Creating A Waste Economy

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The Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University is continuing their invaluable service to the region, this time in partnership with Rural Action. Funded by the Sugar Bush Foundation, the Athens Hocking Zero Waste Initiative (AOZWI) planning process reached a milestone in December with the release of an action plan. The plan “aims to provide a unified vision and path for a robust waste management system that will enable Athens and Hocking counties to work towards becoming a zero waste economy.”

This unified action plan demonstrates the need and economic incentive to reduce landfill waste and better manage resources across waste, recycling and reuse supply chains. To address the original plan set forth by community members in a series of meetings in 2012, AOZWI working groups will soon be established in an effort to make recommendations to modify to current practices, identify priorities and set goals. The working groups include:

  • • Education and Outreach
  • • Access to Recycling
  • • Collection of Hard-to-Recycle Materials
  • • Illegal Dumping and Burning Prevention and Enforcement

Though AOZWI is the poster-child of local waste reduction efforts, there seems to be an increased effort around the Ohio University campus and around our region that deserves notable attention. For example, in January, the Athens City Council decided the city’s efforts to recycle were falling short, and thus signed the city on to the action plan. Reducing waste is all about awareness. Ohio University has been part of this greater awareness for almost two years with the adoption of a sustainability plan in 2011 and a climate action plan set forth in 2012.

Recently, Ohio University entered into an energy performance contract with Constellation New Energy in an effort to improve campus conservation. The Athens News reports that through these efforts, Ohio University will save an estimated 50,145 tons of CO2 emissions and $3.2 million in energy costs annually for 15 years. Reducing wasted energy is a huge part of reaching certain sustainability and climate action benchmarks. By 2016, the University hopes to reduce individual consumption by 5% and to increase recycling rates to 80% by weight.

Robin Stewart, senior project manager for the AOZWI at the Voinovich School, says the biggest challenge to achieving similar goals throughout the Appalachian region is creating a viable model and acquiring greater capacity to handle a new waste-based economy. “We need to localize the supply chain,” said Stewart in an interview. “Creating initiative within communities is the best route to accomplish this in the business community, but education efforts such as the zero waste event guide and planning a zero waste graduation for Ohio University students are just as important.”

ReUse Industries, a local waste diversion non-profit organization, has been in operation for almost 20 years and has funneled 10 million pounds of materials back into the community for reuse. ReUse is bringing small communities together to develop a regional reuse economy. Working on a larger scale, the Ohio By-Product Synergy (BPS) Network works to bring buyers and suppliers of manufacturing and production industries together. “If one company produces a waste product, and it can be used by another company within the region, the BPS Network is there to create the economy, divert the waste product entering the environment and avoid further ground contamination,” said Stewart.

For ReUse and the BPS Network, buying, selling and promoting used goods is the clear option for making the familiar pattern of consumerism sustainable. Reused books, appliances, and furniture purchased from ReUse Industries saves money, supports the local economy, diverts waste, and lowers your cost of living or doing business. By saving so much during the purchase of used materials from ReUse or the BPS Network, we can reduce our reliance on primary material costs and logistics in our manufacturing businesses and increase our understanding for community collaboration.

The AOZWI project can serve as a guideline to how we need to begin organizing the way we manage waste in our businesses and communities. Currently, the state recycling goal is 25%, but we still have a ways to go. According to the U.S. EPA, packaging makes up approximately 30% of the United States waste stream and 34% of all waste can be composted. Imagine a world where individuals, communities and businesses strive to re-use packaging for the long haul, compost at a near 100% rate, and buy unpackaged or only previously used items. AOZWI is changing the way we think about waste and is raising that all-important awareness mentioned earlier.

To learn more about the specific goals of the AOZWI’s long-term action plan, click here.

Mathew Roberts

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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