Sustainable Innovation: What’s Good for the World Can Be Good for Business

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Spend Matters welcomes this guest post by Jean Sweeney, chief sustainability officer at 3M.

Imagine a world where every life is improved – where natural resources are readily available, people have access to education and opportunity and communities are safe, healthy, connected and thriving. This utopia isn’t just positive for the people of the world, but it’s these types of environments that also drive business by fostering innovation.

While it may seem like sustainability and innovation would be two competing objectives, in reality, they are complementary. If more advanced products are the objective, establishing better working and living conditions for the people who enable them to happen is an absolute necessity because innovation and initiative don’t take place in desperate situations.

It is the responsibility of science- and technology-based companies to work with customers and partners around the world to not only help solve their product challenges, but their environmental ones as well. When working environments are positively changed, it encourages ambition and innovation and results in increased certainty, reliability and new revenue streams from additional product lines.

Sustainable Supply Chains Start with Understanding Your Values

Corporate values determine how you source materials and extend to your manufacturing operations. Goal setting will be a statement of what is important to your company and how you will measure your progress.

It’s critical to understand that your business impacts extend beyond your own operations. By purchasing raw materials and services from small and large companies all over the world, you are participating in a global supply chain. If you are committed to aligning supplier expectations with your own corporate values, you will be better positioned to drive change and take advantage your manufacturing scale. Suppliers should be expected to be transparent about their environmental and social practices and work with you to transform your shared supply chain when needed.

A true sustainability program begins by setting goals that minimize your footprint from operations. While setting sustainability goals is not new to most organizations, they are critical in helping dramatically reduce environmental footprints and establishing your organization as a leader in environmental stewardship and sustainability. Important goals to strive for can include:

  • Reducing manufacturing waste
  • Achieving “zero landfill” status at manufacturing sites
  • Reducing global water use
  • Improving energy efficiency
  • Increasing renewable energy

Recognizing the importance of what you do in your own operations and continuing to improve accordingly is the first step to improving sustainability. Far greater impact can be realized when organizations, customers, manufacturers and consumers partner to understand and overcome the challenges we face across operations and the supply chain. The true opportunity for sustainability to drive growth is found in collaboration, deriving purpose from our common challenges and developing solutions that can help us overcome them.

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