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The Holistic Approach To Sustainability


Pursuing eco-friendliness across the supply and manufacturing chain can pay dividends in everything from cost savings to brand differentiation.

According to California-based Autodesk, a design and engineering software maker, “Manufacturers worldwide see increasing sustainable design and improving production processes as an effective response to global competition and regulations and a source of business value.” The company recently recognized California Analytical Instruments as its Inventor of the Month for using Autodesk software to help companies monitor their own greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet just as the manufacturing process itself represents a lot of moving parts, so too does making that process eco-friendly.“Achieving more sustainable manufacturing is complex,” according to Autodesk. “It requires a holistic view, from designing products that use less materials and energy to improving the machines and processes that produce them to optimizing the layout of the facility itself.”

The definition promulgated by the U.S. Department of Commerce also implies a broad-based, painstaking approach: “the creation of manufactured products that use processes that minimize negative environmental impacts, conserve energy and natural resources, are safe for employees, communities and consumers, and are economically sound.” A number of companies, including both ingredient suppliers and branded manufacturers, have taken up the challenge in recent years.

On the contract manufacturing side, New Jersey-based Vitaquest defines sustainable manufacturing as being “less wasteful with materials and energy,” and accordingly the company has taken “significant steps” to minimize its environmental impact. “For example, the majority of our corrugated packaging materials are now derived from 100 percent recycled content, and we recycle our waste materials as well, thereby saving thousands of trees each year,” the company states on its website. “We have installed energy efficient lighting with motion detector switches throughout our facilities, with a savings of hundreds of thousands of kilowatt hours.”

A particular point of pride is a recently launched, 418.6-kilowatt solar energy system at Vitaquest headquarters. The company said the 1,820-panel system will produce enough energy to power more than 35 average size residential homes every year. “This is equivalent to recycling more than eight million cans of soda, planting 30,000 trees and taking 52 cars off the road every year.”

In a statement, Keith Frankel, president and CEO of Vitaquest, called environmental sustainability and human health “two critical areas for our company.The size and scale of this solar energy system will enable us to offset a significant portion of our building’s electricity needs. Together with our other ongoing environmental sustainability initiatives, solar energy will allow us to greatly reduce our carbon footprint, assuring a greener future for our company.” 

The Time is NOW

When Illinois-based NOW Foods, a branded manufacturer and also the parent company of raw materials supplier Healthco, opened a West Coast distribution facility in Sparks, NV earlier this year, it not only did so two years ahead of schedule; it also conceived and built the facility within the framework of the U. S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) program. LEED certification provides third-party verification that a Building is designed and constructed— or retrofitted in the case of existing buildings—in accordance with the following metrics: energy savings; water efficiency; CO2 emissions reduction; improved indoor environmental quality; and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

The company outlined several of the elements that went into the Sparks facility, which is aiming for LEED certification for new construction. Among other things, the project site itself was selected for urban infill, “located nearby various basic community resources.” During and after construction, 83 percent of construction- site debris was sent to recycling centers rather than landfills. The facility offers preferred parking for low-emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles, as well as onsite bicycle storage, showers and changing areas for company employees, all in the interests of promoting alternative forms of transportation. Additionally, a white “cool roof” was used to reduce the “heat island” effect, caused by dark paving and roofing materials that trap and absorb heat during the day.

Conserving water and reducing energy use are two other hallmarks of a building in the LEED program. Thanks to low-flow fixtures, NOW’s Sparks facility is said to use approximately 30 percent less potable water than a conventional office space with standard fixtures, for an estimated savings of more than 63,320 gallons of potable water per year. A drought-tolerant landscaping system will save another 405,000 gallons of water annually, according to NOW.Inside and out, the facility uses devices ranging from high-efficiency lighting systems to a rooftop photovoltaic system that, when taken together, use about 24 percent less electricity annually than a comparable facility built to minimum code standards, the company said.

Another way to look at this top-tobottom approach to sustainability is via the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) framework, which consulting firm MBDC in Virginia defines as one that “moves beyond the traditional goal of reducing the negative impacts of commerce (‘eco-efficiency’), to a new paradigm of increasing its positive impacts (‘eco-effectiveness’).” MBDC offers a five-point C2C certification that considers the safety and healthfulness of product materials, the recyclable or renewable content of the products, the manufacturer’s renewable energy use, the manufacturer’s water stewardship and the company’s level of social responsibility.

New Jersey-based BASF Corp.—Which also recently opened a new facility built to LEED standards, in this case its North American headquarters—has devised such a life-cycle approach, which it calls S.E.T. (sustainability, ecoefficiency and traceability). “Consumer goods manufacturers need to focus on improving the sustainability of their supply chains,” said Cristian Barcan, global project manager of the S.E.T. Initiative, in 2011. “Identifying main drivers for sustainability is critical. This includes quantitative assessment using a lifecycle approach, and taking all relevant criteria into consideration such as energy, emissions and resources.” He added that the S.E.T. program—available to outside companies, even as BASF uses it internally—“provides the tools and expertise to accomplish these goals.”

Among its components, S.E.T. includes an internet-based traceability platform for raw materials and ingredients used by participating business partners of BASF in the supply chain.GS1 standards, and barcodes in particular, figure prominently in this platform.

“By using GS1 barcodes on their products, companies are able to gain access to sustainability information across their entire value chains for greater visibility,” said Barcan. “With GS1 standards in place, companies can not only trace each product, but they can also track sustainability improvements at various levels of the supply chain. This whole-chain traceability is essential for measuring accurate sustainability gains.”


.Autodesk, (415) 507-5000 

.BASF Corp., (800) 526-1072 

.Healthco/NOW Foods, (800) 477-3949 

.MBDC, (434) 295-1111 

.Vitaquest, (800) 526-9095

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