Green Manufacturing

Green manufacturing is a process for making products that reduces resource, water or energy consumption, and/or decreases residual waste.

Why Are Manufacturers Going Green?

According to an MIT Sloan Management Review, “Sustainability Nears a Tipping Point”, two-thirds of almost 3,000 company officials reported that “sustainability was critically important to being competitive in today’s marketplace" and there are many reasons why green manufacturing can help companies maintain and improve their competitive advantage.

First and foremost, a more sustainable manufacturing process is not only better for the environment, but also better for a company’s bottom line, because of reduced energy, water, waste disposal or raw materials costs. Also, a facility may pay lower regulatory compliance costs because of efforts to reduce pollution and highlight safety improvement efforts. Its employees may also benefit from healthier and safer working conditions.

Many companies that pursue green manufacturing also seek to reduce environmental impacts because of perceived marketing benefits. For instance, sustainable companies often receive incremental PR for their efforts and may develop a rapport among new or existing sustainability-focused customers. Indeed, sustainability can give a company an advantage over its competitors, if they are not addressing environmental concerns.

Sustainable Manufacturing Strategies

Energy efficiency is a common theme in sustainability because energy use reduction is one of the most financially beneficial green measures that a building, facility or company can take.

ENERGY STAR offers benchmarking tools that can help a manufacturing plant discover how much energy it is currently using, so that it can figure out how and where it can cut back. Measures like converting older fixtures to LED lighting, energy recovery ventilation (ERV) systems, investing in more efficient machinery, daylighting and insulation are just a few examples of how to reduce energy use on-site. ENERGY STAR also offers certification for commercial buildings and plants that meet its energy efficiency requirements. Unlike other programs, ENERGY STAR is a free way for buildings and manufacturing plants to certify their buildings as green.

Water conservation is an important component of sustainable manufacturing, especially for companies with water-heavy manufacturing processes, such as paper, food, beverages, and computer chips, for example. Process water can become extremely expensive - the current water industry is valued at $370 billion, and is growing at 5% each year. Adding chemicals or other pollutants to the water can be costly because of heavier regulations and added disposal and treatment costs.

Manufacturers can use strategies like dry machining, process or wastewater recovery and reuse, using non-potable water where possible, and reducing painting or rinsing to conserve water. Ford Motor Company, for instance, used some of these strategies and cut 883 million gallons annually, which saved the company $22 million per year, according to Green Manufacturer.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promotes what it calls “lean manufacturing”, which is manufacturing products on time but with more efficient resource use and reduced waste. The EPA has a number of helpful toolkits for companies who want to practice “lean” manufacturing. The general idea behind this practice is a shift from batch and queue mass production to one-piece flow pull production. According to the EPA, “whereas "batch and queue" involves mass production of large lots of products in advance based on potential or predicted customer demands, a "one-piece flow" system rearranges production activities in a way that processing steps of different types are conducted immediately adjacent to each other in a continuous flow”.

Some manufacturing plants have pledged to “zero-landfill”, which means that the company does not send any waste to the landfill, but rather reuses, recycles or composts it.

Packaging is an important component of sustainable product manufacturing, because about 30% of landfill waste is comprised of packaging. Many companies are downsizing their packaging or making it with recyclable materials. For example, J.L. clark has reduces the thickness of the walls of their containers. Reducing packaging not only eliminates landfill waste at the product’s end of use, but it also cuts manufacturing, resource costs,

Waste to energy is a growing trend in manufacturing. Manufacturers can send their waste to a plant, which uses combustion to turn the waste into steam, which is then a source of clean, renewable energy.

Sourcing local raw materials and selling products as locally as possible can help a manufacturing facility reduce its environmental impact. Shipping costs will be much lower, and it can help to boost the local economy. Locating a manufacturing plant near warehouses or the main customer base can greatly reduce transportation distances, which cuts costs and energy use.

LEED and Green Manufacturing

The US Green Building Council, the creators of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system, has taken a special interest in greener, more efficient manufacturing facilities.

USGBC reported that as of June 2013, 117 industrial manufacturing facilities had achieved LEED certification, and 703 were registered. For example, the Volkswagen automotive manufacturing plant in Chattanooga became the first of its kind to achieve LEED Platinum certification. It will save 5 million gallons of water per year, uses green power from a local hydroelectric dam, and uses LED lighting, rockwool insulation and a cool roof (among other strategies) to save energy.

However, LEED does not currently have a manufacturing-specific LEED rating system, and many of them have features that make it difficult for factories to participate. USGBC is working with a focus group that will help remove barriers to entry and add special exceptions or methods of compliance for manufacturing facilities to rating systems. Members of the focus group include representatives of companies that have large manufacturing facilities, including Johnson Controls, Kohler Co., Proctor & Gamble, etc.

Professionals in Green Manufacturing

Professionals who want to pursue sustainable manufacturing could benefit from pursuing credentials and education related to the industry.

The LEED Green Associate and LEED AP credentials are a good place to start, because these will cover green building and operations, and as mentioned above, many manufacturing facilities are pursuing LEED certification. The Green Associate exam will cover the basics of green building and LEED, while the AP exam covers a specific rating system.

Aside from LEED, there are programs that specifically focus on green manufacturing processes. For example, the Green Manufacturing Specialist certificate program is a 2.5 day online workshop (available online, 24/7) that will prepare you to take the SME Green Manufacturing Certificate Exam. It will instruct professionals in sustainability, material and solid waste management, energy management, chemical waste management, and climate and air emissions management.


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