April 22 is the 49th Annual Earth Day – a global event that this year will see more than 1 billion people across 192 countries take part in the largest day of civic action in the world.
Now more than ever, consumers are using their purchasing power to demand that corporations “clean up their act.” Indeed, data from Nielsen finds that 66% of global customers (and an overwhelming 73% of millennials) are willing to pay more for sustainable goods.
As climate change issues continue to dominate our political and social consciousness on a global scale, it is important that “sustainability” becomes more than an oft-used corporate buzzword. However, achieving true sustainability – the kind that goes beyond corporate jargon and puts the buzzwords into practice – can be daunting.
End plastic pollution
In 2018, Earth Day Network – the organization that leads Earth Day worldwide – chose the theme of “End Plastic Pollution.” The focus was a global effort to eliminate single-use plastics and establish global regulations for the disposal of plastics.
As a result, millions of people have been educated about the health and other risks associated with the use and disposal of plastics. These risks include pollution of our oceans, water, and wildlife, as highlighted by the growing body of evidence that plastic waste is creating serious global problems.
The fact is, the exponential growth of plastics is threatening our planet’s survival – from poisoning and injuring marine life to the ubiquitous presence of plastics in our food to the impact on human hormones that cause major life-threatening diseases and early puberty.
But how do we attack the problem at the source? By designing more sustainable products that minimize the use of packaging and – where required – use sustainable packaging material.
We get a B- when it comes to “protecting our species”
Man-made problems such as climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, trafficking and poaching, unsustainable agriculture, pollution, and use of pesticides have resulted in a dramatic reduction of plant and wildlife populations. Therefore, the theme for 2019 is “Protect our Species.”
Take the common bee. For years, beekeepers have been reporting annual hive losses of 30% or higher, substantially more than is considered normal or sustainable. In fact, one in four wild bee species in the United States is at risk of extinction.
But bees are vital to our food supply chains. Plants need bees to pollinate. Of the 369,000 flowering plant species in existence, 90% of them depend on insect pollination. Pollinators contribute billions to the world economy. The global crop production pollinated by bees is valued at $577 billion. Pollinators contribute $24 billion to the U.S. agriculture industry, making up a third of the food consumed by Americans.
What are businesses doing?
Corporations and governments use Earth Day to make pledges and announce sustainability measures. So here are just a few ideas of how we can make every day Earth Day:
- Design sustainable products that are biodegradable and use sustainable packaging materials – if packaging is needed at all.
- Source materials from ethical organizations that follow social and humanitarian practices to eliminate child labor, pay fair wages, ensure good working conditions, and reduce deforestation and the use of pesticides.
- Manufacture with minimal waste and environmental impact to reduce carbon emissions and other forms of pollution.
- Deliver with logistics processes and practices that optimize loads to minimize mileage, emissions, and carbon footprint.
- Operate assets and equipment in an energy-efficient manner that is safe for the environment and workforce.
While these may be broad goals with daunting challenges, the good news is that companies have strong incentives beyond the moral imperative to move forward. Sustainable supply chain processes, after all, are good not only for the environment but also for worker safety, customer satisfaction, and – in many cases – for cost reduction as well.
Download the IDC report “Leveraging your intelligent digital supply chain” to find out how an end-to-end digital supply chain – from design and planning to manufacturing, logistics, and operations – can drive sustainable processes.
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