The Green Philosophy
There has been so much hype about “green” that many organizations are adopting it, but what is “green”, really? We hear and see it everywhere—in the food we eat (green beans), during our morning routine (green contact lenses), on our way to work (green traffic lights), in our down time (green tea), and during the course of our work day (green initiatives). Green initiatives can be seen in every industry and every sector: from marketing to engineering, from infrastructure to architecture, from supply chain to technology, and more.
Green is state of mind which all organization and individuals need to think. Often organizations think of green as simply being environmentally and socially responsible products or services which do not destroy nature or our planet. So to produce a green product, do we need to use a “cradle to grave to cradle” philosophy? The answer is yes. By using this concept, a product can be designed in such a way that when it reaches its end state, it will be recycled or reprocessed to create a new product.
For the Good of Our Planet
How did we get to such a state that forces us to think this way? Are we destroying our planet by putting waste into it? Are we misusing our natural resources? The answer is yes, in both cases. We have not been very environmentally conscience in the last several decades when developing our technological products, nor have we been—as humans—responsible about the uses of our resources (water, air, and land). Our vision as humans should be to serve humanity; our mission as humans should be to save humanity. We are all responsible for the outcomes of our actions.
Achieving Our Green Goals in Manufacturing
Now that we have a vision and a mission in mind, how are we going to achieve our green goals and objectives? As manufacturers, we need to look toward changing the development, procurement, manufacturing, logistics, and distribution processes—collectively known as supply chain—to a way which is more environmentally-friendly. By doing so, we are not only helping the environment (and ultimately our planet), we’re also making our business more profitable.
Now the big question is how to create a green supply chain (GSC). By keeping the “cradle to grave to cradle” concept in mind, we can achieve this goal. Let’s take a look at product development and the supply chain to see how we can implement this concept.
Here is a broad list of suggestions—some that can be implemented right away and some will require more time and a greater investment.
We can develop more environmentally-friendly products by designing products with life cycles that virtually do not end (e.g., a product that can be recycled or reprocessed to develop another product); this will be in line with the concept of “cradle to grave to cradle”. While designing such a product, we also need to strive to use cheaper, recycled and natural raw material wherever possible.
Another important factor—which automobile and appliance manufacturers have already adopted—is designing products with energy efficiency in mind. Designing and developing products that take less energy and resources to produce will not only help to achieve the GSC goal, but also help with bottom line.
Procurement involves decisions required to fulfill our internal and external demands. So, how can we create green procurement habits? We already see some examples of green internal procurement in our work environment—typically recycling paper or even using recycled papers for printing. But is that enough to achieve the GSC goal? In my opinion, it’s a good start but we can go beyond recycling paper. For example, when purchasing furniture, stationary, printer, toner, etc., we need to pay attention to whether or not these products are environmentally friendly and are coming from environmentally friendly sources. The initiation of green has to happen at the inception of procurement cycle which targets all suppliers, i.e. equipment, construction, parts, material etc.
For external procurement, we can get close to the goal of GSC by selecting suppliers that are using green initiatives in their process and products. One area where most organizations are lacking in their green initiative is IT infrastructure. Organizations need to make sure that their IT infrastructure (servers, data center, and storage equipment) are also in line with their green initiative. Because of the impact that IT infrastructure has the environment turning towards virtualization, cloud computing, and prolonging the life of our product design by either upgrades or reengineering will help in saving the environment. Companies like Fujitsu have already started projects which focus on energy-saving IT infrastructure by helping customers to reduce CO2 emissions.
When we talk about environmentally-friendly products, most organizations tend to focus on the manufacturing process alone, which is a start because manufacturing imposes one of the highest negative impacts on our environment. But by reducing air and water pollution, waste material, scrap, and resource and energy consumption, we can help make the environment greener and contribute to the overall goal of GSC.
Adopting lean manufacturing processes is one way of getting there. When manufacturers start reducing waste at each step of the process in order to deliver the most cost effective product to the customer, the manufacturing process becomes a lean process. Additionally, improving quality of the process means we are actually reducing waste from the start of the process (raw material) to the final goods (finished product), and when a manufacturer delivers a quality product to the consumer, the result will be fewer returned goods, happier consumers, and a better brand name in the market place.
Now the question is, how do we get environmentally-friendly raw material into our process? The answer: through logistics. In essence, logistics is management of all actions necessary to move a product from the beginning to the end of supply chain, through to consumer purchasing. But logistics does not end there. There is also reverse logistics as well, which occurs when the product is returned or becomes waste.
Logistics involves freight transport, storage, inventory management, material handling, and all the information related to these activities. Every part of logistics can be made green. For example, to achieve this goal, many companies are combining operations and technology (transportation management system [TMS] tools) to decrease fuel consumption. They are combining loads, reducing miles driven, and talking with suppliers and customers to collaborate on delivery routes and product pickup sites. Some organizations are also looking at more fuel-efficient trucks and are using bio-fuels as well.
Most logistics organizations are also using the Smart Way program and are trying to move away from air transport to more environmentally friendly methods.
Some additional key initiatives which are needed to achieve our green objectives are
Any distribution center or building has a variety of products which are constantly moving in and out of the facility. Let’s take a step back for a moment and look at it from the outside in. If you look outside the building, is it standing in no man’s land or is it located centrally to customers? If an organization’s distribution center is located in the outskirts, trucks will be travelling longer routes—which will drive transportation costs higher and make a major environmental impact. If the same distribution network is created in a central location, it will drive these costs down and create a better carbon footprint for the organization.
Now, let’s take a sneak peek inside these facilities—where the majority of action takes place. Key areas for greener facility are
In order to achieve a truly green supply chain—while helping to save and serve humanity—we need to make some long-term changes and become more socially responsible. The change will need to occur from the top all the way to the bottom. Businesses need to align their green supply chain goals with business objectives and use green supply chain initiatives to improve their overall business processes.
Very interesting indeed.
Green projects in companies have to start from the inside (through the values). These new initiatives should be spread throughout the organization’s structure and especially the production processes (which are often the most pollutant).
One of the main tools used to analyze production processes (and to make them more environmentally friendly) is the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), which is defined as:
“Compilation and evaluation of the inputs, outputs and the potential environmental impacts of a product system throughout its life cycle” (ISO 14040:1997, Environmental Management: Life Cycle Assessment– Principles and framework, International Organisation for Standardization.)
Given the fact that it is usually quite difficult to locate the totality of the environmental impacts, the LCA offers a particular methodology: it consists of an analysis of the input and output of material streams in each step of the production process as well as their evaluation through previously established coefficients that will allow us to calculate the impact of every flow in relation to the desired environmental impact that we wish to study.
Basically, it consists of four phases: inputs, inventory, outputs (stressors) and impacts.
• Throughout the input phase, input materials such as energy, water and other resources are analyzed.
• The inventory stage consists on the evaluation of the purchase of materials, manufacturing, assembling, transportation & distribution, usage and disposition.
• During the output (or stressors) phase, factors like GHG, water and solid waste and other emissions are evaluated.
• Finally, the impacts are classified in categories such as: global warming, destruction of the ozone layer, acidification of the water, eutrophication, smog emissions, toxicity, etc.
The LCA can therefore be used in many ways. It can help find the main sources of pollution on production processes, observe what impact an adjustment on a certain procedure or solution really represents (and if this modification won’t create a problem elsewhere), to compare two different products, etc.
However, it is important to keep in mind that the LCA is a decision support tool and not a decision tool itself. It remains quite subjective since it simply allows us to identify potential impacts. In addition, its interpretation can be hard to interpret given the diversity of facts that can be studied. In order to simplify the data and make it more compatible with one another, two approaches are generally used:
• Normative, which translates impacts on habitants
• Monetary, which translates impacts on externalities.
These two approaches can in fact be used together. Though, what’s usually complicated (and often discussed) about the monetization approach is actually calculating the real external costs as well as the fact that usually, even if the unit is the same, the considered costs could and actually are different (compensating resulting damages, cleanup costs, etc). Therefore, the impacts cannot be considered homogeneous nor directly comparable. Even so, the LCA is a powerful tool that helps evaluate the environmental impacts of products.
Still, new products are constantly being created every day. What can be brought from all this discussion? From this questioning, the concept of eco-design was born. This idea calls for opinions about upcoming products’ legitimacy: what real improvement to life do they actually bring? Sometimes, the adequate response to this question is the refusal to believe, given the fact that we cannot repeat what exists already; however, this idea is seldom prioritized by decision makers. Once the product passes the legitimacy test, it should be conceived and adapted to its usage and created in a durable way. In this case, eco-design goes further than the LCA by limiting negative externalities and encouraging positive ones on every phase of the product’s existence.
William McDonough (http://www.mcdonough.com), designer and well known architect developed an interesting eco-design philosophy with the following rules of conduct:
1. Insist on rights of humanity and nature to co-exist in a healthy, supportive, diverse and sustainable condition.
2. Recognize interdependence. The elements of human design interact with and depend upon the natural world, with broad and diverse implications at every scale. Expand design considerations to recognizing even distant effects.
3. Respect relationships between spirit and matter. Consider all aspects of human settlement including community, dwelling, industry and trade in terms of existing and evolving connections between spiritual and material consciousness.
4. Accept responsibility for the consequences of design decisions upon human well being, the viability of natural systems and their right to co-exist.
5. Create safe objects of long-term value. Do not burden future generations with requirements for maintenance or vigilant administration of potential danger due to the careless creation of products, processes or standards.
6. Eliminate the concept of waste. Evaluate and optimize the full life-cycle of products and processes, to approach the state of natural systems, in which there is no waste.
7. Rely on natural energy flows. Human designs should, like the living world, derive their creative forces from perpetual solar income. Incorporate this energy efficiently and safely for responsible use.
8. Understand the limitations of design. No human creation lasts forever and design does not solve all problems. Those who create and plan should practice humility in the face of nature. Treat nature as a model and mentor, not as an inconvenience to be evaded or controlled.
9. Seek constant improvement by the sharing of knowledge. Encourage direct and open communication between colleagues, patrons, manufacturers and users to link long term sustainable considerations with ethical responsibility, and re-establish the integral relationship between natural processes and human activity*
Sustainable development is a growing concern in our times. Many criticize the means used to achieve it (eco-efficiency) by saying they haven’t been enough response to battle the great environmental challenges of our times. Furthermore, these people state that these approaches only seek to limit the devastating consequences of our existing system. Hence, the principles behind the eco-efficiency concept are in fact questioned since the concept does not seek to find a real answer to why many industries still contribute to gamble out future generation’s environment.
These critics actually predict a new industrial revolution, one that will re-think our current economic system through the introduction of nature-based cyclic models. This system would be based not on what we can extract from nature but what can we learn from it (bio-imitation). These new theories begin with the statement that natural ecosystems are currently the most efficient ones: they do not produce any waste that can’t be used elsewhere, contrary to our industrial systems. These ideas lead us to thinking about the concept of industrial ecology…
*Quoted from original text: McDonough & Partners (2000) The Hannover Principles, Rules for Sustainability. EXPO 2000, The World’s Fair, Hannover, Germany)
Thanks for the input Paloma.
Comprehensive, I must say. In one post, you have given a sweeping coverage to greening the Plan-Source-Make-Deliver-Return cycle. But the question arises – how sustainable is this Supply Chain sustainability movement? Well aware of the planet-in-peril situation, will the world truly embrace green supply chains or will they bid their own time before legislations force them to do so? An avid green enthusiast and currently involved in designing green supply chain solutions, I have aired my thoughts on the same at http://www.infosysblogs.com/supply-chain/2008/11/are_green_supply_chains_here_t.html#more
Would welcome your views.