2013-02-01

Co.Exist

4 Innovative Sustainability Concepts For Big Business

Giant companies can have a massive impact when they change their policies to benefit society and the planet. Here are some new ways that big corporations can take their operations in a healthier direction.

The World Wildlife Fund isn’t everyone’s idea of a conservation organization. Some accuse it of being too close to companies it should be criticizing. But the counter-case is that WWF is working up the kinds of partnerships that make a difference, and deliver scale. The group’s recent Green Game-Changers report highlights programs WWF believes show "core business transformation, innovative business units, and new scalable models." In other words, not just fluffy nice-to-have products, but deep-down process changes, and fundamentally new ideas.

DEMATERIALIZATION

Strategies based around renting, sharing, and leasing can reduce business’s dependency on continuously having to find raw resources. Philips, the Dutch conglomerate, has Pay Per Lux , where it sells lighting as a service, rather than simply supplying products. Philips installs lighting, recycles end-of-use equipment, and the client gets a bill. This reduces the "ecological footprint due to closed material loops and energy efficient lighting solutions," the report says. It also "gives Philips further incentive to innovate to create more efficient lighting solutions, and enables customers to upgrade to efficient lighting systems without upfront capital cost."

OPEN LOOP

Open loop refers to companies that are repurposing what was once considered waste. For example, Belgium-based Umicore used to be a traditional commodity mining company. Now, it reclaims more than "20 different metals both from production scrap and end of life materials." So-called "urban mining" has two advantages: economic and environmental. Umicore can recover two pounds of gold from 3 to 4 tons of scrap. Digging for it would involve drilling through 220 tons of rock. "By mapping its business plan to four megatrends in sustainability, the firm has a long-term vision for sustainable growth," WWF says. (More about Umicore here).

LOW CARBON

The report explores new ways of funding low-carbon energy investments, and emphasizes the need for collaboration. For example, Novo Nordisk, a Danish pharmaceutical company, has a partnership with Dong Energy that has reduced Novo’s energy bill by 21%, while funding Dong’s renewables portfolio. Dong agrees to increase Novo’s energy efficiency, in exchange for Novo investing the savings in contracts for wind power. Novo’s plants now run on clean power, and it claims to save $7.3 million a year.

RESTORATIVE

The report praises PepsiCo for achieving "positive water balance" in its Indian operations. The company offsets the 5.8 billion liters of water it uses in its manufacturing facilities by "replenishing, reusing, and conserving water" elsewhere in its supply chain. Its initiatives include "direct seeding of rice," drip irrigation for potato cultivation, community water schemes such as "check dams and recharge ponds," and rainwater harvesting near its factories, the report says. The program reduces "water stress," and helps limit criticism that Pepsi is using more than its fair share of resources.

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