5 ways to use environmental footprints in making your business operations more sustainable

You have calculated your environmental footprint – but now what? It’s simple: Your environmental footprint will guide you to make your business operations more sustainable. Here are 5 ways in which different departments in your company can leverage environmental footprints to be more innovative, profitable, and sustainable.

5 ways to use environmental footprints in making your business operations more sustainable8 min read

The next step in your sustainable journey

This is always an interesting point in a journey towards becoming a more sustainable company: 

You performed a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)*, which means you have your environmental footprint results (such as your carbon footprint, water use, land degradation, and 25+ other impact results), and you now know exactly where your impact comes from. 

  • A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is the scientific method that measures the environmental impacts of your product, service or entire company. 

But- how can you use this information to actually improve your business operations and make a difference?

Here are 5 ways in which departments within your business operations can take immediate action based on your environmental footprint results.

1. Research and development: Ecodesign

Companies often want the emissions and impact of their products to be as low as possible. This can be for a number of reasons, think of corporate policies, regulations, customer demand, or intrinsic company motivations. 

To do so, you can use your environmental footprint results to improve the sustainability of your product design and implement Ecodesign or circular design. Ecodesign (or ecological design) is the design of products or services that takes into account the environmental impact throughout a product’s life cycle. 

This means you look at how to effectively reduce the environmental impact that occurs in every stage of a product’s life cycle- from the raw material stage until the waste phase. 

1. The Raw Material Phase: The main goal of Ecodesign in the raw material stage is the use of less or better materials in order to reduce the impact of our products. 

2. The Processing Phase:  Here you look for ways in which you can reduce waste and material loss during the processing of raw materials, or aim to redesign your energy- and water usage for your manufacturing processes. Think of greener energy types or energy sourcing, a closed water circuit, or a water purification system.

3. The Transportation Phase: This phase often plays a minor role in the overall impact of a product. However, changes in this process can contribute to an improved product footprint- think of using electric vans for distribution or e-bikes instead of cars to deliver your products. 

4. The Use Phase: How could you make your customer’s behavior more sustainable by adjusting your products? For example, the majority of a product’s impact in fashion actually occurs in the use phase. Apparel items get washed, ironed, and dried. So, how can you make consumers more aware to wash less?

5. The Waste Phase: No matter if it’s a fast-moving consumer good (FMCG) or a product with a longer life cycle – at some point, products are being disposed of. Try to make reusing and recycling easy for you and your consumers. 

Ecodesign – Overview for 2021

Image 1. Impact comparison between a Normal Hairdryer vs. Hairdryer Eco. The latter uses recycled content in the plastics of the housing, leading to a reduction of more than a kg CO2-eq.

2. Procurement: Sustainable procurement

Your LCA results will show you exactly which phase in your value chain drives the largest environmental impact. Often a large part of this impact lies in your supply chain or procurement efforts- which makes sustainable procurement a very powerful and effective measure for reduction efforts.

Sustainable procurement means that you want to make sure that the products and/or services you buy are as sustainable as possible- with the lowest environmental impact and the most positive social results. 

If you commit to sustainable procurement, we advise you to make sustainable policies on:

(1) How exactly you want to achieve your reduction strategy through procurement;

(2) Possible investments necessary for this process;

(3) To set up fitting sustainability key performance indicators (KPI’s) that align with the requirements of your overall sustainability strategy and important stakeholders.

This will ensure your procurement process is future-proof and long-term

During this process, have a good look at your company’s core values– and ensure they are reflected in your choices for suppliers and products. Set up selection criteria for both environmental as well as social performance that request complete transparency and/or environmental claims (such as LCA’s or EPD’s) from suppliers. 

You can also try to make your procurement process more sustainable by evaluating your current suppliers and explore new opportunities in which you can both create shared value in sustainability.

Green Public Procurement (GPP)

Public authorities are often the biggest users of sustainable procurement processes- especially within the construction sector. 

Public authorities, of course, have a large purchasing power to choose goods and services with reduced environmental impact throughout their life cycle. Therefore, they can make a significant contribution to sustainable consumption and production, which the EU calls ‘green purchasing’ or ‘Green Public Procurement’

One of these green procurement selection criteria for large infrastructure and construction projects in the Netherlands as well as Belgium- is the Environmental Cost Indicator (which unites all relevant environmental impacts into a single score of environmental costs- it’s very handy). 

You can find the EU’s guides on green procurement right here.

3. Commercial: Answering customer demand

You can’t go around it anymore. Today, more than 81 % of consumers feel that companies should help improve the environment. 

People just love sustainable products. 

For marketing and sales, measuring your environmental footprint means understanding how sustainable your products are – and how to communicate this to your customers.

A Life Cycle Assessment is the most vital step on that journey. Based on the generated insights, you can see where you already have an edge over your competitors – and where your company can use opportunities to become more sustainable.

LCA’s allow marketing and sales to make environmental claims to all relevant stakeholders. And typical reports to do so are Environmental Product Declarations (EPD’s) which is a summarized version of an LCA. 

4. Operations management: Optimizing Environmental Efficiency

You want to have the highest level of efficiency possible within your organization. 

Therefore, within your operations management, your environmental footprint can really be used to effectively reduce your footprint. 

The results of an LCA show exactly where the impact hotspots within your operations lie. Meaning you now have knowledge of which processes contribute the most to your overall impact and, therefore, will make the best business case for reduction efforts.  

Think of process engineers, for example. Their goal is to create a system within your operations that makes the best use of workers, machines, materials, energy, and information. 

You now have exact data on which processes lack environmental efficiency the most. This means you can start to look for better energy sources, redesign production processes, purchase more sustainable machinery, allocate workers, etc.

5. Top-management: Creating a strategy for Climate neutrality

Embracing circularity and sustainability help to (1) attract talent, (2) attract capital, (3) and create long-term value: it’s a necessity to become a future-proof company.  

Sustainable frontrunners already know it- a separate sustainability strategy will become obsolete, having a sustainable company strategy will become the status quo. Part of this sustainable strategy is for top management to know exactly what your company’s performance is regarding the three P’s: people, planet & profit– in order to report and take accountability for them.

Because an LCA looks at products from a broader point of view than just measuring a carbon footprint, it usually creates insights that another sustainability analysis might lose out on – an enormous chance for the entire company.

The results of an environmental footprint will provide top management with credible and actionable insights that can help make strategic decisions and create a sustainability strategy based on a solid, measurable foundation. 

As an environmental footprint also gives you an overview of all your greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and where they come from- it is incredibly valuable for setting up a climate strategy to move your company towards carbon neutrality. 

With your GHG results, you will be able to set Science Based Targets (SBTi), which are scientifically confirmed targets that will help your own KPI’s align with the main target of the Paris Agreement: to halve our collective greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 2030 and drop them to zero-carbon emissions by 2050.

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