Sustainability initiatives do not have to be big in order to make a big impact. In some cases, smaller changes can be more beneficial and much easier to implement effectively. At Actylis, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based company that distributes and manufactures products for the specialty chemical and life science marketplace, we’ve discovered the impact of small changes as we pursue our goal to be a responsible corporate citizen. Our top takeaways are summarized in the following six steps. Each has resulted in both environmental and economic benefits for us as well as downstream benefits in our supply chain and for our end customers. All came from clues about operational inefficiencies hidden in plain sight.
Small change 1: Optimize your supply network. Network optimization is really an examination of your supply chain design. It models the locations of your manufacturing and distribution facilities, aligns these to your customer base, and enables you to estimate the various cost impacts of altering the existing alignment. Network optimization initiatives almost always yield some financial benefit, often by shifting production and distribution centers closer to customers and thereby reducing overall travel mileage.
Actylis recently completed a global network optimization that saved millions of miles of wasted travel by relocating distribution centers closer to both ports and customers. The effort was a win both financially and from a sustainability perspective, and we are as proud of the carbon dioxide reduction as the cost reduction. Therein lies a key concept: When executed well, sustainability initiatives should be as rewarding as a straightforward cost-reduction project might be.
You don’t have to limit your efforts to your regional or domestic supply chains. Consider your global supply chain and identify opportunities to near shore or reshore to save on emissions, shipping costs and lead times. Also look at switching to more local suppliers to reduce both your carbon footprint and your supply risks.
Small change 2: Cut your yield loss. Many production lines create waste that ends up in landfills. Off-spec products, scrap, unusable byproducts and more often end up in landfills. If you work in manufacturing, you’ve probably witnessed plenty of waste examples unique to your industry. In one case, a plastics plant created bleed blobs during the startup of an extruder unit. These blobs were too dense to recycle and ended up in a landfill. By assessing this problem from both a cost and sustainability perspective, managers determined a way to reduce the size of the blobs so they could be redirected into a reclamation process. The results were significant. Plastic resins in the blob were recycled instead of discarded, eliminating landfill waste and saving on tipping fees. The change was a win from both a cost and a sustainability perspective.
At Actylis, we were surprised to discover that one of our operations experienced tremendous yield loss when product would cake and bake to the sidewalls of a blending operation. After every dozen or so production runs, several hundred pounds of product would have to be hammered off the walls of the production chamber using chisels and wedges. For a long time, this process wasn’t questioned and was just considered the cost of operations. But then we took a closer look at the situation as part of our sustainability initiative. We redesigned the manufacturing equipment to reduce both the waste and the labor for this specific process.
In short: Check out what’s in your dumpsters. Then, find a way to reduce that production waste.
Small change 3: Green up your formulas. Formula ingredients tend to have inherently high ecological costs. Many times, ingredients added to consumer formulations travel uncommonly long supply chains to reach the end consumer. Product fragrances are one such example of a formulation ingredient with high ecological costs. To reduce the ingredient’s footprint in your product, consider sourcing the fragrance locally rather than relying on an exotic fragrance from an ecologically sensitive area on the other side of the planet.
Other ingredients are added to a formula predominantly for marketing purposes rather than actual function. Popular add-ins these days include hemp oil, hyaluronic acid and aloe. Even trace amounts of ingredients can significantly increase a product’s cost and carbon footprint. If the ingredient is not actually benefiting the function of your formula, consider removing it from your formulation to be more sustainable and save money.
Small change 4: Reduce your reliance on expedited freight. Sometimes, expedited shipping is a necessary evil. But if your organization is frequently relying on air freight and less-than-truckload shipments — which both have large carbon footprints — you need to rethink your planning and buying methods as well as your operations. Use root-cause analysis to determine when and why your organization used expedited freight in the last year. Then look for opportunities to adjust your planning and operations to take advantage of freight consolidation and less costly but more environmentally friendly shipping options.
Small change 5: Switch to reusable pallets. This one is an easy change you can enact tomorrow and be done. If you’re moving materials or products to and from the same suppliers, company facilities and customers, consider investing in reusable pallets. When picking up a full pallet from a supplier or company facility, you can return empty pallets in the same trip to maximize truckloads, prevent empty truck movement and keep the pallet cycling moving. Reusable pallets tend to be made from sustainable, recycled or recyclable materials, thus eliminating the need to harvest trees to make more wood pallets that are later discarded. Need confirmation of whether reusable pallets are a reasonable alternative? If there are a bunch of broken pallets by your dumpster, it’s time to switch.
Small change 6: Be mindful of obsolete inventory. The amount of obsolete raw and packaging materials inventory that hits landfills is enormous. Best practice suggests that no more than 0.5% of inventory should be obsoleted each year, though most organizations discard much more. Disposal of obsolete inventory puts an enormous strain on the environment and represents a huge cost to most companies to pay for the shipping and disposal. At Actylis, we recently disposed of materials with a book value of $10,000, yet the cost to dispose of these hazardous materials was almost $45,000.
Use chemicals, ingredients, and other materials and products before they expire or become obsolete. This starts with better planning and tighter tolerances for inbound supply — thus stemming the problem before it occurs. When that’s not enough, find new uses for the materials and products. Give your leftovers to a potential or current customer for free, for example.
There also tends to be considerable ingredient waste when switching formulations. Changeovers in products or packaging can be rushed in an effort to keep up with evolving industry trends and better compete on the shelf. But if this happens too fast and too abruptly, old ingredients and packaging are sent to landfills. These transitions need to be managed thoughtfully, so that as much of the old materials and ingredients are used up as possible. This requires a little more work and orchestration, but it can save considerable money and yield a dramatically improved and far more sustainable outcome.
Ideas keep growing
These are just some of the alternative cost-, service- and sustainability-focused initiatives that can green up your operations and save you money. You can also look at your energy consumption, switch to solar energy and cut your employee waste. At Actylis, we’ve invested in many power-consumption and paper-reduction projects. We encourage reusable lunch packaging and composting of coffee grounds. We recycle cardboard and electronics at our manufacturing plants. We look at sustainability from every angle, whether considering big ideas or small starter projects. And we are proof positive that not every sustainability initiative has to be a grand and glorious concept.