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The Sustainability Consortium at ASU releases 2021 impact report

May 13, 2021

Science-based THESIS tool helps consumer goods companies have a positive impact on the planet

Many consumers rarely think about where the food and products they buy come from, nor do they understand how harmful the production of these items can be on people and our environment.

In fact, these consumer goods are responsible for 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions, two-thirds of tropical deforestation, 80% of global water use and three-quarters of forced and child labor. That’s a message that Arizona State University’s Sustainability Consortium (TSC) tries to convey to the public in their annual impact report.

This report, released on May 13, shows the work they do is helping consumer goods companies have a positive impact on the planet.

Man in glasses and ASU shirt

Kevin Dooley

“Our data is showing that our work and engagement with retailers is continuing to make progress on people and the environment,” said Kevin Dooley, TSC’s chief research scientist and a senior sustainability scientist with ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation. “We’re not only influencing the big leaders but it’s trickling to the privately owned medium- and small-sized companies that are not usually known for practicing sustainability.”

This year’s report shows that manufacturers' scores have improved 7% from 2019 to 2020 and 38% since 2016.

The scores are based on a TSC-created model called The Sustainability Insight System (THESIS), powered by SupplyShift. THESIS is an independent, science-based performance management solution that allows brands and manufacturers to understand the sustainability story of their products, to quickly identify ways to improve, and to communicate that story to retailers, customers, investors and consumers.

Since 2009, ASU and the University of Arkansas recognized an opportunity for an organization to make it their mission to push consumer products to become more sustainable. It was this common vision the led to the establishment of this groundbreaking organization.

TSC, which counts more than 100 businesses, nonprofits and academic institutions as members, created a science-based system where research insights into nearly 130 product categories are offered to companies. It represents the triple bottom line approach to sustainability that’s not only good for the environment but a way for retailers to work cooperatively with their suppliers and manufacturers to not only make products more sustainable, but to also see into their supply chains very clearly.

Products range anywhere from adhesive tape to toys, root vegetables to refrigerators, cell phones to cherries, and shampoo to stationery.  

Manufacturers performing THESIS assessments represent an estimated total of $911 billion in total annual retail sales.

“The breadth and complexity of consumer goods supply chains means there are sustainability impacts left, right and center," said Euan Murray, chief executive of The Sustainability Consortium. "It also means there’s no single solution. So, we have taken the best sustainability science and turned that into the business-friendly THESIS tool.”

Despite a challenging year with the pandemic, Dooley said the companies using TSC’s THESIS index have made significant improvements in greenhouse gas emissions, water use intensity, worker health and safety, and biodiversity in sourcing.

Dooley said consumer attitudes have drastically changed in the last three years; consumers are demanding that manufacturers and retailers adopt new practices and design more environmentally sustainable products.

“Retailers like Walmart, Amazon, Kroger and Walgreens now realize that they need to do this regardless if consumers are interested or not,” Dooley said. “Their reputation is at risk, which in turn means their supply could be at risk. They understand what’s at stake and they are engaged.”

This year’s impact report also disclosed:

  • TSC details that some companies are making good progress, especially in textiles and electronics, while several systematic issues remain, like sustainable packaging and deforestation.
  • THESIS users, who are made up of suppliers and manufacturers, reported that 45% did not report their sustainability performance publicly, meaning that just about half of companies do not have public sustainability goals, which are in demand by consumers who are researching brands to decide what to purchase (or not purchase).
  • 93% of suppliers and manufacturers took actions to improve their products.
  • The packaging of products is becoming more sustainable across almost all product categories, meaning that companies are investing not only in packaging that can be recycled, but also in the processes to recycle packaging.
  • Companies producing home and personal care products (shampoo, makeup, household cleaners, etc.) are implementing safer ingredients in the formulas of their products – driven by consumer education and demand.
  • In electronics, 90% of companies are sourcing minerals from conflict-free smelters.
  • Almost all textile and clothing manufacturers were improving rapidly on issues like labor rights and worker health and safety.

 Top photo courtesy of iStock/Getty Images.

Reporter , ASU News

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Married to the military

May 13, 2021

Tillman Center hosts panel discussion in celebration of Military Spouse Appreciation Day

Military spouses often face situations and challenges that most civilians don’t — deployments, long periods of separation and adhering to codes that sometimes can stifle human emotion.

But with adaptability, dependability and a good set of ears, those issues often can get worked out, said one Arizona State University military spouse.

“There’s many challenges that I was not prepared for and that we were not aware of,” said Army veteran and ASU alumna Karen Cruz, who is married to Melvin Cruz, also an Army veteran and ASU graduate. “But we learned along the way.”

Many such lessons were learned and exchanged in a May 11 Zoom webinar titled “Veteran Voices: The Spouse Experience in the Military and in Higher Education,” hosted by ASU’s Pat Tillman Veterans Center

To celebrate Military Spouse Appreciation Day, the center hosted a panel of ASU staff, students and alumni who shared their experiences about serving in the military and continuing their service at ASU.

“Our student veterans at ASU come from diverse backgrounds, just like the fabric of American society. The experiences and perspectives they bring are valuable, so we built a platform for them to share through Veteran Voices,” said Jeff Guimarin, director of the Tillman Center. “This helps build a stronger, more inclusive community across ASU and enables us to bring the civilian and military gap of understanding closer together.”

He said the ultimate hope of the Veteran Voices series is to spark dialogue and awareness that will lead to positive action.

The Tillman Center created the Veteran Voices series to align with the 25 initiatives ASU President Michael Crow put into place in 2020 to contribute to a national agenda for social justice after the murder of George Floyd and a wave of Black Lives Matter protests. The first installment, “Veteran Voices: The Black Experience in the Military and in Higher Education,” was a way to have an engaging dialogue on the topics of the Black Lives Matter movement and being Black in the military. From there, the Tillman Center realized there were more groups that needed to be heard. 

In addition to Karen and Melvin Cruz, the panel included Jennie Blair, assistant director for University Registrar Services at the Downtown Phoenix campus and the spouse of an Navy and Army veteran, and Hannah Morton, a Marine Corps spouse. Moderating duties were handled by Shawn Banzhaf, Michelle Loposky and Danielle Snyder, all with the Tillman Center.

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Military spouses Jennie Blair (top left), Hannah Morton (top right) and Melvin and Karen Cruz (lower left) participate in a webcast panel discussion for the Pat Tillman Veterans Center’s “Veteran Voices: The Spouse Experience in the Military and in Higher Education” on May 11. The Tillman Center’s Shawn Banzhaf (top center) moderated the discussion with the assistance of Michelle Loposky (bottom center) and Danielle Snyder. The panel discussion ranged from surviving deployments to supporting their spouses during the transition to being civilians. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

The discussion lit on personal stories about deployments, the caregiver role, personal space, sharing sensitive information, the military/veteran family culture and the adoption of civilian life.

For Morton, life in the military certainly had more upsides than downsides.

“I think it’s made me stronger, and I adapt better to life. I don’t think I could have handled things as well as I had in the past,” said Morton, a current ASU Online student working toward her bachelor's degree in sports business from the W. P. Carey School of Business and a minor in communication from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “I bought a house basically by myself, I’ve gone through multiple deployments and I’ve traveled across the ocean and back. I’m actually thankful it’s made me better, stronger and more knowledgeable.”

Melvin Cruz, who saw combat in Iraq, said being married to a fellow veteran has deepened the bonds of their marriage because there’s an inherent understanding of military life.

“Our connection became deep really fast because of our circumstances,” said Cruz, who graduated in December 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in public service and public policy. “I do know for sure that if I were married to a civilian, I would probably be divorced by now.”

Blair said being married to a veteran requires a delicate balancing act. She said it is wise to find a support system, especially during a deployment.

“When (Jack) was in Afghanistan, there was a time when he hit a super low point, and I was at my limit in terms of how I could help him,” said Blair, who received a bachelor’s degree in English from ASU in May 2001. “So it’s also about, ‘Do you have a community or buddy you can reach out to and ask for help when you’ve reached your limit?’”

The panel was also asked to share some of their favorite memories of the military. The answer came easily to Morton.

“Our favorite installation was Kaneohe, Hawaii. It was just a walk from the beach and the dog park,” said Morton, who is a student worker at the Tillman Center. “You would see families taking walks there and it was such a family-oriented place. It was smaller and everyone was closer.”

Whatever hardships were endured while in the military, Karen Cruz said the experiences and the friendships they forged was all worth it in the end.

“Nobody misses marching, 10-mile runs or being woken up at 3 in the morning to do nothing, but I do miss the friendships that you form in your group,” Cruz said. “I miss those moments.” 

Top photo courtesy of iStock/Getty Images