Global industrial conglomerate Freudenberg & Co just announced its aim to reach zero manufacturing waste among its 16 North American business units. The initiative will focus on using more recycled content in their manufacturing processes. That complements their overall practice of innovation, finding ways to convert consumer waste into useful new products.
While not a household name, Freudenberg’s products are used to make fabrics, building materials and cleaning products that we encounter all the time. For instance their Texbond business recycles more than 1 million plastic drink bottles a day to make roofing membrane and building materials. Another unit recycles millions of pounds of plastic per year to produce an industrial material that’s used for carpet backings, wallpaper and other construction uses. Not only is the product 100 recycled, but the factory is green too, reusing all of their material scrap back into the process.
With a focus on recycled product content, in-plant recycling, lower water and energy consumption and increased use of sustainable materials over the next decade Freudenberg stands to more than make a mark on the environment. These waste reducing and recycling-intense approach across the business will lower operational costs and create high-demand products that help them stay profitable.
Researchers at Harvard coined the phrase “Shared Value” to describe this approach, which involves creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges. The definition of “shared value” is not social responsibility, philanthropy, or even sustainability, they say, but a new way to achieve economic success.
Large companies like Freudenberg (almost $8 Billion in revenue and 37,000 employees worldwide) have the muscle to move markets- not only putting green products into the marketplace, but also demanding their suppliers meet their standards. From source to shelf, corporate influence across the supply chain has an important ripple effect.
Getting to zero waste is becoming more main stream for companies. Next week the Zero Waste Business Council will hold its first annual conference where leaders will share best practices for how businesses of any size can manage their initiatives to minimize how they discard solid waste and make the most of using and reusing resources. As this movement builds, expect that more companies will ask their suppliers and other business partners to provide more transparency in their processes and demonstrate their own waste-reduction, earth-minded policies.