Green Practices at Industrial Levels

The concept of green chemistry is still in its infancy, and though very important, it typically begins at a very small scale. However, there have been major industrial companies that have stepped up and proclaimed their commitment to becoming leaders in the green initiative by altering manufacturing methods, reducing waste, using recycled plastics, etc. The intention of this article is to provide a small portion of industrial green practices used by major corporations.

A recent Chemical and Engineering News article titled “Seeing the Green Side of Innovation” focuses on industrial efforts to incorporate greener alternatives to product innovation and development. Among the well-known companies mentioned are Nike, NASA, Johnson & Johnson, and Dupont. This list spans a very wide range of consumer products and is an excellent step forward in terms of green chemistry.  Let’s look at some specific changes two of these companies have made.

Nike has put an incredible amount of effort into going green and their website contains two links indicating such work. Their “Sustainable Innovations” link provides a rather large list of manufacturing techniques specifically designed to lower water use and hazardous waste, recycle plastic bottles and used shoes for use in their products, use environmentally preferred materials, harness wind power for electricity generation, and lower their overall CO2 emissions and carbon footprint. A second link provides Nike’s CR (Corporate Responsibility) report and details the sustainability strategies, targets, performance, and all of the specifics related to climate and energy, chemistry, waste, and water usage in their manufacturing. Overall, Nike has become greener with each passing year and revenues have not dwindled but have actually increased. The two figures below provide some data on climate/energy footprints and waste water by Nike. It should be noted that most of the energy and waste produced is not due to Nike themselves, but rather the consumer and vendors. Nike is currently working with vendors to help improve these numbers.

Figure 1. Overall Climate & Energy Footprint Across Nike’s Value Chain: Estimated 12.5 M tons CO2; 28.9 billion kWh of which 7% (0.87 million tons CO2) and 11% (3.2 billion kWh) are NIKE, Inc. owned and operated operations.[1]

Figure 2. The Overall Waste Footprint Across our Value Chain: 700 Million kg of which 14% (96.7 million is from NIKE, Inc.-owned and –operated operations.[2]

SC Johnson is a major industry-leading corporation that is famous for its motto of being a “family company”. It has consistently been increasing its green manufacturing process over the past decade. In 2001, SC Johnson developed the GreenlistTM process, to “classify ingredients considered for use in our products by their impact on the environment and human health.”

Figure 3. SC Johnson’s Sustainability Compass of Green Choices [3]

Similar to Nike, SC Johnson is an industry-leading green initiator. Their 2013 Public Sustainability Report has a plethora of details on their improvements both in 2013 and since they initiated their GreenlistTM process back in 2001. Such improvements revolve around the four areas of the compass represented in Figure 3. Under the “Winning Products” section of their report they discuss how advances have been made with regards to the ingredients used in their products and packaging. Their process has a rating system with four categories, Best, Better, Good, and O-rated Materials, where the latter “can only be used in special circumstances.”

Figure 4. SC Johnson’s Ingredient Improvements for Products and Packaging [3]

Not only is SC Johnson using better materials in their products, some of the energy being used is generated with renewable resources. Based on their Sustainability Report the company has ten different locations that produce electricity through wind power, cogeneration, biofuel, or solar power. These facilities cut an estimated 113,513 metric tons of GHGs (greenhouse gases), a commendable feat.

Though I have only briefly discussed two major industries and their green initiatives here, there are many more attempting to join the ranks. Back in 2010 a survey was performed with 120 businesses discussing formal green programs. Some staggering results were obtained, viewed here, that showed 69% of the businesses took deliberate measures to “improve their environmental and social impact in 2010.” The article details what motivated the companies to go green and also provided the excuses provided by those who have not taken any green measures. These excuses include the following, from highest to lowest percent4:

  1. Simply wasn’t an organizational priority to have one. – 65%
  2. Not enough manpower to implement green initiatives. – 41%
  3. Assumed it would cost too much. – 32%
  4. If not a legal requirement, why bother?* – 18%

The striking reply here is that 18% of businesses think there is no purpose in sustainability or going green. This is the thought I’d like to end with. Clearly industry has the capability of investing in some form of green alternative, but the fact that some companies blatantly refuse to do it is rather upsetting. Perhaps with the help of sustainability initiative groups, such as GREEN, we can convince these companies that the world we live is not just theirs, but everyone’s, and that the majority would wish for a cleaner, brighter tomorrow.

*Note: The author of the article paraphrased this statement.