“Green” manufacturing can have two distinct and separate meanings. It can mean the production of “green” products. These products are typically part of larger renewable energy systems. And green manufacturing can also mean the act of making current manufacturing practices more clean and sustainable. That is, reducing pollution, reducing waste, reusing waste, cutting emissions, minimizing reliance on natural resources, utilizing recycled materials, and other “clean” practices.
Since the start of the Great Recession in 2008, Americans have been bemusing the loss of US manufacturing jobs. Advocates strongly believe that manufacturing has the potential to stabilize job creation and economic growth, while ensuring the US remains competitive in the global marketplace.
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation reported that in 2012, the United States had suffered its worst performance in history in terms of job creation and growth. That year, the US lost almost 6 million manufacturing jobs. According to that same report, the decline – 33% of total manufacturing jobs – actually outpaced the rate of job loss experienced during the Great Depression.
Despite these disheartening numbers, the US remains the world’s largest manufacturing economy, second only to China. US companies produce 21% of manufactured products while China produces 15%. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) reports that US manufacturers contribute around $1.7 trillion to the economy annually, totaling 11.7% of GDP. NAM also reports that some of the most rapidly-growing manufacturing sectors are clean technology and renewable energy.
The US Government has taken notice of this trend and is encouraging domestic expansion in these sectors. Some of the key tenets of President Barack Obama’s Blueprint for an America Built to Last, involve spurring the rebirth of US manufacturing through green technology.
In addition to encouraging the growth of new green manufacturing, the US government is also reaching out to assist current manufactures as they attempt to create sustainable processes. The Green Suppliers Network (GSN) was established by the Environmental Protection Agency with assistance from the Department of Commerce. The GSN helps US manufacturers remain profitable while adopting greener policies. They conduct low-cost tech reviews to help these companies and their supply chains improve performance while reducing waste, energy consumption, and emissions.
Existing Manufacturers And Corporate Social Responsibility
“Going green” can be met with resistance among board members and other key decision makers. Retrofitting facilities and changing long-maintained practices typically means increased cost and potentially reduced profit margins. But the pressure to reform manufacturing practices in the United States is growing. It can be difficult to strike a balance between profitability and environmental sustainability. But with clearly defined goals and a targeted approach, green manufacturing can actually:
Create a favorable public image
Create new inroads with environmentally conscious customers
Reduce scrutiny from regulators
Attract socially-conscious investors
Manufacturers typically realize these benefits shortly after they begin to look for ways to reduce natural resource use and find new ways to reuse and recycle materials that were formerly classified as waste products. Adopting these green practices produces measurable results that can be realized across departments.
According to research by the College of William and Mary, the adoption of green technology in manufacturing is necessary in order for companies to combat ever-rising costs for water and energy. The William and Mary researchers found that despite their general distaste for regulatory bodies, NAM actually promotes green manufacturing as a way for US-based companies to stay competitive with overseas manufacturing companies that can take advantage of reduced taxes, liability, and labor costs.
It may seem to the general public that manufacturers have had to be goaded into adopting green practices in the form of regulatory, legislative, and public pressures. But the growing corporate social responsibility movement has created a “self-policing” culture among manufacturers to be more aware of how they use resources, how they handle waste, and their overall impact on the air and water qualities of the communities in which they operate.
The Investor Network on Climate Risk reports that businesses typically reduce their carbon emissions in order to address increasing concerns from shareholders. But once green practices are adopted, many manufacturers can leverage their new procedures into positive public relations. They can develop stronger relationships with the communities in which they operate, attract new customers, and attract the attention of even more socially-conscious investors.
Keeping Green Operations Streamlined
As new, green manufacturers get off the ground and as existing manufacturers begin the process of “greening” their operations, it will be important to streamline processes and reduce costs in other departments. One key area where manufacturers can save money is with communications systems. By investing in online phone systems, manufacturers can seamlessly connect their corporate and factory operations.
When a manufacturing operation is spread out over various locations, communication can be fragmented. But a single, online phone system can reduce costs and increase productivity.
Some of the benefits of streamlining communications include:
Employees in different departments are be able to reach one another without dialing outside lines and incurring long distance charges.
Employees can seamlessly transfer calls between departments, helping to improve the customer experience.
Traveling executives and managers can route their voicemail to their email inbox, preventing missed calls.
Traveling employees can place and receive calls from web-based software.
Departments can easily collaborate on conference calls and webinars, without investing in third-party software.
Accounting only has to deal with one vendor for telephone support and maintenance.
Phone system training is the same across departments and locations.
Call reports from all locations allow for data mining and customer intelligence collection to plan customer service, marketing, and sales initiatives.
Extra network hardware is not required, reducing the impact on energy cost and consumption.
Green Manufacturing – Beyond Buzzwords
Green manufacturing is more than environmental jargon or a catchy buzz phrase. Green manufacturing is about sustainability. In order to remain competitive in the global marketplace, manufacturers must be able to adapt processes that can be maintained and sustained over time without a long-term negative impact on natural resources. These practices must also have a positive impact on productivity and profitability for the corporation, or there is little incentive for manufacturers to take them on. But with the help if public and private initiatives, US companies are becoming more aware of the benefits of green manufacturing processes.