The San Diego breeze rustles the palm fronds above the Mission Bay Patio - it's nice to be in an outdoor presentation space enjoying the Southern California climate.
The topic for the afternoon is innovation, and the panel brings a good range of perspective.
Carrie Majeske kicks things off by detailing some of Ford's initiatives under the tagline, "Driving change for a better world."
"We've got one foot in today's car and truck sales, and one foot in the future of mobility, wherever that takes us," Majeske says, and she describes examples of innovations such as soy-based seat foams, recycled seat fabrics, and post-consumer recycled carpeting used in the manufacture of under-hood plastics.
It strains credulity somewhat when she introduces the hulking F150 pickup as “a showpiece for sustainability.” But by explaining how the switch to a closed-loop aluminum body saves some 700 lbs per truck, improving fuel economy and performance, she shows that even those who make a more weighty transportation choice can benefit from innovation.
Ecosafe's Phil Ragan then asks a pointed question: "Can your product or brand survive ‘Zero Waste’ initiatives and the banning of organics from landfill?" With the help of a couple of animated videos, Ragan demonstrates how organics composting reduces methane and helps soils absorb more C02.
Paul Murray from the Shaw Industry Group starts his segment with a story:
"The term circular economy reminds me of my Dad. He would take a load to the dump and return with the top of an old dresser and make a table out of it."
This no-nonsense approach no doubt helps when managing sustainability for the world's biggest carpet manufacturer. Shaw currently uses over three billion recycled plastic bottles a year as part of manufacturing over 10 million square yards of carpet per week.
Working to build a circular economy model, Shaw currently manufactures carpet tiles with a 1-800 number on the back encouraging their return and recycling. Murray admits that closing the loop is difficult.
"We really want the tiles back," he explains, "but it's hard when the last owner (usually a carpet installer) is not the user."
In the workshop portion of the session, the audience had a few minutes to answer some key questions around the future of sustainable workplaces, behavioral change and closing the loop to head toward circular economy models.
Gathering around the flip charts at the base of large jungle trees, we come up with a fairly forward thinking set of responses for five minutes of brainstorming:
- Educate - drive inspiration and demand behavioral change;
- Build the recycling cost into the product;
- Track & label products with embedded technology;
- Consider flexible working - which office spaces could be shared? (with privacy considerations)
But the idea that sticks with me most is a three-word directive from a slide in Ragan's deck on helping encourage proper waste diversion:
“Stop. Think. Sort.”