Trends in Environmental Sustainability

Environmental sustainability and carbon footprint occupies an increasingly important position on the corporate agenda around the world. The major ingredients of environmental sustainability are elimination of waste and emissions, maximizing energy efficiency and productivity and minimizing practices that may adversely affect utilization of natural resources by coming generations. More and more companies are realizing the importance of environmental initiatives in business development and brand promotion.

Decrease in energy and raw material usage combined with reduced emissions and waste generation can tackle a host environmental challenges facing the world. Leading IT companies, like Microsoft, Adobe, Apple and Google, are investing in renewable sources of energy that can generate power directly on-site. Clean manufacturing practices and energy-efficient design of equipment are also hallmarks of environmental sustainability. Water conservation is one of the most important environmental issues of this century and growing number of companies are using it to educate and change consumer behavior. 

Let us take a close look at some of the major developments in the arena of environmental sustainability.

Eco-Friendly Packaging

Packaging is an important concern for consumers, particularly those who are interested in converting to eco-friendly buying behaviors. Packaging plays a great role in environmental sustainability by protecting products, preventing waste and enabling efficient business conduct. Reduction in the amount of packaging and use of eco-friendly packaging material provide an attractive opportunity to promote environmental sustainability.

Sustainable packaging is a relatively new addition to the environmental considerations for CSR. Companies using environment-friendly packaging materials are reducing their carbon footprint, using more recycled materials and minimizing waste generation. Companies that highlight their environmental initiatives to consumers can increase sales as well as boost product reputation. 

For example, Cisco outsources all of its manufacturing and has over 600 suppliers. To avoid any problems, Cisco’s packaging team undertakes a painstaking process to create more effective and environmentally friendly packaging. In 2012, the company eliminated 757,000 pounds of paper and plastic waste for one product line alone. For its total shipments during 2012, Cisco reduced its use of cardboard, plastic and paper by as much as 466 metric tons.

Clean Energy

Deployment of renewable energy systems can make a big impact on CSR activities of companies as clean energy is one of the best methods to mitigate climate changes. Decentralized power generation using renewable resources is rapidly gaining popularity among world’s top companies. Most of the world's largest companies, like Microsoft, Apple and Google, are adopting renewable energy as it makes good business sense to lower emissions, diversify energy supply, mitigate fuel cost and above all portray a green image. Many companies in the Western world are resorting to use of biogas, biodiesel, bioethanol and hydrogen to power vehicle fleets.

World's leading IT companies are rushing to develop renewable energy projects to power their giant data centres, Google has entered a 10-year deal with utility company Grand River Dam Authority to supply 48 MW of wind power to its Oklahoma data center. Apple’s data center in Maiden (North Carolina), which draws staggering 20MW power, will run entirely on solar energy and biogas. Likewise, to meet tremendous energy needs, Adobe has invested in alternative energy sources that can generate power directly on-site, such as wind turbines and fuel cells at its California facilities. Microsoft has also unveiled plans to utilize biogas generated from wastewater treatment facilities to power its research center at Wyoming.

Environmental Reporting

Environmental reporting, voluntary as well as mandatory, is also getting prominence in the context of corporate social responsibility. Environmental information like greenhouse gas emissions, waste generation, energy consumption, use of transport can improve the transparency of industrial activities, thereby, providing a powerful tool to fight environmental degradation. Business can save significant costs in areas like use of raw materials and supplies, reduction in waste, water, energy use, transport, travel and packaging.

There are several countries in which the private sector is required to report greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption to the government. Australia’s National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act requires corporations to report information on their greenhouse gas emissions, energy production and energy consumption to the Greenhouse and Energy Data Officer. United Kingdom’s Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme forces all organizations and companies having electricity demand greater than 6,000 MWh per year to participate in the mandatory scheme, which applies to more than 5,000 entities until now. The Perform, Achieve and Trade scheme in India has established consumption targets for energy-intensive industries as well as the cap-and-trade structure.

Conclusions

Pollution prevention, energy efficiency, eco-friendly design, and industrial ecology are emerging as top priorities for companies across all industrial sectors. Reduction in the amount of packaging and use of eco-friendly packaging material provide an attractive opportunity to promote environmental sustainability. Water, waste, packaging, energy and transport are being integrated into mainstream operations to facilitate sustainability. Use of clean energy is also an attractive proposition to reduce carbon footprint and project a 'green' image of a particular company.

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About Salman Zafar

Salman Zafar is the Founder of EcoMENA and a renowned expert in waste management, renewable energy, environment protection and sustainability. He is widely acknowledged as an authority on environment and sustainability sector in the Middle East and regularly consulted on environmental projects by top firms in the region and beyond. Salman is proactively engaged in creating mass awareness on clean energy, environment and sustainability through his websites, blogs, articles and projects. He has participated in numerous conferences as session chair, keynote speaker and panelist. Salman is a prolific professional cleantech writer and has authored numerous articles in reputed journals, magazines and newsletters. He holds Masters and Bachelors degree in Chemical Engineering and can be contacted on salman@ecomena.org or salman@bioenergyconsult.com
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