October 31, 2007

It's not always easy being green

By DC Velocity Staff

The green movement is all about helping save the planet, but many companies are finding it helps the bottom line too. Furniture maker Herman Miller and tech giant Hewlett-Packard provided attendees at CSCMP with a clear view of how environmental initiatives have become ingrained in operating procedures at their companies.

Judy Glazer, HP's director of global social and environmental responsibility operations, said HP has benefited from a few very simple changes in packaging. By switching from wooden pallets to plastic pallets, for example, HP has eliminated 300,000 cubic feet of packaging material annually for shipping laptop computers.

HP has benefited from the move in other ways as well, Glazer added. The wooden pallets previously used by the company were poorly constructed and had to be treated with pesticides, so the wood was not re-useable. Plastic pallets are thinner and more durable, allowing HP to pack more products on each pallet and to reuse its pallets several times. "Because they are thinner, we could get more products into each pallet and into a container, which improved logistics costs dramatically," said Glazer. "When you reduce package size and weight, very good things happen to logistics."

HP also has other environmental initiatives under way, including a program to change the way its ink-jet cartridges are delivered. Through that initiative, HP expects to eliminate more than 6 million pounds of PVC this year, which Glazer said will result in a huge financial savings. HP ships more than 1.3 million ink-jet cartridges per day.

Drew Schramm, senior vice president of supply management and quality at Herman Miller, said that companies need to be careful when weighing cost-saving measures against quality goals. For example, the company could have saved about $2.4 million by replacing the metal components in its office chairs with PVC, but decided against it because of PVC's detrimental effects on the environment. "We're trying to make our products today without impacting tomorrow," said Schramm. "We need to engineer the bad stuff out and the good stuff in at the right price, but that can be extremely difficult to accomplish."