Rangarajan “Raj” Parthasarathy, CPIM | November/December 2013 | 23 | 6
There are no limits to how green we can be
Since 2006, there has been an extensive focus on the concept of green in manufacturing and service industries alike. Researchers from top universities have published abundant papers on the topic, contributing a voluminous amount of scientific literature that extols the benefits of green, including its ability to lessen the effects of global warming, reduce hazardous waste, and properly dispose of environmentally unfriendly materials such as plastics.
Many experts argue that reducing our carbon footprints is an absolute must if ecological balance and wildlife conservation are to be achieved. They say rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns may be changing the growing patterns of plants, as well as causing sea levels to rise as the temperature of the planet increases, eroding shorelines and destroying ecosystems.
Meanwhile, industrialists and engineers have discovered different ways to green the environments in which they work. Today’s packaging incorporates more recycled materials for money and material savings, the construction industry has begun requiring architects to consider green designs, and so on. Modern-day business leaders are realizing that there are no limits to sustainable business—it’s the right thing to do, and, if done right, it can very positively affect the bottom line.
Sustainability can be viewed from a process or product perspective. From a process point of view, it may be understood as the elimination of waste in ways that benefit the environment. Lean practitioners will immediately see an overlap between lean and green principles—some say sustainable manufacturing is a way of looking at lean through a green glass.
For example, when a workflow is made to become more systematic and employee movement optimized, energy consumption will be proportionately reduced, thus benefiting both the environment and the company’s bottom line. Likewise, if excessive inventory is removed and lighting, heating, and air conditioning costs minimized, the business enjoys overall energy savings. In an era where high use of energy and environmental degradation are linked due to limited sources, minimizing energy consumption is a meaningful way to set up your organization for future success.
From a product perspective, the application of the green concept results in goods that are environmentally friendly both during their active use and when they are disposed. Compared to an incandescent bulb, a fluorescent can produce light that is similar to daylight while being environmentally friendly to manage at the end of its useful life.
Recycled paper is another example—and, taking that a step farther, technological advancements now enable a 1,000-page document to be stored on a flash drive and read on a tiny, hand-held device.
If the environmental and bottom-line benefits don’t convince you, chances are, today’s sustainability guidelines and directives—Environmental Protection Agency laws, the European Union’s Restriction on Hazardous Substances, ISO 26000, and the like—will compel you to think green. Moreover, it is expected that, in the next decade, environmental laws will become even more stringent.
Keep in mind also that living up to these greener standards makes it possible for businesses to gain positive publicity, take pride in being socially responsible, command respect, and hopefully have a more loyal customer base. Thus, it is not unreasonable to expect that, in the not-too-distant future, social responsibility and sustainable business will have acquired a much sharper focus and importance to our society.
Strategies for success
Becoming more sustainable does pose several challenges, the key among them being attaining buy-in from all parties concerned within the organization. Based on prior experience incorporating green into overall supply chain management, following are suggestions to help mitigate or eliminate the difficulties. Note that these actions also will keep sustainability projects on employees’ radars as the initiatives become part of core tactical and strategic operational needs. Click on the five graphics below to learn about these key methods.
Proven tips for green champions
There are some essential do’s and don’ts to consider when launching and maintaining sustainability initiatives. First, it’s necessary to get top management’s commitment in writing before embarking on a project. Make sure also to involve supply chain management employees, as well as a broad cross-section of employees within the organization, at all levels of the project. Also, effective green efforts can be enhanced by working with environmentally friendly suppliers and logistics providers.
Set clear goals for green implementation with timelines and expected gains. And, finally, keep the team motivated by celebrating the successful implementation of each small step and reiterating the organization’s pride that stems from working toward sustainable business.
As for the don’ts, first, be careful not to become overly ambitious; implementation should be done in baby steps in order to get long-lasting results. Allocate enough time for a successful implementation, and don’t only look at monetary gains. Remember that going green is the right thing to do from an environmental protection perspective. Similarly, understand that monetary gains won’t show up overnight; they will be small initially due to capital expenditures. Lastly, don’t display disappointment should failures occur along the way. Employees may lose heart if they see top management is feeling let down. Instead, emphasize the successes and the positives, using failures only as stepping stones to success.
Businesses have a key role to play in the adoption and propagation of sustainable business. It is time to let our actions speak louder than words by encouraging greener procedures and products, continuously improving our efforts, and creating an environmentally responsible partner network. Give industry the “green light,” and the entire marketplace will enjoy a more productive and sustainable future.
Rangarajan “Raj” Parthasarathy, CPIM, is a management consultant based in Chicago, Illinois. He has more than 17 years of experience in the industry, having worked in both manufacturing and service environments. Parthasarathy holds masters’ degrees in industrial engineering and business administration and is a six sigma black belt. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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