This week, starting on December 7th, is the kickoff of the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, with diplomats from 192 nations. Although the type of high-level negotiations and goal setting at the conference are important steps in the process, I believe there are many smaller steps the manufacturing community can and should take to incorporate environmental sustainability into their products, processes, and plants. I've always said that manufacturers play a critical role in sustainabilit
Offer easier to refill containers. That could mean selling smaller products with larger necks, selling your product in larger sizes, or even changing the formulation so it's easier to pour from one container to the next. Talking from personal experience from this past weekend – transferring antibacterial hand sanitizers from one container to another doesn't work very well.
Use more recycled content in your products or make your products easier to recycle. A component of this is giving cities and towns a reason to recycle more kinds of plastics, which brings us back to the first part of our wish by helping to create a stronger market for recycled plastics.
If you've reduced the water content in your product and increased the concentration, build in a measuring process. There are more concentrated liquids on the market than there were 10 years ago, and although logically we know the benefits such as decreasing water consumption and lower supply chain costs (less weight and smaller size to transport), there's still a nagging feeling that we're using more than we need.
Do a better job managing SKU options. We're close to sensory overload every time we walk in a retail store. If the manufacturer and retailer understood their customers better, would we still need 40+ options for mint toothpaste? And conservative (or reluctant) SKU management results in a proliferation of smaller sizes where the packaging/product ratio leads to higher packaging consumption and higher waste.
Have the "off switch" mean off, with absolutely zero power consumption. We feel surrounded by devices that use power even when they are theoretically powered down. Maybe it's as simple as having 3 options – on, charging, and off. Are we the only people tired of climbing under our desks to unplug our laptop cords?
Promote lower energy consumption options, especially when they have little to no impact on the effectiveness of your products. What jumps into our minds is how many lighting fixtures are not using CFLs or LEDs, purely because the customer didn’t consider it. We're sure there are other products to which this statement could apply, perhaps battery-driven or rechargeable devices that could have low power settings?
Incorporate smarter power consumption into your electrical devices. This follows on our two previous options, but in this case, we want the smarts to be built-in, much like our laptops have a snooze option. We know some manufacturers have made tons of progress in this area, but we want more.
Make it easier to decide when to service a product, and if it's not serviceable, help us recycle them. We're not an impractical pair; we realize this probably applies to items that retail over $100. Both of us have junked $100+ items recently after they malfunctioned – one a printer and the other a bread machine, when we were confident they could have been repaired or more efficiently recycled. Shame on us but we want help.
Work toward intelligent home management and HVAC systems. This goes along with our smart power consumption request but focuses specifically on home/office systems. For boilers, water heaters, heating systems, and air conditioning systems, we want them to work together (and share data with each other) so they seamlessly balance the outside environment, our preferences, and lower energy and water consumption. And a personal confession – Kim wants a way to restrict her teenage kids' shower time and temperature without them knowing.
Push for consensus on green labeling. This is a plea to the industry – please come to some agreement on how to define a green product, even incorporating likely use patterns. We have plenty of ideas and research to contribute to this decision! We want to be able to compare product against product so we can make smarter choices. Having a generally accepted labeling scheme may also be the way to figure out when consumers, like us, will pay more for greener products.
We know you have an opinion or anecdote of your own to share about what you want to see change among manufacturers when it comes to environmental sustainability. Let us know your own pet peeves, or let us know if you work for a manufacturer that's making these changes already. And happy holidays.