Smarter Paths Toward Sustainability

Smarter Paths Toward Sustainability

Despite the incontrovertible importance of sustainability, many organizations today still struggle to justify a meaningful investment in green initiatives, because they perceive the efforts will generate added costs, not concrete business benefits.

This misperception presents a major problem for global progress because it's impossible to launch and maintain a substantive green improvement program in a profit-oriented organizational structure unless it delivers a definable ROI.

This quandary leads some companies to engage in green initiatives that lack real substance. Since these efforts run the risk of being labeled greenwashing by watchdog environmental groups, the investment can do more harm than good, considering the potential for a public relations backlash and damage to the brand.

There is a pragmatic solution to this problem, however. Case studies from virtually every industry show that it's possible for businesses today to develop green initiatives that will make a quantifiable contribution to both the environment and the bottom line. What's more, these efforts often deliver other qualitative benefits, including improvements in employee morale, customer loyalty and brand image, to name a few.

All of these valuable business results are definitely within reach when you take a disciplined, pragmatic and committed approach to the development and implementation of a smart green strategy. In addition, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that companies with a proven commitment to the environment tend to outperform other companies in terms of their stock value.

Smarter Ways to Green: Seven Keys to Sustainability Success in Your Business

But how do you develop a green initiative that will pay off for your business? Based on our long history of green innovations at Xerox, here are some of the keys to our success:
  1. Explore the entire value chain of your business

    Don't narrow your focus to one functional area. Open your mind to improvements and innovations that could reduce environmental impacts throughout your value chain, from beginning to end.

    When you take time to consider all of the working components of your value chain, you will dramatically expand the playing field for smart green initiatives.
  2. Use disciplined, quantitative analysis to identify your best opportunities.

    Analytical tools and methodologies developed for proven quality management programs like Lean Six Sigma can help you identify problems and opportunities that will produce the biggest benefits in the shortest time frame.

    Pareto charts, for example, help focus attention on the small number of sources that cause the biggest problems. The chart is a tool based on the famous Pareto Principle -- best known as the "80-20 rule," which was named for Vilfredo Pareto, the Italian economist who noted that 80 percent of the income in Italy went to 20 percent of the population.

    A number of organizations have also developed environmental calculators to help businesses and consumers assess their environmental impact on a number of key factors, including paper use. These calculators provide information that can facilitate the development of smart green projects.
  3. Make sure the proposed improvement or innovation will deliver both economic and environmental benefits

    In today's highly competitive business environment, quantifiable benefits are an essential requirement for any "smart way to green." So it's important to assess the win-win potential of any project before you begin active development.

    In a world where the effective utilization of resources is of paramount importance, there's simply no substitute for a disciplined analysis of costs and benefits prior to project development and launch.
  4. Look for easy wins that will deliver a fast payback

    You may find ways to make a bigger impact down the road. But in the beginning, you need to win broad-based support for your efforts from senior leaders and other stakeholders.

    Projects that produce a quick, concrete ROI will prove the value of sustainability inside your company and set the stage for more ambitious undertakings in the future.

    Here are a few suggestions for quick easy wins that every company can take advantage of today:

    • Cut paper use in half through duplex (double-sided) printing and copying.
    • Replace hard-to-manage desktop printers, copiers and scanners with one efficient multifunction system that can reduce energy use by 50 percent.
    • Use the scan to e-mail capabilities of modern multifunction systems to reduce the need to print and mail hard-copy documents.
    • Switch to solid ink color printers (if it is the right application to suit your printing needs) to reduce waste up to 90 percent and eliminate the need to recycle toner cartridges.
    • Use recycled paper or sustainable stocks. Look for papers with certification from the Forest Stewardship Council. These papers are made from trees harvested in a way that protects endangered forests.
    • Use Lean Six Sigma tools and methodologies to analyze your enterprise-wide document infrastructure and identify ways to optimize it in terms of environmental sustainability, operating costs and efficiency.
    • Outsource document management to experts who will help you improve quality, lower costs and reduce energy and paper use by taking advantage of industry best practices and the latest technology.
  5. Think "partnerships"

    To maximize your opportunity for success, you need to team up with suppliers, customers, outsourcing providers and other partners.

    At Xerox, for example, we work with all of the partners in our value chain to reduce waste, energy use, greenhouse gases and our overall environmental impact. It's all part of our effort to achieve one of our long-standing company goals: We want to operate waste-free manufacturing facilities that produce waste-free products that help our customers create waste-free work environments.

    Partnerships with leading environmental organizations can also be beneficial in advancing the cause of sustainability. After all, these organizations often have information and best practices that will help you reduce your environmental impact. They can also encourage your suppliers to adopt green policies and processes.
  6. Be innovative

    The necessity to reinvent our global lifestyle is driving innovation throughout the world.

    Renewable energy, green chemistry, design and construction and green manufacturing are all examples of what may some day be viewed as one of the most creative engineering periods in history.

    In some cases, these innovations represent dramatic breakthroughs. The rapid commercialization of wind farms, geothermal energy sources and solar fields is an obvious example.

    In other cases, green goals are inspiring evolutionary improvements in the way we approach virtually every business process, from the design of efficient factories and packaging and the development of new products to the optimization of document processes and the creative use of by-products and waste.

    No question about it. Innovation is a vital cog in the big green machine. So when you begin working on green initiatives, think outside the box. Take a fresh look at the way you operate throughout your value chain. And look for opportunities to innovate. It could lead to breakthrough results—for the environment and your business.
  7. Win people over with your passion, energy and inspiring determination

    There's one more key to success that needs to be included on this list: the importance of bringing spirit, enthusiasm and determination to the task of leading any green initiative.

    It's easy to do that when you consider what's at stake. Smart green initiatives can help you reduce costs, improve your efficiency, drive innovation, build employee morale, and enhance your brand image, all of which add tremendous value to the bottom line.

    They also make a valuable contribution to the future of the world. After all, scientific projections show that efforts to stabilize carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will significantly slow the pace of global warming and help prevent environmental catastrophes.
In a very real sense, it's a privilege to be involved in work of such far-reaching importance. If you let that sense of mission inspire you, you will bring a deep sense of commitment and determination to your efforts, which will inspire those around you. That, in turn, will help you become even more effective as a champion of smart green sustainability in your organization.

Patricia Calkins is vice president of environment, health and safety for Xerox Corp. This column was excerpted from Calkins' white paper, "Smarter Ways to Green: How to Make Sustainability Succeed in Your Business."