Clean energy gets attention from around the world. In June, the United States, Brazil and China made new commitments to fight climate change. In August, President Obama unveiled a Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution, specifically to “reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.” And in December, a United Nations climate change conference will take place in Paris.

All of these initiatives can impact the manufacturing sector, whether it is specifically in automotive fuel efficiency standards or simply in consumer awareness.


New software available today can create a green manufacturing dashboard.

Green manufacturing initiatives may look at areas such as carbon, water
and materials.

Companies should look at the use of energy, water and materials and the loss of each from the activities involved in manufacturing.

Green manufacturing is a good idea in terms of the environment, and also for business. But in some cases, it may be mandatory, as environmental regulations continue to crop up. But leading companies are already very focused on reducing waste and improving energy use, not just because of regulations. David Parrish, SAP’s senior global marketing director of industrial machinery and components, says, “It’s economically viable in the long run too.” 

It may seem like the Internet of Things has eclipsed green as the go-to trend, but green manufacturing isn’t going away. In fact, the Internet of Things can be another tool in making a factory more environmentally friendly. David Dornfeld, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, compares this to the rise of wearables: “The Fitbit or Apple Watch gives you data that you didn’t have before.” Just as a fitness tracker may mean you are tracking health statistics daily instead of once a year, he says the connectivity created by the industrial internet makes it easier to track resource consumption.

It allows companies to understand how to run a factory in the least impactful way, says Dornfeld, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and head of the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Sustainability. He compares it to designing a race car: it’s important to remove inefficiencies wherever they occur.

If you are already reducing energy and waste in your plant, you may understand the importance of green manufacturing. Learn more about what others in the field are doing to reduce their impact on the environment.

How to Get Greener

Improving the environment and the economy is not an either/or situation. According to the White House, “Since 1970, air pollution has decreased by nearly 70 percent while the economy has tripled in size.”

On the SME blog, Robert Pojasek writes, “Green manufacturing is a key component of operating a sustainable business that helps you uncover hidden value for your business, while creating value for the environment, the stakeholders, and the greater community both now and in the future. There is very serious interest in green manufacturing within the manufacturing community. We are currently seeing a major shift in philosophy, acceptance, and emphasis.”

Pojasek goes on to say the companies need to look at the use of energy, water and materials and the loss of each from the activities involved in manufacturing.

Green Growth

Dornfeld has seen dramatic growth in companies who use a lot of water in their processes, and said cutting water consumption makes a lot of sense. Companies “pay for it, clean it, handle it, and pay to throw it away. There’s no such thing as free water.”

Reducing energy consumption is another priority, and many companies get this, Dornfeld said.

“We worked with a machine tool company and they understand that if machines use less energy that adds up tremendously.” They kept changing components in order to use fewer resources, which can also reduce heat.

“I think a lot of companies are well along the path,” Dornfeld says. “Some are aggressively moving forward. Others know that the path is there, but are not sure where it is or how to get on it.”

Industry Examples

But there are plenty of industry leaders to look to for guidance. In automotive, for example, BMW promotes its green manufacturing programs, listing its green initiatives on its website that go beyond earning ISO 14001 certification in 1998. The company replaces high-solvent paints with water-based ones when possible, waste water is pre-treated before it goes to a local municipal water treatment plant, and environmental guidelines are recommended to suppliers. (In addition, on a softer note, they also have an on-site butterfly garden and birdhouses.)

Toyota is another leader. You may associate the company with hybrid vehicles—the company has sold 2.4 million Toyota and Lexus hybrids in North America—but this is only part of the green equation. Green manufacturing is not just about the final product, it’s about the process. And the process has been getting greener as well. According to the company’s 2014 North American environmental report, the company reduced, reused or recycled 95% of its own solid waste last year. Starting this year, “Toyota’s Georgetown assembly plant will generate green power from local landfill gas, enough for the production of 10,000 vehicles per year.”

The report focuses on five main areas: carbon, water, materials, biodiversity and outreach. No matter what area of green manufacturing you may be working on, there are plenty of areas for improvement. For example, companies are trying to use less hazardous materials, “whatever the heck you’re making,” Parrish says. “I, for one, believe it’s a bigger picture than just straight compliance.”

This can have a big impact. He used the example of China. “Look at China. 1974 Pittsburgh looks like 2015 Beijing.”

He said the more that people read about what’s happening, the more likely it is that change will occur. For example, Parrish say, “the guy running the lathe will think, ‘I just threw so many pounds of metal shavings into that barrel—where is it going?’”

As with many initiatives, software is involved. Parrish says that in the past, people used Excel. But today, with regulations, environmental emissions, and incident management, people collect much more information. Instead of a piece of paper on a clipboard, now companies are capturing data on more things. Now software can create a green manufacturing dashboard.  And this is fairly new, according to Parrish. “I don’t think we were talking about it three years ago from a software perspective.”

Other trends involve the explosion in data. “Almost every customer I’ve talked to in the last year is really talking about connectivity and Internet of Things,” Parrish says. “We’ve had machines talking to machines for decades.” He says that the difference is that before companies could get a lot of data but couldn’t really do much with it—but “now you can use it in very unique ways.”

 And this includes green manufacturing. Data can be used to track water usage, energy consumption, and carbon emissions. Companies that may have been interested in these types of metrics in the past now have an easier way to measure them and make changes. As technology continues to advance, it may make green manufacturing more common. As leaders from around the world look at ways to reduce carbon pollution, manufacturers should take notice and be prepared to make their operations more energy efficient.