From the Clean Air Act to energy efficiency requirements and OSHA penalties, the traditional impetus for industry to be more sustainable has been legislation: the powers of laws, courts and fines compel compliance. But no more.
“Business isn't waiting for politicians,” observes Chris Farrell, economics editor of American Public Media’s program, “Marketplace Money.” A confluence of social, economic and environmental trends has contributed to the rise of sustainability as the key organizational performance metric of today and for the future. The forces behind the trends are customers, shareholders, neighbors and employees.
Just this morning, my inbox included a report that a coalition of 36 environmental groups had accused Apple of ignoring unhealthy conditions at the Chinese factories of its suppliers, and the Beijing-based non-profit Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) ranked Apple last among 29 tech companies for its responsiveness to health and environmental concerns in China. Apple spokeswoman Carolyn Wu promptly issued a statement asserting, “Apple is committed to ensuring the highest standards of social responsibility throughout our supply base." The company requires all suppliers to sign up to Apple's code of conduct, compliance is monitored through factory audits and measures are taken to correct violations.
A second inbox item says five investment groups have filed shareholder resolutions urging nine major oil and gas companies to disclose risks of their U.S. natural gas fracturing, or fracking, operations. The proposals ask companies to disclose their policies for reducing environmental and financial risks from the use of chemicals, water impacts and other environmental issues associated with fracking. ExxonMobil has already responded with its plans to comply.
Every day I hear about sustainability projects at industrial facilities that improve safety, raise efficiency and reduce costs. Today, along with balance-sheet benefits, sustainability is being perceived and used as a marketing advantage, as well as a workplace benefit: Customers and employees prefer to purchase sustainable products and work in companies where sustainability is a priority.
It’s clear that, the world over, industry is embracing sustainability. The environment should be protected, quality of life is important, and green — of both the Kermit and currency varieties — is good.
Manufacturing and other industrial organizations must measure and improve performance against a new set of metrics that account for the long-term sustainability of their operations and business practices. And while sustainability has many aspects, its essential implications for the triple bottom line of economic growth, environmental stewardship and social progress can be clearly summarized as “operating a business in ways that meet the needs of the present without compromising the world we leave to the future."
Along with that great responsibility, those of you who are entrusted with a role in your company’s sustainability initiative are part of the next great wave of productivity sweeping through industry. It’s a huge task, but also a rewarding job that’s giving you a healthy appetite for information about industrial sustainability, what’s involved in managing it, and, above all, examples of initiatives, strategies, projects, measurements and results.
Now we’re ready to help you satisfy those needs. I’m thrilled to be taking my 25 years of experience in engineering, manufacturing, automation and industrial asset management, and using it to guide our new resource for sustainable manufacturing: Sustainable Plant. Sustainable Plant offers information and examples to support initiatives according to your objective (safe, clean, efficient, profitable, compliant or closed-loop), your sphere of influence (facilities, design, supply chain, workforce, management, automation, information technology or environment, health and safety) and your solution category (materials, supplies, equipment, software, services or infrastructure).
We’re offering Sustainable Plant Today, a concise daily e-newsletter, as well as the opportunity to join our community and partake of as much social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter) as you care to eat. You can propose and discuss technical and ethical issues in our “Green or Greenwash?” department, and see if you can outwit fellow visitors with your entry in our “Sustainably Silly” challenge.
Industrial sustainability is a new area of expertise with fresh ideas and discoveries every day, so we’ve striven to make it easy for you to help guide Sustainable Plant and to share your experiences by commenting and contributing to our smorgasbord of knowledge.
We hope you’ll visit www.sustainableplant.com, register for our e-newsletter and browse our growing selection of practical information. Bon appetit.