Monday, July 30, 2012

The "S" word, Part I

Social impacts in sustainability

At the end of our last posting … were starting to make a connection between resiliency and some of the societal dimensions of sustainability. As we start looking into some of the less technical aspects, like consumer response/acceptance, we get into these more esoteric aspects of green and sustainable manufacturing. Our next topic - societal dimensions of sustainable design and manufacturing - the other "S" word.

To the extent that larger civil systems are involved in manufacturing supply chains or labor responsiveness, enhancing manufacturing resilience to disruptions and disasters is not a purely technical problem, but involves societal dimensions.

In perusing my latest copy of Fortune magazine I noticed an article under a discussion on "What will the Global 500 look like in 2021" (the Global 500 are the top 500 companies internationally.) The article stated that "scarcity will be the new normal" and claimed that "three billion new people will join the global middle class in the next two decades. The resulting consumption boom will drive natural-resource prices higher, opening space for companies that learn to use resources more efficiently." You can find this online at the CNNMoney site.  Their angle is, of course, that this will offer opportunities for companies in businesses like "reducing food waste, deploying efficient irrigation systems, and improving the energy efficiency of buildings."

And green manufacturing and supply chains?  In addition to food and shelter this global middle class is going to be clamoring for all the usual ornaments of that new status - refrigerators, automobiles, televisions, etc. etc.

Recall the IPAT equation I've been bandying about in several blogs and first introduced back in the September 2009 posting? The basic impact equation (or IPAT, in terms of environmental damage, consumption, etc.) which is simply:

  Impact = Population x (GDP/person) x (Impact/GDP)

(and hence the acronym IPAT: I = P x A x T or  Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology)

I commented then that population grows with time and most countries strive to improve GDP/capita since that drives living standards, etc. The rate of consumption or environmental impact per unit of GDP is the "rate of damage" done as a result of the technology driving the growth in GDP and is really the only "knob" we can adjust to reduce impact.

I noted that engineers are most effective at changing technology that affects Impact/GDP. To the extent we can reduce that impact we are, effectively, greening the process. And that means we are reducing the impact.

The "business opportunities" in the Fortune article cited above are addressing this also … but for food production and shelter effectiveness per unit of energy consumed.

I also noted in a later blog that not everyone agrees that affluence is a good measure of well-being nor that the GDP/capita is a good measure of either! However, I assume the folks at Fortune would be comfortable with this definition.

In a later posting we started to wade into motivated by a short discussion about "energy of labor." In that post, the "triple bottom line" of sustainability - economic, societal and environmental was elaborated on.

You'll recall that the "triple bottom line" term was apparently originally mentioned by John Elkington in 1994 (he called it the 3-P's: profit, people and planet) and the "people" part referred to "a measure in some shape or form of how socially responsible an organization has been throughout its operations." Because what you measure is what you are likely to pay attention to, one needs to think carefully about what metrics actually capture the social impact. And, it is only when companies actually and correctly measure their social and environmental impact will we see more socially and environmentally responsible organizations.

The accurately measure part is the tricky bit - specially for social impact.

There is the concept of Gross National Happiness (also discussed in the energy of labor posting) that was comprised by a number of logical components as:

1. Economic Wellness: economic metrics such as consumer debt, average income to consumer price index ratio and income distribution
2. Environmental Wellness: environmental metrics such as pollution, noise and traffic
3. Physical Wellness:physical health metrics
4. Mental Wellness: mental health metrics such as usage of antidepressants and rise or decline of psychotherapy patients
5. Workplace Wellness: labor metrics such as jobless claims, job change, workplace complaints, etc.
6. Social Wellness: discrimination, safety, divorce rates, complaints of domestic conflicts and family lawsuits, public lawsuits, crime rates
7. Political Wellness: political metrics such as the quality of local democracy, individual freedom, and foreign conflicts

How to characterize these in a practicable way is always the challenge. And, then, how to connect them to some aspect of the design, production, distribution, operation and end of life of our products or systems is even a bit more challenging.

Companies are trying already to become more socially and environmentally responsible organizations. Take Walmart for example. An excellent article on GreenBiz back by Marc Gunther in April of this year titled "How much of a difference can Walmart really make?" goes into some detail on the activities, and impact of those, on sustainability of one of the world's largest companies (it just got bounced out of the top position, based on sales, by two oil companies!) Based on a careful read and analysis of their recent sustainability report some of Walmart's highlights listed are:

- Reduced waste by 80 percent
- Expanded locally grown produce (up by 97 percent)
- Pledged to source $20 billion from women-owned businesses in the U.S.
- Saved customers $1 billion on fresh fruits and vegetables
- Announced a “Great for you” icon that will help shoppers identify healthier food items.

The article goes on to say that with respect to waste "Walmart’s doing very well, largely because eliminating waste makes business sense. As the new report explains: In 2011, Walmart U.S. prevented 80.9 percent of the waste generated by its stores, clubs and distribution centers nationwide from going to the landfill. This has the potential to prevent more than 11.8 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually, the equivalent of taking more than 2 million cars off the road. The zero landfill waste program returned more than $231 million to the business last year through a combination of increased recycling revenue and decreased expenses."

Henry Ford would have been pleased. Recall that he said that waste costs you twice … once when you buy the original product or material and the second time when you pay to get rid of the left overs.

According to the "happiness" list above some of these clearly have social impacts.

So, the question remains - what are the best (or at least most practicable) social measures and how do we link them to manufacturing (either process improvements for reduction of impact or leveraging for product improvement) and product design?

And, what about trying to influence consumer behavior? Where does that fit in? It doesn't necessarily mean less profitability! (I recall this as I sip my $3.50 latte from Peet's Coffee!)

We intend to explore all this in the future postings in this series.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Axes of Resiliency

Response, recovery, regeneration

We continue here our discussion on "resiliency" and how it relates to green and sustainable manufacturing. Recall that we started with a standard dictionary definition of resiliency as the capability of a body under strain to recover its original size and shape after some external disturbance or deformation. It also listed the ability to recover from or "adjust to misfortune or change."

Engineers think of the first definition in terms of a "rubber band" which can be stretched and then, when released, returns to its original shape. This is certainly a recovery from change as well. I also believe this includes "inoculation" to disruption and risk - the rubber band is designed to recover.

In the last posting we ventured into the muddy waters of "equilibrium state" of a manufacturing process or system.  The idea was that resilience refers to the ability of an engineering system to return to equilibrium. But, I don't want to confuse equilibrium in the sense of mechanical equilibrium we learned in our early physics course. There we said that equilibrium was the state in which the sum of the forces, and torque, on each particle or element of the system is zero or thermal equilibrium wherein there is no exchange of energy between an object and the surrounds - meaning everything is at the same temperature.

I inferred that, here, equilibrium was essentially a stable operable state that the system returns to following a disruption that would tend to move the system into another state of operation - presumably less stable, or less profitable, or less environmentally benign.

So, what are the various dimensions (or axes) of resiliency?

We can think about measures of responsiveness, recovery and regeneration for starters. Returning to the information from NIST on resilience (specifically National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), 2008, “Strategic Plan for the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program: Fiscal Years 2009-2013”) one might argue that resilience entails three interrelated dimensions: reduced failure probabilities; reduced negative consequences when failure does occur; and reduced time required to recover.

So, how do these relate to green or sustainable manufacturing? To what extent can elements of manufacturing, as practiced, be implemented to reduce the likelihood of failure, minimize negative consequences when some disruption or failure occurs and, finally, minimize the time to recover (that is, get back to "equilibrium")?

These are normally topics covered in more conventional manufacturing business practices and system management - mean time to failure and mean time to repair, redundancy, etc.

One might start out with the three elements of sustainable manufacturing - materials, energy and technology. We've described in earlier postings the basics of green at a process level (see for example the diving deeper discussions)  but we can also think about the interplay of these three "elements".

The figure below, from a presentation in our lab in 2009 by Professor Chris Yingchun Yuan of UW-Milwaukee (he was a student back in in LMAS then and this was part of the research going into his

PhD thesis) illustrates this interplay well. It shows how the reduction of consumption of either materials or energy or the improvement of efficiency of converting or using materials, or cleaner energy sources or alternative materials or processing technology all work towards greening manufacturing (any one of these trajectories would be a worthy "technology wedge" as we've used it here.) Better use of lower impact materials with no deleterious side effects converted with optimal yield into a product with minimal energy use and that from renewable sources all done in a cost-effective manner - that's the ticket!

Ok, that's not so simple - but that is not our point here. The point is to add on the aspect of resilience to this picture.

If we look at the drivers for resilience, for example:

  - risk and risk reduction
  - time and schedules/availability
  - cost
  - responsiveness
  - competitiveness
  - consumer reaction/acceptance
  - responsiveness to markets and suppliers
  - regulatory compliance
  - etc.

it is an impressive list. In fact, it includes most of what we listed when the blog was started in the posting on "Why Green Manufacturing?" Missing in that list (except for a maintaining competitiveness angle) was the time factor. Resilience includes time.

So, take these three elements from the triangle and ask - "how do the drivers listed above affect these?"

We are not going to go through all the combinations but a few obvious ones come to mind. For example, cost. Maintaining the ability to control costs in the face of uncertainty is a fundamental tenet of manufacturing. It can be accomplished by being able to boost productivity (output per unit of labor) so that wild swings in exchange rates don't drive you out of the market because of prices. Consider Japanese manufacturers who were, at one time, manufacturing products with the Yen at 120 to the Dollar. Now it is closer to 80 Yen to the Dollar. That means my costs (in dollars) for the same product are increased by 50% with no appreciable change in the product. That means I have to be able to be that much more productive just to stay even. The Japanese have excelled at creating production systems that can increase productivity to accommodate swings in exchange rate. That's resilience!

Now think about energy and the "cost" in terms of energy needed to produce a product. You can track energy pries like exchange rates. This gives you the required improvement in "energy productivity" required for making a product to keep ahead of that variation. That's another form of resilience.

Risk is a bit trickier but follows the same general thread of logic. Reducing risk (and hence enhancing resilience) can be done by using less (and hence reducing demand) by redesign of process or improvement of yield  in material conversion, finding alternatives (materials or technology) or, less effective, redundant supplies.

This strategy certainly leads to reduced failure probabilities; reduced negative consequences when failure does occur; and reduced time required to recover. Mostly by "inoculating" the system against failures.

Once we start looking into less technical aspects like consumer response/acceptance we get into the more esoteric aspects of green and sustainable. This is a great segue (note: that's "seg-way" … but not the two wheeled scooter!) into our next topic - societal dimensions of sustainable design and manufacturing.

To the extent that larger civil systems are involved in manufacturing supply chains or labor responsiveness, enhancing manufacturing resilience to disruptions and disasters is not a purely technical problem, but involves societal dimensions.

We'll pick that up next time.