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Posts tagged 'Sustainable Innovation'

Our yarn supplier Aquafil implements a symbiotic relationship with an Aquapark next door

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Our main supplier Aquafil has started a symbiotic project where their excess thermal energy in their Econyl plant in Slovenia is then used by an Aquapark nearby.

Regardless of how different the two businesses are, their location has permitted them to start an incredible project where the excess of thermal energy is transferred to Atlantis Aquapark to provide it’s 100% requirements of thermal energy.

This actually translates into an expected reduction of CO2 emissions on more than 2.000.000. This is the equivalent of 1100 cars driving 35km!

This is what happens when companies think differently and not selfishly. The great irony is that Aquafil uses excess warm water for their thermal needs from the electricity station nearby. Pass it on!

Read the full article here.

Atlantis & Aquafil

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Find Partners With Your Level Of ‘Values Driven’ Commitment

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To achieve Mission Zero, we strive to only work with partners who have that same level of commitment to building a restorative loop.

Our trusted yarn supplier and partner, Aquafil, has pioneered ways to supply Interface with recycled nylon fibers since 2011 re-purposing waste nylon from many sources, including yarn reclaimed through our own ReEntry® program and end of life fishing nets recovered from the fishing industry supply chain.

With at least 660 million people around the globe relying on the ocean for their livelihoods, and many living on the poverty line, Miriam Turner, Interface‘s Assistant VP, Co-Innovation, saw an opportunity. Inspired by Aquafil‘s recycling strides, she asked “Could we take this down to the community level and benefit some of the poorest people in the world?

What if we could build a truly inclusive business model buying discarded nets from local fishermen giving them extra income and cleaning up the beaches and oceans at the same time?”

Scoping a project of this magnitude requires a lot of hands, hearts and minds so in 2011 the Co-innovation Team began assembling an army of collaborators, including the Zoological Society of LondonTM and marine biologist, Dr. Nick Hill. After intensive research and planning, they decided to focus the Net-Works pilot program within the 7,000 Philippine islands, on the Danajon Bank in one of only six double reefs in the world.

And thus, Net-Works was born. The effects of clearing the beaches of nets isn’t just aesthetic. “In an eco-system as delicate as the Danajon Bank,” Hill states, “discarded nets are incredibly destructive. The nets take centuries to degrade, and with a nylon density greater than that of water, the nets lie on the ocean floor where they do untold damage to marine life.”

Along with helping the villagers clean, sort and sell back the waste nets, Interface and the Net-Works partners have established community banking systems for the residents supporting and strengthening the local, developing economy, and providing new financial opportunities for residents. Community banking empowers village members to establish forms of micro-insurance, savings and loans for the benefit of both individuals and the community.

It means building new models of materials sourcing to ensure the health and safety of our environment. It means beautifully designed products, crafted with care and purpose.

And it means another step closer to achieving Mission Zero


660 Million People

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The Single Market For Green Products – Facts and figures

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The European Commission has released the following facts and figures from the Single Market for Green Products initiative:

* The global market for low carbon environmental goods and services is estimated at €4.2 trillion. EU companies’ market share is 21% (UK Department for Business, Innovations and Skills, 2012).

* Xerox reported savings of $400 million and Zara €500 million in 2009 by designing their products to minimise their life-cycle environmental impact.

* There are currently more than 400 environmental labels worldwide (
For analysis at company level, 80 leading methodologies and initiatives were identified according to which GHG reporting could be carried out (EC study, 2010).

* For product carbon footprinting, 62 leading initiatives and methods were identified (EC study, 2010).

* PUMA has stated that 94% of the environmental impacts of its products occur along the supply chain.

* 90% of consumers buy green products at least sometimes (Eurobarometer).

* 39% of consumers say business claims about the environment are not accurate (GFK, 2011).

* Only 6% of EU citizens trust producers’ claims about their products’ environmental performance completely (Eurobarometer, 2009).

* 94 companies examined used 585 different indicators in environmental reports. Of the indicators disclosed, 22% were used by more than 3 corporations; 55% were used only once (Journal of Cleaner production, 2012).

* Investors are interested: the investors’ base behind the Carbon Disclosure Project grew from 35 investors with assets of 4.5 trillion USD in 2003 to 655 investors with assets of 78 trillion USD in 2012.

* More than 1/3 of 250 business executives said that they could not keep up with consumer demand for sustainable products and services and 62% declared that sustainable investments were motivated by consumer expectations for green products (Accenture, 2012).

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How to revolutionise other industry sectors through a magic metric

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A practical guide for policy-makers. So how do we get beyond the car sector?

Below is a brief guide to creating transformational change within a sector or product category based on the concept of FPT.

1. Do an LCA in order to understand the main environmental impact of that sector or product category (e.g. food, buildings, chemicals, electricity, etc.).

2. Develop a common metric based on the full lifecycle impact or at least on the main impact area.

3. Establish a long-term goal stating what performance is required by when. This can be a fixed value or variable in order to increase competition.

4. Establish minimum performance required and ban underperform- ing products (you might get some World Trade Organization issues but there are always ways around it).

5. Create a system where industries pay penalties for underachieving and/or tax credits for overachieving. That encourages industries to compete and innovate. 6. Mandate visibility of the common metric on all promotional materials.

7. Enable and encourage national taxes, whereby the products with more environmental impact pay more and products with less impact pay less (variable product tax).

8. Enable local regulation that gives ‘incentives’ to products with less impact (e.g. what free parking and free congestion charge is doing for the cars).

9. Support and enable data intermediaries to be creative and do their job to help consumers make sense of the data.

10. Release the power of public procurement and buy only products that achieve certain performance levels.

11. Encourage equally the power of corporate procurement.

12. Award with the EU Ecolabel those products that demonstrate more than 50% impact reductions over the average product.

13. Sit and relax – the market usually delivers (but you need to tell the market what you want).


Let’s look at the building sector and try to apply this thinking (in a very simplistic way):

a) Magic metrics could be kWh/m2 and kg of embodied CO2/m2 (I will focus on the first one).

b) Set up a minimum European standard of, let’s say, 100 kWh/m2 for new buildings in 2020.

c) Give the EU Ecolabel to new buildings under, let’s say, 50 kWh/m2.

d) Give tax discounts to new buildings under, let’s say, 50 kWh/m2.

e) Facilitate licences/permits to the super-performing buildings (e.g. fast track or no permit required).

f) Existing houses pay variable rate of stamp duty and local council tax according to their energy rating (would encourage retrofit more radically than green deal type of approaches).

g) Government would commit to the strongest standard for new buildings and would retrofit existing government buildings to a minimum standard.

h) Mandatory energy ratings displayed in every public and private building including offices, retail, etc.

This is a back of the envelope approach that does not take into account the fine details such as the differences in building types such as domestic, office or retail, but it gives an idea of what the magic metric approach can deliver.

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An Interview with Michele Galatola – ‘EU Environmental Footprinting’

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Michele Galatola from DG Environment at the European Commission provides an overview on the rationale of the EU environmental footprinting methodology.

In this short video he describes the addressed audience and possible fields of application of the methodology.

Furthermore Michele Galatola shares insights on the role of environmental footprinting in future EU policy.

From the PCF World Forum, Sep 2012 (Published Nov 2012) –

Renewable Resources in the Value Chain. A Viable Option for Reducing Environmental Footprints?”

About the PCF World Forum

Consumption of goods and services indirectly contributes to a large share of worldwide GHG emissions. Efforts are underway to better understand, manage and reduce these emissions. Standards and tools for carbon footprinting as well as more comprehensive environmental and sustainability metrics are developed, refined and practically tested.

The Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) World Forum is a neutral platform to share practical experiences and knowledge towards climate-conscious consumption and production. The international platform provides orientation in current standardisation processes and creates opportunities for discussing international corporate best practices and emerging tools to support low carbon and climate-conscious consumption models.

The PCF World Forum was created out of the ambition to talk with each other and not just about each other given the ever increasing number of initiatives around the world and often little real understanding of respective approaches and activities.

PCF World Forum is an initiative by Berlin based think-do-tank THEMA1.

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4. LCA as a way to avoid burden shifting

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Full Product Transparency bookExcerpt 4 from the book ‘Full Product Transparency

‘LCA as a way to avoid burden shifting’

The LCA approach studies whole product systems and thus enables businesses to avoid mitigating one environmental impact at the expense of aggravating another. LCAs are used because they can help avoid a narrow view of environmental concerns by compiling an inventory of relevant energy and material inputs and emissions. They evaluate the potential impacts associated with identified inputs and releases. This information can in turn help an organisation make more informed decisions.

The goal of an LCA is to compare the full range of environmental effects assignable to a product or service with the aim of improving processes, supporting policy and providing a sound basis for informed decisions.

The product or service output: The functional unit

One of the key features of LCA is that it measures the impacts of a product or service instead of the direct impacts of the company that produces it.Therefore it is especially important to define the boundaries and scope related to any metric by which a product is measured. In LCA terminology this is called the ‘functional unit’, which defines precisely what is being studied and quantifies ‘the service delivered by the product system’, providing a reference to which the inputs and outputs of environmental impacts can be related.

Let’s start looking at it in a very simplistic way. Think of a glass. A glass is a countable thing: one glass, two glasses, three glasses. Glasses can be counted in units. The liquid contained by a glass, on the other hand, is not counted by units but in litres. So, in a simplistic way, the functional unit needed to carry out an LCA for a glass is units, but for the liquid in the glass it is litres.

But it gets more complicated. That way you could not compare two glasses with different capacities. You would need to compare the number of glasses needed to contain a given amount of liquid, because people want the glass to drink with. You would also need to think about cleaning them. If one was crystal and needed to be hand washed, and the other could be washed in a dishwasher, then you would need to take this into account over a given number of uses. Also, if one was very fragile, typically only lasting 100 uses, whereas the other was robust, then this would also need to be included within the functional unit. For drinks, then the question is whether it is just about the volume, because you are just using them to quench your thirst, or it might be about calories. Milk needs to be refrigerated, squash doesn’t.

Declared unit instead of functional unit

For most construction materials, the function cannot be finalised until we know how they will be used in the building. A carpet can provide sound proofing and thermal insulation, but this may not be required or used in the building, or may need to be compensated for if it is problematic. Cement’s function can only be considered based on the concrete it is used in and how it is used. For building products, we therefore consider ‘declared units’ of 1 kg, 1 m3, 1 item.

I argue that for FPT we should work on the basis of declared units rather than functional units, because a manufacturer of products should declare the impacts of their products irrespectively of how their clients will use their products. The declared unit for many raw materials, such as steel or cement, is kg. The functional unit for office space can be measured in m2. For power generation it could be kWh. The functional unit for carpet is m2 per product installed. That’s the functional unit over which product manufacturers should strive to make impact reductions. How the products are used is a matter for customers.

This idea of focusing on declared units is likely to cause some outrage to the LCA academics but declared units can work as building blocks while traditional functional units are better for comparative studies. For example, if you have the EPD of steel and cement per kg, carpet per m2 and so on for building materials, you can calculate the impacts of a building.

Defining functional units can get very tricky, especially in connection with services. What is the functional unit of a mobile phone service, for instance? Should it be a minute of a call? But the network is also used for the internet, so should it be MB of traffic? For tangible things such as ice-cream, t-shirts, or pens, the functional unit is quite clear: it’s what the customer gets. Unilever bases its LCAs on consumer use: one use of toothpaste, one use of rinse aid for the dishwasher, or one use of soap for a shower.

Example of functional units for LCA studies:

Lighting 10 square metres with 3000 lux for 50,000 hours with daylight spectrum at 5600 K.

Seating support for one person working at a computer for one year.

 1 m2 of insulation with sufficient thickness to provide a thermal resistance value of 3 m2K/W, equivalent to approximately 100 mm of insulation with a conductivity (k value) of 0.033 W/mK.

The amount of paint necessary to cover 20 m2 with an opacity of 98%. • A single pair of dry hands (to compare hand dryers, paper and textile towels).

1 km of gravity sewerage system under a road in a non-aggressive soil and groundwater environment, used for the removal of mixed household water, consisting of pipes DN 300 or DN 450 and manholes DN 1200 or DN 1350, with a service life of 50 years.

Example of simpler declared units:

1 kg (cement, steel)

1 m2 (carpet, office space, building)

1 litre (drinks)

1 use (toothpaste, soap)

Ancillary materials or processes

The point of ancillary materials or processes is particularly important. All the extra stuff needed to make a product or service actually work has to be taken into account. It’s quite obvious that you need to take into account the fuel needed to use a car. When looking at drinks, you need to factor in whether they need to be refrigerated or heated. When looking at soap, you need to factor in the water and heating needed to use that soap.

Note that it’s not the m2 of product sold, because you need to take into account the installation waste (cutting the carpet to fit the shape of the room). You also need to factor in the impact of ancillary materials used to install it, such as underlay or adhesive.

Problems with manipulating the scope and assumptions of LCA

Lifecycle assessment alone is not sufficient proof of a positive product footprint, for the simple reason that the scope of the study can be manipulated. There have been many examples of a ‘well chosen’ scope that can make good features look better than they really are while making bad points virtually disappear. You may, for example, have a mobile phone made with highly toxic materials but with a good battery life that exceeds the industry average. Solution for the unscrupulous business: choose energy or carbon as your main indicator, which will hide the toxicity and emphasise the good battery life.

Some years ago we saw manufacturers of paper tissues and manu- facturers of hand dryers simultaneously claiming that LCAs have shown their products had a lower impact than each other. This was because the hand dryer manufacturers assumed that customers used four paper towels per visit or a very short hot air blast, while the paper towel makers assumed one towel and a significantly longer hot air session. So it’s all about fair assumptions and scope. And better if there are strong rules than just relying on the interpretation of LCA practitioners or companies.

What are product category rules and how do they fix the assumptions?

Product category rules (PCR) are a set of regulations for products in a sector or category that are established by an independent technical committee that includes experts from that sector. Each PCR has within it a set of functional units and metrics common to that industry. The rules act as guidance to help a company understand what LCA data to collect. Product category rules explain how calculations should be made and presented – so as to best capture the different elements of a product’s total environmental footprint.

The PCR process is carried out in an open, transparent manner, and there is ample opportunity for various stakeholders to comment on how it is drawn up. This is crucial to making sure the PCR documents are of the highest quality possible. When all relevant comments are incorporated into the PCR it is approved and can then be used in the marketplace.

Although in theory each product is unique, it is not feasible to have a PCR for each one – that would lead to an avalanche of PCR documents. Instead, groups of product category rules have been created for similar products that consist of the same raw materials, types of chemicals, and compositions and components or for a group of different products that provide a similar function. This allows for the same set of rules to be applied to a large number of similar products – mobile phones, steaks, fridges, milk, cars, and so on.

Each PCR incorporates its own set of common functional units and metrics that are relevant to the industry in question, with agreed metrics relevant to the creation of the products or services in question.

Next time ‘What is an EPD’

… please revisit regularly for more excerpts from the book ‘Full Product Transparency‘ – or rent/buy by clicking here

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TacTiles – Glue free carpet tile installation

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Why would you install a ‘sustainable’ carpet tile sticking it to the floor with glue? Get rid of VOCs and ease the recycling process.

Tac Tiles - Innovative, Sustainable, Flexible

TacTiles™ present a whole new way of installing Interface carpet tiles without the need for glue. If you’ve ever wished for a more innovative, sustainable, flexible and cleaner way of fitting flooring, TacTiles™ is what you’ve been waiting for.

A little more about TacTiles™

Clear 75mm x 75mm polyester adhesive squares with coloured print
Made from PET Polyester (the same material as plastic bottles)
Developed for carpet tiles with GlasBac® and Graphlex® backings
Available in sheets of 6 or rolls of 500 connectors
Versatile and effective, with only 4-5 TacTiles™ required per m2
The perfect solution for the installation of flooring across all sectors
Suitable for all Interface carpet tiles and installation methods

TacTiles™ can contribute to Green Building certification schemes such as LEED, BREEAM, HQE and DGNB.

TacTiles™ – innovative, sustainable, flexible, clean.

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‘Breakthrough’ – latest report by Volans – A must read!

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Breaththrough by Volans - Sustainability ReportJohn Elkington, Susie Braun and the team at Volans have pulled this report together titled ‘Breakthrough’

‘Breakthrough’, their seventh publication to date draws on five years of work and over 100 interviews with key people in the field for this project to sketch a manifesto and linked agenda to help move towards Breakthrough change. The report focusses on solutions across the economic, environmental, social and governance agendas. Their criteria for this agenda can be found on page 18 and mapping of progress to date can be found on page 51, tracking the evolution of the agenda from early denial to today’s growing interest at the leading edge of business in catalysing market revolutions.

Their sub-website goes into much greater detail, and the report can be downloaded here.

Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the report:

Business leadership is now make-or-break in rebooting capitalism

” A spectre is haunting the global economy — the spectre of economic, social and environmental breakdown.

Some people will instantly recognize that these words echo the Communist Manifesto, published in 1848.7 We are champions of future-ready capitalism, but it is hard when re-reading Marx and Engels to ignore the striking parallels with today’s world, with an old order breaking down—and a new one struggling to be born.

Sustainability Report - We Burned Our Way To Prosperity

The bloody chaos that ensued as various forms of communism helped socialize capitalism, forcing wrenching changes in wealth distribution, suggests that the timing and scale of our responses will determine the future prospects of billions of people. But at a time when we are incurring ever-greater debt—including environmental debt imposed on future generations—it is time for a giant, sustained deleveraging of our economies.

Drawing on the 26 presentations at our first Breakthrough Capitalism Forum8 and some 100 subsequent interviews with leading figures in the field, we have distilled the various calls for action into this brief Manifesto.It is set in the context of the three scenarios spotlighted at the Forum and on pages 16–19: ‘Breakdown,’ ‘Change-as-Usual’ and ‘Breakthrough.’

Volans is pursuing several Breakthrough trajectories. They include the promotion of zero-based targeting in business and public policy, with our agenda laid out in The Zeronauts: Breaking the Sustainability Barrier; 9 our involvement in initiatives pushing the boundary of science and technology, among them Biomimicry 3.8, 10 founded by Janine Benyus, and cleantech venture fund Zouk Capital; 11 and C-Suite-focused platforms like The B Team,12 whose co-presidents are Sir Richard Branson and Jochen Zeitz, former CEO of PUMA (pages 17 and 26).

Among projects in the pipeline: a new book, Tomorrow’s Bottom Line, co-authored by John Elkington and Jochen Zeitz. “

Well done to John and the team.

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2. It’s All About Products, Not companies

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Full Product Transparency bookExcerpt 2 from the book ‘Full Product Transparency

If you read corporate sustainability reports, you’ll find that most companies still focus primarily on the environmental performance of their own operations. Yet for many businesses this focus is mismatched with their true impacts, which lie outside their operations and fall instead within the lifecycle of their products.

When you view a company in terms of the products it makes – as opposed to its offices and employees – you soon discover that the vast majority of environmental impacts occur outside its operational boundaries. In many cases the impacts associated with raw materials extraction and processing, product use and end life far outstrip any ‘in-house’ impacts.

Most of the impacts are outside companies’ boundaries

For Interface’s carpet tiles, for example, around 68% of the impact is associated with the production of raw materials, while only around 10% can be attributed to in-house operations. For companies that make energy-guzzling machines, by far the biggest impact is during the product use phase. This is counterintuitive for many people, because the most visible parts of a company’s operations are either their glitzy office headquarters or their smoke-belching factories.

Sometimes the figures can be quite spectacular. For a consumer goods company such as Unilever, around 95% of a product’s impacts typically come from outside the company’s own operations (see figure below).

Unilver Product Impacts

Tesco, a UK supermarket, says its direct carbon footprint in the UK is 2.6 million tonnes of CO2 per year. Yet the impact of its supply chain, which makes the products that go into its shops, is 26 million tonnes of CO2 – ten times Tesco’s own footprint. And the footprint of its customers using Tesco’s products is even greater: 228 million tonnes of CO2, which is not far off 100 times the supermarket chain’s own footprint.

Apple Environmental Footprint

Only 2% of Apple’s carbon footprint comes directly from its offices and facilities, while around 61% comes from outsourced manufacturing and raw materials, and 30% from the product when it is being used by the consumer.

The impact of ‘stuff’ is usually in the supply chain

When a lifecycle assessment is carried out on a physical product such as a carpet, or a t-shirt, or some ready-mixed concrete, it usually shows that the biggest impacts are in the supply chain, and are therefore already embedded in the product before they get to the company for the final manufacturing process. The biggest environmental impacts up to this point are usually associated with the types of raw materials being used, as well as the types of chemicals used to process these raw materials.

Outsourcing has made things worse

With the advent of outsourcing over the past 20 years, we now have many brands that consist essentially of a marketing department, some finance people, HR and legal units, and a product design team. The actual manufacturing of the product happens halfway across the world in nations such as China, India, Turkey or Brazil, because it’s cheaper to manufacture in such places rather than in Europe or the US. This explains why so many lifecycle analyses of products show an increasing percentage of the impacts taking place outside the operations of a company.

The mismatch in management: 80% of management on direct impacts

So the bottom line is that the seemingly impressive corporate responsibility programmes and targets of many companies are in fact generally confined to minor issues, often down to the paltry level of office paper or electricity. These misinformed programmes take the attention and focus away from major issues such as raw materials use, in life product energy usage, toxic chemicals use and end of life disposal/reuse. These are the main impacts of a company that makes products, not their office lighting. The legendary green advocate Jim Fava, from Five Winds/PE International, made this crude point in a Green Mondays event in June 2011: he pointed out that 80% of sustainability management tools focus upon only 20% of the actual environmental impacts.

The key to sustainability lies in product design

The key to radical change, then, is through product design. If the impact is mainly in the raw materials, then by redesigning its products a company can use fewer raw materials, or use alternatives to them. If a product is a machine that consumes energy such as a car or a vacuum cleaner, then the key is in designing a product that is more energy efficient. And it’s not just physical design that can make a difference: the business model and commercialisation strategy can have a significant influence too.

People buy products, not companies!

One of the things we need to do is to get away from comparing companies so much. After all, people buy products, not companies. It is products and services that have an impact on our lives, so that’s what we should be measuring and trying to make more sustainable. Who cares whether Renault or BMW have more factories with ISO 14001, better corporate greenhouse gas reductions or have more environmental policies? We should be thinking about the impact of the cars they produce.

It’s worth stating again: people buy products, not companies. We need information to decide which product is better. Buyers need that information at point of sale, and in advertisements, so that we can make an informed choice. So why are companies so busy producing corporate reports instead of product information?

Leading companies are embracing LCA as a central design strategy

Unilever is measuring the impact of all its products and brands in all countries on a ‘per consumer use’ basis. So 70% of its products worldwide are now analysed from this detailed perspective, with the focus being on a single serving – a portion, or the typical use of a product such as tea, ice cream, shampoo or washing detergent by the end customer. The metrics it uses are greenhouse gas per consumer use, water, packing and waste per consumer use, as well as sustainably sourced materials. You can argue whether maintaining the impact while doubling sales is ambitious enough (Unilever’s sustainable living plan) but at least they are focusing on the right metrics and right scope: products.

Likewise, Boots, a pharmacy-led retailer, has developed a product sustainability assessment model that analyses 23 critical areas across the lifecycle of the product. These areas focus on the design, creation, transport, use and disposal or recycling of its products. Targets are set to drive innovation and improve the footprint per product and brand.

But still these strategies are far away from FPT

None of these examples are truly the FPT I’m about to advocate in later chapters but we can see some companies are getting closer and closer. For example, Unilever has a target to double sales and maintain its combined product carbon footprint. Yes, it’s just a factor 2 target which is not very ambitious, though they are starting to look at the right scope: full lifecycle products. Also, the Unilever target is combined product, and up to now they haven’t committed to publish Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) by each product (or product categories). The FPT that I’m advocating requires you to disclose the true, full impacts of all your products.

… please revisit regularly for more excerpts from the book ‘Full Product Transparency‘ – or rent/buy by clicking here

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1 – The Case for Refocusing on Product (Rather than Corporate) Sustainability

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Full Product Transparency bookExcerpt from the book ‘Full Product Transparency

1. The corporate responsibility beauty contest hasn’t taken us that far

WE ARE AT LEAST TEN YEARS ALONG the corporate sustainability journey now, so what really significant changes have we achieved?

Perhaps the business world has focused on the wrong tasks? Could it be that, despite all the carbon neutrality claims, hundreds of Global Reporting Initiative A+ reports and sustainability teams of ten or more people, companies have still not radically redesigned their core products and business models? The answer is that there has been far too much focus on companies wanting to look good, and not nearly enough attention paid to actually performing well. The beauty contest It’s in the blood of companies to compete, to strive to be better than their peers.

That has been the reason for the success of corporate sustainability, because businesses like to vie with each other to be the best in this area. But the end result of all the competition has been to encourage companies to give the impression of looking good while barely changing their ‘business as usual’ model. It’s hard to change the direction of a business, especially in the short term, but the corporate sustainability beauty contest has nonetheless been characterised by a disappointingly low level of achievement.

An entire industry has been created around this beauty contest, including thousands of labels, corporate responsibility (CR) report design agencies, boutique assurance providers, hundreds of awards with infinite categories, materiality matrix mavericks, investor questionnaires consultants, professional stakeholders looking to ‘engage’ with companies and all manner of membership organisations offering support networks for a hefty fee. Service-provider directories in the field typically feature more than 500 such organisations offering to help businesses look more virtuous than their peers – what the marketing guys call ‘differentiation’.

The problem with all this activity is that looking more virtuous doesn’t have anything to do with being more sustainable.

We in the sustainability movement need to ask ourselves honestly whether we are pushing for actual change or whether we are merely helping companies to gloss over big issues by making them compete in irrelevant contests? We offer companies the prospect of being able to make ‘100% natural’ products or to be the first company in their sector to become ‘carbon neutral’. In short, we have been tremendously innovative in coming up with fairly meaningless stuff that is easy and quick to implement, or that can deliver nice stories and marketing claims, but frighteningly ineffective at producing anything that will affect actual performance.

And astonishingly, CEOs are quite happy about their performance.

A 2010 Accenture survey of global CEOs put the last nail in the coffin of CR as it stands. It found that 81% thought sustainability issues were fully embedded into the strategy and operations of their company. Yes, FULLY EMBEDDED! It’s not a joke. It’s actually quite sad that the most senior people don’t get it.

Please someone explain to them that having a CR team reporting to public affairs with a nicely designed 150k report with some cherry-picked case studies and a set of qualitative targets plus a few quantitative targets on quick wins is not ‘fully embedded’! Fully embedded means sustainability is fully taken account of in all the products of the company. You are redesigning your products, your business models, your entire value chain. Yet there is no company in the world that has achieved this. The sustainability movement should brutally tell CEOs that making wishy- washy claims such as ‘Sustainability is part of our DNA’ is just wrong.

Seventy-two percent of CEOs in the same survey felt the strongest motivator for taking action on sustainability issues was ‘strengthening brand, trust and reputation’. Well, here we have the reason we are trapped in this rather useless beauty contest.

Prepare yourself for the next sustainability phase: Full product transparency.

Somebody needs to speak out if we are to move towards something more meaningful. We need a proper comparative benchmark, so that companies can compete on what really matters – and so that the sustainability consultancy industry can sell properly useful transformative services to these companies. This book is aimed at providing this benchmark: products instead of companies.

So the next phase in sustainability has to be truly embedded by being focused on the product. We need to understand clearly the total footprint of a product throughout its lifecycle – that must be the starting point.

There has been some focus at product level but wrongly headed: Green labels.

You may well be asking, ‘Why does it have to be this complicated to choose the most sustainable product? Can’t I just look for a product with a green label?’

It’s not surprising people look for shortcuts to help them decide. After all, few of us have the time to study every purchase we make. That’s why there have been so many people, from gurus, to NGOs, to certification sharks, to industry associations inventing so many lucrative labels that offer ‘quick assurance’ about product sustainability credentials.

But when you look carefully at how some labels are administered, you realise how flawed they are. Most are too easy to obtain, which is obvious because the easier your label is to get, the bigger your market becomes. Most labels are very narrow in scope, measuring the easiest things to measure rather than the big issues. Many lack independent certification or may even be administered by the manufacturers themselves. Many labels duplicate each other, confusing clients and obliging manufacturers to certify the same product several times. Unfortunately, some of the best marketed labels are the least robust.

Today nobody certifies whether a yoghurt or a burger is good for your health. You just get the calories and the nutrition facts and you judge.

This is what this book is arguing for: the environmental impacts of products – Full Product Transparency.

… please revisit for more excerpts from the book ‘Full Product Transparency‘ – or rent/buy by clicking here

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