The nincompoop's guide to going green
Looking to green up your supply chain operations? Here are some ideas that can be understood by people who haven't mastered the intricacies of carbon chemistry.
Who are we calling a nincompoop? Certainly not our esteemed readers. Actually, we are the nincompoops in question. There are any number of specialists who have mastered the arcane vocabulary and techniques of green initiatives, and who can calculate a Yeti's carbon footprint on the back of a napkin. That's not us. But we do have some thoughts about cutting carbon in a supply chain that can make good sense, economically and functionally, and can be understood by people for whom linear equations are as daunting as decoding the human genome.
The key word here is "economically." However noble doing the right thing for the environment and saving the planet might be, we have an obligation to take actions in those directions that don't pollute enterprise performance. That ultimate reality—preserving the means of generating enough money to support the social good—seems to occasionally escape the notice of those committed to doing environmental good to the exclusion of all other considerations.
We bring this up because with green projects, questions about cost are bound to arise. Is going green just another onerous cost of doing business in this enlightened age? Can we make it a break-even proposition if we are careful? We, nincompoops as we might be, contend that targeted, focused, and selected green actions can be money-makers. And the cases and examples that we have studied back up that contention.
But how does an organization get started—or continue what's already under way?
STEALTHILY LAYING SOME GROUNDWORK
A little manipulation of allies beforehand is not a bad thing. Because this is about making money while doing good, you might want to think about playing "Let's Make a Deal" with the chief financial officer. That is, get him or her on board early with a commitment to set aside some of the money saved in a given green project to help fund future green projects, creating an ongoing self-funding process. If all savings are used to enhance profitability, there soon won't be enough in the kitty for longer-payback efforts.
Also, consider communicating regularly with the chief executive officer and the chief operating officer about practical and profitable green moves at other real-world companies. Having examples from companies of comparable size and/or the same industry increases your leverage.
GETTING DOWN TO NUTS AND BOLTS
Presuming that you are not blessed with battalions of environmental engineers and that you have not already done everything green possible, here are some suggestions for getting started:
- Do your homework; research by candlelight, if necessary. Find something that identifies what other organizations all over the world have done, are doing, and might be thinking about in green implementations.
- Gather as much detail as you can about technology, cost, scope, and payback. Think about where each project might fit in your operations—and/or where their application could be extended in your world.
- Take an inventory of all "live" green applications in your organization. Assess their success in meeting environmental and financial projections. Identify major factors in success.
- Revisit your company's failed or rejected green actions. Evaluate failure and/rejection factors. Assess what a current status might be, given the possibility of reversing failure factors, increased performance levels in updated technology, and any downward price/cost movement.
- Prioritize potential green projects, based on key drivers like ease of implementation, timetables to install and realize payback, and prospects for sustained bottom-line contributions. Enlist technical support (hired guns, if necessary) to help with the assessment. Build preliminary pro forma business cases to help stratify and sequence initiatives.
TAKING A PAGE FROM THE LEBRON JAMES PLAYBOOK
While we're getting all strategic and managerial about committing to a walk down the green path, let us not forget the possibility of a few slam-dunks. Impressive easy points that will help set the stage for the more challenging undertakings that could follow. You need to look at the obvious, in which pioneers have already demonstrated that one can traverse a terrain peopled by hostiles and return with no arrows in the back. What follows is a list of topics to consider. Though not all will be applicable to your operation, they are worth close examination.
- Alternative power sources. Wind, either in towers or roof-edge devices. Solar, in panel farms, rooftop installations, or individual device support. Of course, a reliable supply of wind, or sunshine, is a prerequisite.
- Alternative fuel/propulsion sources. Lift trucks, delivery vans, auto fleets. Hybrids, electrics, natural gas, propane, fuel cells.
- Recycling (outbound). There's more here than simply baling corrugate. For instance, there's paper. Plastics of many types. Metal—cans, scrap, whatever. Substituting paper for plastic. Swapping out reusable items for disposable (considering the time/cost of cleaning the reusables).
- Reuse. Packaging. Refurbished pallets. Used equipment in non-mission-critical applications. Repackaging for resale. Recycled (inbound) content in materials, decor, packaging, filling material. Reclaimed (or sustainably harvested) wood.
- Lighting. Possibly the easiest option of all. New bulb technology. Motion-sensing activation in offices, pick zones, and irregularly used locations.
- Insulation. How much simpler could it be? Walls. Roofs. Cooler summers and warmer winters. Turning down the thermostat only goes so far in environments where real people have to work. Sealing up or limiting air escape is a related action, running a gamut from tubes of caulking to purpose-designed dock blankets and door seals.
- Energy management technology. (See above.) Imagine the money savings involved in a 500,000-square-foot facility using available technology that saves a single homeowner hundreds of dollars a year.
- Landscaping. Do you really need the watered, fertilized, manicured green grass? Are there native plants that would be sufficiently attractive?
- Network design. Are your facilities located so as to allow you to make maximum use of the least expensive transport modes and minimize more expensive options? Are the customer service demands that dictate network design legitimate, or negotiable?
- Transportation modes and frequency. What would be the cost and service impacts of shifting bulk product and materials movement to rail? Of consolidating LTL movements into less-frequent TL shipments? Of cracking down on the use of expedited service? Of taking a hard look at parcel usage and rates, considering USPS and LTL alternatives?
- Recovery. The extraction of reusable content from used, returned, or surplus products, either for resale to third parties or for reuse in manufacturing. Precious metals, high-value commodities, or hazardous substances.
We confess. The reality of this exercise is more difficult than we would like. And there's more than we've been able to outline above. But it's a start to a long journey that is inevitable. The shift to a "reduce, reuse, recycle" way of life is inescapable. Happily, it will force holistic thinking about "cradle to cradle" product responsibility in both manufacture and distribution. It will require creativity in process design, and it will demand alignment of green supply chain practices with corporate objectives.
It's a new world. Some are well on their way to playing by new rules. The rest of us need to get on the green bus—or get left behind. By the way, the origin and meaning of "nincompoop" have been much debated, with some thought that the word is a corruption of another language's phrase, such as non compos mentis. Whatever the origin, the universal meaning is some level of fool. Sounds right to us.
Kenneth B. Ackerman, president of The Ackerman Company, can be reached at (614) 488-3165.
More articles by Kenneth B. Ackerman
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