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Sustainability Audits: An Evolving Process


By: Michael L. Hetzel, VP/Americas Pro QC International Defining Sustainability In the manufacturing and retail world, the objective is simple but broad; to move product design, manufacturing, packaging and logistics to environmentally neutral processes in terms of (ideally) using all renewable material resources, converted to products using renewable energy sources and creating zero emissions and zero waste in the process. As simple as this may sound, there are enormous challenges to achieving these goals, but the global movement has begun the drive towards these goals. For the purposes of factory audits, however, there are currently no global or national standards for measuring the position of a company along any scale or other frame of reference. This leaves compliance open to the specific influences and requirements of your customers, as well as the potential to invest in areas that may not be relevant to your customers. There's also the larger consideration of costs. Although any manufacturer is, or should be, motivated by the cost reduction benefits to eliminate waste and reduce material costs, the reduction of emissions and energy consumption can carry cost implications beyond the realm of cost reduction (and increased profit) and begin to infuse new, different and substantial costs into the process that increase production cost (and reduce profit) rather than reduce it. This is where the great sustainability debate continues to focus on a global scale and where your marketing department will be needed to bring market and sales benefits into the equation in order to rationalize the investments. Shaping the Standards Walmart has taken the lead in shaping the standards by both defining a Sustainable Product Index and founding The Sustainability Consortium ( Of course, Walmart influences nearly every retail product on the planet so it's logical to expect them to set the pace. However, they don't plan to manage the evolution toward global standards but to initiate the process. Aside from the Walmart list of "15 Questions for Suppliers" and the general acceptance of the ISO14001 and ISO914031 environmental standards, there are still many undefined areas that can shape an audit for any specific company requirements. Visit and follow the sustainability links to learn more about the Walmart sustainability initiatives. The Basics Raw material sources and material types, energy consumption, gas, liquids and solids emissions, waste output throughout the product life cycle, and the end of life options (i.e. recycling opportunities including direct, such as product remanufacturing rather than disposal, and indirect, such as material and component extraction and recycling) must be evaluated. Care should be taken to calibrate different factories to their vertical and external capabilities, such as energy intensive elements of production being in-house in one source rather than outsourced in another, and identifying relevant inputs where audits of the supply chain must be conducted upstream. These elements will greatly influence the time and investment needed to conduct the audits. The Pro QC Approach At Pro QC we'll help you profile your sustainability audit to meet your needs. This can be done on a product or a supply chain basis. Since there's no global sustainability standard we'll begin by reviewing your specific objectives for the audits and then, on the ISO14001 framework, we'll build in the architecture of your supply chain and the relevant issues for your products. After we define your audit profile and the audits needed within your supply chain we'll provide a quotation of your investment and timeline needed to evaluate your products and/or supply chain. Some companies include social accountability, which is most frequently identified with the SA8000 standard, although some larger companies have developed their own standards as a component of their sustainability program. At Pro QC, we have accredited SA8000 auditors and can provide social accountability audits within or without a larger sustainability framework. This isn't as expensive or time consuming as it may sound, but it's also not possible to simply publish a checklist or menu to create the profile. Contact Pro QC, or your Pro QC account manger if you're already a client, to begin the process. A Starting Point This article is by no means a comprehensive analysis of sustainability, rather a starting point for our readers to begin the process of research that will be needed in order to define their own compliance reality for their company. The Pro QC team is ready to assist you worldwide in your journey and we welcome the opportunity to support you in meeting your sustainability goals.

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