Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why Green Manufacturing? (Part 4) Some Examples.

There are a number of companies already addressing some of the green manufacturing challenges ... and there are many who are not (yet).

We'll take a little lighter look at green in this posting. Let's start with what folks are saying in the name of green.

The 'term of art' is "greenwashing" - I referred to a site that has a greenwashing index (ranging from authentic to bogus) in the blog posted on July 20th.

According to Wikipedia (and I don't consider this as an academic source of information but it is a popular, and easy, one!) greenwashing is "a term used to describe the practice of companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly" ( It includes the "six sins of greenwashing" from Terrachoice (see to help you determine is something is, or is not, greenwashing. I note, parenthetically, that these sites are very popular with my students at Berkeley and, I suspect, with many others as well and actually serve a very useful educational (or at least awareness) purpose. And, they are smack on in most cases! And, some of the ads and videos posted are thought provoking and, for sure, amusing. Andy Warhol said "Art is what you can get away with." Ditto for advertising. Unfortunately also ditto for much green advertising.

We've all been in hotel rooms with the placard about reusing our towels to save water and detergent. That is usually next to the heated mirror or, in the case of one hotel I stayed in recently in a foreign country, the electric toilet which required the use of buttons/electric motors to accomplish simple tasks - like raising the seat! What's wrong with this picture?!

A recent advert for a lawnmower with an exceptionally tight turning radius proclaimed it was green because you could cut your lawn in less time (due to fewer maneuvers I suppose) thanks to this feature. Let's be clear. Things that are done in the normal course of product or process improvement to enhance productivity, reduce cost, etc. should not really be claimed as green. We'd like to think that smart manufacturers follow a path of continuous improvement anyways.

If, however, you consider the impact of any process changes or improvements on the environment, or energy consumption, or green house gas emission, water use, etc as part of your continuous improvement - that counts. And, if you make decisions on how your improvements or modifications evolve with that impact in mind, that's green.

This is not always a clear decision. If I run a copier company, and I change my business strategy to take back used toner cartridges from my customers, re-manufacture (or at least refill them) and send them back out as part of the normal resupply (at no cost penalty) that is smart business. If I can lower the price a bit due to my savings and gain market share that's even better. And, good for the environment. I'd probably call that green - even though the major impetus for this was perhaps not environmental impact. But, if in the tradeoff analysis between the materials, energy, transportation, handling, etc. expended in providing virgin toner cartridges vs re-covering used ones and returning them to service shows that the reuse is also better on all these counts- that's green.

In my classes, I use a couple of examples of companies that are pursuing this with a passion and are consistent with green principles (which we've not clearly defined but let's let that go for the moment). Suffice it to say, they are not greenwashing.

Prominent in this list is Interface Carpets (see and the link on sustainability). Interface was very early in this movement, defined a corporate strategy, defined metrics for measuring how they are doing and tried to include a balance of the three legs of sustainability in their approach - social, economic and environmental. And they report their progress annually. Their CEO, Ray Anderson, developed "Ecometrics" as the term for their measurement system to track their progress. These indicators include waste reduction, renewable energy, carbon emissions, water and energy usage, and percentage of recycled and biobased materials in products. Much more detail on their site including data on the reduction of energy used per unit of product manufactured, waste diverted landfills, etc. They are green manufacturers and one of the leaders of developing a business strategy for green manufacturing and, eventually, sustainability. Some may argue that "carpets are not semiconductors" so this is easy to do this in such an industry. Not fair. The principles they are developing and following are applicable across a wide range of industries of varying complexities.

Green coal is another story and a good example of the confusion over what is green. I won't weigh in on this but just Google "clean coal" and you'll get several screens full of various opinions. And the subtle mix of "clean" and "green" is even more interesting.

You can do your own research on this. But, awareness of the issues is step one and I hope that the material above will help with that. We'll speak more about metrics and tradeoffs in the future.

Next time we move beyond "What is green manufacturing."


  1. In China, the government recently stresses much effort on the development of hydropower, wind power, nuclear power and advanced coal-fired power. So do you think advanced coal-fired power (like IGCC and FutureGen)can be defined as green manufacturing?

  2. Excellent question!

    So far, I have not seen any data that really convinces me how, over the full life cycle, coal power can be considered green. But, this is not my area of expertise. And, when we speak of manufacturing we are usually excluding things like power production and continuous processing (like oil refineries, etc.)There is a lot of work on carbon sequestration, CO2 capture from combustion, etc. that is on going and I remain hopeful. For sure, it will be hard to prevent the use of this natural resource that is so plentiful in many places.

    And, with internal combustion engines, there has been tremendous progress getting "more out of less" - meaning increasing power output from same or small displacement engines with the same fuel input due to advanced efficiency. Maybe in power production some efficiencies can be realized.

    Hopefully some other readers can add some comments!

  3. sir
    i would like to know the basic difference between green manufacturing,sustainable manufacturing,clean manufacturing and eco friendly manufacturing?

  4. Abshishek-

    This was discussed in some of the early postings distinguishing, to me, the difference between green and sustainable - see the "defining terms" posting earlier in July 2009. And, a Climate Earth webinar (at offers some info on this as well.

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