Some Good Year-End Sustainability Reading

As we approach the end of a very busy 2011, I’ve been seeing a lot of interesting year-end articles that I’ve been saving to read later.  I thought it would be helpful to include a selection of them for you in one place:

  1. “A Manifesto for Sustainable Capitalism,” by Al Gore and David Blood, published in the Wall Street Journal on December 14, 2011.  They define sustainable capitalism as “a framework that seeks to maximize long-term economic value by reforming markets to address real needs while integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics throughout the decision-making process.”  They explain that research shows that “embracing sustainable capitalism yields four kinds of important benefits for companies:

    • Developing sustainable products and services can increase a company’s profits, enhance its brand, and improve its competitive positioning, as the market increasingly rewards this behavior.

    • Sustainable capitalism can also help companies save money by reducing waste and increasing energy efficiency in the supply chain, and by improving human-capital practices so that retention rates rise and the costs of training new employees decline.

    • Third, focusing on ESG metrics allows companies to achieve higher compliance standards and better manage risk since they have a more holistic understanding of the material issues affecting their business.

    • Researchers (including Rob Bauer and Daniel Hann of Maastricht University, and Beiting Cheng, Ioannis Ioannou and George Serafeim of Harvard) have found that sustainable businesses realize financial benefits such as lower cost of debt and lower capital constraints.”

  2. GreenBiz.com’s “Our 12 Best Stories of 2011,” includes a wide range of articles, including “Soap and Glory: A Peek Behind Method’s Methods,” “The Story Behind Google’s Huge Appetite for Energy,” “5 Myths About Sustainability Executives,” and “The Future (and Past) of the ‘Office of the Future.'”
  3. Most Read Paper and Packaging Stories of 2011 from our friends at Environmental Leader. There’s been a lot of chatter and innovation around the lifecycle of packaging and the need for manufacturers to be responsible for the the stewardship of their products from beginning to disposal.  It’s been an issue close to my heart for many years – along these lines, I was recently asked to become a charter member of the Product Stewardship Institute Advisory Council. This organization has played a critical role in bringing government, industry, and other stakeholders together to jointly develop solutions to difficult waste management problems for many years and I’m honored to be part of such a great group.  To learn more about the council, here’s a link to a PDF press release.
  4. 10 Predictions for Cleantech and Sustainability in 2012 from GreenBiz.com.  It covers renewable energy, green marketing, transportation, and energy efficiency topics among others.
  5. Lastly, I’m excited to share some positive news on Cape Wind.  This plan to build offshore wind turbines in Nantucket Sound has long been delayed by lawsuits and controversy.  This week, Massachusetts’ highest court gave the project the “green light” according to the Boston Globe.  Cape Wind CEO said he hopes project construction will start in about a year.  Here’s a link to the Boston Globe article.

I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy and productive 2012.  Thanks for reading!

Expanding the reach of Sustainable Ink

Thanks to amazing support from you, our readers, traffic has steadily grown to Sustainable Ink as sustainability has become a more critical issue to our future.

As a result of this momentum, I was honored to be tapped to become part of a group of “Sustainability Thought Leaders” on a new site built by Netline Corporation. Please click here to visit the site.

Here’s a description of the site’s focus: BlogNotions Sustainability delivers a diverse series of perspectives provided by thought leaders in the areas of sustainability, renewable energy, the environment and related topics.

They plan to repost articles from Sustainable Ink, so you can continue to read them here.  However, I didn’t want to let any time go by without saying thank you.

Video of Panel Discussion at Columbia Business School: The Returns to Social Enterprise


I had the privilege of serving on a panel in April at Columbia Business School during Reunion weekend titled “The Returns to Social Enterprise.”  The panel was moderated by Ray Fisman, the Co-Director of the Social Enterprise Program at Columbia Business School. Please click on the image above to watch the video from our talk. 

The conversation covered trends in social enterprise, renewable energy, as well as green marketing and the issue of transparency around green claims.  There were also some excellent questions from the audience about sustainable procurement strategies.  I was really impressed with my fellow panelists, and I think the whole video is interesting.  In case you’re wondering, my portion starts around the 13-minute mark.The other panelists were:

Post From Yesterday on FSC Picked Up Nationally

The response to my post from yesterday, “A Negative Tipping Point for FSC Certification,” has been overwhelming.  In my 4 years of blogging, it has been far and away the most widely-read and distributed post.  Most notably, it was picked up by Ecopreneurist, a leading green business news website, which you can view here.

I have received dozens of tweets, as well as messages on Facebook and Linkedin, and virtually every comment has been supportive of my suggestion that FSC’s best days may be behind it in the printing and marketing industries.  I welcome your feedback as well!

A Negative Tipping Point for FSC Certification

Turning the page on FSC?

Over the past few years, awareness has grown about FSC-certified papers and printing.  FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council, a group that works to ensure that the materials used are sourced responsibly.  Each step in the chain (i.e. from forest to printer) must be traceable.  The intent of the FSC system is to eliminate habitat destruction, water pollution, displacement of indigenous peoples and violence against people and wildlife that can accompany logging.

Although I believe this is a meaningful cause, I wanted to report to my readers that I believe that FSC certification in the commercial printing and marketing communications industry has hit a negative tipping point.  By this, I mean that the future of FSC certification in these fields is murky at best.

I base my assertion on a lot of anecdotal evidence I have seen in the field, both from printers, and especially from marketing professionals and print buyers.  Back when I started conducting green marketing seminars (and writing on Sustainable Ink) in 2007, there was growing interest in FSC, and a sense that it would become the industry standard, on the level of recycled paper.  It was on its way there, but I believe it was hurt in three major ways:

  1. Lack of awareness of what FSC means. As I mentioned before, FSC is a system designed to ensure the chain of custody of paper, from when it was a tree to its final printed form.  The fact is, many people in our industry do not know what FSC is, and therefore do not sell it.  More importantly, I have seen many research studies that show that most consumers do not know what it means and are therefore not interested in it.
  2. Lack of tangible environmental benefit versus other green attributes. When people use recycled paper, they know they are consuming less natural resources than they would if they chose virgin fibers.  Vegetable-based inks sound like they make a positive difference, as they cut down on the use of oil, and are renewable.  Papers made with renewable energy send a message that an organization wants to reduce its carbon footprint and support a green economy.  Those terms, recycled, vegetable-based, and renewable energy, all are easy to understand and therefore end consumers of print and marketing collateral feel comfortable around these terms.  If they feel comfortable around these terms and believe they know what makes them green, they will continue to ask for papers and printers that meet these standards.  FSC, on the other hand, is difficult to understand, and the green attributes may not be immediately obvious.
  3. The combination of the difficult economy and the perceived greed of the Forest Stewardship Council. It is not surprising that FSC grew dramatically in 2007 and 2008, when the broader economy was stronger, and the environmental movement was top of mind.  However, as printers fell on tough times, FSC continued to charge large annual fees from printers to allow them to maintain their individual plant certifications.  One printer told me the following: “Look, I’m a small company – we do $3-$4 million in sales per year, and when I had to sign up for FSC certification in 2008, and spend $10,000-$15,000 to make this happen, with ongoing overhead expenses, I did it.  I thought it would be a cost of doing business, and that I would lose business from eco-minded clients if I wasn’t FSC certified.  When sales fell in 2009 and 2010, I appealed to FSC to get a reduction in my fees, as I was facing the choice between paying my FSC bill or my payroll.  FSC wouldn’t budge, so I didn’t renew, as I was more interested in protecting my employees than I was in paying what I saw as an FSC tax.  I haven’t noticed a sales drop off due to this decision.”  After hearing this, I spoke to several other printers, many of whom no longer maintain their FSC certification, as they said the costs outweighed the benefits.  Some questioned the mission of FSC, with one saying it seemed to be an “overhead-heavy organization” that “charged small printers large fees to pay for their bloated staff.”  I found this large organizational chart on their website which did not contradict this assertion.

In some sense, printers have been FSC’s sales force.  Once printers became certified, they sold FSC as an incredibly valuable brand, and one that all companies that wanted to send a green message should strive to put on their printed pieces.  Now that many of these smaller printers have declined to renew, FSC has lost a powerful constituency that will not continue to spread the word about FSC.

One other constituency FSC has partially alienated is designers, due to their strict rules around usage of the term “FSC.”  Several years ago, if an organization wanted to explain their green choices with words instead of symbols, they were allowed to do so.  As an example, if they printed a brochure on Neenah Environment PC 100, one of my favorite green papers made from 100% post-consumer recycled content, at an FSC-certified printer, they could use a simple sentence like “Printed using FSC-certified 100% post consumer recycled content.”  Now FSC no longer allows this, and insists that the term “FSC” only be used along with its official logo.  FSC is clearly trying to build awareness of its brand, but this shouldn’t be the responsibility of the end user.  I have seen this rule cause designers to sacrifice the use of the “FSC” term.

FSC is a worthwhile organization, and serves a good cause.  However, I believe its lack of obvious green benefits relative to other green elements like recycled paper is hurting adoption.  More than that, however, are the large fees charged to FSC’s sales army (printers) during this recession.  Those, coupled with strict rules around design, are a sign that FSC may have overplayed its hand in the marketing communications industry, and its best days are behind it.

Green Tips for Marketing Success: Part 4 of 4 (Green Printing)

As I have written about on several occasions, my firm, Grossman Marketing Group, put together our 100 Tips for Marketing Success this year to mark our 100th anniversary.  21 of the 100 tips involve sustainability, and were broken into four categories: 1) General Sustainability, 2) Green Promotional Products, 3) Green Design, 4) Green Printing.  I am pleased to share the green printing tips below:

Let your colleagues, customers, donors and other constituents know that you are fully committed to environmental stewardship by using some of the following best practices in green printing.

  1. Encourage your constituents to either share or recycle the printed piece. Sustainability is more than the materials you use—it also involves the lifecycle of your item.
  2. Consider using chlorine-free paper. The best papers to use are bleached using an oxygen-based process, thus avoiding the creation of chlorine-related pollution.
  3. Use vegetable-based inks when possible. Not only are they generally refined in the United States, but they also reduce our use of petroleum, the majority of which comes from foreign sources.
  4. Consider papers with a high degree of post-consumer content, as they require fewer resources (energy, water, etc.) to produce.
  5. When using eco-friendly papers, make sure to explain the environmental benefits derived from these choices. These calculations should come from a third-party source rather than a calculation from an industry source. For a great example, please see www.papercalculator.org.
  6. Use renewable energy (like wind or solar power) in the production process. It is good for the environment and resonates well with the vast majority of Americans.
  7. You can make your collateral more environmentally-friendly without sacrificing quality or adding cost! For example, our house sheet of coated stock is 55% recycled with 30% post-consumer waste, and will not cost your organization any more than the non-recycled alternative!

I hope you have enjoyed reading these suggestions.  To download the full set of 100 tips, please click here. Many thanks for your interest!

Green is Lean: An Inside Look at Sustainable Purchasing at DHL Americas

Wayne Evans, Sr. Vice President for Procurement, the Americas, DHL

In our effort to explore green business issues and the impact sustainability has on organizations’ purchasing patterns, we are proud to interview  Wayne Evans, Senior Vice President for Procurement, the Americas, DHL.  During the interview, Wayne reflected on his team’s commitment to sustainability, and how he and his colleagues have found that green business practices can help save money.  If you have any questions that you would like to submit to Wayne, please let us know.

1.    Could you tell our readers a little bit about DHL and the kind of work you do there?

DHL is part of Deutsche Post DHL. The Group generated revenue of more than 46 billion euros in 2009. DHL commits its expertise in international express, air and ocean freight, road and rail transportation, contract logistics and international mail services to its customers. A global network composed of more than 220 countries and territories and 300,000 employees worldwide offers customers’ superior service quality and local knowledge to satisfy their supply chain requirements. DHL accepts its social responsibility by supporting climate protection, disaster management and education.

In my role as Head of Procurement for DPDHL Americas I am responsible for purchasing more than $1b of goods and services across 22 countries.  I manage a team of 70 individuals that have buying and sourcing experience in categories such as transportation, fuel, packaging, travel, production equipment, etc.  My day-to-day activities are focused on leading the team, meeting with business partners to understand their needs, and meeting with suppliers to better understand new products in the market.

2.    When did DHL first start talking seriously about green strategies?
DHL has been working on green strategies for many years.  In 2008 the company completed a major initiative designed to baseline the carbon footprint of the Company.  This was a critical step as it established criteria by which we can measure progress against an established goal.

3.    Would DHL pay more for a green-sourced product?
There are many considerations involved in a sourcing decision but in fact it is possible to pay more for a green product.  This can happen as the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is factored because initially it might appear that the cost is higher but when you factor the operational costs the product might in fact be lower in cost.  As an example, if we look at the TCO for a truck we may find Vehicle A has a slightly higher cost than vehicle B.  However, the higher-priced vehicle has greater fuel efficiency which is greener and over a period of time the total cost of ownership (TCO) is lower.  In another situation we did make a conscientious decision to buy recycled paper at a slightly higher cost because it is better for the environment.

4.    In which areas does DHL most frequently make green-minded business decisions?
Transportation has the largest impact on our carbon footprint and therefore it is the critical area to focus on.  This is a large part of our business and there are many levers that we can use to reduce the carbon impact.  We are heavily engaged in hybrid vehicles including trucks and we also look for ways to use electric vehicles and even bicycles where possible.

5.    What have been the major trends in green procurement over the last few years?

One of the core goals of procurement is to identify different ways to drive down costs. There are different ways that procurement organizations can combine cost savings with green initiatives.  One example is recycling items such as stretch wrap.  Many companies use a significant amount of this product to package and ship.  In the past during the unpacking process the materials were removed and thrown in dumpsters for disposal.  One of the more recent trends was to add a bailer which is a container used to gather the plastic waste materials and they are picked up by recycling companies who process this material into something like a pallet.  Companies can actually receive money for the used packaging materials and they use less space in dumpsters which lowers the cost of trash pick up.

Procurement professionals are also starting to look at ways to evaluate suppliers with regards to their “greenness”. Based on this evaluation, suppliers will be given credit for being a green company and in close bid situations it could be a deciding factor.

Another trend is demand management, where procurement professionals are getting engaged in minimizing the amount of product needed.  By using only what companies need there will be less waste and less cost.

6.    Can you tell our readers a bit about the GoGreen strategy at DHL?
Our goal is to improve our CO2 efficiency by 30% by 2020, compared to a baseline of our 2007 performance.  To help us monitor our progress towards our 2020 goal, we have set ourselves an interim target to improve the CO2 efficiency of our own operations by 10% by 2010. The ability to calculate our own carbon footprint is a key prerequisite of our GoGreen Program. We need to identify opportunities for reducing our footprint and to track how much we have changed our ways.  We also need the data to offset our GoGreen products and services, and in due course to calculate our customers’ individual footprints.

7.    Do you think the organization thinks about green issues differently since it is based in Germany?
It’s not so much that we think differently but more that we act differently.  Because we are a global company we act in a global way.  When we identify a key strategic initiative such as this it is rolled out across the world and implemented accordingly.  The green movement is a bit more obvious in many parts of Europe as they have been following some of the best practices in conservation for quite some time

8.    What kind of impact has the recession had in shaping or modifying the green strategy at DHL?
The recession has not had much of an impact because as previously mentioned “green is typically lean.”  Some of the projects with longer term ROI and high capital investments could have been impacted as companies were trying to conserve cash flow during the recession.

9.    What kind of difficulties have you faced implementing GoGreen with workforce and management?
Since the green initiative is a CEO-sponsored and lead initiative it has not been difficult getting support.  The only challenges come when there are large capital outlays required without a sufficient business case.

10.    What has been your greatest triumph in implementing the Go Green campaign?

We support four (4) businesses in the US and each is very independent.  We have been successful in pulling them all together and aligning strategies.  We have many projects that were initiated such as recycled paper, hybrid vehicles, alternative lighting, etc.

11.    What has been the biggest struggle or challenge in implementation?
In some cases it is not always easy to make clear sourcing decisions based on the supplier’s “greenness” as there are no real standards for accurately rating a supplier.

12.    Could you highlight a few examples of unique contributions DHL has made in the area of sustainability?