Unraveling the Green Supply Chain

7/2/2012 By Steve Ott

From independents to national chains, U.S. lodging facilities are bringing greener hues to their rooms and services. Yet for all the improvements, there is still much more that can be done. One important example relates to their supply chains.  

From coffee to shampoo and bath tissue, where do all the elements that fill hotel rooms come from? What goes into their development? What is required of their disposal? With their continual and broad purchasing, upkeep and disposal of so many kinds of goods, lodging facilities carry tremendous power—and responsibility—from an environmental standpoint. The issue is so important that it stretches well beyond the walls, extending to outside suppliers, transporters and disposers that comprise the organizations’ full end-to-end supply chains.

Bookkeepers pay detailed attention to whether lodges are in the red or black, but who’s looking to see when it’s “in the green?” There is often the perception that green products are more costly, but in many instances that no longer holds true. With many options now readily available, it’s possible for organizations to have it both ways by sourcing responsible choices that also make financial sense for their institutions.

Third Party Certification Growing

The list of environmentally preferable products is continually growing, and more often than not these days, is available for purchase from local or recognizable sources.  Numerous, established third parties can certify various goods and services as meeting certain environmental criteria. That lends a measure of credibility to organizational leaders looking to achieve green building LEED certification, appeal more to their stakeholders or just do the right thing. The list includes everything from certified green lawn specialists to carpets certified for being developed from recycled plastic to single-use paper supplies made from 100 percent recycled paper.

But to get a more detailed sense for the true green direction of your manufacturing partners, it’s important to look beyond the label. Check to see if the brands that might inhabit your facilities communicate the precise content of their products and, moreover, quantify the environmental impacts used in their production.

Indeed, manufacturing most products draws heavily on resources like water, air and energy. Yet, product makers vary greatly in how they minimize or restore their use. No matter if it’s a year’s worth of napkins or a one-time television purchase, ask your manufacturing partners to quantify carbon emissions per standard unit of product. Ask how much water is consumed and whether toxic chemicals are used. Probe how much residual waste is produced during production and whether it is put in a landfill or recycled. While purchasing factors like cost, quality and durability certainly remain important, today’s organizations ought to also consider how their spending habits affect the planet.

Then, beyond just tracking and being transparent about these production figures, find out if the producers you buy from use their data as a guide for future progress and motivation. Are they, for instance, establishing year-over-year measureable goals in reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Do they invest in environmental resource reduction efforts, even if there isn’t clear financial gain?

Pay Special Attention to Single-Use Goods

An important area that can be easy to overlook is buying goods that are meant for one-time use.  

Purchasing and sustainability officers should be extra cautious to scrutinize the dynamics associated with disposable “one and done” products that, by virtue of what they are, simply cannot be reused, recycled or extended like other product types. Because these goods reach the waste stream so often, the name of the game here is to choose production partners whose manufacturing processes especially emphasize sustainability, therefore mitigating a potentially huge hazard to the environment.

Our products at Cascades Tissue Group’s Away-From-Home division—commercial towel and tissue paper like bathroom tissue, facial tissue and napkins—make for a great example. Unlike copy paper, which is recycled an average of six times throughout its lifespan, towels and tissues are usually discarded upon first use, destined for local landfills and sewer systems. The key then, is to educate the marketplace that not all product options are created equal. For example, our new, beige-colored 100 percent recycled Cascades Moka bathroom tissue gets 20 percent of its pulp mix from recovered corrugated boxes.

As organizations committed to providing a comfortable stay for millions of people around the clock, hotels and lodging facilities truly have the opportunity to become organizational models in supply chain greening. The emergence of the sustainability director function now brings new revelations and new opportunities to better look after the 3 “P’s” that include the planet as well as people and profit. When further equipped with sustainability development plans, green purchasing policies and newer, greener products and services, the results can be powerful and fulfilling.  

No doubt about it, the challenge of balancing the books while keeping your facility in the “green” is hard. But sustainable products are becoming increasingly aligned with their competitors in terms of cost, making the case for meeting that challenge more compelling than ever.  

At the end of the day, hotels and lodging facilities are in the business of giving people a comfortable—and potentially inspiring and invigorating—place to stay when they’re away from home. What better then to make their stay as enjoyable as possible while instilling greener usage habits that can be carried over into their own homes.

Steve Ott is the sustainable business development manager for Cascades Tissue Group’s U.S. Away-From-Home Division in Waterford, N.Y., responsible for developing and expanding environmental initiatives within the company and communicating those benefits to sustainability-focused partners. He can be reached at steve_ott@cascades.com or (518) 880-3678.


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