How to turn waste into profits

Professor’s environmental performance tool gives companies another incentive to be in the green

| Author: Gary H. Piatek

The world is heading toward a natural resources crisis, the United Nations warns.

Should the global population reach 9.6 billion by 2050, it said, "the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles."

Goksel Demirer is working to keep that crisis from happening.

The Central Michigan University environmental engineering professor has spent more than 20 years on the front lines of international sustainability efforts by showing industries how they can increase their profits while decreasing their environmental impact.

"I am an engineer. I don't want to only discover a problem, I want to come up with a way to improve the outcome."

The engineering and technology faculty member in the College of Science and Engineering has developed what he calls an environmental performance evaluation tool.

He used the tool for years when he lived overseas. He and his team would perform a data analysis of the amount of resources a company used to make a product and how much waste it created in the process. They then analyzed the data to show how it could improve its environmental and business performance.

For example, he said, consider a company that makes cheese. To produce the cheese, it uses milk, water, rennet, coloring, packaging, energy, etc. If in the production process the company wastes 40% of its materials, but the benchmark for a well-run company is 10% waste, it clearly has a lot of room to improve.

A win-win proposal

He said that many companies know that their production process is not the most efficient, but they need help gathering precise data. And even if they have a good idea of their waste, they don't know how to lessen it or how to turn it into profits.

For some companies, he said, the environmental side is most important. For others, it's the economic side. It doesn't matter to him which side a company stands on, because an increase in efficiency helps both.

"It's like winning a medal," he said. "The sides might be different, but they both signify an accomplishment."

What makes his environmental strategy unique, he said, is that it not only finds the inefficiencies, but it analyzes the data and offers solutions.

"I am an engineer," he said. "I don't want to only discover a problem, I want to come up with a way to improve the outcome."

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