship by hitting the weight limit—weighing out—more of each shipment is sellable product, rather than pallet weight.
Plastic pallets are directly recyclable into “new” plastic pallets, which helps reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. When these pallets are rented through a pallet pooling company, warehouses and other facilities can reduce the amount of room they need for storing and sorting pallets, making space usage more efficient. Pallet pooling services also have a network of customers that enables the efficient transportation of pallets from one supply chain to another, without empty legs that waste money and fuel. By themselves, plastic pallets do not make a company “green,” but switching to plastic pallets is an easy environmentally friendly business practice that has a broad impact on the efficiency and sustainability of your supply chain.
iGPS is the only nationwide pallet rental company offering plastic pallets exclusively. Our durable GMA-spec plastic pallets save on fuel costs and associated carbon emissions; try our greenhouse gas calculator to find out how iGPS pallets can help your company save money and benefit the environment. To make the switch, give our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.