July 1, 2007
Sustainable Business Practices: Worth the Effort
We all know that our nation — indeed, the world — must find new ways of generating energy and, at the same time, conserving our precious environment. It is a challenge that affects our own industry, which depends on energy resources for our manufacturing and distribution operations, and shares in that responsibility.
But the issue of balancing energy needs and environmental concerns goes beyond generating new sources of supply or of improving fuel efficiency in our cars and trucks and limiting pollution. It is defined in the concept of “sustainability,” of using renewable resources while at the same time establishing sound business practices that can help achieve these goals and also generate an even healthier business for the future.
It means reusing things, finding different uses for products and commodities, reducing waste and cost, and conserving environmental resources.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “sustainable development” marries two important themes: that environmental protection does not preclude economic development and that economic development must be ecologically viable now and in the long run.
Common use of the term “sustainability” began with the 1987 publication of the World Commission on Environment and Development report “Our Common Future,” which defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Recently, I attended the annual Executive Conference sponsored by the Grocery Manufacturers of America/Food Products Association, where Sam’s Club president and CEO Douglas McMillon discussed his company’s sustainability efforts to reduce waste while also improving profits. As just one example, he said Sam’s Club now sells its used corrugated to the same company they used to pay to haul it away. All it took was the realization that used corrugated had value.
That’s a lesson many companies in the snack food industry learned long ago. Our corrugated boxes are re-used at least six times. Our packaging film is a model of source-reduced packaging and helps to limit the amount of waste that goes into landfills. In fact, companies in our industry have done an outstanding job over the past two decades of reducing waste and recycling. Potato starch is recaptured in the waste stream and often resold for animal feed or used in construction products.
Frankly, I believe there is more that we can do — perhaps even finding a fuel usage for our used vegetable oil. Consider the lesson of an environmental sciences teacher at my son’s high school who is driving across the country this summer in a car retrofitted to run on vegetable oil. He is stopping at fast food restaurants for used vegetable oil. As I write this, I’m working with some of our member companies to provide used vegetable oil for his trip, as well.
Clearly, reducing waste is good for the environment, but when the concept of sustainability is applied, it also can be good for business. It can generate increased profits and, at the same time, create a positive public image among consumers, our ultimate customers.