Monday, September 21, 2009

Sustainability Angst

In an earlier blog we discussed motivations for green manufacturing - basically why should you care about this (July 20 posting- "Why Green Manufacturing? (Part 1)"). We then went on in a later blog to tease out a bit more detail about green vs sustainability (see posting of August 4th - "Grappling with Sustainability").

Companies are becoming more and more aware of the issues and challenges but are often not sure how to proceed.

A recent report by the Sloan School at MIT along with Boston Consulting Group (see Env Leader for links - presents the results of a survey of corporate executives. Guess what? Their answers agree with much of our list of motivations!

In order of importance, the "sustainability-related issues" that companies believe will impact their business organization include:

- government legislation

- consumer concern

- employee concern

- concern over environmental pollution

- depletion of resources (non-renewable and renewable, like water)

- societal pressures

- global political security

- population growth

- climate change
So the push of legislation and regulation along with the pull of consumer interest, market leadership, avoiding risk, etc. seems to be forcing more thinking about sustainability and, thus, green steps in business and manufacturing.

The report discusses the concerns about the gap between "intent and action" and indicates that there is not a lot of leadership towards addressing sustainability and a big shortfall when it comes to execution.

That's where we fit into the picture. Green manufacturing strategies, employing the "technology wedges" discussed in the last blog evaluated with solid performance metrics form the first steps in a strategy towards creating sustainable production. And, if we follow our scope of manufacturing encompassing all stages of product creation and distribution from raw materials through use and reclamation, we will correctly view the battlefield. The Sloan School study ( said that many of the business leaders interviewed for the study recognized that the risks of not acting are increasing.

If we look we can find opportunity.

Sometimes it helps to take a bigger view of the situation. One that I like was presented by Ricoh, the copier company, some years ago as they started to define a sustainable business model. I've referred to them in an earlier blog (July 17th) when we started defining terms. Their "Comet Circle" represents their view of a sustainable society (see below from, accessed 9/21/09.)

The Ricoh comet circle is an excellent way to represent the “supply chain” feeding the consumer. You'll probably need to go to the link to see the details - this image is too small. The forward (counterclockwise loop) is from materials through production to delivery and use. The reverse (clockwise loop at the bottom) is after the consumer is done with the product back through recycling, recovery, and return to material supply chain. Usually when a green supply chain is mentioned it is in the context of the return loop - resource recovery. That is only half the battle and, if the forward loop is done correctly, is much easier.

The consumer can be you or me at home, or a company buying something (machinery, paper, electronic components). The key idea is that the closer to the consumer that the circle loops … the more sustainable/green is the scenario.

Ricoh lists the following components to a successful strategy:

- identifying and reducing environmental impact at all stages (this is Japanese continuous improvement at its best and is key to identifying elements of the operation that need to be identified, quantified, and reduced, eliminated or otherwise offset) putting priority on "inner loop" recycling (the highest value resources are those converted into product and used by their customers; try to minimize the resources, cost, energy that is needed to return a used product to "the state of highest economic value")

- institute a multi-tiered recycling program (reduces the consumption of new resources and generation of waste)

- more economically rational recycling system (to quote Ricoh - "A sustainable society must also establish a recycling system in which products and money flow in opposite directions in both post-product-use stages and original production and marketing stages. At the same time, it is important to establish a social system that helps people to be aware of environmentally-friendly business activities and buy products with less environmental impact.) This is important. This is part of establishing the business motivation for green manufacturing, including the original production stages in the equation. That is, the "green supply chain."

- finally, establishing a partnership at every stage of the supply chain. This partnership discloses materials used in production and in the product, transportation alternatives, etc.

Altogether, Ricoh hopes this strategy will reduce the impact of society as a whole leading to sustainable living. And it identifies many places in which our green technology wedges can be applied.

And this will help reduce any angst felt thinking about sustainability.


  1. So, the question then becomes one of not are people willing to achieve this program of "Green" Manufacturing principles but, how employ these strategies? It seems that in order to have a true Green principles we must understand a couple of things as you have indicated about the products that are being manufactured and each Supply Chain is always supremely different. So, how do we mitigate the variances from Supply Chain to Supply Chain?

  2. Thanks for sharing !
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