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Design Begins at the Dump: Looking at Business through the Landfill Lens

Lycoming Resource Management Tour - Smeal College of Business Net Impact

Ron Johnson, Senior Instructor in Management and advisor to the the undergraduate Net Impact Chapter, and little ol' me.

At Smeal, as in most business schools, we teach that business is about creating and delivering value to a customer and capturing value back to the enterprise. This production and consumption cycle turns through billions of daily transactions. Unseen by most business students and off the financial statements, are the "by-products" and "externalities" of the system. Estimates (see "take make waste" below) are that 98% of extracted raw materials are wasted, that is, provide neither value to the customer nor the business. The waste creates costs for society but not for the business whose products and processes created the waste in the first place.

In light of this, taking business students to a landfill is a very important education. A landfill is, in many ways, the result of both operational and market inefficiencies. But until business students see it, they don't realize that all their work to create and deliver value has unintended downstream effects. Perhaps we should teaching "designing with the dump in mind", so we can design waste out of the products and their supply chains before they are put into production. Not possible? It's already happening in many industries. Great example of this is the famous partnership between Herman Miller and McDonough-Braungart Design Chemistry.


I was fortunate on Friday to join Ron Johnson and his students to visit the Lycoming Resource Management Operation in Montgomery, Pennsylvania.

We all got to try our hand on the "pick line" where recyclables are sorted. Much of the sortation happens mechanically or with an optical sensor, the "Green Eye"

(pictured right)

...but some human sorting is also needed and we were put to work!

Lycoming Resource Management Tour - Smeal College of Business Net Impact

Lycoming has greatly increased its annual acceptance of waste from 17,000 tons in 1978 to 286,000 tons in 2014.

Smeal Net Impact undergraduate students hear from Lycoming Resource Management staff about the $6 million dollar recycling facility.

Lycoming Resource Management Tour - Smeal College of Business Net Impact

Visiting the "Operating Face" of the landfill, where waste that must be landfilled is actively being deposited (it was really cold...which didn't seem to bother the seagulls).

Thanks for letting me tag along!

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