If I were to ask you to name a product that uses fewer resources than its previous versions or models yet is more powerful or effective, you would probably identify an electronic device, maybe a phone or music player. Products and services that deliver much more benefit with much less – things that reflect dMASS thinking - are fairly evident in the electronics industry. But would you be surprised to find the same kind of thinking behind improvements in cat litter, roofing material, and laundry detergent? It's easy to overlook advancements from companies whose brands don't have direct contact with individual consumers, companies who make components for the things people buy. But we’re interested in dMASS progress by companies working in less visible areas of the economy like commodities, materials manufacturing, and business-to-business. Their actions speak to the financial value and long-term strategic importance of increasing resource performance.
We recently spent some time learning about AMCOL, one of the world’s leading producers of bentonite (a type of clay). Though you likely haven’t heard of AMCOL (as they do not market their products directly to consumers), chances are you've encountered their products. They've introduced several innovations that demonstrate how any company can employ resource performance improvements as a business strategy.
The first example is a material they process for a common household product – cat litter. AMCOL is the company that developed clumping clay for scoopable cat litter. A litter box holds about 10 to 15 pounds of material. With traditional cat litter, all of the material is dumped and replaced after a few days. With clumping clay, only the effected material has to be removed. Usage drops down to about 2 ½ pounds per week, a 75 to 83 percent reduction in mass. Multiply the savings times the number of feline pets and weeks in a year, and it becomes a very large number. AMCOL is now exploring technologies for low-density laundry detergents that work in cold water, use no phosphates, and require little packaging. The end result will be a product that requires much less mass than liquid laundry detergents, uses less fuel in shipping, and has less impact on wastewater. The company also developed Strong Seal, a roofing underlayment manufactured from recycled tire crumb. The product has higher insulating properties and better waterproofing performance than tar paper and is recyclable. These are just a few examples of how, by developing new applications for materials and investing in research and development, this particular company is taking steps to improve resource performance.
Much of the focus on “green” or sustainable industries and products right now is on attractive consumer goods, prominent retail firms, cars and other high-profile goods, and what you might call principal sustainable industries, like clean energy. If we are to achieve a sustainable economy, everyone needs to participate; we need radical resource performance improvements in every sector of the economy. Gains in resource performance reflect improvements in both environmental and financial sustainability. Companies can create a competitive advantage by developing products that use less mass and deliver needed functions better, an advantage that will only grow with rising fuel and resource prices and supply uncertainties. Meanwhile, investors will benefit from understanding how the companies they invest in source, use, and are improving the performance of resources.