Since the late 1980s, the concept of sustainability has grown from corporate catchword to competitive advantage. According to a 2011 McKinsey Report, corporate reputation was supplanted as the most frequently cited reason for actively pursuing sustainability strategies. As data emerged, companies began viewing sustainability as the key to improving operational efficiency, reducing waste and lowering costs. Sustainability not only led to leaner operations but also better bottom-line results.
Spurred on by stricter governmental regulations, activist shareholders and global concern over climate change risk, companies today are doing significantly more to safeguard resources. Nevertheless, there is still more to be done. We spoke with Professor David R. Shonnard (Sustainable Futures Institute and Dept. of Chemical Engineering at Michigan Technological University) about future trends and issues; and, how the RAPID Manufacturing Institute is helping transform processes in the chemicals, oil and gas and pulp and paper industries, thereby enhancing sustainability.