I was watching a program tonight that discussed how philanthropy and businesses can work together without ‘pinkwashing’ or ‘greenwashing’ (aligning with a good cause even when the company itself is naughty).
However, sometimes a company doesn’t need to take on an outside cause to be a better company – they just have to investigate their processes and make them better.
One way is by reducing corporate waste – the so-called ‘lean manufacturing’ method is like this, and involves looking for ways not to waste in manufacturing, all while still providing value to the consumer.
And the good news: lean manufacturing works for everyone!
Unlike a corporate connection to a charity, there is no downside to lean manufacturing processes. For example, shareholders might be annoyed at a 10% investment by a company in a charity, since that’s 10% that doesn’t flow to their dividends; but a 10% reduction in manufacturing costs both comes back to them AND helps the environment.
It’s this latter part that makes the most sense. Build a car with less steel waste, and you spend less for the raw materials, and can (hopefully) pass on the savings in part to consumers.
And as we know, environmentally, any manufactured item incurs on extra resources: water for cooling steel or cleaning it, for example, as well as coal for refining and petrochemicals for transportation. All of this is impacted positively when a manufacturing process uses less material and produces less waste. Think it’s minor? Consider this: if a design used 10% less steel, that’s 10% reduction from every phase: smelting, refining, transportation, and manufacturing. So that ‘small’ 10% is repeated again and again and again, saving costs every step of the way.
Of course, I’m focusing on materials here, but lean manufacturing also refers to other aspects. For example, when air bags came out, cars could get (somewhat) lighter, since the safety of the air bags meant cars didn’t need to be heavy cages of steel for protection (I say ‘somewhat’ because of course they couldn’t get too light!) This small decrease in weight of course reduced some costs, but more importantly, it reduced weight without reducing safety and security. Not only that, but the reduced weight also meant that the final owner had less car mass to drive around, and so could get improved gas mileage – all again without safety concerns.If I seem to be focused on cars, it’s because they make an easy example – save 10 pounds of metal on a car and everyone wins (except maybe the refineries). For other types of manufacturing, it’s perhaps less obvious, since they may be able to only shave ounces instead of pounds, or minutes instead of hours in manufacturing. For example, in one company I was in, changing the line for the next product consumed an hour or two, time when the whole staff had nothing to do. That cost money, so working on speedier changeovers led to more efficient working, and more product in the same time. This is another example of lean manufacturing – reducing waste, even in labor.
However, it’s the saving of materials that most interests me. After all, reducing waste reduces consumption; and reducing consumption is a ‘green’ cause just about everyone can get behind. So the next time you look at manufacturing, I hope you look at it a bit differently; try envisioning the clean (I mean ‘lean’) manufacturing possibilities…