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Sustainability Mythbusters Part V: Impacts of Sustainability Are Limited

stiller and halvoet, schneider electricWelcome to the Sustainability Mythbusters series presented by Schneider Electric. In this six-part series, Schneider Electric’s Global Sustainability Services team explores common misconceptions related to the topic of sustainability and presents a business case to “bust” each myth.  

Of all the ideas out in the world concerning sustainability, none may be more patently false than the myth that the impacts of sustainability are limited; that somehow, sustainability initiatives will have only short-term, small-scale benefits for the organizations that implement them.

Such a view is simply not looking at sustainability with a very clear view.

In reality, the impacts of sustainability are often much greater and much farther reaching than they’re originally expected to be. They range, too, from long-term cuts in energy usage and costs to reduced waste, increased efficiency and better utilization of resources. There are often unpredictable impacts, as well, such as cost avoidances, strengthened customer and community loyalty and even shifts toward sustainability in supply chains and competitors looking to benefit from similar impacts.

Take, for example, the idea of size and scale. Even the tiniest of changes, when scaled out over hundreds of facilities or thousands – or millions – of manufactured units can be massive. A savings of 5 percent on energy usage, achieved through a relatively simple and cost-effective tweak, may not seem huge at first. But if you’re spending $50 million a year on energy, those savings pile up quickly.

In one Environmental Protection Agency case study, simply by analyzing its production process and the layout of its production area, the New Mexico air cargo box manufacturer Advanced Composite Structures cut unnecessary materials and tooling to create a more streamlined process. The result? Costs cut by 65 percent, production of units more than doubled from 20 to 45 per shift and scrap slashed from 24 percent to under 2 percent.

And that’s just one company at one manufacturing site. Imagine the impacts of a similar effort at a business with scores of manufacturing facilities and hundreds of thousands of units produced each day. Those are the kinds of big-picture results that can drive transformational change throughout an entire organization or even help sway an entire sector.

Well-planned sustainability initiatives also have impacts that are long-lasting – not limited. You often hear about businesses that invest in energy-saving projects expecting to recoup their costs in a certain number of years. But once that initial payback has been achieved, the benefits don’t stop. The business continues to use less energy and the savings extend for many years.

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