Sustainable Packaging Design Options and Choices

Even without considering the benefits of recycling on the environment (of which there are many), there are more benefits beyond that in sustainable packaging.  Consider the matter of cost.  The expense of packaging can be a major cost driver; indeed, an article from Environmental Leader reports that “sustainability will replace cost as one of the packaging industry’s major challenges” in the next ten years.  Fortunately there are resources available for those who want to explore sustainable packaging in earnest.

In 2012 Deloitte released a paper entitled “Thinking outside the box–Throw away your current approach to packaging” which includes several ideas for those who want to make the shift to sustainability.  This includes a “spectrum of sustainable packaging opportunities”

  • “Passive” materials switch–changing traditional packaging materials with environmentally-friendly ones
  • “Active” materials switch–changing traditional packaging materials with those that require a change in consumer behavior (like reusable packaging)
  • Packaging and product design changes–changing the packaging to require fewer materials or fewer steps
  • Supply chain process redesign–to reduce packaging needs

In the realm of the “passive” materials switch, Dell sustainable packagingan article about Dell’s switch to sustainable packaging catches the eye.  It discusses the use of bamboo, a high-tensile strength grass that is rapidly renewable.  It promotes healthy soil, grows 24 inches a day, and proper harvesting means that it doesn’t require replanting.  Plus, the treatment of bamboo doesn’t involve the dumping of toxic chemicals, and it can be dried in the sun.

The same site giving us information on Dell’s notbox sustainable packagingpackaging also gives us news about an “active” materials switch.  The Notbox Company, which has been serving the European community for several years, will be bringing its reusable packaging products to the United States.  According to Notbox, their reusable packages can make 20 or more trips, which is well more than the single-use-then-discard nature of regular cardboard boxes.

But, of course, it isn’t all about the cost benefit ratio when it comes to sustainable packaging.  It’s estimated that packaging makes up about one-third of municipal waste in the United States.  Considering the looming crisis in some states of running out of landfill space, that number becomes a bit too large to ignore.

For more information on this and other ways to green up your business, please contact us.

Stop Using Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs) in Your Office

A substance is determined to be toxic by it’s ability to cause damage on a cellular level or even effect the whole body.  This damage may be visible, such as a burn or it may be invisible damage, such as organ damage, cancer or memory loss.  Most chemicals enter the body via the lungs, the mouth, the skin and the eyes that occur with cleaning supplies, stain and water resistant products.  In the office environment people should be especially concerned with exposure to PFCs, or Perfluorinated Compounds.  PFCs are chemicals with stain-resistant or water-resistant properties.  They are applied on office furniture, carpet, food packaging and food preparation pans and utensils.  Our contact with these materials is one of the reasons PFCs are now more commonly found in our blood.

3M’s Scotchguard was discontinued in 2002 when studies found PFCs in their carpet, furniture and clothing treatments. However, not all manufacturers have discontinued use. PFCs are still found in teflon coated cooking utensils and on most office furniture.  One source that many people are unaware of, is the use of these in our food packaging such as the grease-resistant lining on pizza boxes and the inside of microwave popcorn bags.

There is still much to learn about how these and other chemicals can affect our long term health.  The EPA has developed a recommended action plan for all companies to take to avoid exposure until studies are completed and assurances can be made.  The Washington Toxics Coalition also provides good tips and recommendations. There are many alternatives with all of these materials that are considered non-toxic, safe for the environment and for your employees.

If you need help finding non-toxic alternatives please contact us, we would be happy to help.

Sustainable Packaging: Post Consumer Plastic Pallets

Businesses use pallets to provide a sturdy surface to stack and ship goods. The vast majority of these pallets, or skids, are wooden and are usually stacked up behind retail stores, warehouses or factories.  The pallet industry uses a significant amount of U.S. hardwood resources. Beyond the obvious issue that they use up so much of a valuable natural resource, wood pallets present other difficulties. Oak is the primary hardwood used for pallets. Oak is heavy and pests sometimes travel with the wood. Wood is flammable, so fires may start or grow larger where they are stored.

For a few years now, there are manufacturers who produce plastic pallets from 100% post-consumer waste plastic. Although these plastic pallets are about double the cost, they also last between 5-10 times as long and can be recycled again after their useful life. Other benefits include resistance to pests and being lighter in weight.

Here are some manufacturers of plastic pallets:

For more information about plastic vs. wood pallets,

Contact us for more information on sustainable packaging and other resources that will save both money and the environment.

The Benefits to Engage in Environmentally Friendly Business Practices

Implementing environmentally friendly practices as a business has a wide array of advantages.

One is being able to show potential customers that you care about the environment. This allows you to appeal to an entirely new niche of customers. A growing percent of people only support businesses that reduce or eliminate their impact on the environment a market segment now labeled as ‘New Consumers’ by brand consulting firm, BBMG. Their research cites 70 million shoppers branded “New Consumers”, make up 30 percent of the U.S. population.

Another benefit is green businesses seem to attract the top talent. Towers Perrin’s 2007 Global Workforce Study shows that a firm’s reputation for social responsibility (including environmental work) is one of the top ten drivers of employee engagement worldwide. Employees want to work with companies who are ‘doing the right thing’ and being proactive with corporate environmental and social programs.

The Benefits of Becoming a Sustainable Business, article, provides the top five reasons why most businesses start sustainability initiatives.

Contact us today for a consultation on implementing environmentally friendly practices in your business. Our consulting firm specializes in helping small to medium sized businesses to develop sustainability plans and educate employees on sustainability.

Recycling Resources- good for business and good for the environment

Recycling isn’t just good for the environment. It is good for business. Taking used materials and re-purposing them not only saves valuable resources, it can save money and create a much cleaner, more eco-friendly world.

You may not have thought of many of the underlying reasons why recycling is good. For one, recovering old materials for new uses helps to keep manufacturing jobs located in the United States, according to the EPA. That can help the nation maintain its competitive edge, even in tough economic times.

Recycling also lowers the need for landfills and incinerators that burn rubbish, which in turn helps to preserve space for other uses and decrease the amount of trash-related pollution released in the air we breathe. Along the same lines, recycling also prevents toxins linked to making new goods out of raw materials from entering the atmosphere because those products don’t have to be made in the first place. Moreover, recycling helps us conserve valuable natural resources, including the forests where wood is found as well as water supplies and raw minerals.

In short, there are many reasons to recycle, but the first step always begins with businesses taking the initiative to set up systems to make it successful in the workplace.

Click here for a comprehensive list of recycling resources especially for hard-to-recycle items not usually taken by waste management facilities.

If you’re interested in setting up recycling for your business don’t hesitate to contact us.

Supporting Bike To Work Programs

If your company is looking for ways to foster employee engagement on sustainability practices — and your employees care about saving money, the environment and their own health — you’d be hard pressed to find a better way than supporting a bike to work program. Often employers — and employees — don’t know where to start. Here’s a few ways you can seed interest and launch a successful bicycle commuting program at your business.

Survey Says! Get the best information you can about your employees’ current commuting habits; take a survey and collect data such as how far away they live, who already commutes by bicycle, and who might like to try it out. For those that are already commuting by bike, ask what facilities and support they want to see you implement.

Get Started Training. Some employees might find the notion of biking to work daunting, not knowing what equipment they need, how to dress, even what routes they could take to stay safe. Plan a workshop session for your staff that features veteran bicycle commuters, either from your own company or the local bike shop. Focus on gear, safety, and route-finding (don’t forget Google Maps’ bicycle directions feature!).  Community Cycles, based in Boulder, offers some great information and training for businesses.

Give Bikes a Home. Bicycle commuters of all stripes want to know there’s a place to safely store their wheels during work. If you can handle the minimal space requirement, there’s nothing better than just bringing the bike into the office — it’ll take up about the same space as a couple of chairs against the wall. Alternately designing secure spaces — a room devoted to bicycle storage, or even individual bike lockers — will go a long way toward reassuring employees you support their green commute.

Support the Appearance. If your employees live nearby, they’ll probably barely break a sweat biking to work. But for the rest of them, the need for a professional appearance at work is a major perceived roadblock to bicycle commuting. Providing showers and lockers is the best way to go, but you can also work with what you have — an empty office can become a dressing area, hooks on the backs of doors or spare closets can hold several days’ worth of clean clothes. Make the initial effort, and wait for the response and add amenities as needed.

For more ideas on bicycle commuting and other workplace sustainability practices, please feel free to contact us.

Sustainability Assessments: World-Wide or Within Your Company…It All Matters

World Leaders, environmental experts, and social and economic dignitaries attended the Rio+20 Conference held in Rio de Janiero this past June, producing a 49 page document entitled The Future We Want , detailing insights from the past, and outlining the future focus of Sustainability practices for our World. The Conference, officially known as The UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), was the third in a series of United Nations collaborative assessments of the future of our planet.

In Rio in 1992, the Conference was called The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED); ten years later, in 2002, in Johannesburg, World Leaders and invested participants attended The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). Sustainable development takes care of the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations, focusing on economic development, social development and environmental protection.

In June, the attendees committed to “working together for a world that is equitable, just, and inclusive, to promote sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development, and environmental protection to thereby benefit all.”

Are we any better off twenty years later? Have there been actual improvements to our World, achieved by the practice of green conservation, sustainable construction, and fair practice? Have we fed the poor and eliminated our need for fossil fuels? According to Rio 20+, “we” are working on it although not as far along as originally hoped.

We can see the activity around us: less plastic in throw-away water bottles, emission controls, re-cycling initiatives and practices, celebrity concerts to aid impoverished nations, and non-profit foundation hands-on training to eradicate hunger through sustainable farming and conservation practices. But the conference concluded that there have been set backs to past initiatives due to unrest, natural disasters, economic, food and energy crises around the globe. The following concerns were determined as primary focus points, in order to go forward:

  • Eradicating Poverty is the greatest global challenge facing the world today, an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.
  • Reaffirmation of the Rio Principles and Johannesburg Past Action Plans, including inter alia, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. Assessing the progress, as we strive toward the goals.
  • Mainstreaming sustainable development, by integrating economic, social, and environmental links.
  • Education toward the changing of unsustainable patterns of consumption and productivity in poorer regions, protecting and managing their natural resources, where their economy is usually based.
  • Re-assessing as new challenges emerge.

Sustainability assessments are not only the responsibility of World Leaders, Foundations, Celebrities, and Large Corporations. Individuals, in their daily life, and small to mid-sized businesses must make an effort to assess what they have done or need to do within their own environment to protect the future of our planet. There will be an eventual “tipping point” when even more will be accomplished, if we all do our part.

You can read the complete Rio+20 document in the link above, and contact us at eco-officiency for further planning ideas about what you or your business can do. We can help you assess the situation where you are, and achieve your sustainability goals.

It begins with a small step in the right direction.

Creating a Healthier Work Environment by Using Non-Toxic Cleaners

According to an article by Safer Statesnearly each day, four million people in the United States… are exposed to toxic chemicals in their workplace on a daily basis. What’s worse is that this number is only counting towards the people in direct contact with the chemicals- like janitors, landscapers, and groundskeepers.  Now imagine what the statistics jump to once you include all the people who indirectly work around those chemicals- like all the employees who work in your office.

Here are some tips for how to switch to eco-friendly products that will still make your office as clean and beautiful, but without the negative effects on the environment or your health:

  • Use eco-friendly cleaning products– these cleaning products recommended by the EPA are generally bio-based which means that they break down easily in the environment and do not omit toxic or other harmful substances into the air.
  • Use an eco-friendly vacuum cleaner– these vacuum cleaners actually help improve indoor air quality by using HEPA filters that can trap nearly 100% of airborne particles.
  • Use eco-friendly fertilizers and de-icers right outside the office to keep the walkways clear in the winter and the lawns lush and green in the summer, all while reducing the amounts of pollutants seeping into the air and ground.
  • Add plants to your office.  Not only do plants add a sense of beauty and hominess to a workplace, they also add to an eco-friendly environment by absorbing air pollutants.

Contact us today and talk to our eco consultants about how to transform your office environment into a healthy work environment.

Training Employees to Think “Green”

If you’re company is like many, you probably have employee training programs for a variety of different business-related subjects. But have you ever considered offering your employees education on how to think “green?” You know what we mean. Do you teach your employees – formally or informally – how to consider the ecological impact of their actions?

According to the article, “College Graduates Need to be Green to Get Best Career Opportunity,” writer and human resources professional Deborah S. Hildebrand notes that a March 2008 National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) survey:

… found that nearly 65 percent of the companies surveyed indicated that environmental knowledge and green training is a plus in job applicants because they are more likely than their non-green counterparts to have resource-saving ideas that can help cut costs. On top of that, 78 percent of the more than 1,300 participants surveyed felt environmental and sustainability knowledge will increase in importance over the next five years.

In order to create a successful sustainability-training program, Hildebrand offers this advice:

  • Incorporate green education into your company culture, starting with hiring and through performance management
  • Link sustainability practices to work and home life
  • Communicate the impact of environmental concerns on company growth and success
  • Utilize an effective training-delivery process based on what works in your organization
  • Incorporate green initiatives into other areas of the organization such as performance incentives

If you are an employer or an employee seeking further understanding related to the important connection between business and the environment, now is the ideal time to find sustainability education and employee training resources. For more information about embracing a green work environment, contact us.

Inspiring Eco Videos for Earth Day 2012

If you are looking for some inspirational videos to celebrate Earth Day 2012, here are a few that are short and provide some moving messages on the environment and business sustainability.

Earth Day Video: This short five minute inspirational video was produced by the Bio Engineering Group and was developed in honor of Earth Day 2011. A great intro or ending to a sustainability presentation.

TED Talk: William McDonough: A 20 minute TED talk by William McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle.

11th Hour: Compilation:  This 13 minute compilation of The 11th Hour movie shows some good highlights from the movie which address the issues of a sustainable future on Earth.