Category Archives: Life Cycle Assessment

Yogurt Maker’s Sustainability Approach Has a Different Flavor

Yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm recently revealed that it had calculated the carbon footprint of 150 of its products, three quarters of the items it sells. (Disclosure: some of those items are in my refrigerator right now.) If you are interested in how companies account for and manage their environmental impacts, you should take a look at Stonyfield Farm. Here are three things worth noting:

Over half of the carbon footprint comes from milk production. That means cows passing gas and cow manure. In other words, the biggest source of emissions are verdant pastures, happy bovines, not belching factories. Research is underway to reduce the footprint of milk production. But my point is that most people don’t think of basic agricultural processes can have such a big environmental impact. They can.

Data is updated daily. Most companies that calculate their carbon footprints do so yearly. That’s because the processes most companies use are very labor intensive. There is still little automation of carbon accounting. The system Stonyfield Farm uses calculates product footprints daily and allows continuous monitoring of the company’s performance versus its goals. That should give the firm an edge in meeting its targets by enabling it to make mid-course corrections and improvements as it learns.

Focus on greenhouse gases rather than energy consumption. Many companies that talk about reducing their carbon emissions are actually focused on reducing their energy consumption. There are two reasons for this. First, consumption of non-renewable energy is a pretty good proxy in many cases for greenhouse gas emissions: the more you consume, the greater your emissions. And second, and more importantly, energy costs money while emitting carbon is still free in much of the world. So companies manage energy consumption, aiming for cost reductions and reaping emissions reductions as an added benefit. Stonyfield Farm focuses on greenhouse gas emissions rather than energy partly because a lot of their emissions don’t come from energy use (they come from cows) and they don’t come from their own operations (only 13% of the footprint is attributable to manufacturing).The link between costs and greenhouse gas emissions is much looser for them. So they are directly managing for environmental benefits, not just cost.

Stonyfield Farm has long staked out a leadership position in its commitment to environmental stewardship and its use of that commitment to boost brand value. The company’s approach to managing and tracking its carbon footprint is part of that tradition.

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Book Review: Greener Products

Greener Products: The Making and Marketing of Sustainable Brands

by Al Iannuzzi

CRC Press; November 8, 2011

Creating a sustainable society will depend in large part on reducing the environmental impacts of making, distributing and using products and of disposing of them at the end of their useful life.  Every product company that hopes to have a role in our future is going to have figure out how to do this. They now have an excellent guide in a new book called “Greener Products: The Making and Marketing of Sustainable Brands,” by Al Iannuzzi. Dr. Iannuzzi is Senior Director of Product Stewardship and Worldwide Environment, Health & Safety at Johnson & Johnson, a $60 billion healthcare products company. He has spent his entire career advancing the environmental performance of his company and its products while helping it achieve its business goals. He therefore is very well qualified to have written this book.

The book is distinguished by its comprehensive scope, which ranges from the drivers of green product development, to the methods for developing greener products, through advice for marketing those products effectively.  It is organized in three sections. The first section covers the market and regulatory drivers for green products. The second section looks at examples of greener products that have come to market. It also includes a chapter by James A. Fava, a founder of sustainability consulting firm Five Winds International. The chapter provides an overview of some of the many tools companies can use to analyze the environmental characteristics of products and processes and to develop more environmentally efficient designs. The third section looks at green marketing “because,” says Dr. Iannuzzi, “what good is a greener product if you can’t get the customer to buy it?” The marketing section includes a chapter by executives of the Shelton Group, an advertising agency focused on sustainability and energy efficiency and a leading provider of consumer insights related to green products. Though the consumer data discussed in the book is focused on U.S. consumers, the book takes a global perspective, citing product examples from North America, Europe and Asia and examples of regulations in effect on six continents.

The first section of the book sets the context for the development of greener products. It highlights many of the market factors that are creating demand for greener products including consumer demand, retailer mandates, socially responsible investment, product ratings systems and green public procurement. Among the regulatory factors the book discusses are regulations covering packaging; restrictions on the use of chemicals; and an increasingly important concept called “extended producer responsibility,” which requires that manufacturers take responsibility for their products at the end of their useful life.

Section II is packed with examples of companies and the greener products they have introduced across a range of industries from apparel to consumer electronics to household cleaning to industrial chemicals and health care. Concise case studies of companies including Timberland, SC Johnson, Clorox, Philips, Samsung Electronics, Apple, Seventh Generation, Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, DuPont, BASF and Johnson & Johnson, review what impelled them to invest in greener product development, what they did, how they did it and what the result was, providing a valuable overview of the experiences of companies that have taken a leadership position in the development and marketing of greener products.  A good example in this section is the Earthwards process developed at Johnson & Johnson. Earthwards enables “product development teams to evaluate a product throughout its life cycle and identify areas where it can be improved to lower its impact and increase social benefit.” The process uses a scorecard approach that was developed after looking at other companies for examples, interviewing people inside and outside the company and under the guidance of consultant Five Winds. The company also asked an environmental non-governmental organization to review the process and make recommendations, which were incorporated.  At J&J a product receives the Earthwards designation if achieves significant improvements in at least 3 of 7 dimensions (such as packaging, energy, waste, etc.) identified by the scorecard. By 2015 the company expects to have at least 60 products in its portfolio that have achieved the Earthwards designation.

The Chapter by Dr. Fava of Five Winds reviews many of the management systems (such as ISO 14000), programs (such as product stewardship and Design for Environment), tools (including life cycle assessment and environmental impact assessment) companies can use to build their own greener product future. I suspect most readers who are unfamiliar with this material will come away from this chapter somewhat overwhelmed by sheer volume of material packed into a small chapter. This is probably fine; it highlights the need to recruit some competent help when building a greener products process and culture.

The final section, on green marketing, presents an analysis of consumer survey data that segments consumers into four broad behavior and attitudinal groups, each of which has somewhat different motivations and find different messages appealing. The “Actives,” for instance, represent 22 percent of the U.S. adult population, are well educated, have above-average income, and participate in significantly more green activities such as recycling than average consumers.

A substantial amount of consumer research conducted over the years by many companies has failed to provide a silver bullet approach to marketing green products. Most research concludes that the majority of consumers is fundamentally more interested in meeting their own needs than the needs of the planet, and more consumers show interest in green products than are actually willing to buy them if those products fall short in meeting their price, performance or emotional needs.

It’s possible that over time some consumers will begin to consider “environmental performance” an important dimension of performance along with the others. And even today many consumers, including the “Actives” mentioned above, derive some emotional benefits from associating themselves with products that make credible green claims. But the fundamental approach to understanding customers and reaching them with marketing messages is no different for green products than for traditional products. “In short,” writes the Shelton Group,“the best advice for the successful marketing of green products is the same as it is for successfully marketing any other product: Know thy buyer!”

Section III also presents a set of examples of green marketing, describing positioning, packaging and messaging of products ranging from Clorox Green Works to Honest Tea to Neutrogena Naturals. It’s valuable to have all of these case examples in one place. But it’s speculative to consider them “best practices,” since most provide no information about the success of these products. The section also reviews and explains greenwashing, regulatory standards for green marketing, ecolabels and cause marketing.

For sustainability practitioners who have followed green marketing and green product development closely over the last few years much of the material in this book will be familiar. But for those new to this topic, or any marketer, product developer, consultant or product-company executive who wants an efficient way of getting a comprehensive overview of this field, which is becoming a pillar of successful business, this book is a valuable resource. (It’s available for sale now on Amazon.com and elsewhere.)

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Corporate Sustainability Leaders to Focus on Employee Engagement and Supply Chain in 2012

Study Identifies the Only Two Sustainability Ranking Schemes Relevant to a Majority of Companies

New York City (November 30, 2011) – Green Research, a New York-based corporate sustainability research and advisory firm, today released a new report based on its annual survey of sustainability executives. The report, a planning and benchmarking tool for sustainability executives, finds that companies will focus significant staff time and financial resources on two sustainability initiatives above all in the coming year: employee engagement and supplier sustainability performance. Believing engaged employees to be a key to high performance, 88 percent of companies will be investing significantly in employee engagement in 2012, while 73 percent will focus on improving the sustainability performance of their suppliers. “Companies have good reason to focus on employee engagement and supply chain,” said David Schatsky, author of the report. “Engaged employees make things happen. And the supply chain is where the bulk of the environmental impact is for many companies.”

The study analyzes the staffing and spending plans and high-priority initiatives of top sustainability executives at some of the world’s leading companies. It draws on an exclusive, in-depth survey of nearly 50 senior sustainability executives (three quarters of which are the senior-most sustainability executive/chief sustainability officer) at global companies. These are leading companies in a dozen industries across North America and Europe, 80 percent of which have revenues of $1B or more. “We think this is the highest-quality panel of respondents ever assembled for a survey focused on corporate sustainability tactics and strategies,” said Schatsky.

The report finds that sustainability spending will rise significantly in 2012. About a third of companies surveyed are adding staff to their sustainability departments in the coming year. And fifty percent of firms will increase spending on sustainability initiatives across their companies, compared to a quarter that will increase the budgets of their sustainability departments.  “Companies are funding various departments to support their sustainability initiatives, rather than centralizing those funds with sustainability teams,” said Schatsky. “The crucial role of sustainability teams, besides coordinating sustainability strategy, is to help other departments make the business case for those initiatives,” he added.

Other topics covered in the research include: carbon accounting, ecolabels, life cycle assessment, corporate reputation, sustainability reporting, environmental credits and offsets, and sustainability rankings. The report found that despite a proliferation of corporate sustainability rankings, only two rankings are relevant to a majority of companies: the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes. Sixty-four percent of respondents consider CDP important to the company and its stakeholders; 53 percent say the same about the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes. All other rankings are important to a small minority of companies and their stakeholders.

The study, “Annual Sustainability Executive Survey, 2012” is available online at greenresearch.com. To learn more about the research, please visit greenresearch.com or contact David Schatsky at 646-783-8337 or info@greenresearch.com.

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The Strategy Behind Sustainability 3.0

I am not a fan of these 2.0/3.0/4.0 monikers. (Anyone remember Web 2.0?) But the new article by Yvon Chouinard, Jib Ellison, and Rick Ridgeway in the October 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review uses the term Sustainability 3.0 to describe the world that could be brought into being by the success of the apparel and footwear Value Chain Index (VCI) they’ve been working on through the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

They envision a word in which brands and retailers adopt a standardized, trusted system for rating the environmental impacts of consumer products. (They say that manufacturers representing some 30% of the world market for apparel and footwear are already members of the coalition, with another company joining every week.)

Broad-based adoption would raise consumer awareness of the system and begin to foster greater consumer demand for products with light environmental footprints. Greater consumer awareness would ultimately drive politicians to give greater heed to consumers’ desires for a sustainable economy. Politicians’ engagement would in turn lead to the creation of comprehensive regulations that would require improved environmental performance from companies and would require them to internalize environmental costs. Finally, this would again shape consumer preferences. And the cycle continues.

The diagram is how I visualize the strategy they describe. While it may play out differently than this nice circle suggests, the initiative is definitely pointing in the right direction.

What do you think?

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Pharma Companies Face a Supply Chain Sustainability Opportunity

We published another sustainability goals benchmark report today, this one  focused on the pharmaceutical industry. A couple of things that stand out from the benchmark:

– Judging from the goals they have announced, the major pharmas are serious about sustainability. All but one have specific, quantified sustainability goals.

– The pharmas are facing a major opportunity. Ninety percent of the goals they’ve announced deal with their internal operations. Most of the pharmas are not yet willing or able to announce supply-chain goals of any specificity. Yet the supply chain may account for the bulk of potential environmental impacts in some cases. GlaxoSmithKline, for instance, found that in 2009, the greenhouse gas emissions from its supply chain were twice those from its internal operations.

This suggests an opportunity to seize sustainability leadership for whichever companies can bring some focus to improving the environmental performance of their supply chain. These are highly sophisticated companies. I’m sure they are up to the challenge.

You can find our goals benchmarking research here.

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Filed under carbon, emissions, Life Cycle Assessment, Supply chain, sustainability

Leading LCA Tool Vendor PE International Bulks Up with Five Winds

PE International, the leading vendor of software tools for life cycle assessment, announced today that it was merging with Five Winds International, a sustainability consulting firm with deep expertise in life cycle assessment. The acquisition gives PE International a deeper bench of consulting talent–Five Winds has a staff of about 140–at a time when demand for expertise in sustainability generally and life cycle assessment in particular is surging. (The research report we released last month found growth rates of 30%-40% among tool vendors and consultants and rising interest among companies in adopting life cycle thinking and LCA.)

Companies new to life cycle assessment often get started with the help of consultants, who are in a position to influence a company’s choice of software tools and data bases if the company decides to develop in-house expertise in LCA. (Our research found that bringing LCA in house is important to tap LCA’s ability to foster innovation.) This combination should the combined companies deliver solutions to new and existing customers and foster the increased growth of PE’s software and content business.

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New-Vehicle Stickers and Nits

The U.S. federal government yesterday revealed the new window stickers that will be required on vehicles starting in the 2013 model year. The new labels provide more information about fuel economy, CO2 emissions and smog impacts and are intended help consumers consider those factors in their purchase decisions.  Coverage of the news by the New York Times cites some controversy over the selection of this label versus alternatives championed by NRDC and others. But what struck me was how the Times characterized the new label.

The Times said the new labels “for the first time include estimated annual fuel costs and the vehicle’s overall environmental impact.” (Italics mine.) But the labels only count emissions produced while driving, not during the entire vehicle life cycle. While it’s true that driving the vehicle accounts for the majority its CO2 emissions, other life cycle phases can account for well over 20 percent of them, as these results from a life cycle assessment published by automaker Nissan show.

I hope we can gradually raise public awareness of the concept of life cycle thinking by using more precise language when we talk about environmental impacts.

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Filed under emissions, Life Cycle Assessment, transportation