Sustainability Sense

Archive for the ‘waste reduction’ Category

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.

Is it Recyclable?

Recycle, recyclable, recycled-content. We see it everywhere, but what is recycling really?
According to Merriam-Webster, “recycle” means “to process (as liquid body waste, glass, or cans) in order to regain material for human use.” This definition is a great start, but there is a lot more to recycling than meets the eye.

Many businesses we work with have ongoing challenges with recycling. Common questions and comments we get when working with businesses and organizations include: “Why can’t it be recycled?” I recycle this at home, why can’t I at work? “It says on the bottom that it is recyclable, or it said in the catalogue that it’s recyclable so I put it in my recycling bin.” and “Is my waste hauler really recycling or is it just being land filled?

Let’s first start with the term “recyclable.” Yes, in theory many items we purchase could be labeled “recyclable.” But what makes something recyclable? First, a market must be present for that item to be recycled. In other words, the powder coat waste ABC Manufacturing produces is recyclable but are there places to ACTUALLY RECYCLE IT? The answer greatly depends on the area of the country, as well as what products are made with the recyclable material. Another great example is reusable poly shopping bags, which are often marketed as 100% recyclable. However, I do not know of any places that are currently accepting these bags – particularly from consumers – for recycling. And it may be too early in the Reusable Bag Revolution to really determine the impacts of these bags, especially since most people’s bags are not at the end of their lives yet.

We can also look at the production side of recycling. Many businesses, especially manufacturers, already recycle their waste internally. This is a practical business move that saves money on raw materials. Some of these businesses may also produce products with post-consumer recycled content. This is a key part of recycling – supporting recycling markets by purchasing recycled products. If no one wants to buy the products, there is no market for them.

A third factor that ties into the recycling picture is downcycling, which is the process of using recycled materials to materials of lesser quality (structurally speaking). Certain products containing recycled content are no longer recyclable due to the quality of the building blocks of that material. Plastics are a great example of this, as they face many challenges due to downcycling.

Our future vision is one of cradle-to-cradle, where “waste” is nonexistent because companies design products like nutrients cycling in a closed system. The components are continually broken down and built back up, over and over. Nature has a beautiful way of showing us that endless reuse has always been there, we just need to open our eyes to the possibilities. In the meantime, being aware of the products you are purchasing at work and at home can help to support recycling markets as we move into the future.

Greening your Holidays: Giving Gifts

 The first thing that often comes to mind when thinking about green gifts is the waste generated from gift wrap and cards. This waste becomes particularly significant when realizing that much of the waste is not reused or recycled – if it is, indeed, recyclable. We’re often drawn to fancy, embellished cards and gift wraps. The problem with many of these items is that, although they are made from paper, they have foil and other decorations that prevent them from being recycled. How about reuse? This option is ideal but not the first thing that comes to mind when we’re excitedly ripping open gifts.

What about the gifts themselves? How many gifts do we give – and receive – that are never used? How often do we give gifts “for the sake of giving something?”

As you draw names for Secret Santa or shop for loved ones during this holiday season, consider the environmental impact of the gifts. Consider replacing your holiday work party and gift exchange with a company-wide service project that benefits the community. If your company receives cards from clients or customers, consider donating them to a local school or daycare to use for art projects. Or better yet, request that your clients opt to donate to a local charity rather than sending cards or gifts. Hold your work party at a local nursing home or soup kitchen. If you purchase gifts, buy useful items that are wrapped in reusable bags.

There are many ways we can green our environmental footprint during the holidays. Is the gift thoughtful? Was it made in an eco-friendly way, does it contain post-consumer recycled content or reused materials? Are there “greener” alternatives to this item? Is there something that could be repurposed or homemade instead of buying new? Can it be easily reused or recycled? And so on…

Waste Sorts

More and more companies are performing waste sorts. Fun stuff, right? Just what we all want to do – dig through our trash. So why are more and more businesses and organizations doing it? Knowledge is king.

Waste sorts are a great way to find out what you’re filling that dumpster with, and paying money to empty. Without the baseline knowledge it’s impossible to measure improvement.

Think of it this way: if you don’t know and understand what’s going into the products you manufacture then how can you improve on that product? Same thing with trash. Once you know the waste you’re creating then you can create a strategy to reduce or eliminate it. And potentially save your company substantial dough.

Trash. It’s no longer out-of-sight out-of-mind for competitive businesses. Oh, and LEED Certification requires it.

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.