Preventing the spread of COVID-19 has led to mass quarantines, stay at home orders, and social distancing around the world. Businesses deemed “non-essential” are being forced to close doors, triggering layoffs. It's a painful time for many people, for many reasons. In these grim times, is it inappropriate to look for a bit of good news?
When it comes to the environment, there may be some. The global shutdown has led to dramatic improvements in air quality in many areas, although experts say the change is temporary. The famous Venice canals have grown clear enough to spot swimming fish.
Of course, environmental concerns were also hot topics before the pandemic. Consumers and end users are becoming increasingly vocal—and powerful—on many issues, including the environment and renewable energy. Consumers want to know which companies partner with green manufacturers to make their products, and they’re cosigning these decisions by pulling out their wallets. No matter where you are in the supply chain, your practices could become the center of the next media cycle’s public relations nightmare. Today’s consumers are savvy, and if you aren't prepared, a single Google search by the right person could lead to lasting reputation damage.
Which technologies can you adopt to increase productivity while reducing negative environmental side effects at the same time? You can easily improve your corporate image—and the image of all your partners in turn—while cutting costs and strengthening business relationships.
ISA's vision is to create a better world through automation, and we’re always searching for new ways to live it out. Here are five earth-friendly manufacturing practices that can help the environment while introducing cost savings.
5. Shifting to Renewables at the Plant
Unless you’re in the energy business, your company probably pipes in electricity from somewhere else. Have you looked into generating at least some of that energy on your own, via renewables? Before you balk at the investment it would take, do some research on Method Soap. Method is a company that produces biodegradable cleaning supplies in a factory outside of Chicago. A recent article from Business Insider dives into their energy plan. The company uses a wind turbine to generate half of all their electrical needs, saving them a decent amount of cash and reducing their energy footprint.
No room for an entire wind turbine on your site? You could take a page from the book of the Tesla Gigafactory in Reno, Nevada, and install solar panels on your roof. Once this enormous plant is complete, it is designed to be a “net zero energy factory” powered entirely by renewable energy sources—mostly solar. You might not be in a place as routinely sunny as the Nevada desert, but most places on the planet get enough sun that solar could help supplement your energy costs over the long term.
4. Go Green at Your Corporate Headquarters
If you’re looking for a way to make an impact on a smaller scale, why not make a green investment in your corporate office? Things like rooftop gardens and solar panels send a message to current and future employees that your company is mission-driven with strong corporate values. Millennials seek to work for companies with ethics that align with their own. A recent study found that three-quarters of millennial workers—who will account for most of the workforce within a decade—would take a pay cut to work for an environmentally sustainable company.
If you aren’t ready to bring in construction crews just yet, there are plenty of small changes that are easy to implement around the office. For example, you could switch from plastic dinnerware in the breakroom to dinnerware made from recyclable materials, change the lighting to LED bulbs using 75% less energy than standard bulbs, set the thermostats properly during occupied and unoccupied hours, and simply turn the lights off whenever you leave a conference room.
3. Know Where Your Energy Is Going
When’s the last time your plant conducted an energy audit? If you’re like most manufacturers, not very recently—if you’ve ever done one at all. It’s great to want to go green and shift to renewable energy sources, but if you don’t know what processes or areas in your buildings typically consume most of the energy, your efforts won’t amount to much. It would be like trying to create a household budget without knowing how much your monthly bills are.
If your equipment or building is out-of-date or inefficient, it’s probably burning through your energy usage. At some point you’ll need to consider the long-term financial advantages and disadvantages of each course of action: letting the equipment continue to operate at higher cost, or biting the bullet on up-front expenses and upgrading to lower-energy systems with potential for lifetime cost savings.
2. Check Your Production Processes for Waste
Are your processes as efficient as they could be? Just like knowing where your energy is being wasted, knowing where there is waste in your actual production processes can help you decide the most crucial places where you need to tighten up. If your plant engages in activity that doesn’t directly benefit your customers, that activity is waste, and it’s time for a change. The tenets of lean manufacturing, a methodology first developed at Toyota, outlines eight types of waste to watch for: transport, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, over-processing, defects, and skills. To help remember them, think of them as an acronym: TIMWOODS.
To help reduce wasteful TIMWOODS activities, recycle and reuse as much as you can. Is there another industry that could use your waste as a resource? Consider selling this “waste” to a local manufacturer or setting up a mutually beneficial exchange program. This blog post includes a range of other ideas, too.
Most importantly, remember to set up a regular schedule for preventative maintenance. Even processes and equipment that are completely modernized have a way of decaying over time, leading to inefficiency—not to mention the biggest waste of all, a plant shutdown due to catastrophic failure. The easiest way to mitigate waste is to prevent it from happening in the first place.
1. Be a Green Advocate
Your customers and your employees want to see your company as a force for good. Help them associate your brand with the causes they care about and create ways they can pitch in as well. Get involved in local trash pick-ups and plant trees for Earth Day. Publish blog articles, videos, and podcasts to share your “green journey” and offer tips to others on the same path.
Remember that earlier statistic about millennials in the workplace? If you want to attract the best and brightest workforce your industry has to offer, you’ll need to present your company as a positive, forward-thinking organization—and you’ll need to walk the talk. Participating in—and publicly advocating for—green manufacturing practices can help achieve that goal.
The Bottom Line
It’s a happy accident, isn’t it? Many practices that reduce a company’s environmental footprint also happen to lead to cost savings. They also help preserve or establish your brand name as a leader in sustainability. Everyone wins!