In todays fast-changing
business environment, forging continuity between vision, strategy
and daily operations has never been more important. This is especially
true in light of the recent revolution in sustainable design. As
the need for developing business models and manufacturing processes
that sustain environmental health has become crucial to long-term
success, many companies are re-inventing themselves and searching
for new ways of doing things.
These are important steps. But to be a truly smart, agile, 21st-century
company, sustainability must become a core business strategy. For
example, at Victor Innovatex, we do not simply want to reduce waste
and limit our impact on the world; we want to design products that
benefit people and the environment, that enrich quality of life
in every phase of their production and use, that grow value and
competitive advantage. As weve worked toward those goals weve
learned a few things about strategic changeideas we are sharing
here that have allowed us, and we hope your companyto move
toward a new vision of quality and performance.
Building Company Culture
When environmental policy becomes a part of company culture it
provides a reliable framework for integrating sustainability into
Change begins with inspiration, but changing strategically requires
more. Integrating a commitment to sustainability into company culture
is key. All employees, from manufacturing staff to management, must
be familiar with the companys environmental policy. They must
also see themselves as members of a team committed to a common mission,
and interaction between all departments must constantly be encouraged.
In this atmosphere of open communication, an environmental policy
then becomes a familiar part of a companys culture, providing
a framework for good, strategic decision-making.
Environmental policy influences design and manufacturing in a variety
of ways. An Environmental Task Group, for example, establishes objectives
and targets, which range from increasing the quantity of optimized
green materials used in products to generating energy savings through
the use of renewable sources. This same task group can also serve
to help implement an Environmental Management System, one that is
ideally built in conformance with the ISO 14001 standard. Meeting
this internationally recognized standard is not about compliance;
it is to establish a foundation from which a company can continue
to be an innovative, environmentally responsible company devoted
to enriching quality of life.
As positive change moves through a company, an ethic takes root.
From our own experiences, we have found that this ethic might best
be described as thinking lean; each small change that improves quality
and environmental performance is driven by an overarching desire
to increase the efficacy of everything a company does. For a textile
mill, thinking lean means eliminating waste in the manufacturing
process; it means designing fabrics that dont need backings
and coatings; it means spinning processes that save natural resources
and eliminate the need for lubricants. And when lean thinking is
well-integrated, every process and system becomes more effective,
generating value for customers while strengthening a companys
commitment to sustainability.
An Effective Product Development Process
A collaborative product development process with well-established
criteria assures stability and agility: quality and consistency
go hand-in-hand with cutting-edge design and innovation.
The architect and designer William McDonough often says design
is the first signal of human intention. That commitment to
environmental quality should be rooted in the design process. To
stay on course on the path to sustainability, to further integrate
intentions into what a company does day in and day out, a product
development process, or PDP, should be created to bring new products
A PDP allows a company to be sure that it is developing smart, innovative
designs that meet a variety of criteria. Before moving ahead in
the development process each product must meet criteria within categories
* manufacturing feasibility
* material quality and construction
* design and aesthetics
These and other criteria can then be evaluated at a series of gate
meetings involving each department, including research and development,
design, marketing and sales. The evaluations, and the synergy between
departments, assures quality and consistency while also shifting
most of the development time to the beginning of the design process,
resulting in faster, smoother, more economical production.
One of the prime benefits of the process is agility in the marketplace.
While it might seem that the demanding gate meetings could throw
obstacles in the path of designers, they actually provide a dependable
framework in which fast-paced, cutting-edge creativity can flourish.
For small companies built on innovation, that presents a huge competitive
MBDC Environmental Health & Safety
Victor Innovatexs Eco Intelligent
Polyester®, a textile designed in
collaboration with McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC),
meets stringent human and environmental health criteria. Following
the MBDC Design Protocol, materials human and ecological
health are characterized according to the following criteria:
Health Criteria (known or suspected)
* endocrine disruption
* mutagenicity (accidental/and or engineered)
* reproductive and developmental toxicity (teratogenicity).
Additional Human Health Criteria
* acute toxicity
* chronic toxicity
* irritation of skin/mucous membranes
* other (e.g., skin penetration potential, flammability, etc.)
Ecological Health Criteria
* climactic relevance
* content of halogenated organic compounds
* fish toxicity
* algae toxicity
* daphnia toxicity
* heavy metal content
* other (e.g., water danger list, toxicity to soil organisms,
Natural Systems Equilibrium Criteria
* global warming potential
* ozone depletion potential
MBDC criteria also include value recovery potential, such
as the technical feasibility of recycling a material and an
energy profile, which evaluates the use of renewable sources
of energy in the creation, distribution, use and value recovery
process of a product.
Eco Intelligent®, Eco Intelligent Polyester®, Eco
Intelligence Initiative® names and logo are a trademark
of Victor Innovatex Inc. Technical nutrient and Cradle-to-Cradle
Design Protocol names are a trademark of McDonough Braungart
A smart product development process can generate a new definition
When strategic change is your game, agility can take you far, and
in fact, an openness to innovation oftentimes forges partnerships
with key players in the field. One such player we have found is
McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC), a scientific consultancy
that develops sustainable eco-effective products and
practices for global clients.
Working with MBDC, we developed Eco Intelligent Polyester®,
a synthetic textile designed for sustainability from start to finish.
Based on MBDC protocols, the new fabric is produced with materials
and manufacturing practices that are optimized for health and safety.
So how can a synthetic, man-made textile be considered ecologically
friendly? Most polyester is manufactured using a chemical catalyst
called antimony, which is a known carcinogen. Long-term inhalation
of antimony trioxide, a by-product of polymer production, can cause
chronic bronchitis and emphysema. MBDC assisted with the identification
of dyestuffs and auxiliary chemicals that meet strict human and
environmental health criteria, while the fiber is produced using
a safe catalyst. The fabric is also designed for perpetual recycling;
unlike conventional polyester, which is often made with materials
or backings that make recycling unsafe or ineffective. Additionally,
ways to establish a take-back program for polyester recycling are
also being explored.
Following are some of the objectives an agile company in search
of sustainability might set in the product development process,
using the design of textiles as an example:
* Made from a fully optimized fiber using a new, environmentally
* Designed to outperform traditional polyester in the dyeing process,
using dyestuffs and
energy more efficiently.
* Designed with optimized dyestuffs and chemicals, which replace
harmful chemicals, such as chlorine, or heavy metals such as antimony.
* Produced in a facility where a significant percent of the energy
used comes from
renewable energy sources that do not contribute to climate change.
* Designed to be safely recycled into new fabric at the end of its
life, with no hazardous by-products.
* Designed for optimal value recovery within closed loop systems.
In MBDC parlance, this new textile becomes a technical nutrient,
a synthetic material carefully designed for recovery and reuse throughout
multiple product life cycles, which can be continually and safely
recycled into new fabric after it is used. Along with biological
nutrientsmaterials designed to safely biodegrade after usetechnical
nutrients are the centerpiece of the regenerative, ecologically
intelligent approach to design articulated by the pioneering thinkers
architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart. The MBDC
Protocol is based on McDonough and Braungarts work, laying
out the step-by-step process of designing biological and technical
nutrients for closed-loop, cradle-to-cradle material flows.
Toward a New Design Paradigm
Designs that benefit the environment at every phase of their
use transform the making of things into a positive, regenerative
Developing ecologically intelligent products and cradle-to-cradle
materials flows is a decisive step for industry. As McDonough and
Braungart have pointed out, the cradle-to-grave material flows that
characterize conventional industry create a one-way trip to
the landfill that generates pollution, wastes energy and uses
up natural resources. They are quick to add, however, that the
destructive qualities of todays cradle-to-grave system are
fundamentally a deeply ingrained design problem, not an inevitable
outcome of human activity. In fact, good design can
transform the making of things into a positive, regenerative force.
What McDonough and Braungart call good design is based
on the laws of nature, which can be applied to the design of both
natural and synthetic materials.
Just as in the natural world , in which one organisms
waste cycles through an ecosystem to provide nourishment
for other living things, cradle-to-cradle materials circulate in
closed-loop cycles, providing nutrients for nature and industry.
The cradle-to-cradle model recognizes two metabolisms within which
materials flow as healthy nutrients. Natures nutrient cycles
comprise the biological metabolism. Materials designed to flow optimally
in the biological metabolism, which we call biological nutrients,
can be safely returned to the environment after use to nourish living
systems. The technical metabolism, designed to mirror the earths
cradle-to-cradle cycles, is a closed-loop system in which valuable,
high-tech synthetics and mineral resourcestechnical nutrientscirculate
in a perpetual cycle of production, recovery and remanufacture.
McDonough and Braungarts philosophy and MBDCs Cradle-to-Cradle
Protocol is a positive, principled way of thinking about not only
the textile industry and the environment, but many other markets
and industries as well. It easily dovetails with any companys
strive toward sustainable design and efforts to design products
that benefit the environment in every phase of their production
and use, and to make sure those products can be safely returned
to nature or recycled into new products. Idealistic? Maybe. But
its an idea whose time has come.
From Products to Initiatives
A commitment to sustainability drives change through strategic
initiatives powered by smart partnerships, products, processes and
So what might be a companys next steps toward integrating
sustainability into everything it doesbeyond the introduction
of just a single product? A company must next focus on four key
areas in the design process that offer opportunities for strategic
change: partnerships, products, processes and people.
* Partnerships This is especially critical for small companies whose
goal is not necessarily to grow big, but to work with partners to
do big things. By sharing knowledge and expertise, a company can
develop products that benefit the entire industry.
* Products On the heels of developing that first eco-friendly product,
and building on its momentum, a company will most likely find that
subsequent introductions are created more easily as a result of
that first initial success and growing awareness. The first product
serves as a launch, and sets an internal standard for a whole new
series of environmental initiatives.
* Processes The way you make a product is just as important as what
you make. Manufacturers should continually look for cleaner, greener
ways to make their products. While eliminating toxic elements from
the manufacturing process, also use renewable energy sources to
power facilities. In addition, track energy and raw material use
and continue to reduce waste at all levels of operation.
* People Stay attuned to community, inside and outside your doors.
Consider everyone who works with your company a partner
who contributes to your success. Only people bring passion to the
table and only passion generates commitment. We consider our community
to include our suppliers, customers and neighbors. Our initiatives
are to deliver safe, healthful products to our customers and include
ventures like the installation of a state-of-the-art water treatment
system at our new dyeing and finishing facility to protect the health
of our neighbors.
Staying on the Cutting Edge
Theres no need to sacrifice color, choice, beauty, performance
or customer satisfaction when designing with the environment in
mind. Sustainable design is innovative design.
One might think that being passionate about the environment might
cause a company to miss a beat in the fast moving worlds of style
and technology, but this need not be so. What weve found is
that this stimulates cutting-edge thinking. In fact, working from
the synergistic foundation of a smart product development process,
designers can and must think outside the box to bring freshness
and energy to the design process. At Victors design studio
in New York City, for example, the design process begins with an
Inspiration Day, which draws on the creative currents surging through
the citys galleries, museums, art studios and fashion runways.
In a step-by-step process, inspiration fuels the development of
a design concept and a concept becomes artwork, a textile pattern
at the forefront of color and style trends that works within a cohesive
collection. Working closely with the R&D team, the focus turns
to selecting fabric, mixing yarns and pushing the limits of construction.
And throughout the process, designers work closely with customers,
tuning designs to their performance criteria and aesthetic needs.
Human and environmental health criteria do not dull customer satisfaction
nor the passion and innovative energy of the design studio. Indeed,
what is does foster is great designand none of the guilt.
Marketing Sustainability and Strategic
Leadership provides the stories that let the world know your
business is making the world a better place.
None of the guilt. Thats one effective way to highlight the
benefits of sustainable design and manufacturing. There are many
more. Saving resources. Protecting the environment. Improving product
quality. Generating quality of life. All sound, true statements
of fact. All things a company can be proud of.
What a company cannot be proud of is greenwashing. Claims that go
beyond what it has accomplished, that disguise shortcomings or are
patently false have no place in the toolbox of marketers. Developing
sustainable products and practices, making a commitment to strategic
changethese are undertaken in good faith and good faith goes
well rewarded in the workplace and the marketplace.
McDonough often talks about doing well by doing good.
A company that is truly committed to strategic change will discover
that its journey and its leadership will provide it with many storiesexamples
that can genuinely demonstrate how it is helping make the world
a better place. These big ideas are finding a bigger
and more receptive audience each and every day. And thats
a good business strategy not just today, but also for long-term
successes in our contemporary economic climate.
Jean Pierre Simard is director, marketing, for Victor Innovatex.
Since its start as a woolen mill opening in 1947, Victor Innovatex
has grown to become a leading fabric design and manufacturing company
serving the contract industry. Its Eco Intelligent Polyester®
is the first introduction in the companys Eco Intelligence
Initiatives, a new way of thinking about the textile industry and
the environment that is guiding the company on its path toward integrating
sustainability as a core business strategy.