So a week after I poo-pooed Slate’s series of operations articles, they published a good one (Why Are Poland Spring Bottles So Crinkly?, Jun 19). The article makes the point that there is often alignment in operations between efficiency and being environmentally conscious. That is, a change that aims first and foremost to save money may also, for example, reduce the firm’s carbon footprint.
Consider Nestlé Waters North America, the company behind water brands like Poland Spring, Arrowhead, and Deer Park. It manufactures all its own bottles—an astonishing 20 billion each year. Starting about seven years ago, the company began to examine its processes. It discovered 1) that it could use far less material in manufacturing its bottles, and 2) that those bottles represented 55 percent of the company’s carbon footprint. “When you make improvements,” says CEO Kim Jeffery, “you tackle the items with the most impact first. The bottle was the logical place to go.” …
The differences aren’t merely aesthetic. Making the 2005 bottle required 14.6 grams of resin. The 2012 bottle uses only 9.2 grams of resin. (Plastic is a general term describing a moldable material. The plastic in many water and soft drink bottles is made of PET—a specific type of resin.) “We used to go through 600 million pounds of resin each year,” says Jeffery. “Today, even though we’re making more bottles because the business has grown, we use 400 million pounds of resin.”
That’s less material waste (and, by the way, note the smaller label on the 2012 bottle, which conserves paper). It also leads to less energy waste. The resin for each bottle starts out shaped like a test tube, before a machine heats it and blows in air to stretch it out. With less resin in each bottle, it takes less heat and air to stretch the bottle into shape. “That’s an immediate 10 percent energy savings on the bottle itself,” says Jeffery. And the company’s machines produce 1,200 bottles every minute.
The thinner bottles also weigh less when it is time to ship them to stores. Thus the carbon footprint of the distribution system is also reduced.
This is a really nice example that improving the sustainability of the firm does not have to be at the expense of profit. It also has a Toyota production system feel to it in the sense that everything gets better when you remove waste. Customers want to buy water in a convenient form. They don’t per se want to buy a bottle. Thus, the bottle and everything related to its production and transportation is waste. Systematically reducing that waste makes everyone better off.