Please provide a brief background of yourself
I grew up on the East Coast - Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina. I went to undergrad school at NC State in materials science and engineering and has worked primarily in the electronics industry - laser printers, computers. I started Schaffer Environmental 4 years ago and I have been an independent consultant for the electronics industry assisting with world wide compliance to environmental and sustainability requirements.
What is the state of sustainability in 2012?
Positive but Precarious. There is very high visibility to being sustainable and companies are striving to be more sustainable and communicate the efforts they are making more (being more transparent).
However, it is precarious as there is considerable external pull for organizations to be sustainable but there isn't always a consistent or tangible measure of what it means to be sustainable. It is a very large and diverse topic and organizations sometimes become frozen when trying to decide what they should do, what is most important and how to do it. They may not always know the best path forward. Sometimes it is a waiting game.
There are not only internal drivers for what companies want to do – things they set as personal goals, but also external voluntary requirements or legal and pending legal things coming down on them. One of the ones I am familiar with is the Dodd Frank Act, otherwise known as the Conflict Minerals requirement that the SEC came out with a year and a half ago.
Companies are very interested and want to do it. However, they don't know what to do and the guidance being provided is not consistent. A lot of them are just waiting and seeing. Where they might be able to do some things on their own they are concerned about spending the resources, money and time to learn what it is they will be required to do if they will be an SEC reporting company.
It is precarious as they wait and see what happens. It is an issue that will need to be dealt with over time in terms of how you get to that clarity, either externally or internally in various aspects of sustainability.
Who needs to focus on sustainability?
I think most large organizations are aware of sustainability and working on defining what sustainability means to them and what they will focus on within that space. Environmental issues, diversity, compensation (for CEO's for workers), health/safety, labor are all concerns and at different focus levels depending on the company, the pressures internal and external on the company.
I think one of the key focus areas has been in the supply chain - what is it that the supply chain is doing or may need to do in supporting sustainable initiatives? How can an OEM effectively communicate and monitor what the supply chain is doing? It is a difficult challenge that organizations struggle with and re-assess often as they have successes and failures in their supply chain or see those in other supply chains.
Why is it important to take action today?
Customers - consumers, governments, companies - are all demanding accountability to some extent and to do business as a global company you will need show the efforts you are making, the successes (and failures) you have had. All of these different players are all demanding some kind of accountability in terms of sustainability. For a company that wants to be global or regional, they need to show the efforts they are making to become more sustainable; how are they designing their products? How are they working with their employees and communities? Talking about the successes and failures they may have had is done primarily so they can keep the customers they have and grow their business.
In a lot of cases it is certainly driven by the bottom line of making sure that company is profitable. To be profitable these days you also need to show the sustainability of the company and the efforts you are making.
Where have you seen success?
One of the really interesting programs I have been a part of for a number of years and seen a lot of success is with a voluntary standard in the electronics industry called EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool). This along with the environmental standard that is associated with it which is the IEEE standard, the IEEE1680 and IEEE1680.1 standards establishes a bar of environmental performance and corporate performance for organizations in the computer space. It started in 2004 and went live in 2006. When it started it had 3 companies and less than 50 products that have registered and have a validation that these products are meeting the criteria that are spelled out in the IEEE standard.
Today, there are around 35 companies. There are over 3,000 products in that registry. Basically, it expanded from a US program to an international program in 42 countries which are using it now as part of their purchasing requirements. It has had great adoption and use. It has had a lot of interest in the companies wanting to show that their products are green. They like it because it spelled out more or less what they need to do and gives them a little structure, something they are struggling to find in all of these different areas. It also put in a third party that was validating what they are saying. It gave it additional credibility. It really was a win for the manufacturers, purchasers. It is a win for a lot of environmental and corporate performance characteristics that are in these standards.
It is growing and in the process of expanding into new products. They are finishing up a standard for television and another standard for imaging devices (printers, copiers, etc). They have initiated some work on a server standard which is still probably a few years away. It has been a really good program to see, granted it is a small area for a certain subset of manufacturers today. It is environmental focused but they do have a little of corporate performance and sustainability things. The next standards that they are working on have an even larger amount of corporate performance and transparency. It is moving from a pure environmental standard into more of a sustainability standard. It is great to see the adoption it has been having.
Owner and Principal Consultant