Why Your Company Needs to Think about Product Sustainability

At Strategic Sustainability Consulting, most of our clients come to us at the beginning of their sustainability journeys -- when they need to develop organization-level systems to identify, manage, and improve their social and environmental impacts.

That's just the first step, however. Once basic management systems are in place, it's time to look at product-level sustainability issues. We've been talking to clients for several years about the need to begin conducting life cycle assessments (LCAs) to determine key product impacts -- but companies have been hesitant. Why? The science behind LCAs can be pretty dry and academic, it can be expensive and time consuming, and (most of all) there hasn't been a big demand from consumers.

All that may be changing. This month, we'll be talking about product sustainability. And what better way to kick it off than by talking about the growing recognition among company executives that product sustainability programs are worth their weight in gold!

In a recent Green Biz article, “Are product sustainability programs at a tipping point?”, Chris Nelson writes:

Over the last few months I’ve had a chance to speak to a large number of senior business, EH&S and sustainability leaders at a variety of Fortune 500 ERM clients about product sustainability and what it means to their organizations. What resonated in these conversations is that designing and implementing product sustainability programs at an enterprise level is now a strategic imperative for many companies. This was a consistent theme across many different market sectors and was being driven by the belief that a product sustainability program could create significant business value for their organizations.

Generally, these programs focus on improving performance across the enterprise in the following areas (including but not limited to): life-cycle management, product regulatory compliance, supply-chain management, materials, waste, energy, water, packaging and product innovation. Companies are finally being able to see that a product sustainability program can lead to opportunities to increase sales, reduce risk, improve brand recognition and trust as well as develop organizational capabilities related to sustainability and innovation. And, of course, an improvement in their overall environmental and social performance.

This fall, we're working with several clients to conduct their first product LCAs -- scoping exercises that will quickly (but effectively) determine where the biggest environmental impacts are (is it raw materials, or transportation, or the actual manufacturing process?) so that they can prioritize improvement opportunities.

If your company is curious about what an LCA would look like for your product, or how to take the first baby steps into product-level sustainability assessments, now is a GREAT time to contact us. Email us to set up a complimentary consultation, or join the conversation on Twitter (@jenniferwoofter).