Supercharge your sustainability efforts

November 4, 2011
by Brett Wills

As sustainability continues to weave its way into the DNA of manufacturers around the world, it’s becoming increasingly important for North American companies to focus on initiatives that will realize the greatest benefits.

Companies have been going for the quick wins and mimicking best practices. For some, these ad-hoc approaches have matured into more robust and formalized programs, but mostly directed internally. The big opportunities, however, lie outside the company.

Take Apple. Only 3% of its carbon footprint comes from facility operations, while 45% comes from the extended supply chain and 46% from the end use of products by customers. As a result, Apple is directing its efforts on areas that deliver the biggest wins. As a result, the energy efficiency of products is increasing, less material is used, harsh chemicals are being phased out and suppliers are becoming more efficient. Another big plus: benefits have increased exponentially to all stakeholders throughout the Apple value chain. How did Apple get there? By starting with two simple questions:

1. What are the key impacts on sustainability? Examine all the components of the value chain and how they affect each other. A formal approach could involve the development of a carbon or water footprint across the extended organization. Or it may be as simple as a discussion among associates, partners and other stakeholders.

2. What impact will sustainability trends have on your company? Identify the trends that will affect your company, such as resource depletion, supply shortages, climate change or energy issues. For example, if there’s a possibility cheap, potable water comes up short and your company is water intensive, what would happen if the cost tripled in the next decade?

Focusing sustainability efforts internally is important and a first critical step, but the big gains will be found on the outside where your reach will be longer.

Brett Wills is the director of the Green Enterprise Movement and a senior consultant with High Performance Solutions in Cambridge, Ont. E-mail