If you stick around in any profession long enough you will notice the latest fad is very similar to something that you have worked on before. When I first started doing environmental work, waste minimization was the big thing. These days environmental teams are challenged to lead programs such as closed loop, cradle-to-cradle, LEAN, trash-to-cash, waste-to-gold and zero waste.
But what does it all mean, why do we care and how can we excite people about stuff that few see the value in, or that sometimes causes embarrassment when you start sharing data?
No matter what we call it, zero waste programs refer to designing and managing products and processes to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste and material, as well as the recovery of otherwise unused material. Reduce, reuse, recycle is the foundation of many programs. The challenge is not in understanding the terms but reaching into the organization and collaborating with those able to drive change.
That change includes new approaches to product design, processes, systems and work method. It also means getting people to measure, segregate waste and start thinking about all material as having value rather than just the stuff we hide out back.
If your organization exists to sell stuff, then most likely your customers have asked about your waste. If not, then someone in the supply chain has sent you one of those questionnaires asking how much solid waste is generated and whether you have reduction targets in place?
Depending on where you operate, local governments and other stakeholders also may have an interest. And if someone outside the organization is paying attention, then we probably should too. If this is not reason enough, then handling, storing and moving stuff that is not part of your finished goods or has no value is a recipe to hemorrhage money. On a positive note, there are many companies that have embarked upon the “zero waste journey”, so there are many success stories and lessons learned out there for us.
At this year’s EHS Management Forum in Indianapolis I will join representatives from Burt’s Bees and the Shaw Industries Group to share some of these lessons as we discuss “Waste Management for the 21st Century” . We will describe the journey and answer such questions as how to get started, how to get leadership endorsement and how to transform these concepts from paper to practical process. We also will talk about how our sustainability programs have translated into profitability and how these efforts have impacted the environmental footprint of our products.
As we prepare for the conference, what questions do you have about waste management? What efforts is your company making to re-think how you use materials?
Mike Lloyd is the Director of Global Environmental Services for the Kimberly-Clark Corp. He will be speaking about at the 2010 EHS Management Forum in Indianapolis on October 14th.