Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Don't ask, don't tell

Or when we throw stuff away...where is away?

One of the known unknowns (from our discussion of Rumsfeld's definition of knowledge in the last posting) is where waste goes. We all put our recycling out on the curb every week with our trash and, magically, it disappears. We feel a great sense of accomplishment when all the plastic (except for some types), cardboard, glass and cans head off to rejoin the material stream somewhere else. Or so we hope.

And we pay for this good feeling as part of our refuse fee.

But, if we have a goal of "zero waste", can we actually achieve this?

Waste has been a target of manufacturing improvement for some time. Henry Ford had as a major organizational philosophy the reduction of waste, scrap, over production, etc. since this all cost him money (materials) and wasted effort. This was discussed in one of the first postings for this blog back on July 27th 2009.

I noted that Henry Ford said over 80 years ago in his book "Today and Tomorrow" (1926) that "we will not so lightly waste material simply because we can reclaim it— for salvage involves labour. The ideal is to have nothing to salvage." Very green thinking for the time - but motivated less by the environmental concerns than a realization that waste is the result of inefficiencies in the conversion of materials to product and to be avoided.

The October 7th 2009 posting talked about the Toyota Production System (TPS) and the "original seven wastes." These were:

   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. Henry Ford would have agreed.

More recently, in 2008, Toyota announced a zero emissions goal for their production of vehicles.

In the last posting I mentioned Sony's Green Management 2015 initiative and their "Road to Zero". This includes a target of "Increase of waste recycle ratio to 99% or more" by April 2011.

GM has also announced a plan for zero waste at half of its plants (meaning 62 manufacturing facilities representing 43% of its global production). The aim is to no longer send any production waste to landfills.

If you "google" zero waste your screen lights up with other examples.

To achieve this requires efforts way beyond TPS 7 wastes or, at least, extending the definition of production to a wider set of process elements - like packaging used in transporting parts, sludge from recovery of waste materials, symbiosis with other parts of the production facility or enterprise for reuse of materials. It also includes incineration of a lot of stuff. If it is zero waste to the landfill then a lot of solutions will technically fit the need but, environmentally, not necessarily be a positive step.

It comes back to the question of where stuff goes when we dispose of it and, if we don't dispose of it, what we actually do with it - assuming we have not completely eliminated it from our process or supply chain.

Let me relate to you an interesting example of "zero waste" and "where does it go." I attended a technical conference in the midwest last week. The major focus was on retaining manufacturing capacity in the US, and extending US manufacturing into new areas/markets. One part of the program was on sustainable manufacturing and the opportunities offered in "green manufacturing".  Most of my comments would have seemed familiar to you if you've been following this blog.

During one of the coffee breaks I was talking with an old friend who works at a major multinational corporation. He is one of those clever manufacturing engineers who helps to develop new manufacturing technology for production - all the way from buying machine tools to setting up production lines to tuning lines for top performance in the face of material or product variation. The kind of person who makes manufacturing hum.

His company has embarked on a zero waste initiative. So there is an attempt to reduce the amount of "non-product" moving into and out of their production facilities. He told me that, with respect to a precision assembly that they use in some of their products, he was trying to track down contamination that seemed to be responsible for some malfunctions on the finished product or, at least, requiring additional cleaning before installation to insure no malfunction. More and more "common" products are now dependent on incredibly tight tolerances for performance so any contamination can, like in the semiconductor industry, cause part failure or malfunction.

As they were doing a value stream mapping (VSM) exercise (see the Nov. 18, 2009 post for details on VSM) to see where this part goes as it moves from the outside supply chain into the production facility, they noticed a step in the process chain consisting of an additional outside facility, not part of the company. On further investigation, they discovered that this precision assembly was shipped from the supplier to an intermediary where the part was taken out of the protective packaging (disposable packaging) and put into reusable tubs (unprotected) for transport into the production facility and to the assembly line.

This "clever move" insured that no disposable packaging material entered the factory (and subsequently had to be disposed of) and only the reusable tubs circulated into and out of the factory. No waste - at least for that part and the assembly line. The "transfer" done at the outside facility had to deal with the packaging waste of course. But that was another company.

It didn't seem as if anyone was considering the increased handling, contamination, inventory (many of the TPS wastes listed above) in the drive for zero waste here.

And, of course, all the multinational had done was "outsourced" the waste to some other entity for this particular part of the manufacturing process.

Two steps forward - one step back.

(Green-manufacturing blog is going to take a 2 week hiatus for vacation - back again in early June!)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rumsfeldian Insight

Or, what we don't know about our supply chain can hurt us.

In our discussion in the last posting we were trolling in the tumultuous waters of carbon offsets trying to find a way to balance a need, for some, to do something about their carbon footprint while at the same time not getting completely ripped off by some eco-scam.

There is never enough information. There are things that we know. There are things we don't know.

Wait ... rather than trying to explain the vagaries of information myself, let me refer to a master - former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. You may recall his statement about what we know and don't know. He was roundly lampooned for the comment but, if you look at it, he defined very nicely the world we live in (and, have to deal with).

Here is what he said (from a Department of Defense news briefing on February 12, 2002):

“As we know, there are known knowns.
These are things we know we know.

We also know there are known unknowns.
That is to say - we know there are some things we do not know.

But there are also unknown unknowns … the ones we
don't know we don't know.”

I refer to this in my class as "the poetry of Donald Rumsfeld"! But, in fairness, he hit the nail on the head.

It's the third category that is the most troublesome when it comes to working towards greening manufacturing.

A recent comment from a reader referred to our discussion on "sustainability angst" as related to the tremendous variety of supply chains. The comment was substantially "[T]he question then becomes one of not are people willing to achieve this program of "Green" Manufacturing principles but, how [to] employ these strategies? [I]n order to have ... true Green principles we must understand a couple of things ... 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?"

Let me start to address this concern. I am sure the question will not be completely  answered as much of it falls into Rummy's third category. And we will continue this discussion in future postings I am sure.

Many of these variance are understood but not quantified (meaning we can't put a real number on their significance or potential impact.) Other variances (and worse, missing links or information or sources) fits squarely in Rumsfeld's third category.

Let me give an example (and some of you may be familiar with this one) of how the third category can spring to the fore in unfortunate ways. This was first brought to my attention by Dani Tsuda, a consultant with WSP Environmental, who lectures to my class from time to time on regulatory issues and product design.

Just before Christmas, 2001, (in October to be exact) Sony was stunned to learn that nearly 1.3 million of its PlayStation 1 game machines had been stopped at the point of import in the Netherlands by Dutch customs agents due to higher than allowed levels of cadmium in the cables. This was widely reported in the press. The cadmium level was on the order of 20x the maximum allowed for consumer products. The cadmium had been used as a stabilizer or coloring agent in plastic coating on the cables by someone in Sony's supply chain.

The seizure of the PlayStations, the recall, replacement of parts, and other costs, ultimately cost Sony in excess of 160 million Euros (Impact on Sales: EUR 110M and on operating profit: EUR 52M). And, if you track the Euro, that's way more than 160 million dollars.

The incident also lead impetus to the development of reduction of hazardous substances (ROHS) regulations in the EU.

Remember, this hazardous material was not in a core component of the play station electronics that was key to the performance - like a video processor or memory. This was the plastic on the cable to connect the console to your TV or other display. It could have been the electrical cord on your Forman Grill for all that matters - it had too much cadmium in it. Who knew they used cadmium to stabilize colors in plastics?!

And who knew the Dutch would be checking? Apparently the regulation was specific to  the Netherlands but was going to be incorporated in the EU regulations to come out a bit later. What if they had imported these games through another country? Might have been a different story. But, chance should not play a role in green supply chain management.

Not surprisingly, Sony "went ballistic." Today, Sony has one of the most restricted vendor/supplier material programs in the world. They have established a very structured "Green Partner Program" which employs a "Green Partner Environmental Quality Approval Program" which includes standard practices and requirements, audit procedures, new parts approval with comprehensive listing of materials (specially those with any restricted concentrations), and a change control methodology. An illustration of the program is shown below (from the Green Partner link above).

The idea is to insure "'clean' raw material - 'clean' process - 'clean' product." In other words - no surprises.

Now, I will be first to admit that Sony is a huge corporation with extensive leverage in the market with its suppliers and tremendous resources to put towards managing its supply chain. But, it still got caught in this one. So, size may help with the solution but it won't necessarily help when "you don't know what you don't know."

Let me follow Sony developments after this disaster a bit more.

Recently Sony came out with its "Green Management 2015" announcement and program. From the report, Sony states:

"Sony has continuously provided people with a vast array of products, services and
entertainment. Such corporate activities are only possible if the global environment, which sustains all life on earth, is healthy. We must address such environmental issues as climate change, resource exhaustion and the need for effective management of chemical substances both as risks to business continuity and as business opportunities.

"Taking these sentiments into account, we have set forth the Sony Group Environmental Vision, the goal of which is a 'zero environmental footprint,' that is, reduction of the environmental footprint of our corporate activities and of every Sony product throughout its life cycle to zero, and we continue to pursue a wide range of related initiatives. We will strive to achieve this by 2050."

Their first steps in this goal are set out in the Green Management 2015 document and refer to early term goals.

Let me reiterate the key point here - reduction of every Sony product's environmental impact throughout its life cycle to zero.

Wow! Can they do that? It will be interesting to watch. They are serious, smart and confronting the challenge head on.

Another statement in the report is a bold admission by any company let alone one the size of Sony. "At present, every Sony product negatively affects the environment to some degree throughout its life cycle or at different stages thereof."

To be successful they will need to reduce the variability of their manufacturing, distribution, and supply chain operations to minimize Rumsfeld's third category. And come up with ways to measure their product's impacts across the lifecycle

I wish them success. Who's next?

(More to come on smaller company efforts in the future.)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Carbon Footprint Hangover

In the last posting we went over our recent methodology and calculation for assessing my lab's carbon footprint and purchasing the carbon credits to "offset" our impact. I mentioned that there are some sites that offer helpful comparisons to a number of sources of carbon credits and that there are some attempts to certify the validity of the offering organizations.

Most of the sources of carbon credits indicate what the funds are used for - for example renewable energy, efficiency, reforestation. The site I referred to for comparison mentioned that there are a number of other categories of carbon credit sources that are not certified.

There is more! In fact, the "carbon credit market" is a  bit like the wild west or the derivatives market ... you pay your money and you take your chances.

First, some background based on my observations and research.

Carbon credits should be purchased by individuals or companies wanting to offset their impact, measured by carbon equivalent to greenhouse gas emissions or other sources. Last week I showed how we calculated our lab's footprint and what we included, what we did not, how we converted and what the final number was. I also said that we were purchasing our carbon credits from I felt then, and still do, that this is a responsible source and that I am getting what I paid for.

When you buy carbon credits, you should look for at least the following information from the source:

1) specifics on where and what the funds will be used for in terms of carbon offsets; you'd like to about the assets being purchased; like, know where the forest is, or wind mills are, or other asset that contributes the carbon offset you are getting for your money.
2) how is the carbon offset calculated? How much GHG/unit of whatever they are promising to buy or conserve on your behalf.
3) how much of your funds actually go to the offset promised in 1 and 2 above?
4) how long will the asset last? (CO2 will stay in the atmosphere around 100 years I understand. If you buy some trees to offset your carbon, and the trees grow for 20 years and then get cut down, that's a problem.)
5) is this a "future tense" promise or "past tense" assertion? Apparently, many of the carbon offset schemes are rather speculative in terms of timing, delivery and impact. (More on this when we discuss a recent news article targeting this.)
6) is there any track record of success with this organization?
7) is "everybody happy" about this or are the folks whose land got confiscated to put up the windmills (and are now unable to support their basic lifestyle) standing when the music stops?!
8) is this "new" carbon reduction and not just something that is going to occur anyways or has it been going on for some time and now relabeled as "carbon reduction?" For example, if you offer 'not to cut down trees' as your carbon offset asset but the trees are on protected lands that were never to be cut anyways, is that a net gain for the environment?

There are likely a few more but this is a good start.

Some time ago I was going to do something different for my brother on his birthday. Rather than get him a conventional present I thought I'd adopt a whale in his name. I had seen an ad in a magazine for an organization that was working to stabilize the whale population and it seemed like a good idea. Then the vision of a postcard picture of the wide blue sea came to mind with an arrow pointing to the water and a label "your whale here" popped into my head. I realized that, as great as this sounded, I really did not have any idea whether my few bucks were going to help anything remotely close to the ocean, let along a whale. I thought better of it and settled for something more practical.

Apparently carbon offset credits can be a bit like this.

I recently read an excellent article (global report) in the Christian Science Monitor, April 26, 2010, titled "Blowing smoke?" The article, the result of a 4 month multimedia investigation by reporters on five continents, was a joint project of the Monitor and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting at BU ( There are links to the story on the Center's website ( or you can read the text and watch video material at the Monitor site (; video at The article gives an excellent overview of the concept and motivation for carbon credit purchases and then dives deep into some of the issues surrounding their offer and purchase. They use the term "buyer beware" in the article!

I don't want to parrot the whole article here but it is comprehensive, detailed and offers a very interesting view into this "business." It cites examples of green entrepreneurs (in some cases essentially scam artists with a new version of "property in Florida") offering, on one end, the Vatican a forest in Hungary to offset the Holy See's carbon footprint, to some proposing to dump tons of iron filings in the ocean to spur plankton growth (and hence consume CO2; there were some regulatory concerns about this and, also, this had not been scientifically evaluated), to an organization that's been planting trees for decades suddenly offering the process as carbon credits. There are details on native inhabitants being inconvenienced/impacted negatively by some of the proposed plans. Most individuals/organizations featured in the article were not able to meet the requirements I listed earlier.

The article also offers some helpful discussion on the certification process and mentions the Voluntary Carbon Standard (, Plan Vivo (; and this one has a photo of smiling indigenous people on its website so must be good!) and Gold Standard ( as independent organizations for certification. They seem to be legit (but I can make no assurances one way or the other on this from my own work!).

The last one, Gold Standard, has a link to a report on "The Carbon Management and Offsetting Trends Survey Results 2009" on its site (see The report summarizes the attitudes of a large number of industries across many sectors towards carbon offsets, what factors motivate companies to purchase carbon offsets and what the "carbon industry" needs to do to further stimulate the market., the organization we bought our carbon credits from, is listed as the 4th of 15 most recognized sources of carbon credits in this report.

So, I still feel good. But you should read this article in the Monitor - it is good and enlightening.

But, now I'm thinking, if someone donated funds to my laboratory at UC for research on manufacturing process improvement or replacement (one of my "technology wedges" ideas maybe?) and we calculated how much greenhouse gas this would offset over the life of the technology, could the funds provider claim this as carbon offset?

It'd be new, verifiable (trust me!), we've a great track record, no one will be unhappy about this (trust me again - I'll even let you talk to the grad students), and we promise, minus a small overhead that goes back to the Governator, to convert your funds into technology - sounds like a good deal.

Maybe I'm onto something here!