Thursday, June 24, 2010

Individually green

The "sustain-o-meter" discussion last posting got a number of good comments and got me thinking about how this might apply to individuals and their living habits.

Actually, to be fair, I was sort of thinking about this but then saw an article on by Joel Makover posted on June 17th titled "Who's the Biggest Greenwasher of Them All?" The article discusses the statements of major corporations indicating their commitment and accomplishments in creating green business and the degree of skepticism that we often associate with these statements. The article asks, basically, if this level of scrutiny was applied to consumers (yep, you and me) would we be able to show that we've stepped up to the plate and made significant changes in commitment or documented accomplishments towards "greening" our lives.

After all, the products these companies manufacture and sell are bought by someone. Are consumers stepping up in choosing to embrace sustainability and green behavior?

Gulp. Apparently not.

Mr. Makover refers to "anonymous polls and surveys in which high percentages of consumers make boastful claims -- saying they regularly seek out green products, recycle and compost at home, are more energy conscious in their purchasing decisions, switch brands in favor of greener ones, take public transportation whenever possible, invest their money with so-called responsible funds and companies, and otherwise take action on behalf of the planet."

But, truth be known, the reality is different. Mr. Makover states that "Shoppers overwhelmingly buy what they want, most likely the same things they've always bought, perhaps with an exception or two. Except during brief periods of high fuel prices, they drive what they've always driven with little regard for alternatives. Despite 20 years of green consumer surveys suggesting otherwise, people haven't changed their shopping habits much."

And I've heard anecdotal evidence to support this regarding the tremendous differences noted when surveying consumers on their purchase preferences on entering a major "big box" retailer and then reviewing what they actually bought on exit.

Mr. Makover does also balance these comments with companies who have shown clear evidence of greenwashing in the past - so he levels the complaint equally. But, he says "If consumers were a corporation, we'd be boycotting them."

(Note: If you are interested in more on the topic of greenwashing, the posting of last July 30th covered some definitions and links to sites for reviewing examples from advertising.)

But back to the "sustain-o-meter." Although this was designed with a "corporate" context in mind, it can apply to individuals. For example, you can do a global search and replace for:

- "customers" to be replaced with "vendors" as in "engaging supply chain and vendors"
- "implement" to be replaced with "purchase or install" as in "define and purchase or install" tech wedges for more challenging problems"
- "manufacturing" to be replaced with "purchasing" as in "proactive sustainable purchasing," and
- "design" to be replaced with "living" as in "proactive living for sustainability"

and add this to the meter and this gives some better rating bases for individuals.

I have to honestly say that I'd place myself at the mid-point of the scale - somewhere between "defining solution wedges for low hanging fruit" and "define and install." Meaning, I've done things like:  changed all the incandescent bulbs to compact flourescent, installed a digital thermostat for changing the heating periods in my house (and shutting of the furnace at night), and installed a very efficient gas furnace (no chimney ... just blows out water vapor through a PVC tube!).

Oh, yes, and my brother got me a "kill-a-watt" meter for my birthday last year so I can see what my appliances are doing. That's "measuring and tracking performance."

But, you can also check on what your appliances are up to at a neat-o GE website for "Visualizing your gadgets' energy thirst."  Did you know 1 kWh of electricity will make 36 pieces of toast in a toaster but 100 pieces in a toaster oven? Or print 1,333 pages on a printer? You could spend hours checking things out on this site. But, be careful - you only get 7 hours of computer monitor use for a kilowatt!

Where would you rate yourself on the "sustain-o-meter"?

Next time we'll look at how some industries are doing and guidelines/strategies they are using to move up on the "sustain-o-meter."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How are we doing?

One thing I was reminded of while traveling recently is the wide range of "awareness" to the many aspects of green and sustainable living. Even in small motels in remotest parts of Nevada (and believe me ... there are some remote parts!) you can see signs about the management's concern for the environment and to please reuse the towels.

This example, plus smaller plastic caps on disposable water bottles (to make you feel less guilty about drinking water from a plastic bottle that you will, hopefully, place in a recyclable bin and hope will actually be recycled), as well as use of recycled non-potable water for gardening and bathroom fixtures in the Grand Canyon,  show that something is catching on.

You may remember my "Everett and Jones philosophy" cited some blogs ago. Recall that? Basically there are three types of people in the world-

 - those that make things happen,
 - those that watch things happen, and
 - those that say 'what happened?'"!

So ... we are making the third slice of the pie, hopefully, smaller.

This motivates me to propose a "sustain-o-meter" to allow the tracking of efforts toward green and sustainable living. This can be applied as well to the topic of this blog and we'll look into some current programs seriously addressing green and sustainable manufacturing in a bit.

But first the "sustain-o-meter." If you do a google search of this term you get a number of hits, including a reference to forest sustainability, Unity College sustainability monitor, and another one from "Professor Planet" on the sustainability of ideas and  complete with an explanation of the "three finger sustainability" salute (don't worry - you can use it in public!). So, I am not first...but I am trying to be a bit more "quantitative" in the meter readings to allow more detail. Well, you be the judge.

My version of the sustain-o-meter tries to gauge the seriousness of an organization's commitment and actions. It is based on my reading and review of lots of information on real, or imagined, activity and ranges from "eco-chic" styling of designer pants (organic cotton!) to totally zero waste, sustainable design and renewable resource companies.

The proposed "meter" is shown below with measures ranging from denial and indifference on one end to serious and effective on the other. I've tried to put stages of development of programs and systems

leading towards a sustainable enterprise. And, you will likely need to click on the image to read the details.

I am sure I will have missed something and the meter coverage does venture outside of my comfort zone of green and sustainable manufacturing. But, it accommodates a lot of what we've been discussing here.

The "steps to enlightenment" on the meter are:

- denial
- indifference
- "poking around" for someone else to pay for improvement
- outsourcing the problem
- asking smart questions and benchmarking (could be two categories here)
- measuring and tracking performance (with green metrics)
- engaging supply chain and customers (in identifying the challenges and potential solutions)
- defining solution "wedges" for low hanging fruit (see wedges below)
- define and implement technology wedges for more challenging problems (and recall the definition of technology wedges)
- proactive sustainable manufacturing (design/construction of manufacturing processes, machines and systems for sustainable production)
- proactive design for sustainability (for products)
- serious and effective

Sort of "Dornfeld's 12 steps to sustainable manufacturing."

The lower ratings on the left side would represent the "what happened?" zone of our Everett and Jones philosophy. The mid ratings, from "measuring and tracking" to "define solution wedges for low hanging fruit" would be typical of steps for greening manufacturing. These are sort of in the "watch things happen" although, frankly, that is a bit of an understatement. Finally, the right end, from "define and implement technology wedges for more challenging problems" to "proactive design for sustainability" is definitely in the "make things happen" category.

Next time we'll put some "meat" on the scale levels as an examples of what organizations are doing.

I also encourage you to think about this scale and a few examples of companies, organizations, or other enterprises and where they might fit into the scale. Send me a note if you think you've got some good measures!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Partnership for Sustainable Manufacturing

Or ... "You are either part of the solution or part of the problem."

Today I am using the posting to introduce the Sustainable Manufacturing Partnership (SMP) in the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Sustainability (LMAS) at UC Berkeley. Please forgive me if this sounds like an advertisement - it is, sort of, but for noble purposes!

First, a few notes and comments. The second line in the heading of today's posting is actually a quote from Eldridge Cleaver. Mr. Cleaver was not known as an environmentalist but was considered, by many,  to be an effective activist for sure! As a student at Madison in the late 60's I certainly saw many photos/posters of him for causes that seemed urgent at the time.

While searching for the source of that quote I came across two others related to the environment and sustainability I'd like to share:

“Nature provides a free lunch, but only if we control our appetites." (William Ruckelshaus, Business Week, 18 June 1990; he was the first EPA Adminstrator, (1970-1973 and 1983-1985).)

Or, another one more apropos to the situation in the Gulf of Mexico attributed to Calvin:
"That's the problem with nature. Something's always stinging you or oozing mucus on you. Let's go watch TV." Bill Watterson, Something under the bed is drooling, 1988. (Calvin is a character in the "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strip by Mr. Watterson.)

Now ... onto the SMP.

I have given several presentations on the challenges and opportunities associated with green manufacturing (and you can download one from LMAS website). I generally start with the "opportunities" and include the following:

• All future energy, transport, medical/health, life style, dwelling, defense and food/water supply systems based on increasingly precise elements and components - hence manufacturing, to be specific, precision or high quality manufacturing, is critical to the future.

• Manufacturing for an energy and environmentally aware consumer (autos, consumer products, buildings, etc.) will become increasingly important. And this will require major shifts in the way we manufacture in terms of materials used, processes and systems.

• Manufacturing alternate energy supply systems. This will also require major shifts in the way we manufacture in terms of materials used, processes and systems - specially if we'd like the US to be a player in this arena.

• Machine tools using less energy, materials, and space will require substantial innovation in design, manufacture, and operation of these "mother machines" (meaning the producing machinery for all other machines and systems).

• Efficient factory operation will insure the green machines will operate in environments as green.

• The "opportunity" to comply with government regulations. This sounds like an academics view of big government but to insure level playing fields and to be responsive to global trends this can be a competitive driver if used constructively.  Remember the tragedy of the commons?!

In the presentation the last conclusions slide, by way of summarizing all the neato stuff presented,  includes the following statements:

• Energy, green manufacturing and related issues are a big opportunity for industry/manufacturing
- new products/services/market leadership
- better overall performance/lower CoO
- more competitive, reduce risk
- take advantage of growing regulatory environment

• This requires careful analysis and development of metrics and analytical tools

• Including energy and green manufacturing aspects can be part of a successful sustainable business strategy

• The problem is too large for individual companies to solve - must be a cooperative effort among industry, associations, researchers, government

It is that last statement that drives the creation of the Sustainable Manufacturing Partnership (or SMP). We have a url- (although at this time it simply links to the LMAS website). This will be updated as more information becomes available. It takes a team of organizations to make real progress.

The SMP will operate as a consortium of partners. The idea is that, referring to the second summary statement above on the need for "careful analysis and development of metrics and analytical tools", working with partners on specific industry focused problems, these analyses and tools can be created to allow engineers to incorporate green metrics and analyses in all their work on materlal selection, machine design and operation, systems, layout of facilities, operation of these systems and facilities and, ideally, all the way up to the supply chain.  And, of course, smart undergrad and graduate students play a critical role in this - each will tackle a problem area. This insures they are familiarized with the problems and solutions as part of their education but, as well, is a terrific attractor of students.

We are just kicking this off and have several partners already on board or in discussion. These partners cover a range of technologies and industries from basic manufacturing (i.e. "heavy iron") to more specialized manufacturing for aerospace and semiconductor. All fit the definition of "precision manufacturing." We hope to include, as well, folks who can embed these analytical tools into more conventional design software - then the real impact can be driven throughout industry practice.

There is a fee for the partnership of course - got to feed the grad students. But there will also be a mechanism for participation by interested parties who may have something to contribute in other ways.

There will be more to come on this in future postings. If you have interest - please send me an e-mail at

Oh, and we had a great vacation touring the US Southwest (National Parks - Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest,  Mesa Verde, plus Santa Fe, etc.) And, if you are ever in Durango Colorado be sure to ride the steam train from Durango to Silverton; smoke, steam, whistles, deep canyons, the works - an amazing combination of engineering and nature.)