Owens Corning (OC) was in a lot of good company in 2009; we dropped in sales due to economy, said Frank O’Brien-Bernini, VP of Sustainability at OC, at a recent 2010 Emerging Technology Forum sponsored by PolymerOhio. “What’s new, however, is that OC has been on path of sustainability since we set our 2002 baseline,” Bernini said. “We have been in a do-say mode (avoiding say-do or just say), wanting to get a few years of sustainability successes under our belt before talking about it.” Obviously, others were noting OC’s progress. For example, Newsweek’s green rankings placed OC at 56 in a list of the top 200 companies making good sustainability progress. In fact, quite a few companies ahead of OC in the list are financial companies, O’Brien-Bernini notes, and they do not really “have a manufacturing environmental footprint.”
O’Brien-Bernini said, “The next two billion people on earth will be born mostly in low historic consumption regions of the world. As per capita consumption grows in these areas, the need for sustainable solutions is becoming increasingly urgent. Meeting these challenges, at the scale necessary to make a real difference, will take a serious commitment.”
He said that companies like OC want to help their customers win in their markets by differentiating sustainability from historical environmental advocacy to something where they can create financial value while doing social and environmental good – finding that sweet spot overlap in the “triple bottom line.”
O’Brien-Bernini said that for OC, pink, its traditional marketing approach, has become its green strategy for both business and communications. And it began in 2002 with an effort to get “our own house in order.” “From our 2002 baseline,” O’Brien-Bernini said, “we made a commitment to dramatically and transparently reduce our global environmental footprint. While we are not there yet, we are making good progress and doing it safely.” “We set a 2012 goal to achieve a 25 percent reduction in energy intensity, and as of our last reported data, we are at a 17 percent reduction.
One thing that has happened at OC is that while energy consumption is down, greenhouse gas emission went up. Why? O’Brien-Bernini said that OC had previously used a high CO2e green house gas to create the insulating cell structure in extruded polystyrene foam. The company has recently deployed a new innovative technology in North America that has reduced these emissions by 70 percent...delivering the same product properties with a lower manufacturing footprint.
“To achieve greener products, we look at the total life cycle of our solutions through our customers eyes, seeking gaps in our product portfolio,” O’Brien-Bernini explained. “We continually have to decide what to focus on…what matters most to our customers. One barrier is how to define what a green product is? Some say this is not well defined, however; we look to our customers to evaluate our performance against how they define green, especially in home building where green building guidelines are quite well defined. We also conduct life cycle assessments to compare our products against alternative solutions. This is a very complete, but extremely time consuming analysis.” “Throughout all this, we are strong proponents of third-party certification to validate our claims and provide assurance to our customers.” Underwriters Laboratory recently certified the recycle content in OC’s manufactured stone products at 35 percent.
“Lots of organizations are entering this certification game now,” O’Brien-Bernini said. “Standards are being created, but it is not certain which organization is going to become the leading standard setting/certification organization for green products.”
“One of our goals is to help our customers and their customers know how our commercial products contribute to Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) structures.”
O’Brien-Bernini showed some 2009 data that indicated that buildings rather than industrial processes or transportation consumed the largest chunk of U.S. energy (41 percent). “More electricity goes into operating buildings than any other thing – what a monster opportunity to save energy!” He asked, “What solutions can be put together to make energy savings actionable and scalable?” He said that globally, the consumption patterns in industrialized countries were similar. The challenge is obvious. The opportunity, he stated, could come from setting higher standards for homes and public buildings: If energy consumption could be reduced by 50 percent, how long would it take for payback? For example, if $10K was invested in energy-saving technologies in a typical new U.S. home, he said, the energy cost savings could be used towards paying down the mortgage for that energy saving capital investment…at no increase in total cost of ownership – which would increase the potential value of the house – which could be seen as an investment.
O’Brien-Bernini shared five key learnings along OC’s sustainability journey:
1. There are no small voices (think about how we use blogs or social networks). We have to pay attention to everyone and make sure they understand the truth about our businesses and what we are doing. We ignored this for a while, but now, we pay attention.
2. Risk can be transformed into opportunities. For example, use product stewardship reviews or facility audits to drive desired sustainability attributes…and avoid red-listed materials.
3. It is important to operationalize external communications. OC has a person focused on this; we take the gathered data and have a process to report it, so all shareholders will know at the same time; we look for trends; we point interested parties to our web-based sustainability report.
4. External benchmarks are important. We look at organizations already out there and see what are their issues and available tools. We do not use a bunch of expensive consultants, but rather we try to use well constructed guidelines generated by NGOs who really know specific issues – and use it to measure how we are doing and point us toward areas of improvement.
5. Aligned partners are awesome. We seek out areas where we have an overlap with others, like a glass recycler. For example, we assured one company they we could consume what they were recycling. That assurance of a willing customer helped them justify the investment.
O’Brien-Bernini said that OC reports using the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) criteria to provide clear and standardized reporting and to serve as guidance to help identify remaining gaps. You can see the details of OC’s sustainability work at: http://sustainability.owenscorning.com/
Since Owens Corning was founded in 1938, the company has continued to grow as a market-leading innovator of glass fiber technology. A Fortune 500 company for more than 56 years, Owens Corning people redefine what is possible each day to deliver high-quality products and services to customers around the world.
PolymerOhio, Inc. is a polymer industry-specific Ohio Edison Technology Center, which is funded by the Ohio Department of Development. PolymerOhio focuses on enhancing the global competitiveness of the polymer industry, including companies from the plastics, rubber, bioproducts, and advanced materials segments. For more information, polymerohio.org