Who's Your Supplier?

Product Lifespan

With the new wave of environmentalism and the desire to lessen the individual and the company's impact on the environment, it can be hard to balance this desire with the actual costs of doing so. Instead of trying to make a big change all at once, try starting strong and making small steps in the right direction instead.

This applies to your personal life as well, but business-wise, most try to take a "cradle-to-grave" approach to how their company fits within the the supply chain. This approach looks at where a product starts at the raw material stage, and what happens all the way through the end user to its eventual discardment. Most of the time this focuses on the energy put into the creation of the product as well as the waste accrued along the way. The "cradle-to-cradle approach however, goes one step further to examine what happens to a product beyond the "grave." In most cases, this means making sure that the product can be fully recycled or possibly repurposed.

Understand Your Source

In addition to examining the product itself, it is important to understand the source of your product's packaging, and not just the product itself. Packaging can often result in as much waste as the discarded product itself, especially for small packages. However, there are many things you can look for in product packages to help reduce your impact on the environment. Here are just a few to help you get started:

  • Avoid products with polystyrene or styrofoam as both are difficult to recycle.
  • Avoid plastics with no number on them (ex. 1-7) as this means that they cannot be recycled through a conventional recycling facility. Most 'thin' plastics such as trash bags, ziploc bags, and chip bags fall into this category.
  • Strive to buy products with simple packaging. Complex packages, although they may be made of many recycleable materials, are difficult to separate into their individual components during the automated recycling process.
  • Avoid single use plastics if possible, especially plastic straws and cutlery. These cannot be recycled due to contamination from food and are especially susceptible to being mistaken for food by wildlife due to their size.
  • Choose packages with easily-recycleable materials such as glass, aluminum, or paper where available. These three, relatively common materials are some of the most easy-to-recycle materials and save energy that would have otherwise gone into the process of creating more virgin material.

Your Paper Footprint

Another key area to address in order to minimize your company's impact on the environment is to minimize your use of paper. If your company's office is like most offices, it's likely that you use a lot of copy paper every day. Finding ways to reduce paper waste can not only streamline your process, it also helps reduce your footprint as well. However, at some point, odds are that you'll still have a need for paper. In this case, you can still make an effort to ensure that the paper that you do buy ends up in the recycling bin, and that it comes from a sustainable source. With so many confusing labels and certification out there however, making sure that your paper is sustainably manufactured can seem like a daunting task. With this in mind, not all certifications are equal either. A good place to start is looking for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification on the paper that you purchase. The FSC ensures that suppliers work with indigenous peoples to protect their customary rights and protect against the cutting of old-growth forests. Ultimately, it's up to you and your company who and what to trust, but making the effort to reduce your impact on the environment is the first step to making a cleaner world.

Image courtesy of Robert Spielmann from Unsplash.com