Sustainable development is one of those terms that gets thrown around quite a bit. Even when it's used correctly, it covers a lot of territory. You’ll find dozens of legitimate definitions.
What is sustainable development? One of the most useful -- and simplest sustainability definitions -- comes from the UN World Commission on Environment and Development: “Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Why is this important, and what does sustainability mean in business today?
There are three major sustainability issues that are emerging in business, that are making this type of development good business.
- The world’s population is growing…exponentially.
- There is a finite supply of non-renewable natural resources available.
- There is upwards pricing pressure on non-renewable commodities that will have a major impact on sustainable business practices going forward.
Because of these challenges, there is a renewed interest in sustainability concepts….and when implemented well, it’s becoming good business.
There are several sustainability examples that illustrate business sustainability in the U.S., they include:
- Green Space
- Crop Rotation
- Sustainable Design and Construction
- Water Efficient Fixtures
- Renewable Clean Energy
- Waste to Energy Recycling
- Water Treatment
Implementing one or several of these concepts is fast becoming a central part of many corporate sustainability plans.
Having green spaces in an urban area isn’t just about adding a touch of nature to the cityscape. Developing green spaces can be part of a larger design plan because of the environmental sustainability benefits that they provide, such as:
- Urban Advantages - Helps to regulate air quality, reducing air temperature from too many paved surfaces, recharging groundwater supplies and protecting lakes and streams from polluted runoff.
- Water Quality Protection - Proper landscaping reduces nitrate leaching from the soil into the water supply and reduces surface water runoff, keeping phosphorus and other pollutants out of our waterways
- Reduced Heat Buildup - Trees in a parking lot can reduce on-site heat buildup, decrease runoff and enhance night time cool downs.
- Reduced Soil Erosion - A dense cover of plants and mulch holds soil in place, keeping sediment out of lakes, streams, storm drains and roads.
- Improved Air Quality - Trees, shrubs and turf remove smoke, dust and other pollutants from the air.
Crop rotation is the practice of planting several dissimilar and different types of plants on the same land over successive seasons. This practice is done because when the same crop is grown at the same place for several years the soil is depleted of certain nutrients.
By rotating crops, a crop that depletes a particular nutrient from the soil can be followed the next season by a plant that returns that same nutrient back to the soil.
Some of the environmental benefits of crop rotation include:
- Nitrogen Management - Crop rotation plays a key role in reducing the risk of nitrate, leaching into surface and groundwater, by improving the availability of soil nitrogen and reducing the nitrogen fertilizer used.
- Improved Soil Structure - Diversity in the root structure will enhance the chemical, physical and biological structure of the soil.
- Reduced Soil Erosion - Improvement in soil tilth and microbial communities will help bring down soil erosion due to more stable soil structure, enhanced water infiltration and minimized surface runoff.
- Improvement in Pest and Disease Control - Differing plants take away the host organism and causes a disruption in the annual life cycle of insects, diseases and weeds.
- Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions - The use of nitrogen fertilizer is drastically reduced considerably lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
- Reduced Water Pollution - Reduced use of synthetic fertilizers reduces water pollution caused by nitrogen, and reduced use of pesticides means less run off into groundwater.
Sustainable Design and Construction
Buildings -- and building construction -- consume resources, generate waste, create potentially harmful emissions and fundamentally change the function of land -- including its ability to capture water and absorb it into the ground.
Sustainable design and construction practices seek to curb or offset the adverse impact.
In addition to including green spaces, examples include:
- Minimizing Non-Renewable Energy Consumption - Using as many recycled products as possible.
- Using Environmentally Preferable Products - Examples include materials manufactured from recycled products and from local sources.
- Taking Steps to Conserve Water - Examples include using dual-flush toilets and low-flow faucets.
- Retrofitting Existing Structures - Eliminates the need for demolishing and rebuilding.
There are numerous benefits of sustainable building that helps to create a sustainable future. They include:
- Protects the Ecosystem
- Improves Air and Water Quality
- Reduces Emissions
- Conserves Water
- Conserves and Restores Natural Resources
- Temperature Control
- Reduces Waste Streams
- Waste Reduction
- Aids in the Expansion of the "Green Market"
- Optimizes the Life Cycle of the Building
- Reduces Operating Costs
- Increases Property Value
- Improves Occupants Attendance and Productivity
Water Efficient Fixtures
Depleting reservoirs and groundwater aquifers can put water supplies, human health, and the environment at serious risk. Lower water levels can lead to higher concentrations of natural contaminants, such as radon and arsenic, or human pollutants, such as agricultural and chemical wastes. Using water more efficiently helps maintain supplies at safe levels, protecting human health and the environment.
In 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the WaterSense Program. This voluntary national program certified products that use 20 percent less water than the federal minimum without sacrificing performance. WaterSense certified fixtures include dual-flush toilets and 1.28 gallons per flush (gpf) toilets, which are lower than the federal maximum flow rate of 1.6 gpf. Since then, California, Georgia, Texas, and most recently Colorado have matched the EPA WaterSense flow rate criteria in creating their state efficiency standards.
On April 1, 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown released Executive Order B-29-15 mandating emergency regulations that would improve the efficiency of water appliances—including toilets and faucets in new and existing buildings.
California now leads the nation with standards that are more stringent than the EPA’s WaterSense Program. The new water efficiency standards could save over 10 billion gallons of water in the first year and eventually over 100 billion gallons of water per year according to the California Energy Commission.
Renewable Clean Energy
Renewable clean energy is probably the most obvious example of sustainability. Here are three examples.
- Solar energy: Once the sun’s electromagnetic radiation is captured, it produces electricity and heat.
- Wind Energy: Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy in the wind into mechanical power.
- Geothermal energy: Geothermal power stations can use heat escaping from inside the earth to generate electricity. The most attractive locations for these stations are seismically active areas, such as California and Iceland.
The benefits of clean renewable energy include:
- Improved Public Health - Clean energy doesn't produce the negative health impacts from air and water pollution.
- Inexhaustible Energy - Strong winds, sunny skies, abundant plant matter, heat from the earth, and fast-moving water can each provide a vast and constantly replenished supply of energy.
- Economic Benefits - Renewable energy industry is more labor intensive, so that means the creation of more jobs. Energy industry businesses will create economic impacts in areas including manufacturing, project development, construction, and turbine installation, operations and maintenance, transportation and logistics, and financial, legal, and consulting services. Owners of the land on which wind projects are built often receive lease payments. Local governments also benefit from clean energy, most often in the form of property and income taxes and other payments from renewable energy project owners.
- Stable Energy Prices - Although renewable energy requires upfront investments to build, they can then operate at a very low cost, which means renewable energy prices can be very stable over time.
- Reliability and Resilience - Because wind and solar are distributed over a large geographical area and modular with numerous wind turbines and solar arrays, small-scale failure doesn't have a major impact on the delivery of energy.
Waste to Energy Recycling
At Temarry, we take sustainability seriously. We understand that valuable natural resources like fossil fuels and water are finite and diminishing. As scarcity increases, cost also increases.
At some point the resources with which we depend upon will be more expensive, or we simply won’t be able to get them. This poses a serious business problem that requires evaluation, planning and investment.
Investing in waste-to-energy as part of our sustainability plan has allowed us to preserve valuable fossil fuel. Our process generates energy -- electricity and/or steam -- from the combustion of non-recyclable hazardous waste solids (rags, organic debris, PPE, and absorbents) earmarked for the landfill. You can read more about it in an earlier blog post, “Closing the loop waste to energy trends.”
Waste-to-energy won’t completely solve either the waste or energy problem, but it provides an important first step.
Temarry’s approach to waste-to-energy provides a good example of sustainable development within a company. At Temarry, all waste is recycled, and nothing goes to landfill.
Liquids are filtered and blended, then directed to a solvent recovery still. Solid waste is thermally treated at 1500°F to generate steam. That steam is used as an energy source to power those stills, reducing our dependence on valuable natural resources such as propane and water.
The stills produce technical grade solvent products that are sold back to industry.
Everything is used and reused. Nothing is wasted. Click here to learn about our Recycling Services.
Water is another natural resource that has largely been considered a free raw material and therefore used inefficiently, but many sustainable companies including Temarry are now experiencing the higher costs of using the resource. As the earth’s population grows, the demands on our water supplies and upward pricing pressure will inevitably increase costs.
We accomplished drastic reduction of our water usage with a major investment in our infrastructure by developing a new state of the art water treatment facility implemented in 2016.
Our water treatment facility allows us to take in water based acids, bases, oily water and other water based industrial wastes, and convert these hazardous waste streams into clean water to serve all of our industrial water needs at our location.
By processing this type of waste in our operations, we are keeping these waste streams out of landfills, and eliminating our need to purchase clean water.
A huge Win Win!
We are now able to save 150,000 gallons of purchased water annually by recycling contaminated water based waste from our neighbors, saving them from the landfill and useless discharge after treatment.
Placing an emphasis on sustainable development, and making investments in our process when prudent has been good business for Temarry. We have seen a trend where influential companies are looking for vendors and business partners that have accomplishing sustainable development goals in their D.N.A.
The numbers bear it out. Over the last three years, we have seen a 5,000% growth in our business.
Emphasizing sustainable solutions has not only improved our process and allowed us to add new services to our offerings, but it has drastically improved our bottom line.