The innovative aspect, I believe, is not the processing of waste cooking oil to biofuel, nor is it the adaptation of a steam boiler to switch to biofuels, but the sourcing of the waste streams from workers who have access to it at home, and who have to come to work every day anyway.

Adidas' Vietnamese Suppliers Go For Green Rice

Prof. Steve Clemens | Lecturer Environmental Economics at Brussels business school UBI

EarthToys Renewable Energy Article
The innovative aspect, I believe, is not the processing of waste cooking oil to biofuel, nor is it the adaptation of a steam boiler to switch to biofuels, but the sourcing of the waste streams from workers who have access to it at home, and who have to come to work every day anyway.

Prof. Steve Clemens,
Lecturer Environmental Economics at Brussels business school UBI


As a lecturer at Brussels business school UBI, I have been going on occasional teaching assignments to Vietnam, where the Bachelors students in Business Administration at Hoa Sen University have enjoyed English-speaking lectures and exposure to foreign professors. 

And one day, a Chinese student in Vietnam asked me ‘would you like to give a lecture at my company?’. The answer was yes, and 2 years later we are on the brink of making sustainable business history. 

It is no secret that most of the sports apparel, sports shoes and sneakers of brands such as Adidas, Reebok and Puma are sourced from suppliers in Asia. In fact, brands like Adidas have hundreds of suppliers and they spend great effort managing these production and sourcing channels, but also the Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) conditions at these plants. Most brands even monitor the footprint of each product they sell: for Adidas it is 2,93KWh per pair of spots shoes. Timberland goes one step further and puts this energy consumption figure on every box; it is their nutritional label, stating about 2KWh per pair.

The sustainable business initiative described below, driven and supported by executives at Adidas in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: Mr. Vo Cuong and Mr. Neo Ching Eng, is going to be implemented at manufacturing plants with a combined headcount of around 100.000 workers, no small potatoes by any measure. 

Pou Yuen Group of Binh Tan District in HCM City, Evervan Group, and Shyang Hung Cheng Industrial Co. Ltd, both in Binh Duong Province are among the first to step into an innovative program with us to tap into the most valuable resource they have in abundance: their workers. 

The project, now in pre-installation phase and scheduled to go live end of 2008, goes by its boring project name biofuels from workers’ waste oil, but a more suitable and awareness-raising name should be:

Green white rice, or
Workers power factory, or even
Fight climate change, work here

This project is the result of a number of feasibility studies effectuated in late 2007, and the concept consists of:

  • An internal marketing campaign to have the factory workers collect waste cooking oil from their kitchens, their neighbors’ and friends’ kitchens and restaurants. And as the system includes some measure of monetary reward, this also taps into the entrepreneurial spirit of the local population. Energetic oil-collector workers will be able to boost their salaries by 20% or more.
  • The incoming waste oil is treated with filters, washing process and optionally trans-esterificated into biodiesel by trained locals.
  • The resulting biofuel is then available for steam boilers, forklift trucks, delivery trucks and even the back-up power generators of the companies, thus replacing fossil fuels of up to an equal amount.
 

In a first phase, the ‘sourcing’ of the waste cooking oil will be limited to the companies’ own kitchens and a selected division of workers, to allow for organizational teething problems in handling and reconfiguring of fuel management. And at this stage of the project, the volumes of waste-turned-biofuel would be in the region of 200-300 liters per week. A dedicated and adapted steam boiler will be selected to take all the biofuel: the steam boiler that provides the companies’ kitchens with steam to cook rice for the workers’ lunches.

 

In the second phase, planned for mid 2009, the program will be opened up to all workers (+100.000) and obviously also more consumers of fuels. 

The innovative aspect, I believe, is not the processing of waste cooking oil to biofuel, nor is it the adaptation of a steam boiler to switch to biofuels, but the sourcing of the waste streams from workers who have access to it at home, and who have to come to work every day anyway. There is hardly any extra effort or pollution caused by this sourcing method, and with a rewarding internal marketing campaign, including a monetary aspect, the environmental spill-over effects of such a program on the habits and attitudes of a hundred thousand workers and their families, friends and neighbors, can only be guessed to be impressive. 

As of 2009, this project is estimated to result in the replacement of about 1 million liters of fossil fuels, and to save more than 3.000 tons of CO2 per year. Not bad for a source of waste. 

And that is just the start. Adidas is pushing its other suppliers to step in and join, and other projects are in the pipeline as well.

Watch this space, Vietnam is beating climate change one rice bowl at a time.

 

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