Sunday, February 17, 2008

What are companies doing to reduce their environmental impact?

Earlier this week I headed down to the United States Businees Council for Sustainable Development's Winter Meeting in San Antonio. The US BCSD is a non-profit organization of U.S. companies ranging from the three-person investment greenspace team, Conservation Capital, to Shell Oil Corporation.

I was curious of what I would find at the US BCSD meeting. I expected some self-promotion, some tips on how to catch the wave of green publicity, and some funding requests for projects, all of which were valid reasons for a company's representative to make the trip. These elements were a part of it, of course, but I was impressed and given hope by how genuine the concern and how active the effort to address environmental problems.

All of these comments and actions came from role models (from my perspective) who daily deal with the main challenge of true "sustainability": making being good economically viable. And they had big successes to demonstrate for their efforts: 100,000 acres of marginal cropland along the Mississippi River Valley were reforrested with cottonwood and hardwood trees, to be used by the landowners for paper pulp and wood products with a potential increased profit in the hundreds of millions. The trees serve to protect adjoining lands from flood by slowing runoff.

The By-Product Synergy group facilitates companies collaborating to use as much of raw material as possible, and for "wastes" to be used as raw materials for other companies. Example synergies were suggested of Dow chemical selling Latex wastewater to coal companies. The wastewater is sprayed on shipments, replacing plastic sheets, in order to control dust during shipping. Another adopted synergy transferred technology from the floatation separation of carrots in the food industry to separation of materials from automobile shredder residue. Typical steel recycling of shredded vehicles leaves 25% of the original materials to be landfilled. With the new process, 18,000 tons of additional non-ferrous metals could be separated out and sold, the profit easily repaying a large separator installation and saving energy costs in gathering the raw metals.

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