Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"12 Steps" are only the first steps!

The last blog focussed on specific actions that can be taken closer to the factory floor relative to greening the manufacturing process...a critical step towards sustainable manufacturing.

Since then I've seen several reference to what can be done to advance an enterprise towards sustainability along the lines of the popular self help books "x steps to y" (you fill in the blanks of number of steps to whatever goal!)

I remember an advertising for installing a skylight in your home from a few years ago. It listed three steps: cut hole in roof and ceiling of room, drop in skylight, enjoy (I am not kidding ... the last step showed the proud homeowner sitting under the skylight enjoying the new skylight.) I'm not a contractor but I suspect there might be a bit more to it than this!

A recent article in GreenBiz referred to a report from a San Francisco consulting company titled "12 Steps to Sustainability-How Every Company Can Implement Sustainability to Improve the Bottom Line and the Environment" (see for a free download). I was intrigued. On the same day an Environmental Leader article by Gwen Ruta of Environmental Defense Fund discussed the increasing number of companies turning to product life cycle analysis for driving sustainability in their business (see ). She poses the question "Why should any purchaser pay for the extra energy or water or wasted raw materials embedded in products made by another company that has not yet embraced sustainability?" Bingo.

And, of course, this works for consumers as well as business.

But back to the 12 steps. The steps suggested are:

1. Integrate sustainability into the company's vision, values, or core mission statement. 
2. Set goals that are specific, credible, measurable, and normalized for business  changes. 
3. Treat sustainability projects with the same business case requirements as other  projects. 
4. Let the CEO and senior executives be the key spokespeople, and demonstrate  internal commitment. 
5. Establish a strong governance model. 
6. Ensure employee engagement. 
7. Drive operational efficiencies. 
8. Implement technologies and policies to reduce business travel and commuting. 
9. Employ product life-cycle analysis to inform new designs. 
10. Communicate internally and externally. 
11. Partner with the Supply Chain.
12. Engage various stakeholders.

These are all valuable suggestions and help business understand the requirements of implementing green and sustainable practice. 

But such lists often run out of steam as one tries to actually effect change in an organization. For example, if I was worried about something that is arguably a major element in sustainable practice - the "extra energy or water or wasted raw materials embedded in products made by another company " -  which one of these steps would tell me how to find the answer? Step #9 is perhaps the most useful but done correctly is a major undertaking and, arguably, does not offer much help at the individual product design or production level (that is - how your specific product compares to the whole business and all products of a similar type.)

Some steps tell me how to evaluate an answer if I get one (like #3). Some tell me I need to talk to my supply chain (like #11). But what, specifically, do I do?

For answers at the level of execution I need to be a lot closer to the operational level. For example, to answer the question about embedded energy, water or materials, I'll need to make sure I know all the players in my supply chain (do you know this to the lowest level?). I'll need to ask them if they have data on the hard bits of this calculation - all the energy used to make their product (that is, to add value to the incoming material/parts to their facility that converts it into their product that they send to me). Not just the motor current times voltage on the machines that process the part(s) for some cycle time. Ditto for water and other consumables. 

Remember our discussion about scopes 1, 2 and 3 of ISO 14064 from the August 25th posting? These refer to 1- direct emissions from on-site or company owned assets, 2- indirect emissions created on behalf of the company from energy generation or supply, 3- all others resulting from your business operation including business travel, shipping of goods, resource extraction and product disposal. You need the same level of information for water, materials and other consumables to do this right.

Then, with this information, and an estimation of what impact these embedded resources have on the price I pay ( the supplier really aware of everything included in her product she is supplying to me?) I can use some of the business case tools (#3) to evaluate whether or not another supplier can compete based on their "more sustainable" product.

I suspect I will not be able to get this information. Most companies don't yet have this but a number of them are working to nail these down. 

I don't want to trivialize the importance of addressing the ideas put forward in these steps (or anyone's steps for that matter). But, if moving forward on #4 and 6 ("Let the CEO and senior executives be the key spokespeople, and demonstrate  internal commitment" and "Ensure employee engagement") means a memo to engineering or purchasing to #11 "Partner with the supply chain" as part of your effort to #12 "Engage various stakeholders" - it will incite a "Dilbertesque" reaction!

What can we do? A good place to start is to look into our manufacturing engineering tool box for tools that work but may not have been, til now, applied to greening the process as part of our move to sustainable manufacturing. We've mentioned other approaches in earlier blogs. How about TPS?

The Toyota Production System (TPS) cites another list - the "original seven wastes." These are:

   1. Overproducing.
   2. Wasting time waiting.
   3. Transporting.
   4. Over-processing.
   5. Excess Inventory (WIP).
   6. Excess motion of workers, including lack of ergonomics.
   7. Scrap and rework.

These all add unnecessary time, material, resources and, ultimately, energy to manufacturing. They probably don't  address the collateral impacts (transportation costs, HVAC in the building, overhead due to HR, etc.) but, for sure, on a part by part comparison, they show where to get rid of the bits not needed. And this will save energy, time, water, material and consumables. We can use our return on investment calculations to tell us if it is a sound business decision.

And we can evaluate our suppliers on the same basis ... or at least ask them to consider these in their operations or demonstrate to us they are following this procedure, or another equivalent one.

Following the article on 12 steps I've been discussing was another one by Matthew Wheeland titled "Are 12 Steps Enough to Get to Sustainability?" (see He follows a slightly different train of thought but makes good points along the same lines as I do. 

We have to start somewhere ... and sometime. As you develop your sustainability "triptik" for your journey make sure you keep an eye on the details. Happy travels!

One more thing. My webinar on "Why Green Manufacturing" is now up on the internet for viewing. Due to the length (and to insure readability) it is posted in 7 segments of about 8 minutes each or so. The direct link is or you can access it via Climate Earth's website at .