How to minimize waste and increase sustainability through maintenance

Jan. 1, 2007
Learn some of the ways a maintenance department can minimize waste, use more sustainable materials and systems, and use energy more efficiently.

Admittedly, we have a long way to go before we can consider ourselves a “green” society. However, many compelling reasons tell us that as individuals, households and organizations we should do a lot more to improve our health, safety and the environment through green initiatives. Let’s explore some of the ways a maintenance department can minimize waste, use more sustainable materials and systems, and use energy more efficiently. The CMMS is an excellent tool for helping identify and track green opportunities and quantify the cost/benefit.

Motivational issues

[pullquote]During the past few years, it has been interesting to analyze survey results and speak to maintenance workers directly to better understand why there appears to be so much resistance to even the simplest of green initiatives. Some of the reasons I’ve heard include:

  • A belief that green alternatives aren’t as effective; for example, that green cleaning products don’t clean or disinfect very well.
  • A belief that the product or service currently in use is already green.
  • A perception that green isn’t necessary for a given product or service (e.g., assumption that cleaning supplies aren’t harmful to the environment because they are discarded directly into municipal drains that carry liquids to wastewater treatment plants that can deal with discarded chemicals).
  • Ignorance as to what “green” really implies.
  • A perceived lack of benefits compared to the additional cost of switching to green products and services.
  • Lack of trust that the vendor isn’t either deliberately or naively selling products and services that aren’t all that different.
  • A feeling that green products and services aren’t subject to the same level of regulatory scrutiny that other products and services get.

In most cases, these reasons are ill-founded and poor excuses for not doing more to protect our health and environment. In lands of plenty, it’s easy to take things for granted and it can be hard for us to change our ways. In some cases, maintenance is its own worst enemy. For example, some plants have little budget motivation to upgrade to newer, more efficient chillers because maintenance workers are so skilled at keeping the older equipment running well beyond its design life.

Vendor profiles

A relatively simple but effective starting point on the road to green maintenance is to use your CMMS to generate a list of primary vendors, as well as the products and services they furnish. Carefully review this list with your purchasing department to begin collecting data on where the opportunities lie for purchasing more environmentally-friendly alternatives. The CMMS can store the data, as most CMMS packages allow you to add custom fields such as a place in the vendor master file to identify whether or not a vendor has a line of green products. It’s also instructive to visit each vendor’s Web site to look for evidence of a move to more green product and service offerings. Examples of what to look for are:
  • A mission statement that includes a commitment to green.
  • Evidence on the Web site home page that products and services are green.
  • A detailed explanation and marketing materials that clearly articulate why the products and services are green, including technical detail and independent test data where applicable.
  • A commitment to environmentally responsible practices throughout the company’s operations, from raw material purchasing, through manufacturing and packaging processes, and product distribution.
  • Recognition that the company meets or exceeds all regulatory guidelines.
  • Evidence of certification by a recognized body such as Green Seal.
  • Employees who are knowledgeable with the green program (e.g., customer service desk or field personnel).

Be wary of vendors that claim one thing when their Material Safety Data Sheets tell a different story. This fuels the many common misconceptions and skepticism surrounding green products and services.

Product evaluation criteria

As most CMMS packages have a user-definable specification template for recording tombstone data, it’s easy to track the green properties of your MRO inventory, components and equipment. Even a simple spreadsheet can be used to compare alternative products and services. There are many green criteria to track, depending on the product. For example, energy consumption and expected life can be used for light bulbs, volatility and toxicity are relevant to cleaning supplies, and fuel efficiency and exhaust emission are considerations for mobile equipment.

Most of the comparative data can be collected from the vendor or its Web site. The CMMS or spreadsheet also can be linked to such online information. Some of the more popular criteria used to differentiate green products include:

  • Local availability.
  • Recyclability.
  • Ability to reuse, renew or restore.
  • Biodegradability.
  • Use of natural ingredients; hypoallergenicity, eye and skin irritation levels.
  • Recycled/recyclable packaging materials.
  • Hazard rating, flammability, flash point, reactivity information.
  • Acidity, toxicity.
  • Use of chlorofluorocarbons, pesticides, carcinogens, fragrance, dyes, preservatives.
  • Certification by recognized body (e.g., Green Seal).
  • Expected product life.
  • Lifecycle cost.

Furthermore, research has shown that burning fossil fuels is the largest contributor to air pollution and global warming. Fossil fuels are used extensively in the industrial world. Thus, where applicable, evaluate equipment in part based on fuel efficiency, use of renewable fuels, level and composition of exhaust emission, and so on.

Cost/benefit analysis

The critical question for some managers is whether green products and services will cost more to achieve the same level of quality and service. In some cases, the answer is absolutely not, so there is no problem with the cost/benefit analysis. More often than not, however, green products and services will cost more up front. Then the question is whether there’s a business case over the longer term, such as from reduced health, safety and environmental costs.

But even if there’s no financial business case, more companies are switching to green products and services simply to protect our environment. This can develop into a competitive advantage if your company can build an image as a good corporate citizen with a strong sense of responsibility for protecting the local environment.


Once you’ve prepared a list of vendors, products and services to target, consider a pilot implementation. For example, take one area of your facility and experiment with energy-efficient lighting from different vendors. Oftentimes, suppliers will provide you with free or low-cost sample products such as light bulbs, chemicals and equipment for a trial period so that you can compare product offerings before full implementation.

E-mail David Berger at [email protected]

About the Author

David Berger | P.Eng. (AB), MBA, president of The Lamus Group Inc.

David Berger, P.Eng. (AB), MBA, is president of The Lamus Group Inc., a consulting firm that provides advice and training to extract maximum performance, quality and value from your physical assets, processes, information systems and organizational design. Based in Toronto, Berger has held senior positions in industry, including for two large manufacturers, and senior roles in consulting. He has written more than 450 articles on a variety of topics such as asset management, operations management, information technology, e-commerce, organizational design, and strategy. Contact him at [email protected].

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