These days, the word "sustainability" feels overused. This is especially true in business, but a closer look at what it means points to a strong business case for sustainable practices.
I'll credit the 1960s with heightening awareness of the idea of sustainability. Millions of then-youthful baby boomers identified with a “hippie” ideology centered on peace and love, not just for each other, but also for the planet. They might not have known it 50 years ago, but as it turns out, good stewardship of our resources is good business.
As a corrugated packaging solutions producer, my product has been the long-time darling of the sustainability movement in manufacturing – by default, I've been the hippie of the packaging industry since long before sustainability was cool! About 85 percent of corrugated material is recycled today, and since 2006 our industry has reduced its overall carbon footprint significantly, reducing our costs in energy and water consumption at the same time. Everybody wins.
But corrugated packaging is not alone. There's a great article in Inbound Logistics magazine detailing a study done by the Environmental Defense Fund and MIT for Caterpillar that showed how the company could save millions of dollars and significantly reduce its own carbon footprint with relatively few disruptions to existing processes. Simple things like switching from steel to plastic shipping containers has reduced container weight from 235 pounds to 70, providing both meaningful cost savings and a positive impact to the environment through reduced fuel consumption and emissions in shipping. At the same time, better mapping of shipments along the supply chain further reduces Caterpillar's fuel consumption and tightens up the whole logistical life cycle for additional efficiency, savings and environmental benefit.
Even more importantly, thinking about our business practices from a sustainable perspective is critical to the world's future food supply. A 2013 United Nations report titled "Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources" revealed that about 1.3 billion tons of food each year – or about one-third of the total produced on the planet – goes to waste. With an annual price tag of $750 billion, wasted food uses 28 percent of the world's farmland, consumes as much water as Russia's Volga River and adds 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the Earth's atmosphere. Every year. It's shocking, really, and completely unsustainable in every way – including as a business practice. If your company wasted one-third of its output every year, it wouldn't be long before you'd be looking for work elsewhere.
Like the hippies of the 60s, I, too, want to leave the world a better place than I found it and be successful at the same time. In a recent television commercial for Lincoln's MKZ hybrid, actor Matthew McConaughey says, “It's not about hugging trees. It's not about being wasteful either. You've just gotta find that balance, where taking care of yourself takes care of more than just yourself. That's the sweet spot.”
Keeping sustainability high on your list of company priorities is that sweet spot.