Sustainability Sense

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Partner Update: Environmental Initiative

Minnesota Waste Wise is proud to welcome Environmental Initiative’s Georgia Rubenstein as a guest blogger today. In the following post, she provides a preview for  ”Closing the Loop: Managing Downstream Waste,” the latest installment in Environmental Initiative’s ongoing Business & Environment Series on October 25. Our very own Sam Hanson will be speaking at this event.

“Closing the Loop: Managing Downstream Waste”

By Georgia Rubenstein
Manager of Environmental Projects, Environmental Initiative

What we all hope to avoid: Growing landfills and shrinking resource bases

From recycling iPhones, to swirling garbage in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, to “achieving zero,” waste is in the news, and on the minds of policymakers and business leaders. My theory, based on observation and lots of conversation, is that waste is one of the hottest issues in sustainability these days. It’s a highly visible, growing problem, but also is full of opportunities to not only reduce negative consequences, but find solutions that create value. As supply chains become increasingly complex, as businesses are increasingly asked to be open and transparent about their environmental impacts – waste included, and as it becomes more common to think about products or services in terms of their entire life cycle, companies are finding that reducing waste means a lot more than just double-sided printing (although that’s important too!).

With all of this in mind, and after many discussions with our members and partners, my colleagues at Environmental Initiative and I decided to make managing waste throughout the supply chain – both upstream and down – the focus of two of our three Business & Environment Sessions in 2012. Our Business & Environment Series consists of three events per year that bring together business leaders and sustainability practitioners, along with issue and policy experts from nonprofits, government agencies, and academia, to discuss, seek solutions to, and find opportunities in sustainability challenges facing the private sector.

Through expert presentations, local business case studies, and small group discussions, we’ve covered a variety of topics including renewable energy, managing water use, and leading sustainability programs. We are excited to see what comes out of our next event, next Thursday, October 25th, as we take on downstream waste. Sam Hanson from Minnesota Waste Wise, along with Hennepin County’s Paul Kroening and Laura Babcock of the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program, will offer some big-picture thoughts on how to approach waste, how to consider it in your supply chain, and strategies for tackling it at your own company. We’re also looking forward to hearing case studies from local businesses, including Aveda, Warners’ Stellian, and Target, on how they’ve found innovative ways to reduce their downstream waste.

The session will take place at the Medtronic campus in Fridley, from 8:30 am – 1:00 pm. Registration is still open for a few more days – you can find more information and reserve your spot here. And, stay tuned over the next couple of months for news about the 2013 Business & Environment Series. I expect waste won’t disappear as a big topic of conversation! Feel free to contact me if you’re interested in learning more about the Business & Environment Series or Environmental Initiative, or if you’d like to share your thoughts on what sustainability topics we should take on next year. Hope to see you next Thursday!

Event Details:

What: “Closing the Loop: Managing Downstream Waste”
When: Thursday, October 25, 2012; 8:30 am -1:30 pm
Where: Medtronic, Inc. – Rice Creek Facility, CRM Central
7000 Central Avenue NE
Fridley, MN 55432
How: Register here

The Sustainability $ense Blog is Back

The Sustainability $ense blog has been on hiatus but we’re back with interesting stories and useful information. We’d like to begin our reentry into the blogosphere with a guest post from the President and CEO of long-time Minnesota Waste Wise member Murphy Warehouse Company. Murphy Warehouse Company recently overcame great odds when the solar array on two of their buildings was damaged by the tornado that ripped through North Minneapolis in 2011. We hope you enjoy the read.

Jill Curran
Acting Executive Director
Minnesota Waste Wise

Protecting your solar investment

By Richard Murphy, Jr.
President and CEO of Murphy Warehouse Company

Minneapolis-based logistics firm Murphy Warehouse Company strives to use green technology whenever feasible. So in the fall of 2010, we began installing solar panels on the roofs of our warehouse buildings. Since then, Murphy has become the third largest solar generator in Minnesota, generating 320 kW annually.

Getting to this production level has not been without its difficulties. In the summer of 2011 the durability of the Murphy Warehouse solar array was put to the test when a deadly tornado ripped through the North Minneapolis area. The path of the storm ran right over two of the company’s warehouse buildings in Fridley. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but semi-tractor trailers were flipped, warehouse doors were blown-in, and a large air handler was blown off the roof.

As the damage was being assessed, the Murphy Warehouse team expected the solar arrays to be heavily damaged or missing as they are not designed to be anchored via roof penetrations but rather rest on rooftops with ballast to prevent future leaking. Unbelievably, the panels never moved, but rocks and other debris carried by the storm left chips and cracks on the reflective glass surfaces of the panels. Since the solar circuitry within the panels must stay dry, the company needed to find a unique, cost-effective solution to fix the remaining panels if they were ever to be reused. Although the panels were covered by insurance, Murphy staff wanted to put them back into use, rather than seeing them go to waste.

Through connections with the solar installer, the Murphy Warehouse team worked with a producer of windshield sealers to develop a new glue that was able to seal the damaged glass panels without interfering with their solar capturing ability. Within six months, the repaired panels were put back into service atop the Murphy Warehouse logistics campus in Minneapolis. Even if these panels only last us five to ten years – well short of their 25 year lifespan – we will have made a full return on our investment in solar technology. A strong commitment to renewable energy and a little ingenuity can go a long way.

About Murphy Warehouse Company
Murphy Warehouse Company is a family-owned, full-service supply chain logistics company based in Minneapolis. Founded in 1904, Murphy Warehouse is one of the Upper Midwest’s largest asset-based logistics firms and serves more than 250 customers ranging from Fortune 500 to start-up companies. Murphy Warehouse works with their customers as strategic partners to create and maximize logistics solutions. The company provides a wide range of services, including 3PL, distribution, transportation, cross-docking, fulfillment, warehousing and administrative, as well as international logistics through their Midwest International Logistics Center. Follow Murphy Warehouse on Facebook.

U.S. Recycling….and a Slow Boat to China

In working with a variety of businesses and organizations, we often get questions – and subsequent comments – about whether a particular recyclable material is going to be sent to China. And just to clarify, the questions are not generally asked with the hope that China will be a recipient of our recyclable commodities. And oftentimes, the answer is “quite possibly,” but of course always dependent on what type of recyclable material we’re talking about.

“American-made” is a long-held ideal…..thus, it is the catalyst for many of the conversations about where our recyclables end up. And the topic has seemed to come up frequently in recent years with the recession having such a significant effect on businesses and jobs. The catch is that we are also living in a much more global marketplace; we are not on an island of isolated production and consumption. Recycling has, for the first time, has now become an integral part of the U.S. economy and therefore sees all of the impacts that affect the rest of global trade and industry. It is often forgotten that those recyclable materials that we ship to China – and other countries – comes back to us in the form of “stuff” that supports our culture of consumption. In other words, we’re buying the stuff and so the cycle continues.

State firms helped pave path for U.S. sustainability growth

Chris Farrell’s commentary in the Star Tribune on sustainability made excellent points (“The government takes a pass, and businesses point the way,” Jan. 16).
But as I read it, I kept thinking: What about all the businesses right here in Minnesota that have been embracing sustainability for the past two decades?
Farrell referenced the recent efforts of the Wal-Marts and General Electrics of the world, but fails to mention the hundreds of Minnesota companies that have been reducing waste, maximizing recycling, conserving natural resources and saving energy long before “green business” became a buzz phrase.
These companies include Marvin Windows, Arctic Cat, Summit Brewery, Pearson Candy, Andersen Windows and Ruttger’s Sugar Lake Lodge. They’ve all been members of Minnesota Waste Wise since 1994.
Year after year, they’ve been pushing the envelope on sustainability efforts. They’ve long understood that these initiatives not only help protect the Minnesota environment we cherish but can add significantly to the bottom line.
Farrell also referenced alliances among governments, nonprofits and business that are now being formed. Minnesota Waste Wise was created in 1994 as a voluntary partnership between the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance.
The former, via Waste Wise, has been working closely with other nonprofits, government entities, energy utilities and local business associations ever since. Farrell was spot-on in his analysis that more businesses are now embracing sustainability as a core strategy.
Let’s also recognize the great work the Minnesota business community has been doing for nearly two decades to lead the way.

Should Small Businesses Care About Sustainability?

A valid question in today’s time-strapped-cash-strapped business climate. It’s all too easy to write off new initiatives—such as sustainability—during an economic recession; and when most employees are already asked to do more than humanly possible in a 40 hour week. But sustainability should not be overlooked, even by small businesses. The pressures on disclosing environmental performance by customers, governments and even employees will continue to escalate. Large businesses are already feeling the heat, which has been trickling down the supply chain. Just look at Wal-Mart and its demands on vendors (many of them small businesses).

Beyond the reasons small businesses will have to address sustainability, there are many reasons why they should do so voluntarily. And ahead of the curve (if it’s not too late already). Sustainability commitments can yield more, and new, business. Sustainability can save on your bottom-line. And add to your top-line through innovation – an area where small businesses often excel. And sustainability, believe it or not, attracts and retains talented employees. Something all businesses are looking for these days.

So the short answer – absolutely.  Read on:

Corporate Environmental Sustainability Still Strong in Tough Times

Historically, environmental initiatives have taken a backseat during difficult economic times.  Not this recession.  Consumers are still demanding ‘green’.  And, more importantly, companies large and small are realizing the economic benefits.

We live in a natural resource constrained world.  Millions of people are entering the middle class as new, hungry consumers.  With this higher demand for natural resources comes an increased cost, both financial and environmental.  Innovation, resource efficiency, cradle-to-cradle, zero waste – these concepts and actions are leading businesses out of the recession and into the future.

Similar to the technology industry’s rapid advancements (rotary phone-to-cordless phone-to-iPhone; typewriter-to-word processor-to-iPad), businesses that rapidly and continuously invent solutions to our environmental issues and incorporate sustainability as an ongoing business model will lead the way in environmental protection and shareholder profits.  This is why many top businesses are betting that this wave of environmental awareness and green innovation is here to stay – even in tough economic times.  After all, a sustainable business also means a company that stays around for many years to come.