Environmental sustainability is a key consideration for business operations in the 21st Century. The imposition of emission trading schemes or carbon taxes requires that companies review and streamline their business operations to ensure as little environmental impact. Consumers are also calling for greater environmental sustainability (Ipsos MORI Reputation Centre – Sustainability Issues in the Retail Sector).

Projects that companies can undertake to improve environmental impact outcomes include:

  • eliminating waste in production methods
  • implementation of lean production systems
  • development of new technologies to reduce impact
  • voluntary participation in carbon offsetting schemes

Eliminating Waste in Production Methods

When producing any good, waste may also be produced. This can be eliminated in simple measures through reducing the amount of packaging or providing opportunities for recycling of components not used.

Another way to eliminate waste in the production chain is to undertake a review of current production methods and supply chain solutions and benchmark findings against industry best practice.

Implementation of Lean Production Systems

Lean production systems, such as the Toyota Production System, aim to eliminate waste and improve quality. Efficiency is the key to a lean production system and implementation of a lean production system based on work teams can also improve employee engagement. Based on a concept of work flow and an ordered work environment, lean production systems can improve both quality and output of work.

Lean production systems were originally developed in the assembly line process of the Toyota car manufacturing plant in Japan, however the principles and methods have since been adapted to fit other manufacturing industries and service industries.

Development of New Technologies to Reduce Environmental Impact

Supporting the commercial development of new technologies to reduce environmental impact may be a suitable strategy for companies involved in natural resource intensive production activities, such as brewers, electricity providers and mining companies.

Options for supporting the development of new technologies to reduce environmental impact include

  • participating in venture capital partnerships where the company assists an innovator to bring a new technology to commercial development;
  • creating a working group of employees to research and develop environmentally sustainable practices and technologies; and
  • partnering with a community organisation working in the environmental sustainability field in order to support the work of the community organisation.

Participating in a community business partnership may bring an advantage in corporate social responsibility ratings to a company.

Voluntary Participation in Carbon Offsetting Schemes

Although many governments have imposed emissions trading schemes on companies in heavy industries, any company may voluntarily participate in carbon offsetting.

Carbon offsetting provides an opportunity for a company to reduce its environmental impact by purchasing carbon offsets from a provider. The money exchanged is then used by the carbon offset provider to undertake environmentally sustainable activities such as re-forestation, research and development of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency improvement projects.

There are many benefits for business in improving environmental sustainability practices including an improved corporate social responsibility rating and increased trust among consumers. There is also the opportunity to improve market share through advertising campaigns targeted at the green consumer.

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It all started seven years ago when Kate MacEachern and Brent Pederson decided to switch the youngest of their four babies to cloth diapers for environmental reasons. They couldn’t find a diaper service in their small community of Sherwood Park (just north of Edmonton, Canada), so they started their own.

From the beginning, Happy Nappy was a business with a conscience. In addition to using fitted cotton diapers (for parents’ convenience) and washing with water at temperatures too high to attain at home (required by public health agencies), MacEachern and Pederson used detergents free of surfactants and phosphates, only chlorine bleach (the best kind, environmentally), and as little of that as possible. For three years, Happy Nappy was a small but happy local business.

Turning Babies’ Diapers into an Environmental Business Opportunity

Then, four years ago, Sherwood Park introduced a new waste management program, which included fees for residents who exceeded municipally set limits for their waste. “Our business numbers increased by 60 percent as soon as this initiative came out,” says MacEachern.

With global concern growing about climate change, and babies comprising 22 percent of the Canadian population, the couple saw an opportunity to build a business idea that would be kind to the environment, economical for parents and communities, and healthy for babies. That’s when Happy Nappy began growing into a franchise operation with current locations in Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario, and inquiries from the US. It’s also when Pederson started experimenting with materials that would allow cloth diapers to mimic disposables in every way, except the negative ones.

“We’re currently on generation number 15 of our diaper,” says Pederson, whom his partner describes as a “mad scientist.” “We’ve never stopped testing and we won’t until we have what’s best.” But “what’s best” has to address numerous issues.

Diapers with Advantages for Our Babies, Our Environment, and Even Our Wallets

Two problems people have with cloth diapers are the “yuck factor” and bulk, says MacEachern. They don’t want to feel the wetness of urine on their hands or soaking through their clothes, and they don’t want bulky diapers to ruin the look of cute baby outfits.

The Happy Nappy diaper has two layers. The inner one is made of microfleece, which makes it as absorbent as disposables, wicks moisture away from the skin, and is soft against tender bottoms. The outer shell is also highly absorbent but remains dry to the touch. Both materials are compact and lightweight to fit babies as snugly as disposables.

Then there’s the cost concern, Pederson notes. Most parents think disposable diapers are cheaper than diaper services because they only change disposables every six to eight hours, when they get heavy. But it’s no coincidence that diaper rash has only become widespread since disposables were introduced. Actually, health experts recommend changing diapers hourly for newborns and every three to four hours for older babies. If these instructions are followed, diaper services cost about the same amount as disposables. Where disposables begin to cost more is when they become waste.

“Twenty-two percent of our population is children,” says Pederson, “and disposable diapers are the third-biggest source of waste for that population.” It costs communities a lot of taxpayer dollars to collect garbage and haul it to landfills. And, as the recent climate change talks in Copenhagen have highlighted, it costs a lot nationally and internationally to deal with emissions of methane — a greenhouse gas that’s 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide — from landfills that are already bursting at the seams.

The couple are so convinced that cloth diapers have serious money-saving potential that they have launched a petition to all levels of government to provide tax breaks to families that make the switch. With many communities becoming desperate for locals to curb what they put at the curb, tax credits may be an idea whose time has come.

To MacEachern and Pederson, that’s not a “may be” but a “for sure.” In fact, the only “may be” could be how long it takes for parents, governments, environmentalists, and other entrepreneurs to realise that Happy Nappy “may be” the most innovative product-and-service-for-parents business of the decade.

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