The production, use, and after use of consumer and commercial products creates solid waste that represents both a waste of resources and a source of environmental impact – but also a revenue opportunity.
Companies Commit to Zero Waste
American industrial facilities generate and dispose of approximately 7.6 billion tons of industrial solid waste each year, according to the EPA.
Many manufacturing companies have begun to focus on reducing the amount of solid waste they generate; some of these are committing to sending zero waste to landfill in coming years.
Procter & Gamble (P&G) has committed to send zero manufacturing waste to landfill by 2020. The company defines “zero waste” as “zero manufacturing waste disposed directly to landfill or to incineration without energy recovery by the site, except where local legal requirements specify that regulated wastes must be disposed in a landfill.”
Tactics the company is using to reach this goal include working to eliminate or reduce solid waste from production processes, designing more material-efficient delivery systems, and usinglifecycle thinking to improve product packaging and design.
Currently, P&G has more than 60 manufacturing sites that send zero manufacturing waste to landfill.
“You save money each time you reduce waste going to landfill,” says Len Sauers, vice president of global sustainability for P&G. “This has led to significant cost savings in our supply chain, which helps the bottom line.”
Hershey’s is another company with a zero waste to landfill program, diverting materials that would typically end up in landfills to alternate channels, such as recycling, reuse or incineration. By the end of 2013, six Hershey manufacturing facilities had reached zero waste, the company said.
Nestlé has made a pledge that all 150 of its European factorieswill be zero waste by 2020. The company achieved its first zero waste facility in 2011. By the end of 2012, Nestlé had achieved zero waste status in 39 of its 468 factories worldwide.
Aircraft engines manufacturer Pratt & Whitney says it willachieve zero waste – 100 percent recycled – in its factories by 2025. The company says that, since 2006, it has reduced its total industrial process waste by 30 percent.
General Motors is striving toward achieving zero waste in its facilities, but is also attempting to drive a global movement toward zero waste (a project which won a 2014 Environmental Leader Top Project of the Year Award). GM now recycles 90 percent of its global manufacturing waste and has committed to increase its landfill-free facilities to 125 by 2020. The company uses a range of processes, including data collection and monitoring systems, employee and external engagement initiatives, and creative reuse and recycling. A large part of its global movement toward zero waste is sharing these strategies throughout its value chain and the broader manufacturing industry.
Bridgestone Americas’ Wilson, NC, passenger and light truck tire manufacturing plant has achieved Underwriters Laboratories’ (UL) landfill waste diversion claim validation for zero waste to landfill. Zero waste to landfill is the highest claim validation UL gives for landfill waste diversion, which is performed and delivered by UL Environment, a business unit of UL. Bridgestone’s Wilson tire plant was the first facility of any kind to receive this designation.
Waste as an Asset
In addition to putting programs into place to reduce waste, smart companies are identifying ways to repurpose waste into useful raw materials.
In its drive for global zero waste, GM has a philosophy of “thinking of waste as a resource out of place and turning waste streams into revenue streams,” the company says.
P&G embraces a similar philosophy with its Waste to Worth program. A ‘Global Asset Recovery Purchases’ (GARP) team is charged with finding external partners who can turn waste and non-performing inventory into something useful. The company says that, over the last five years, Waste to Worth has created over a billion dollars in value for P&G.
Waste from P&G’s Charmin plant in Mexico is now used to make roof tiles for the local community.
Diaper scraps from a US Pampers site are converted into upholstery filling.
Waste from Gillette shaving foam in a UK facility is composted and turned into turf for commercial use.
P&G evaluates waste reduction pilot opportunities in both developed and developing regions. The Waste to Worth team conducted a study in the Philippines, with the cooperation of government stakeholders, to understand the composition of the waste stream, including the percent that is biodegradable, recyclable, and residual. The data led to the design of a business model that extracts value from the waste stream. The company is partnering with the Asian Development Bank with the goal of piloting the business model in Antipolo, Philippines, and hopes to one day expand this model to other parts of the world.
This helps Jones Lang LaSalle and its clients to reduce e-wasteand offset the cost of new IT infrastructure by listing depreciated or obsolete equipment on the exchange and recouping the maximum value.
Other Benefits of a Zero Waste Strategy
Zero waste strategies help companies build their brand, reduce cost, and manage risk, says Tom Carpenter, director of growth and development for Waste Management Sustainability Services.
Strategies for reducing waste also encourage a focus on innovation, he says. “Overall improvements in the working environment also give rise to more engaged employees. In turn, increased employee engagement can result in improved worker productivity and lower turnover.”
Carpenter offers a concise ‘roadmap’ to zero waste. Tactics include gaining senior leadership buy-in, engaging employees, setting a goal, gathering data and developing metrics, and obtaining supplier commitment.
Smart companies find that revenue opportunities, brand building, and risk management are important parts of waste strategies. It’s one strategy among many that is “how you build a business,” says Sauers.
Walmart: the corporate empire's big step for sustainability
Ten years ago, on a diving trip to Cocos Island, I got into a discussion with Rob Walton, the chairman of Walmart (and now also the chairman of Conservation International's executive committee), about how his company could impact global conservation efforts. A few weeks later, we flew to Bentonville, Arkansas where we met with Walmart's then-CEO Lee Scott. Together, we began talking about how Walmart could shift toward more sustainable business practices.
Those conversations came to fruition last month at Walmart’s first Sustainable Product Expo. CEOs of some of the world’s most powerful companies stood on a stage in Bentonville and made commitments to green their supply chains. In the process, they publicly acknowledged that what is good for humanity is also good for business.
The Earth is currently out of balance. The combined impacts of climate shifts, ecosystem collapse and huge population growth require that we take a new approach to development.
As we have begun to see, development that does not take lasting environmental sustainability into account will fail. If we continue on our current trajectory, we won’t meet the daily needs of the world’s more than seven billion people. In the process, every business model we know will cease to function.
Last month’s meeting represents a key milestone in the journey that started a decade ago – not just for Walmart, but also for the thousands of companies with which it does business. It also signals a shift in thinking at the highest levels of corporate America, as companies move away from focusing solely on the bottom line and toward a longer-term view of what’s healthy for generations to come.
In this regard, Walmart has a big responsibility. As the world’s largest corporation, with more than two million employees, there’s no denying its tremendous power. It operates over 11,000 stores in 27 countries, and millions of people depend on income from products that they sell to the company. According to 2012 numbers, if Walmart were a country, it would be the 26th-largest economy in the world.
And now, slowly but surely, sustainability is becoming part of its DNA.
A decade ago, largely because of the enthusiasm of Scott and other company leaders, Walmart began to examine the positive impact that shrinking its environmental footprint could have on its bottom line. It realized that reducing the amount of packaging and water consumption also reduces waste, and reducing waste brings down costs – not just for the company, but for the consumer, too.
The company is now working with its 100,000 suppliers to reduce their environmental impact and ensure their commitment to the cause of long term sustainability.
The sheer size and scope of the Walmart empire means that when it wants to make a change, other companies often have to follow suit. Walmart can convince truck manufacturers to make their vehicles more energy-efficient. It can influence the way that General Electric makes light bulbs. It can control the sourcing of fish like salmon. Given the millions of products carried by its thousands of stores, the possibilities for going green – and cutting costs – are almost endless.
Last week, following Scott’s lead, Walmart’s new CEO, Douglas McMillon, signed specific commitments for sustainability with the leaders of Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Monsanto, Procter & Gamble, General Mills, Kellogg and Cargill, among others.
We are making progress. In the past, NGOs had to fight to engage corporations in environmental discussions. Today, industries increasingly seem to recognize that recycling and saving ecosystems is in our collective self-interest.
I look forward to continuing this journey with its leaders. And I hope other companies rise to the challenge. All of us have a role to play in creating the next generation of sustainability.
• This article was amended 22 May to add that Rob Walton, chairman of Walmart, also is the chairman of Conservation International’s executive committee.