Consumer products and the companies that create those products make a huge impact on the environment. The upside of that reality is that these same organizations have a significant opportunity to create environmental change, and making those changes will ultimately create stronger and more sustainable businesses.
"In a resource constrained world, we are increasingly facing the reality that makes it smart to think about supply chain and inherent risks and make sure there's a good solid supply of whatever you need to make your product," Elizabeth Sturcken, managing director, corporate partnerships at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) told EBN in an interview. "The data all shows over and over again that there are good costs savings but also top line benefits brand enhancement, risk reduction, and employee retention."
Retail revenues for consumer electronics (CE) reached $285 billion in 201, according the U.S. Consumer Electronics Sales and Forecasts from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), making it a big part of the total consumer goods market. The making of consumer goods account in general have a huge impact on the environment, according to a 2016 report from the Sustainability Consortium titled Greening Global Supply Chains: From Blind Spots to Hot Spots to Action. For example, the study estimates that consumer goods manufacture create:
- 60% of greenhouse gases
- 80% of water withdrawals
- 75% of forced and child labor
- 2.2 tons of solid waste annually by 2025
Fortunately, many large electronics companies are helping to lead the charge toward change. "I always end up going back to the business benefits to the case for acting upon sustainability," said Sturcken. "It's just good business. There's no two ways about it. Electronics companies are keen on this."
Companies that want to survive long-term and thrive in the evolving economy need to proactively address sustainability. To help organizations create a sustainable supply chain, the EDF has created a three-step framework (Science, Strategy, Systems) that to create an effective and profitable strategy.
Start with what is known. "You need to make what you do count and science is the guide," explained Sturcken. "When we look at the scope of the environmental challenges we have as a planet, science is a good guidepost to telling us what needs to be done. The data informs the strategy."
When implementing sustainability programs, organizations need to understand what big picture environmental outcomes need to be achieved, the deadline for those goals, and what role the organization can play to meet those goals.
The second piece is strategy. "It's really imperative to make sustainability core to the business," said Strucken. "Everybody needs to start somewhere but to really develop a substantive meaningful strategy, it needs to get at the core of the businesses global impact."
By focusing on the core business, organizations can capture the biggest and quickest wins in making an environmental difference. "So much needs to be done that everyone, as individuals and corporations, need to focus on the highest impact challenges," Sturcken explained. Companies should push themselves to set stretch goals that are aggressive but achievable. "Maybe you won't meet every goal but you'll be pushing hard in your biggest areas of opportunity and that's how big thigns happen," Sturcken said.
Finally, organizations need to put systems in place to ensure that their plans are scalable. If one organization creates a solution it's helpful, but if many organizations can leverage that learning, it can make an even bigger difference. "At some point, we came to the realization that sometimes working one on one with a company that we win the battle but lose the war," explained Sturcken. "We aren't getting the scale of change at the speed needed to deal with our challenges. The reality is that no company can meet any of these challenges alone."
At the same time, organizations need to realize that multi-stakeholder efforts can get bogged down and look for ways to be both collaborative and agile. "You need all of these players working together and the challenge is getting them to all rise up and act and do so in a way that doesn't take forever," said Sturcken. "It's not easy, but its really necessary." Further, collaboration is most effective when business, non-governmental organization (NGOs) and government entities find ways to work together.
How is your organization tackling sustainability? Let us know in the comments section below.
— Hailey Lynne McKeefry, Editor in Chief, EBN