Online Master's in Electrical Engineering

Major Corporations’ Growing Interest in Sustainable Product Design

June 14, 2016

There is no telling what the future holds for this country, but a drive towards sustainability is happening now. This drive could be the result of a growing political climate, or it could be that eco-friendly voices are finally being heard. Whatever the reason, more corporations are asking green-focused questions, like how their products and overall production practices are affecting the environment. To learn more, checkout this infographic sponsored by the University of California Riverside’s Online Master of Science in Engineering program.

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A Closer Look at Corporate Interest in Sustainability

Money talks, which is exactly what is evident with many corporations. The fact is corporations–as a whole–are spending 877 million dollars on sustainable technologies and processes. This was the total spending in the year 2015. But studies have shown that this number is expected to surpass 1 billion dollars by 2019.

What is even more telling is that the global consumer growth has been 4 percent if a company commits to sustainability. Keep in mind that companies that fail to do so have only seen a 1 percent growth at best.

Another survey showed that a whopping 66 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for brands that have committed to sustainability.

Corporations also have their own perspectives regarding sustainability as well. A survey showed that 72 percent of the CEOs from different companies consider sustainability to be one of their top 10 priorities. And–to further cement just how committed some of these companies are–another survey showed that 40 percent of companies implemented a sustainability program in their business in 2015.

Sustainability is definitely making a grand entrance into corporate discussion, so much so that 42 percent of them feel that it has already entered the mainstream and shows no signs of slowing down.

What is LCA and How it is Helping the Movement

Paying attention to how much sustainability can save a company in the long run makes a great case as to why many corporations are expanding their sustainability practices. Sure, there is a financial upheaval at the beginning of any change because companies have to invest time, effort, and capital to make green-conscious changes, but this investment proves to be worth it.

One of the ways that companies are attempting to make changes is by first conducting an LCA or a Life Cycle Assessment on their manufacturing. Conducting a LCA helps a company identify how to best cut back on energy and promote sustainability.

When evaluating a company, the LCA’s assessment process consist of four stages. The first is to identify the purpose of the LCA. The second is to identify both the human and ecological impact the production has. Third is to evaluate opportunities to reduce energy usage and material inputs. And, lastly, the LCA calculates specific energy and raw material consumption during each stage of production.

This intense process allows a company to see where and how to improve productivity in a way that is much more sustainable.

There are several large companies that have done their part in improving sustainability and many large companies have successfully made bold moves into sustainability. Kraft, for example, was able to reduce 109.5 million pounds of packing reduction back in 2010. This was accomplished by using recyclable packing for their roasted peanuts that uses 84 percent less packing weight than before. Needless to say, Kraft definitely has been saving a lot of money since their initial investment in sustainability. The company has not stopped their efforts to continue improving.

Coca-Cola was able to reduce weight for all their containers across the board. For example, 8 oz glass bottles now weigh 50 percent less than before, and 12 oz aluminum cans weight 30 percent less.

These companies could be considered well-known pioneers who are putting a strong spotlight on the importance of sustainability. Of course, they are not the first companies to adopt greener practices nor have they gone as far as other companies. But they are well-known companies, which helps propel the cause.

Issues with LCAs and How to Improve Them

There is no denying the fact that LCAs have provided companies a better way of improving their eco-friendly processes. But that does not mean that the assessment program does not come with a few hiccups that need to be addressed.

For one, there is simply not enough data to know how every single process is affecting the environment or human health. This is especially true regarding manufacturing processes that are relatively new and have not been tested.

Sometimes it is hard to quantify environmental impacts as well since the environment is an ever-changing factor that is hard to predict. This is one of the reasons why LCAs–even though proven effective–are still relatively inconsistent.

But there is definitely room for improvement in more ways than one. Most specialists are attempting to make the LCA process more inclusive as an attempt to control more variables. For example, it would better to evaluate raw material procurement. The evaluation in this area could expose the sustainability practices of the supplier and help recycle any unused materials.

Plus, exposing the supplier’s sustainability practices might help bring more attention the importance of sustainability. More suppliers, along with other contractors that work with a particular company, will see why they, too, must make the switch to sustainability.

LCAs could also include a detailed evaluation of distribution as well. The assessment could reveal better distribution channels and routes that might help reduce oil consumption. Updated delivery vehicles might also be highlighted as well.

These are just some of the benefits of improving LCAs, but there are several other improvements. It is easy to see that sustainability is becoming an important factor for many corporations. And it makes sense that it is getting traction because it helps companies make money as well as save it. Not to mention the fact that the environment will ultimately gain from the new direction this country is taking regarding sustainability; it will allow the earth to heal from pollution and overconsumption. Hopefully, the changes start to affect more companies because the earth cannot afford any delays.

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