Understanding the benefits of green manufacturing

In discussions of sustainability, it's likely someone will make the well-known argument that the costs of implementing green logistics outweigh the benefits. This is, to be sure, the popular assumption about sustainable production methods: Given the expenditures involved, processes that reduce environmental harm can't possibly be more cost-effective. 

Such a perspective, however, is short-sighted, and the growing popularity of sustainable product sourcing is evidence of many firms' realization that it's myopic to assume strategies that have driven savings in the past will continue to do so in the future. Not only is failing to offer eco-friendly products looked on unfavorably in the current consumer product market, but energy costs have shifted considerably. Fossil fuels are growing more expensive, while solar and wind power have become increasingly affordable.

The devil's in the details

Taking a long-term perspective is essential in planning for a green manufacturing strategy - but there's also a danger in thinking too broadly. The minutiae involved in implementing sustainable practices need to be carefully considered.

In a column for Solid State Technology, Gigaphoton Executive Officer and General Manager Tatsuo Enami noted that it's vital for companies to look closely at how their sustainability initiatives can drive business cost reduction. In his experience, having the right partnerships - as well as a sufficient level of visibility - is key.

"High-volume manufacturers must work with vendors and suppliers that will help enable their overall cost and green manufacturing goals. Tracking and managing total operational costs is critical for sustaining a cost-effective, high-volume manufacturing (HVM) environment," Enami wrote.

Without a full understanding of the practices of important sourcing partners and a shared commitment to sustainability among suppliers, it will become very difficult to manage the various details involved in green manufacturing, which include managing heat, gas and electricity use across the operation, Enami noted

Sustainable and lean

It's also important for companies to understand the underlying principles that allow green logistics and savings to coincide. In a post for Environmental Leader, Madico Window Films Senior Vice President of Operations Shawn Kitchell discussed the overlap between sustainability and lean manufacturing.

  • Avoiding overproduction: Kitchell noted by producing the least amount of goods necessary to meet demand - a foundational concept of the "lean" movement - energy use and raw materials consumption can decrease.
  • Managing transportation:  Keeping shipments to a minimum helps to reduce fuel costs as well as carbon emissions.
  • Using fewer materials: Avoiding over-processing cuts expenditures and limits environmental impact.

Bearing these principles in mind is essential in combining sustainable production with an agile, cost-conscious business model.

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