Corporate Sustainability Programs
Understanding sustainability and what it means to be a sustainable business continues to evolve as more companies issue sustainability reports, sign on for carbon disclosure reporting and institute organizational changes designed to reduce their impact on the environment.
More than 62 percent of executives globally, according to KPMG's study "Corporate Sustainability: A Progress Report," say that their companies have a formal sustainability program, and close to 55 percent of U.S. executives report that their organizations have a formal strategy.1
That can be a very good thing. When companies and their people embrace sustainability, writes Brad Zarnett, founder and director of the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series, define it and align it with strategic goals, sustainability can drive innovation, employee engagement and greater profitability.2
"When people talk about sustainability, they often talk about the triple bottom line - people, profit and planet. These concepts are interconnected," says Amy Costello, environmental sustainability manager at Armstrong World Industries, Lancaster, Pa.
A look at a few manufacturing firms highlights what sustainability means for their companies and the role of standards in their sustainability programs.
"If you're talking about sustainability you have to talk about buildings and the built environment," says Michael Schmeida, divisional sustainability and regulatory affairs manager for Tremco Commercial Sealants and Waterproofing, Beachwood, Ohio, and vice chairman of ASTM International Committee E60 on Sustainability. That's because, in the United States, 40 percent of energy goes into the structures where we live and work.
At flooring and ceiling manufacturer Armstrong World Industries, Lancaster, Pa., sustainability practices long predate the formalization of Armstrong's sustainability program in 2006. Armstrong began its flooring business in 1909 by recycling cork waste to make linoleum for homes and commercial buildings: "We've been manufacturing linoleum with 100 percent natural ingredients for over 100 years," says Costello. Today, the trend continues with new floor tile products made from such renewable sources as corn. "We believe one of the reasons Armstrong has stood the test of time is our devotion to our operating principles and our commitment to acting responsibly and with integrity everywhere and every way we work," she says.
Costello and Schmeida agree that sustainability calls for an ongoing commitment. Costello says Armstrong's program is an effort in continuous improvement. Schmeida says, "From an operational perspective, sustainability will always be evolving as technology gets better. It is a continual process." There will be new ways to use less power and less water, and new ways of handling materials.
At both firms, sustainability crosses departments and functions.
Sustainability has meant changing the company culture at Tremco. "We have tried to make it so everyone has some piece of sustainability as part of their jobs," Schmeida says. Sustainability also means taking a holistic approach, one that considers environmental, financial and social aspects, to greening its products and processes.
This fiscal year, all of Tremco has sustainability-related initiatives on its agenda again, and employees in customer service and supply chain, purchasing and R&D, and elsewhere have sustainability objectives on their scorecards. At Armstrong, employees from engineering and product development to marketing and operations support sustainability efforts.
Tremco, headquartered in a renovated LEED-certified facility,3 highlights its waste reduction program and this year's goal of not sending waste to landfills and not incinerating. That program has already realized a huge savings, according to Schmeida. The company has installed more energy efficient lighting and motion sensors that turn lights off and on as needed to help reduce power. And the company has taken other steps by studying the manufacturing process for every product, looking at process times and equipment times and comparing those from one product to another with an eye to possible modifications, as with working toward using lesser or zero volatile organic compounds.
Armstrong demonstrated its commitment to sustainability by becoming a founding member of the U.S. Green Building Council in 1993. The corporation kicked off its ceiling recycling program in 1999, which, when combined with its flooring recycling program, diverts thousands of tons of construction waste from landfills.
The corporation, whose headquarters is LEED certified, stated in 2006 that its initial sustainability focus areas were energy use, greenhouse gas emission, water use and responsible forest management. Managing waste through the recycling programs has joined Armstrong's top priorities, plus product stewardship, supply chain (including responsible forest management) and social/community citizenship. Almost every function has some involvement in sustainability, according to Costello. Plus, she has a full-time sustainability manager counterpart for the ceiling business (Costello handles flooring) and Armstrong also has a full-time corporate product stewardship manager.
Armstrong emphasizes its sustainability beyond the products themselves. "We strive to make innovative products that anticipate the needs of our customers, and this includes sustainable products, of course, but also sustainable services and programs as well as sustainable operations," Costello says.
Costello notes that Armstrong has seen systematic reductions in environmental impact and a change in how her colleagues manage resources and think about new product development. "I hear many comments about how the attention we bring to operating responsibly often translates to employees' personal lives as well," she says.
The role of standards in sustainability in the built environment begins with defining the terms, Schmeida says: "Terminology is extremely important… what does ‘green building' mean?" When dealing with customers and contractors, he says he regularly references terms with definitions captured in E2114, Terminology for Sustainability Relative to the Performance of Buildings, to be sure that all parties are starting with a common understanding of such words as sustainability and sustainable development.
Tremco puts other ASTM International standards to work for their products; it uses E2398, Test Method for Water Capture and Media Retention of Geocomposite Drain Layers for Green Roof Systems, from ASTM Committee E60 on Sustainability, to evaluate the firm's precomposite drainage layers, and standards from ASTM Committee D08 on Roofing and Waterproofing to evaluate roofing membranes. Two additional E60 standards assist in consulting with building designers: E2728, Guide for Water Stewardship in the Design, Construction and Operation of Buildings, and E2397, Practice for Determination of Dead Loads and Live Loads Associated with Vegetative (Green) Roof Systems.
At Armstrong, a standard from ASTM International Committee D20 on Plastics provides a method to quantify biobased content in its ceiling and flooring products: D6866, Test Methods for Determining the Biobased Content of Solid, Liquid and Gaseous Samples Using Radiocarbon Analysis. ASTM D5116, Guide for Small-Scale Environmental Chamber Determinations of Organic Emissions From Indoor Materials/Products, enables the corporation to measure product emissions. Costello says she is excited about the new F2982, Specification for Polyester Composition Floor Tile, because this standard provides a reference specification for Armstrong's biobased tile, which is an innovative, polyvinyl chloride- and phthalate-free flooring tile. Costello adds she anticipates that Armstrong will find the E60 draft standard WK38312, Specification for the Classification of Manufacturing Waste and Associated Claims, useful once it has been completed.
Armstrong's use of standards related to sustainability includes standards from other organizations as well, such as that from the Climate Registry to report greenhouse gases. Many Armstrong plants are certified according to International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14001, Environmental Management Systems - Requirements with Guidance for Use, and ISO 9001, Quality Management Systems - Requirements. In addition, Armstrong products have been certified according to NSF International's standard 332, Sustainability Assessment for Resilient Floor Coverings.
Becoming a more sustainable corporation doesn't stop at building construction component manufacturers. In discussing sustainability at global chemical company BASF, a particular word comes up: verbund. Keith Edwards, biopolymers manager North America for BASF Corp., Wyandotte, Mich., and a D20 member, says that verbund, a German word without an English equivalent, means optimized integration and efficiency. Edwards says that the corporation works to make the most of resources and has been reviewing its processes since the 1980s with an eye to improving resource management.
A company needs to look at a product from sourcing materials to end of life, and that's what BASF does, according to Edwards. "It's dangerous when you talk about just one factor with regard to sustainability. The sustainability process is holistic," he says. Reducing energy use shouldn't be chosen as a goal if that means choosing a toxic material, for example.
Today, products and processes can be quantified and compared with the BASF Eco-efficiency life cycle analysis, a tool developed in the mid-1990s and certified by the German technical inspection and certification group, Association for Technical Inspection (TÜV). BASF, for example, looked at a restaurant's food waste management with Eco-efficiency, and whether lining the waste container with a polyethylene bag, leaving the container unlined and washing it, or lining with a compostable liner would be the most sustainable option, a study that showed the highest overall benefit to be in the compostable liner.
BASF conveyed its new sustainability approach recently when it declared that sustainability would be more strongly integrated in its business and reflected the approach in a new corporate vision: to create chemistry for a sustainable future. The implementation of this approach actually predates this announced change, as Edwards says that BASF started reviewing its chemical manufacturing processes in the 1980s with an eye to improving resource management.
Standards play their part in BASF's sustainability work as well. Made partially from renewable raw materials and appearing in store shopping bags and organics waste bags, ecovio® is certified to D6400, Specification for Labeling of Plastics Designed to be Aerobically Composted in Municipal or Industrial Facilities, by the Biodegradable Products Institute. The standard establishes the requirements for labeling materials and products, including packaging, that are considered compostable in aerobic municipal and industrial facilities.
Among the draft standards now under way that Edwards believes will be useful to BASF is WK29802, Specification for Aerobically Biodegradable Plastics in Soil Environment, which will benchmark parameters for plastics and products designed to break down in soil such as irrigation tapes and agriculture mulch films that will degrade in the ground after a set period of time. These will be the rules that companies in the field are going to play by, says Edwards.
At the Milwaukee, Wis., headquarters of food service equipment manufacturer Hatco Corp., sustainability is applicable to employees, operations and products. Mark Gilpatric, Hatco's manager of engineering projects and a member of ASTM International Committee F26 on Food Service Equipment, says that Hatco's staff - marketing, manufacturing, product engineers - have taken a team approach to sustainability.
Hatco's milestones can be marked by such measures as changing the paint process to reduce VOCs and other air pollutants, recycling cartons and packing materials as well as cans and bottles, switching to high efficiency light fixtures, channeling heat from paint processes to warm the building, staggering startup times on machinery, and more. The results have been good for the environment and the bottom line. "There have been a lot of cost benefits in reducing energy use," Gilpatric says.
The company has increased product efficiency as well, with refrigerated wells, the units that hold salad bars or other chilled food, engineered to be more thermally efficient, as are booster water heaters that have been retooled to have a working efficiency of 97 percent of higher. And Hatco has sought and won ENERGY STAR certification, a designation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, for its portable hot food holding cabinets.
Gilpatric says that the ENERGY STAR program utilizes performance tests from ASTM International. Hatco's certified food cabinets qualify, among other requirements, by meeting the energy consumption provisions tested with F2140, Test Method for Performance of Hot Food Holding Cabinets.
Schmeida cautions that sustainability can't be 100 percent efficient, but it can be continually addressed. "It's a system of continuous improvement," he says.
"One of the reasons that sustainability has gained so much traction within industry and particularly manufacturing is because it can make so much sense," says Costello. "Being efficient with resources and sustainability go hand in hand, and being efficient saves money."
In sustainability, in diverse industries, standards make a difference. Costello says that standards provide consistent measurement of goals. "Without standards, every manufacturer would be approaching the topic of sustainability from a different perspective," she says.
1. KPMG, "Progress in Adopting Sustainability Strategy for Most U.S. Firms," April 30, 2011.
2. Zarnett, Brad, "Sustainability is the Foundation of ‘Capitalism 2.0'," Environmental Leader, Nov. 19, 2012.
3. LEED is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a voluntary consensus-based green building certification program of the U.S. Green Building Council, Washington, D.C.