World Environmental Health Day was yesterday – Thursday, September 26, 2013. WORX Environmental Products has been providing tips, tricks, and educational resources every day this week to take part in the global discussion. This year’s theme is “Emerging Environmental Health Risks and Challenges for Tomorrow.” This post marks the final entry in this series.
Life cycle planning and management is imperative to address the risks and challenges we face now and will in the future, when it comes to our environment and our health. At a minimum, most products have a four-stage life cycle from manufacturing/production to end of life. Managing and reducing environmental impact and costs at each stage will have a greater impact on the overall life of the product than attempting to manage one stage to defray the impacts across the entire life span.
We use a five-stage model for life cycle planning in our products, but there are a number of models that fit with individual industries and products.
- Material Extraction / Ingredient Sourcing
Ethical sourcing and ethical extraction practices can, on occasion, carry a higher ticket price than standard extraction or sourcing. Maintaining certifications can be costly, and this cost is often passed along to buyers. However, in the long run, these practices offer greater financial stability in addition to the environmental benefit. Ethical extraction and sourcing is designed to minimize environmental impact at the start, creating a more sustainable system for maintaining ingredient or material levels in the long run.
- Manufacturing / Production / Packaging
This stage in a products life cycle is often the most detrimental to both the environment and financial considerations. A great deal of resources are put against a manufacturing facility that do not necessarily have a direct impact on the final product; water usage in restrooms, electrical use in offices, paper usage throughout, and even groundskeeping such as clearing of snow are necessary in the manufacturing and production areas. Reducing these resource-hungry needs, or utilizing greener energy solutions will have a positive impact on the bottom line both financially and environmentally. Innovations in this sort of industrial environment was introduced in yesterdays post.
- Transportation / Warehousing
Reducing the space needed on a transport vehicle to ship item A from one point to another immediately reduces the carbon footprint of that product. When the footprint is reduced in a warehouse, it is easier to maintain inventory on an item that does not benefit from being built-to-order to allow for more localized shipping. Taking freight considerations and consolidation of shipments into account at the outset of product development ensures that this stage in the life cycle can actually be a benefit against the other stages. It is often more efficient to order in bulk than by unit, but this efficiency can also be seen by consolidating several smaller shipments into one larger shipment wherever possible.
- Use and Reuse
When your product or commodity is in the hands of the end user or consumer, the environmentally-responsible manufacturer knows that their job is not quite over yet. Consumers want efficiency and practicality in design and use, and a product that is efficient to meet consumer needs and offers additional usability through reuse is preferable. Reusable packaging can be “upcycled” to meet a variety of needs, provided the original product can be entirely removed with no detriment to the packaging. If the product can be used a number of times before its natural end-of-life, the benefit is increased drastically. Taking our example of reusable grocery bags from Mondays post, a canvas bag may be used and reused up to 120 times, compared against a standard plastic bag that may be reused once or twice at most.
- Disposal or Recycling
Your product has been ethically-sourced, manufactured and warehoused in a facility that makes use of all the current innovations in sustainability, shipped efficiently, and used (more than once!) by the consumer. It has now reached the end of its natural life. So now what? Is your product and/or packaging recyclable? Can consumers send all or components of your finished product to local or regional recycling facilities? Are they designed to be landfill-friendly? Are there toxins or potential environmental interactions that should be considered when disposing of the product or its packaging? These are all questions that need to be answered early in the development of a new product. Attempting to address the environmental impacts of this stage at a later date will reduce efficiency and may lead to higher overall costs if any redesign or redevelopment is necessary.
Managing potential risks and challenges earlier in the process will reap greater results in the long term, as well as create a healthier environment for our future. Life cycle planning at below the macro level should be an integral part of development for any company that is concerned about current and future environmental health.
Thanks for reading this special content for World Environmental Health Day. Don’t forget to mark on your calendar the week of December 1 – 7 for Handwashing Awareness Week! We’ll be sharing videos and special content all week.