Handprints and the Green Supply Chain

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Over the past month, I have been challenged to re-imagine the “finished product.” The concept of “the handprint” was originally brought to my attention last fall at “A Workshop for Efficiency, Emissions, and Energy in Ohio” hosted by Ohio University Voinovich School’s CE3. Frank O’Brien-Bernini, chief sustainability officer of Owens Corning, gave a presentation on how his company is reducing emissions by improving efficiency efforts on the production line. His emphasis of this perspective focused directly on improving how the production line is formed, what efficient production depends on, and tracking all steps from cradle-to-cradle when possible. Their flagship product for example, fiber-glass insulation, is made with up to 50-65% recycled material.

O’Brien-Bernini explained that handprint analysis is a framework slowly entering the arena of business and manufacturing and it is conceptually connected to creating a green energy supply chain. The Sustainability and Health Initiative for NetPositive Enterprise (SHINE), an initiative of Harvard’s School of Public Health, is helping companies like Owens Corning develop ways to proactively measure positive impacts instead of calculating emissions footprints. While handprint studies are more focused on improving energy usage in-house and measuring positive environmental changes, a green energy supply chain management system emphasizes sourcing. Both concepts are intertwined insofar as the company must take on the responsibility to look at where raw materials are coming from, how they are processed, and how best they can be used to accomplish sustainable handprints.

Stakeholders are increasingly demanding sustainable practices from companies at all levels of production and urging leaders to take steps to adopt long-term solutions to waste. Gale Tedhams, director of sustainability at Owens Corning, has recognized this demand. “We run on a lifestyle-cycle accounting process, looking at the lifetime from supply extraction to disposal, to save energy and create new lines of energy efficient products,” says Tedhams.

The concepts of the handprint and green energy supply chains tell us something very important. If we can re-imagine the finished product as yet unfinished in its life at the moment of purchase, we imagine the next phases of the product when its “useful” life for us is over. We can make products that are responsibly-sourced from extraction of the product to reusability, but it takes great effort.

However, companies incorporating sustainability into their supply chains will last longer, according to Art Dodge, CEO of ECORE International, “not only because of the cost-effective nature of the process and ability to achieve environmental goals, but also through the commercialization of new and innovative products.”

In a recent talk given by Dr. Jason Jolley, assistant professor of rural economic development at the Voinovich School, about environment management systems and the green energy supply chain, I learned that businesses burdened with high dependence on fossil fuels or heavy initial-production resources are developing models and management practices to meet the demands of a changing regulatory landscape.

The great part about the adoption of these management systems is that it encourages a materials “race to the top” and/or a clear passion to maximize the utility of raw materials. Companies are tapping into resources such as the U.S. EPA’s Green Suppliers Network, and others have been certified as actors in sustainability; the ISO 14000 series is an environmental management system (EMS) certification, yet its adoption is slow. By adding a green supply chain management (GSCM) system to this certification, businesses can access suppliers’ environmental performance and track the cost of waste, making for a resilient business model of the future. These two systems are highly complementary: research by Jolley showed that EMS adopters that also utilize GSCM will be more successful in reaching environmental protection requirements.

Dr. Jolley’s case study asked companies around the country about this doubled-up adoption. With a 13 % response rate and most of those responsive in companies holding less than 250 employees, an optimistic insight was revealed: smaller companies are often the first to adopt environmentally sustainable practices.

For many of these local companies, the move makes both environmental and economic sense. Owens Corning, a business built on improving energy efficiency, is the prime international example of stepping up to the standard. We are seeing supply chains today, especially with companies that are employee-owned, that put high value on creating production and supply chain alliances. Future-proof supply chains, as they may be called, are beginning to be adopted, inspired by “handprinting,” green energy supply chains and sustainability measures as necessary components of business.

I have gained a new perspective by changing the way I think about materials sourcing and production. I understand the importance of developing a product for more than profit, with an eye to social and environmental responsibility. When we become aware of our global impact, improvements in the efficiency on our production lines expand and extend to create an optimistic mindset of net-positive gain rather than impact.

Mathew Roberts

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