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Posts Tagged ‘Sustainability’

Life Cycle Thinking blog is moving.

I will continue to provide commentary about TSCA, REACH, product stewardship, sustainability, environmental marketing claims and more as part of the redesigned EHS Strategies, Inc. website.

Georjean Adams

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A very intense and challenging piece you might want to ponder as you think about what “sustainability” means  (hang in there for the last half of the article):

Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist by Paul Kingsnorth

Like all of us, I am a foot soldier of empire. It is the empire of Homo sapiens sapiens and it stretches from Tasmania to Baffin Island. Like all empires, it is built on expropriation and exploitation, and like all empires it dresses these things up in the language of morality and duty. When we turn wilderness over to agriculture, we speak of our duty to feed the poor. When we industrialize the wild places, we speak of our duty to stop the climate from changing. When we spear whales, we speak of our duty to science. When we raze forests, we speak of our duty to develop. We alter the atmospheric makeup of the entire world: half of us pretend it’s not happening, the other half immediately start looking for new machines that will reverse it. This is how empires work, particularly when they have started to decay. Denial, displacement, anger, fear.

The environment is the victim of this empire. But the “environment”—that distancing word, that empty concept—does not exist. It is the air, the waters, the creatures we make homeless or lifeless in flocks and legions, and it is us too. We are it; we are in it and of it, we make it and live it, we are fruit and soil and tree, and the things done to the roots and the leaves come back to us. We make ourselves slaves to make ourselves free, and when the shackles start to rub we confidently predict the emergence of new, more comfortable designs.

Kingsnorth describes the current obsession with eliminating carbon emissions as leading to “… the mass destruction of the world’s remaining wild places in order to feed the human economy” as we rush to grow crops for biofuels and wind farms.  He feels “environmentalists” have lost their way.

As I’ve blogged before – humans are part of the natural ecosystem.  It continues to evolve and change as it always has but the growing population of humans is causing change at a faster and faster rate.  The challenge is to avoid a series of crises and cataclysms and allow for gradual adaptations that preserve the ecosystem to thrive.

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Very useful guide on how to go about engaging your employees into sustainability and watch the culture change: Toward Engagement 2.0
While these case studies are from companies who “get” sustainability, there are some good suggestions for how to develop sustainability-think for all employees and yield real value for any company at any stage. Lots of resources, too.

I like their approach of encouraging you to tailor programs to what works best for your organization.  Their steps in bold with my spin on what it means.

Permit: Start with a sustainability vision and demonstrate senior management believes it.

Educate & Engage:  Communicate messages to your employees in ways that are meaningful for your organization and types of employees.

Act: Empower and recognize employees to do sustainable things.

Embed: Infiltrate sustainability into your current culture, rather than take the 2×4 approach.

Evaluate: You only know if you are improving if you measure the right things and adapt as necessary.

Every employee needs to do what they do sustainably.  Do they know what that means for your organization and do you help them to succeed?

Contact EHS Strategies, Inc. for help.

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Interesting presentation by Bresseler company in how they do quick versions of life cycle analysis in an iterative process in doing product design:  http://www.bresslergroup.com/webinar/cut-the-crap/video.php

I don’t know the company, but I like their way of thinking.

This is not unlike the product stewardship processes I’ve long supported.  See my paper on

Product Development with Life Cycle Thinking

While you are designing processes to serve customer needs, keep you eyes wide for more sustainable solutions and keep checking as you go, including after the product is out there and new information and technologies point toward even better solutions.

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The American Chemistry Society has launched it’s new website on sustainability: www.acs.org/sustainability.

Yours truly led development of the site as a portal for those interested in chemistry and sustainability and, in particular, to learn what the American Chemical Society and its members are doing and can do to understand and create chemical solutions sustainably.

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I agree with the article by Mark McElroy “Do LCAs Measure Up To Sustainability?”  He says they do not, because they are too narrowly focused on eco-efficiency only and ignore context.

As I’ve blogged before, sustainability should be about how we do what we do and not a collation of LCA’s.  At best LCA’s help inform decisions as we try to understand the dynamic systems of which products and users are a part.  I use the phrase “life cycle thinking” to describe how we need to recognize the potential intended and unintended consequences of our actions.  Understanding contexts and consequences.

There is no such a thing as a “sustainable product” (see comments into EPA on their proposed efforts here).  We each bear responsibilities as product stewards in how we manage a product throughout its life cycle – whatever our role might be.

McElroy also hits the mark that LCA’s and too many “sustainability” efforts focus only on environmental issues .  Probably because they are  easier to measure than social and economic impacts.

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Article by Jens Martin Skibsted and Rasmus Bech Hansen illustrates why “sustainability” is just not the right goal:

Over-Innovation Makes U.S. Firms Suck At Sustainability  The same forces that drive U.S. companies to become the greatest innovators are the ones that make them the biggest environmental sinners. 

Skibsted and Hansen argue we need to standardize and to focus on adding non-material “value” (Starbucks as example – doesn’t it rely on stuff to create their interior design and never-ending combinations of ingredients in silly-named concoctions?)  Preferably no more new stuff and there’s only a small number of “stuff” you can buy.    They argue American innovation and constant stream of new products is what makes us the least sustainable society.

I agree that our consumption rates are absurd.  Certainly having only a few standard products (Beetles everyone?) will cut back on consumption.  Not clear who gets to decide what gets to be made.  The old Soviet planning committee worked soooooo well.

They are wrong. The only way we will find “greener” solutions is by pushing the envelope of technologies and testing what works – using innovation and the market introduction and subsequent acceptance/rejection/modification of new products.  (Of course, we need to be smart in the design – aka use life cycle thinking.)   Maybe they want to go back to the Stone Age of subsistence living.  (Utopia?)  Or wait for America to invent products for Europe.

Give me a thriving future, not a bleak standardized one.  That’s why I don’t see sustainability as an endpoint. See my last blog.

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