Arizona State University

ASU helps design eco-friendly product platform

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Source: Arizona State University

A world leader in sustainability, Walmart recently announced an investment to incorporate sustainable business practices worldwide and is helping pioneer a consortium of universities – The Sustainability Consortium – to assist in developing a new generation of sustainable products, materials and technologies. The consortium will be jointly administered by ASU and University of Arkansas (UA).

Walmart’s initial investment will be dispersed equally to ASU and UA to support the partnership in fostering scientific innovations through a science-based, open-source, product life cycle assessment.

The Sustainability Consortium will collaborate with businesses, non-government organizations (NGOs) and governmental agencies, and will design and develop a sustainable product index for consumer products. The index will quantify each product’s sustainable attributes by examining them from raw materials to their disposal.

Walmart officials emphasize that their intention is not to own the index, but consider its potential as a globally shared and open-platform tool to be its strength in success. The index is positioned to drive innovation, highlight opportunities for cost savings and waste reduction and create a common playing field for all. In addition, the consortium will be able to track how the index is reducing environmental impacts as well as driving innovation and “green” jobs.

“Developing indices to reliably compare products on their environmental performance, in addition to an open source database to support this, is a key step in the transition to a green economy,” says Clare Lindsay, a project director for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. “The EPA is very interested in this project and will follow it closely.”

“I feel a great sense of pride today as the first stage of our journey begins,” says Jay Golden, the co-director of The Sustainability Consortium.

“Today an idea has come to reality, and it is even more exciting to envision the outcomes of the next part of this effort, as we create the science, technologies and strategies that vastly transform how businesses operate and how sustainability is infused into our everyday life.”

The Sustainability Consortium is jointly directed by Jay Golden of the Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU and Jon Johnson of the Applied Sustainability Center at UA.

“Through The Sustainability Consortium, the University of Arkansas has a unique opportunity to influence the creation of a tool that will improve the decision-making abilities of consumers around the world,” says Jon Johnson, the executive director of the Applied Sustainability Center. “We will essentially be conducting research that enables customers to make informed, personal choices about the products they choose to use.

“Sustainability is, universally, a top priority, and our institution looks forward to working with other leaders in the field to make a visible difference. Arizona State University and the University of Arkansas are committed to leading an effort that will change the way people view their impact on the environment.”

“We are at the beginning stages of something great,” says G. David Gearhart University, UA’s chancellor. “This initiative will transform the way product value is measured, and I am pleased that the University of Arkansas is playing a significant role in the growth and progress of sustainable practices.”

At the core of its charge, The Sustainability Consortium will develop scientifically grounded tools to create life cycle inventories and analysis for thousands of products that are manufactured and used around the globe. This transparent database will eventually allow retailers and consumers the ability to examine one product against another in a variety of areas. The analysis will factor standardized data beginning with the acquisition of the raw materials, the manufacturing process and distribution channels, consumer use and post-use.

Additionally, the consortium will provide decision-makers and policymakers with a broader understanding of how new and innovative organizational strategies and technologies can assist in meeting various environmental, economic and national security goals.
“As one of the world’s largest corporations, Walmart is a proven and effective change agent in the movement toward a more sustainable future,” says Rob Melnick, the executive dean of ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability.

“By recognizing the necessity and power of broad, multi-sector, global collaboration, this scientific-based index will ultimately transform the consumer market as we know it today from product source through disposal, from supplier to buyer. It is a transcendent model of doing good and doing well.”

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