Thursday, October 29, 2009

Moving Green "Upstream"

The last two postings we've been discussing "ubiquitously green" and how to insure that green design and manufacturing incorporates all the stages of the product from extraction of materials through the process of material conversion, to manufacture and assembly of the product, its distribution and delivery, use and eventual  reuse, remanufacture or recycling- that is,  "everywhere at the same time" - the meaning of ubiquitous.

We also discussed means to insure that the cure was better than the disease - return on investment in terms of reduced impact or consumption of the technology wedges we're implementing.

The recent rise in oil and other forms of energy derived from carbon-based fuels has been a big driver in reduced consumption of energy. Increasing scarcity of water and some other materials has driven the point home. The requirements for reducing impacts  haven't always been so obvious.

Earlier this week I had a guest lecturer in my graduate class on Sustainable Manufacturing, Dani Tsuda from the WSP Group (a global consultancy specializing in, among others, environment and energy in industrial sectors). Dani has lectured to my class before and, with his experience in environmental regulations and compliance and prior experience with a major computer manufacturer, offers a rare view into the design of products for global markets with, often, differing materials, impact and other regulations.

He started with a review of the evolution of regulations. As I was listening to this interesting scenario of increasing regulations in response, usually, to some disaster or near disaster I was building a mental image of a rock tossed in a pond with ripples moving out from the center of the impact - meaning the coverage of these regulations expanded over time.

As I discussed some blogs ago when speaking of the "tragedy of the commons," most of these regulations have made our lives substantially better - more sustainable one might say.

In fact, to me the the evolution of these regulations seems to be moving green concepts in design and manufacturing further upstream.

Here's what I mean. Initially there were essentially no regulations - laissez faire. Not good for reasons we know too well (Dani reminded us of Rachael Carson and the battle over the use of DDT.) The focus then shifted to the "end of pipe" solutions - meaning, clean up what comes out of the end of the process -and much effort went into technology to remove unwanted and/or hazardous materials from liquid, solid and gaseous waste from our factories.

The next evolution of regulations then covered manufacturing processes and what materials were used in them to try to catch the nasty stuff at the source before it got into the waste stream - move up the pipe so to speak. This is, of course, much better since you are not creating waste that then needs to be treated.

Following this, spurred by European Union (EU) and others, we saw a move to affect the design of the product and the materials that were specified in the product at the earliest stages of conception. Regulations such as ROHS (Reduction of Hazardous Substances - see came into force and gave some lists of materials not to be used. Companies ran afoul of these lists at their own peril. An excellent example is Sony and their Play Station fiasco in 2001 although this was "pre-ROHS" and likely due to specific Dutch regulations (

Dani Tsuda reminded us that still, in many cases, the impact of the product in the market in terms of unanticipated problems with materials it contained had usually been identified after some number of complaints or effects were seen in the user community. And then a regulatory reaction would take place if it was determined that a link between the product and the problem was identified.

We now see regulations addressing this moving upstream with such things as REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals - see which essentially requires the manufacturer to essentially prove, in advance, that the product being introduced to the market does not contain any materials, chemicals, etc. that are hazardous.

And, with the recently introduced Ecodesign program, addressing the improvement of the environmental performance of energy-using products by the EU (see, and insuring harmonization of performance across the EU, the movement of green upstream seems to be complete.

Wikipedia defines ecodesign ( as regarding the whole product life cycle should be in an integrated perspective, with representatives from advance development, design, production, marketing, purchasing and project management working together on the design of a further developed or new product so the environmental aspects can to be analysed for every stage of the life cycle. These aspects are defined as:

- Consumption of resources (energy, materials, water or land area)
- Emissions to air, water, and the ground as being relevant for
the environment and human health
- Miscellaneous (e.g. noise and vibration)

I hope that at this point I don't have to pose the rhetorical question "what does this have to do with manufacturing?" (!). You should be able to see that to operate as a business in a global environment where the world is your marketplace you will need to embody the principles of ubiquitously green we've discussed as part of our strategy for green manufacturing.

In the first few blogs some months ago we talked about "why green manufacturing" as an opener. Add this evolution of requirements for operating in  the global marketplace to the list.

Green manufacturing has really moved all the way back upstream.

By the way, I've gotten a few responses to my "assignment" last week to find some examples of companies moving towards "ubiquitously green" and send them to me (use the comment section below or e-mail: I'd very much like to hear your suggestions and will put together a list of the more interesting ones in a future blog.

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