What is Sustainability?

A few months ago, in April 2010, Green Books N Binders exhibited at the On Demand Trade Show in Philadelphia. One of the first questions we were asked is “What does sustainability mean?” Surprised by such a seemingly basic question, we then spoke to the client a little longer and came to the realization – many companies use this term but how many can truly define it?

In looking up a specific definition, I found that there are many (which could be part of the confusion), one of which is the “capacity for being continued1”. With the environment being such a huge issue for corporations, sustainability is often used to describe many actions, whether or not it truly fits.

So the question inevitably arises: what does sustainability really mean? Companies across the country have varying views on the answer (as is evidenced by the numerous definitions found), and with that comes ever-changing points of view.

For us, sustainability involves:

Taking into account the impact of our products and operations on people, planet and profit (the triple bottom line), and ensuring that we use renewable resources and minimize (or offset) the environmental impact of our daily operations.

We strive to build products that will have little to no negative impact on the environment in order to maximize the triple bottom line and keep natural resources viable and thriving for future generations.

At GBB, sustainability is a way of business. So tell us, what does sustainability mean to you??

Leave a comment and let us know.

1 www.nrcan-rncan.gc.ca/mms-smm/abor-auto/htm/kit-toc/kit-glo-eng.htm

Quantifying Environmental Impact

In today’s economy, very few manufacturers factor the environmental cost of a product or service into the retail price. If you were to factor in the environmental impact of a product’s entire lifecycle (from early design to withdraw from marketing), without forgetting cost associated with carbon neutral recycling, computers would not be $499, flat screen TVs would not be $799 and SUVs would not be $35,000. Products manufactured in the Far East would probably be far less competitive and the overall product design would be significantly different, using different raw materials for different attributes than landed cost. 

The question is what unit of measure should be used to quantify the cost of a good including the environmental impact or the benefit from one product versus another? Monetary cost (in dollars) is one way. You can account for all of the cost involved. Another way to assess total cost is through energy costs (in kilowatts); energy to harvest, produce, manufacture, distribute, use and dispose. 

Both schools of thought are relatively new. As of yet, there are no set standards for valuating and converting environmental impact to a unit of measure. The process is also quite complex, often the work of universities or environmental specialists. Some factors like cubic footage and transportation cost of various products are easy to quantify, but energy value of a pallet in a warehouse, boxes in a high rise building or quantifying the environmental impact of a disposed product in a landfill are more challenging.

Whatever becomes the reference and the exact quantification, it is obvious that using less material, less energy to produce and less fossil fuel to ship a product is key to reducing its lifecycle carbon footprint.