Industrial Sustainability – Reality or Myth?
As environmental awareness grows, industrial trends must follow to support values held by consumers. A 2018 survey discovered that 81% of consumers strongly believe that companies have a responsibility toward the environment. The longstanding association between industrial practices with high energy, water, and pollution intensity has shifted to incorporate innovative and green solutions. Many brands are marketing wastewater reuse, energy efficiency, and lifecycle assessment techniques to reduce their environmental impact. Many solutions are circulating between various industries.
Considering the rising rates of plastic production, which reached an astonishing 359 million tonnes globally last year, biodegradable and compostable solutions have the potential to reform the trillion-dollar packaging industry. The current reliance on plastic as a single-use product presents an opportunity to use materials such as mushrooms and algae to create organic compounds rather than synthetic plastics.
The procurement of metals is a highly degrading industry, touching upon many factors within sustainability. Current mining practices are emission-intensive and the work is often outsourced to countries without child labor laws or rights for workers. To make matters worse, roughly 90% of all water stress and biodiversity loss is at the hands of the mining industry. Ultimately these extracted metals (often including precious metals such as platinum, silver, and aluminum) end up in landfills as parts of our electronic devices, contributing to waste and perpetuating the need for greenhouse gas emitting mining. Apple has had a trade-in and recycling program for years, which provides an in-store credit to customers for the purchase of products and supplies the company with materials they would otherwise need to purchase. Other technologies producing companies have followed suit to produce laptops using recycled materials, such as the new Dragonfly laptop by HP using “ocean bound” plastic found on the banks of rivers and tributaries.
Personal care products currently use plastic for a good share of their packaging. Some companies, such as Loreal are using a life cycle assessment model to analyze their environmental impact from the beginning of production until the product is thrown away, helping to reduce waste using a project called SPOT.
We are all well aware of the harmful emissions associated with traditional vehicle use, which has led to an exponential increase in electric vehicles. By 2050 it is projected that enough electric vehicles will be in circulation to contribute to an energy sharing grid primarily supported by solar and wind energy. Although the large scale technology to support this advancement is still under development, energy sharing sourced from green technology is an increasingly relevant topic and has the potential to transform the global energy dynamic.
The sporting goods industry has joined the sustainability movement largely in the form of social corporate responsibility (CSR). While Nike has started a new line as sustainable textiles, companies such as Patagonia have become part of the environmental grassroots movement. In addition to their annual donations to environmental organizations, last year Pantagonia invested $20 million in green startups.
The availability of environmentally friendly toys contributes to the sustainable practices of the next generation, however, sustainable toy production is trickier than it seems. Plastic production is the largest issue in the industry, but recycling plastic as a means of reducing environmental footprint has more or less been removed as an option. Each time plastic is recycled it loses some of its durability, and a new chemical compound is produced. In recent years it was found that the composition of recycled plastic is not chemically safe for children’s use. Following this information, the simple solution of using organic materials for toy production such as wood, rubber, and food based silicone has become the best sustainable practice for this industry.
The fashion industry expresses many areas for potential improvement, one of the most critical being microfibers and waste. Sustainable fashion consumers are transitioning to a mindset of quality over quantity, and brands such as Eileen Fisher, H&M Conscious, and Reformation offer clothing sourced high quality reused materials. Clothing products composed of organic materials eliminates the phenomenon of microplastic waste production while washing and the high quality material allows for reuse and recycling.
The energy efficiency of the appliances we purchase affects not only the environment, but also our expenditures. The Energy Star partnership certifies deserving products as energy efficient, allowing customers to purchase brands with less energy waste. This partnership has been around for decades, and is being used as a technique by individuals and producers to reduce environmental impact while saving money.
Food and beverage
Pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers have been remarkably advantageous in producing food crops in the past, but can accumulate in water and soil sources, significantly damaging the environment. An array of techniques have been developed to maintain crop yields while reducing these chemicals such as drone technology to monitor crops and hydroponic farming with higher resiliencies. This allows food and beverage services to source their products from environmentally friendly farms.
Restaurants/ Food Services
Preparing food in bulk can often lead to large sums of food waste, but applications such as the Karma application, have found a solution benefiting restaurants and their guests. The app allows restaurants to post surplus meals on their service for discounted prices before it perishes, leading to happy customers and less food waste This specific app is based in Sweden and London, but many similar ones are emerging around the globe.
Considering the growing need for environmental technologies and the prospects of their future use, green investment is a win-win situation. Technologies such as carbon sequestration, Smart electricity grids, and biofuel technologies have a huge market potential and are looking for R&D funding. With all of the new options available, however, and the persistent breakthroughs in a multitude of fields it can be difficult for potential investors to keep up. As interest in sustainable investments continue to climb many banks have taken on this responsibility for managing environmental investment benefiting both the banks and clients.
Sustainability is often associated with the environment, but it also incorporates a social aspect which seeks to obtain equal opportunity and equal access for all. In health care, this is the major concern that should be considered as equally important to the environment. The concept of eHealth has been around for decades, and it is now getting the attention it deserves. eHealth uses online consultations between doctors and patients, increasing accessibility for those with busy schedules or long travels to medical care facilities, while reducing the impacts travel has on the environment. This practice saves doctors and patients time and money, and given the current social distancing efforts due COVID-19, it seems that this sustainable solution may be here to stay.
In any industry, there are market gaps that allow for creativity and innovative solutions. The desire for sustainable products has led to a plethora of innovations, which as can be seen, often benefit the producer, consumer, and the environment. The relevance of sustainable practices in industrial production is growing, and with this growth comes opportunities to share ideas and promote the norm of environmentalism as a company’s social corporate responsibility.