Greener By Design: A Metrics Driven Approach to Sustainable Business

Greener By Design: A Metrics Driven Approach to Sustainable Business

Sustainability is losing its meaning to me these days, as I hear it everywhere. At today’s Greener By Design Conference, leaders from Wal-Mart, Sustainable Minds and Clear Standards discuss how they are translating the concept of “sustainability” into success metrics and tools that drive sustainable packaging, design and environmental impact reporting.

Rand Waddoups, senior director of business strategy and sustainability at Wal-Mart described Wal-Mart’s four part journey to sustainability, beginning with consensus building around need for sustainability, moving into an evangelist phase, and then to a clear recognition of the business case of sustainability. The fourth step, where they are headed today, is the ability to measure and track progress with sustainability metrics. They’ve found that suppliers that provide poor products are often also mistreating their employees, and cheating when it comes to factory compliance. So holding suppliers to a higher standard is good for business.  

Waddoups explained how Wal-Mart’s packaging scorecard is driving sustainable change at Wal-Mart. The scorecard can be applied to every single product in Wal-Mart stores, and is actually sparking innovation in many suppliers. For example, Yoplait decided to revisit its package and totally redesigned its yogurt cups after they learned they were lagging their competitors on the scorecard.  

And how do we communicate these messages and concepts to the every day consumer? As Waddoups explained, “Our average customer does not understand greenwashing...She is struggling to afford her principles.” Wal-Mart strives to give the consumer access to the information they need to make informed purchases, but, “We will not make progress on consumer products without much clearer data,” Waddoups stated.  

To that end, Wal-Mart is working on a universal sustainability index for its products, which moderator Marc Gunther, senior writer for Greener World Media, brought up. Waddoups was hesitant to provide further details.

James Sulivan, vice president of advisory services at Clear Standards, which was just acquired by SAP, explained that measuring carbon and other environmental impact drivers as Clear Standards allows, will be a competitive advantage for firms. Clear Standards allows companies to collect environmental impact data, use it to make operational decisions, and track goals. Sullivan explained that the carbon market alone holds the potential to become a $3 Trillion market by 2020, driven by:

1)    Operational efficiency
2)    Disclosure risk and government regulation
3)    Branding and competitive differentiation

To enable sustainable product design, Terry Swack, CEO and co-founder of Sustainable Minds, provides a “Turbo Tax for life cycle analysis.” Sustainable Minds offers a software service that enables product designers to understand the life cycle environmental impact of products while still in the design phase. Typical life cycle analysis is a retrospective process so enabling such an understanding at the inception of a product is hugely valuable. “Our goal is to design with intention,” Swack explained. “The onus is on the product design team to design the entire product design system.”

The sustainable packaging scorecard, the Clear Standards platform for environmental impact tracking, and the Sustainable Minds LCA software are all fantastic tools to drive sustainable product development and business operations – now we need to drive adoption of these and related tools to make these the norm rather than the green exception.