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Making sense of sustainability: everyone is talking about sustainability but how much of the hype has to do with saving money--not the planet.

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We've all seen the lush green forests, rainbows and photos with globes held up by a comforting hand. And we've also viewed presentations with overwhelming statistics, global warming models and complicated carbon footprint profiles.

While the product development and manufacturing world has to deal with all the complications of making their processes more earth-friendly, they also take a back seat in the news to a lot of eco-hype and greenwashing. For example, more than 20,000 green products are featured in PriceGrabber.com. Some of the so-called "green" products being promoted include purses and clothes made from bamboo or materials where shipping and energy used to get it to the marketplace negates any other "green" factor.

Although feeling somewhat overwhelmed, we cannot afford to become eco-overloaded. Small-to-midsize businesses, in particular, need to get a grip on moving into "What They Can Do." Companies in the wipes industry, from materials, to manufacturing, packaging and product marketing are all being asked about their "green" efforts. There are some ways they can answer those questions, and at the same time, become more efficient. There are basic steps they can take.

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Develop a Vision for Sustainability

Just as most leaders have a basic business mission and vision, the addition of a vision for sustainability accomplishes multiple objectives. It forms a framework to revisit while implementing better sourcing, processing, packaging and product development efforts. Additionally, it affects a company's positioning both internally and externally. As stated by, "Gurus of Green" Paul Linzmeyer and Steve Dunn (www.greanbiz.com), "It's about how you run, protect and grow your business in a world that increasingly demands that you do the right thing."

Defining the Factors

Determining what sustainability and so many related terms mean and define for your business must be the lynchpin of a green program. Yes, there are numerous ways of interpreting sustainability. Yes, there are authorities coming out of the woodwork of business. But, choosing what's right for your situation is a good start. At the very least, you can answer the question, "What do we mean by eco-friendly, recyclable, biodegradable, source reduction ...?" You may have to evolve, justify and adapt later. These are some considerations Converting Influence, uses regarding terminology:

* Sustainability: Consider both the supply and the demand side. The supply side focuses on environmental performance in industry, energy and other areas. The demand side looks at the ways goods and services are needed to meet needs of consumers and the quality of life. (Additional source information: Nick Robins and Sarah Roberts & UN Dept. of Policy Coord. & Sustainable Dev.)

* Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs--a generally understood interpretation, but somewhat difficult to break down into useful guidelines.

* Biodegradable packaging must degrade in a reasonable amount of time. The European Union deems a material biodegradable if it will break down into mostly water, carbon dioxide and organic matter within six months. Whether this works also involves disposal, composting and landfill issues.

* Efficiency impacts use of energy, materials and reduced waste. According to Tom Gazdik of Converting Influence, "Some of the latest production lines deliver benefits way beyond more product per hour; they use less energy per hour, have less waste, run a greater range of nonwovens and change over to other products faster."

* Recycling materials are collected and used to process more/new products. There are three steps in recycling: 1) source-separation and collection; 2) processing into new products; 3) consumers and buyers purchasing goods made with reprocessed materials.

* Pre-consumer and post-consumer waste. Pre-consumer waste is waste that has not reached the consumer level. For example, trim and waste within a factory or received back from a secondary processor. It is a "clean" stream that's highly desirable for certain products. Products may be made from a combination; for example, a mix of 40% post-consumer plus 10% pre-consumer waste.

* Waste management includes practices including source reduction, reuse, recycling and energy recovery.

Assessing Your Situation

Each product and processing circumstance is unique. Sustainability projects that are most precisely tailored to each product niche and process have the best results, and they make your company's story resonate with reality. There are many company-specific challenges: If your company must use multi-layered laminates that are a recycling challenge, another focus is called for. If a particular product cannot be sold in bulk packages, other packaging options call for scrutiny. When your chosen nonwoven must be lint-free and use non-degradable fibers, the rest of your supply chain is ripe for assessment.

Selecting Your Own Scorecard

While suppliers may have to answer to Wal-Mart or other customer scorecard requirements, there should also be internal factors that are tailored to each business. There will be certain aspects that naturally appear on any check-off list and others unique to products or processes. Internally, companies may also see a path for a bigger near-term impact within their environment. In addition, a regional situation such as superior waste management partnering must be taken into account. Every part of the supply chain from incoming materials, to product-to-package ratio, recycled content, source reduction of waste, use of renewable energy, waste-to-energy and transportation is open to improvement.

Smart developers are conducting careful considerations of product lifecycles and win-win consumer-supplier benefit factors where sustainability is increasingly important. Debunking old thinking about products such as reusables vs. disposables is the type of example: The INDA organization has done a great job of dispelling some notions about disposable wipes when compared to laundered shop towels.

Whether you tell your ultimate story in terms of "triple bottom line" successes based on author Andy Savitz' promotion of economic, social and environmental aspects, or G-Rated Business green innovation as outlined by Innovation Edge with analogies to movie ratings, or another memorable way, the story has to be based on real, measurable results. "It's easy to think we're talking about sustainability as a touchy-feely kind of thing," said Steve Dun of ISO Inc., "but your business has to tie in exactly." It's a reminder that now is the time to internalize and deliver.

By Susan Stansbury

Contributing editor

Susan Stansbury is a converting and wipes industry consultant. She can be reached at susan@ rightangleconcepts.com
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Title Annotation:Finding a Grounded Path to Green
Author:Stansbury, Susan
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Sep 1, 2008
Words:1041
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Making sense of sustainability: everyone is talking about sustainability but how much of the hype has to do with saving money--not the planet.

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