Green Manufacturing

***What follows is the introduction I wrote to a group paper for Production/Operations Management class.***

There is a fundamental contradiction in the phrase “green manufacturing”. The process of making nearly anything will, by necessity, consume resources and produce waste:


Buying the results of these processes, Americans have been consuming resources at an unsustainable rate in a breathless quest for increased quality of life.(2) The US population increased threefold from 1900 and 1995, while total materials use increased tenfold.(3)


Thus our industrial future will conform to one of three basic scenarios. Commerce and industry could continue operating as they have, driven largely by economic growth and consumer demand. Or we could transition to a “green world”, where sustainability and environmental impact become major factors in design, manufacture, and use of products. Or we could enter a “brown world”, where concerns like sustainability are grossly superseded by interests such as short-term economic gain and consumer convenience. Which of these scenarios becomes our reality is largely a function of choosing how we use technology, not the rate of technological change or economic growth.(5)

The process of making manufacturing “greener” is often perceived to happen only at significant economic cost. This may be the case when an “end-of-pipe” solution is used, like a treatment device added to the end of a smokestack or sewer pipe.(6) But when process and product are examined with an eye toward reducing waste, the results often include increased productivity.

Reasonably successful businesses may be understandably reluctant to implement such changes, since potential risks of failure may seem to outweigh immediate profit gains. In this way, “green” manufacturing is a lot like Lean manufacturing, or most any other system of process improvement. There are up-front costs, but these can pay dividends for years to come.(7) In green manufacturing, there is an added benefit in making the whole economy more sustainable, thereby further ensuring future profits.

1 Thomas Graedel and Jennifer Howard-Grenville, Greening the Industrial Facility: Perspectives, Approaches, and Tools (New York: Springer, 2005) 6
2 Ibid 13, 15
3 Ibid 15
4 Ibid 16
5 Ibid 10
6 Curtis Moore and Alan Miller, Green Gold: Japan, Germany, the United States, and the Race for Environmental Technology (Boston: Beacon, 1994) 2
7 Ibid 4

No comments: