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Taking the green manufacturing plunge

In this expert response, learn how to begin and succeed with a green manufacturing initiative.

We are a small manufacturing company that is trying to make our operations more 'green.' We don't have a large budget for sustainable investments, however. What are some low-budget ways to achieve green manufacturing and reduce environmental impacts?

"Going green" is a laudable goal, as well as one very often accompanied by cost savings and process improvements. Achieving green manufacturing means looking at the following areas for waste reduction:

Products. Green initiatives may include parts reduction for industrial or high tech, or using local products for food manufacturing. Generally, these projects take people power rather than investing in tools. They can be managed like most lean initiatives simply by asking employees for suggestions. Products with fewer or reusable parts reduce waste, and ultimately cost less to produce. Using local suppliers can reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases.

Transportation. Software does help here, but often there are obvious changes that can reduce mileage. Inbound deliveries can take advantage of carrier consolidation, and local manufacturers can share truckload deliveries. For outbound deliveries, consolidation also makes sense. Firms that do short deliveries have many routing tools on the Web that are fairly inexpensive to deploy. There also are free traffic notifications that can help drivers navigate and avoid delays, thus increasing productivity, lowering the cost of transportation, reducing carbon emissions and so on. If you rely on a third-party logistics firm, get it involved in the green project. Most transportation companies already have green initiatives and will be eager to partner on these.

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Space optimization. Here is another area where some common sense can reduce the operating costs. In general, manufacturing requires huge energy consumption. I have seen some smart reconfiguring of space, allowing for simple changes to the heating and cooling systems. This may involve some light construction, but even small companies can save thousands on their energy bill.

Water. Reducing water wastage involves some financial investment. If you lease your space, you will need to include your landlord on the project. Making an evaluation of the ROI from changes to plumbing systems will indicate that this is worth doing.

Packaging. We are awash in paper, cardboard and plastic. Many packaging companies offer recycled materials as alternative shipping containers. Many B2B customers want the supplier to remove the packaging and waste, so you might consider returnable and reusable totes and pallets. Over time, you will save money as well as reduce landfill, save trees, and reduce the risk of transporting pests through wood and cardboard.

These are just a few of the green programs I have seen. The key here is get people involved -- not only your employees but also your trading partners. Often our current practices induce waste that our cohorts would like to eliminate. You can get extra credit in your karma bank, as well as endear yourself to these partners, as programs like these lead to other benefits in relationships across your supply chain.

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