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Posts Tagged ‘Green ops’

Here’s an interesting supply chain problem for you: What do you do when Mother Nature jeopardizes your usual production process?

That may sound a little melodramatic, but it is a relevant question for makers of high-end fashion jeans (Why the California Drought Matters to the Fashion Industry, Wall Street Journal, Apr 10).

The four-year drought in California is hurting more than just farmers. It is also having a significant impact on the fashion industry and spurring changes in how jeans are made and how they should be laundered.

Southern California is estimated to be the world’s largest supplier of so-called premium denim, the $100 to $200-plus-a-pair jeans such as VF Corp.’s 7 for All Mankind, Fast Retailing’s J. Brand and private-equity owned True Religion. Water is a key component in the various steps of the processing and repeated washing with stones, or bleaching and dyeing that create that “distressed” vintage look.

“(The) water issue in fashion in Los Angeles is a big deal,” said John Blank, economic adviser to the California Fashion Association, a trade group. Premium denim “requires water. It is all about that processing. It is the repeated washing to get the premium look. This is what people pay for.”

Southern California produces 75% of the high-end denim in the U.S. that is sold world-wide, Mr. Blank said.

This data from Levi’s highlights the water usage in question.

MW-DJ389_levis__20150409143105_mg

Unsurprisingly, actually growing cotton and consumers washing their clothes accounts for most of the water usage but steps the jeans maker control (e.g., cut, sew and finish) still uses a large amount of water.

So what can a fashion label do?

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Flexitanks

I keep an empty wine bottle from Chateau de La Rivière in my office. It says right on the front label “Mis en bouteille au chateau,” that is, that the wine was bottled at the winery. It turns out that at least in the British wine market bottling at the winery is becoming the exception, not the rule. According to the Financial Times, a large numbers of wines imported into the United Kingdom are now imported in plastic bladders (see the image above) and bottled in the UK (Crate expectations, Jan 31).

In the past few years there has been a huge structural change in how wine is delivered to those who drink it. The UK, for example, is the most important market for one of the world’s most enthusiastic wine exporters, Australia. In 2008, fewer than three in every 10 bottles of Australian wine on British shelves contained wine that had been shipped from Australia in bulk rather than in bottle. Four years later that figure was eight in every 10, and the total amount of wine shipped out of Australia in bulk overtook the volume exported in bottle.

Australia is far from the only country to ship substantial quantities of wine sloshing around in a tank inside a container rather than neatly sealed in bottles. Spain and Italy export far more wine in bulk than any non-European wine producer, and 65 per cent of all South African wine exports were bulk last year. (Chile is an enthusiastic exporter of bulk wine and earns the highest average price per litre for it.) According to the OIV, the global wine statistics-gatherer, the total volume of wine shipped around the world in bulk rose 61 per cent between 2005 and 2012 to represent more than 40 per cent of all exported wine.

So what is driving this rapid conversion from bottle to bulk? (more…)

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You might not think much about the humble beverage can. You drink your beer or soda and never really worry where the can goes next. As the Wall Street Journal tells it, however, there is an interesting supply chain story behind that can (The Aluminum Can Wars Begin, Sep 25).

The first thing to realize is that the numbers involved are kind of crazy. The US  uses around 90 billion aluminum cans a year (see the graphic at right). A large fraction of those get recycled, so the aluminum you use today may be melted down and back in your hand by December. Using old cans to make new ones is slightly cheaper but notably has huge energy savings.

Used beverage cans usually trade at around 20% less—currently at about 81.5 cents a pound versus $1.04 a pound—than the value of primary aluminum.

The costs of cleaning and processing make cans only marginally cheaper.

Those prices have stayed consistent over the last five years.

Novelis [an Atlanta-based unit of India’s Hindalco Industries] says it believes using more cans will allow it to increase sales in places where lower carbon footprints have a marketing value, and to set itself up to minimize carbon taxes if they are implemented. “It’s a long view, but this helps protect our business from the impact of regulatory changes,” says Derek Prichett, Novelis’s vice president for global recycling.

In a world in which retailers like Wal-Mart want to slap some kind of green-index on all products its sells, sodas in cans from recycled aluminum could be at a real advantage.

That gets to the supply chain question: How does an aluminum producer get used cans? (more…)

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What makes for sustainable clothes? That is the focus of a Wall Street Journal article on an index developed by an industry coalition that aims to rank apparel based on a variety of factors (Which Outfit Is Greenest? A New Rating Tool, Jul 25).

The Higg Index (its name doesn’t refer to anyone but was chosen to clear copyright protections in 100-plus countries) looks at the entire life of a product from raw material to disposal. Brands can get points for asking consumers to wash items in cold, rather than hot, water, as Levi’s does, or for using recycled components like Nike’s polyester, made from used water bottles.

The graphic below shows how different fabrics stack up.

The index will initially be available to just industry insiders but the goal is to eventually have clothes in stores with tags that let consumers see the impact of their clothes.

Even in its early form, the Higg index is impacting how firms design and make clothes. (more…)

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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.” …

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Here’s an interesting story at the intersection of supply chain strategy and sustainability. The LA Times reports that Taylor Guitars has bought an ebony mill in Cameroon (Taylor Guitars buys ebony mill, pitches sustainable wood, Jun 7).

For Taylor Guitars, which has used ebony from Cameroon for many years, the chance to ensure a steady supply of legal ebony was too good to pass up, Taylor said in an interview.

The company teamed late last year with Madrid firm Madinter Trade, which sells tone woods for musical instruments, to buy the Crelicam mill outside of Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. The purchase wasn’t officially announced until late last month.

Taylor said it’s been a difficult process bringing the mill’s wood sourcing and operations up to what he and his partners consider acceptable. The mill’s subcontractors, for example, typically cut down 10 trees to find one with all black wood, Taylor said. He agreed to boost their pay to get them to deliver that ebony that had been considered undesirable.

There are some interesting motives behind this move.  (more…)

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Now you may think of Ikea as just some oak and some pine and a handful of Norsemen selling furniture for college kids and divorced men, but Businessweek reports that they are also logistics innovators (Ikea’s Challenge to the Wooden Shipping Pallet, Nov 23). Specifically, they are looking to replace wood pallets with cardboard ones.

Ikea, which uses 10 million pallets to ship goods from suppliers to its 287 stores in 26 countries, will ditch wood worldwide by January, cutting transport costs by 10 percent. The new corrugated cardboard design can support loads of 750 kilograms (1,650 pounds), the same as timber, Skjelmose says. At two inches high, the paper pallets are one-third the height of wooden ones, and they’re 90 percent lighter, at 5.5 pounds. The svelte profile means Ikea can cram more goods into each shipment. The pallets, assembled onsite by most of Ikea’s 1,200 global suppliers, will be used only once before being recycled.

To make obvious joke, the article is silent on whether assembling the pallets requires an allen wrench or wooden pegs.

(more…)

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