Kermit had it right in 1972 when he sang “It's Not Easy Being Green.” And he wasn’t even in the industrial arena. It matters not a whit whether you believe in human-induced global warming; we appear to be facing a continuing prospect of monster hurricanes and other unpleasant environmental phenomena. Fortunately, there are measures that every plant professional can take to help industry avoid accusations of being a terrible blight on the landscape we must share with the rest of humanity.
This month, I thought I’d take you for a slide into that digital morass we call the Web to uncover some practical, zero-cost, noncommercial, registration-free resources that should broaden your environmental horizons. Remember, we search the Web so you don't have to.
Why you should care
Instead of running away from the threat of regulatory sanctions, forward-thinking plant professionals should be running toward a strategy for bottom-line improvement that rests on three ideas: economic prosperity, environmental stewardship and social responsibility.
“Why Facility Managers Need To Care About Sustainability,” an article by Paul von Paumgartten in the August 2004 issue of Today's Facility Manager magazine, highlights the pressures that bear on business and the sustainable measures that you can adopt to perform better in each arena. Access this bit of wisdom by going to www.todaysfacilitymanager.com, clicking on “Articles by Issue” and scrolling down to “August 2004.”
“Green Manufacturing Is a Strategic Priority,” an article published in the September 15, 2000, issue of Manufacturing & Technology News, gives an overview of a concept called environmentally benign manufacturing. The article argues that social responsibility in the form of environmentally–neutral manufacturing practices can be an effective tool for increasing a company’s market share. Also, the idea that ever more strict ecolaws will hamper your ability to prosper is deflated by an anecdote about Sony and Siemens. Be sure to note the change in attitude cited by Timothy Gutowski, chairman of the World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC) workshop for Environmentally Benign Manufacturing. He started as a skeptic and became a true believer after reading the research that says American manufacturing plants had better become heavily involved in emission reduction. You might not buy his story, but if you do nothing else with this Web page, scroll to the bottom for the six bullet points that should be a wakeup for plant professionals. Go to www.manufacturingnews.com/news/00/0915/art1.html, then read it and weep.
The balancing tradeoff
Conforming to environmental regulations that benefit society at large and maximizing business profitability aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive activities. From the point of view of the economist, achieving a win-win balance under the constraints of a particular statute is certainly possible, but it’s not necessarily easy and not universally applicable to every player in the marketplace. To explore the relationship between greenbacks and being green, Stanford's Alliance for Innovative Manufacturing, MIT's Leaders for Manufacturing Program and the University of Michigan's Tauber Manufacturing Institute participated in a 2003 symposium titled "The Business Case for Sustainable Manufacturing." Greg Gonzales wrote a column that highlights some of the presentations. If you want to know more about the realities of the cost-versus-benefit seesaw, then pop over to http://google.stanford.edu/ and enter “green business practices” in the search window. When the results appear, open the file named “Symposium makes a case for 'green' business practices.”
A skeptic’s net loss
The sum of all the energy and matter you’ll find in the known universe is fixed. You can shuffle energy from one form to another and reversibly exchange matter and energy, but the total in your giant test tube isn’t going to change. That’s the first law of thermodynamics.
Furthermore, if no extraneous energy crosses your system boundaries, the energy content of your final state will be less than the energy content of your initial state. That’s the second law of thermodynamics. That old Harpie, Mother Nature, insists on this being true for everyone.
When you hear of a so-called breakthrough technology that reverses the environmental damage we’re inflicting on this third rock from the sun, display a degree of skepticism appropriate for the professional you are. Mother Nature isn’t going to allow anyone to violate her laws. An example of what I’m talking about is the idea of making plastics from corn. It sounds like a good idea, but Tillman Gerngross, assistant professor of biochemical engineering at Dartmouth College, points out that when you take into consideration a detailed accounting of the energy required to produce a unit of PHA-based plastic, using corn as a feedstock doesn’t help the environment one iota. Rather than cite a long, complex URL, I’d suggest you flit over to www.dartmouth.edu and enter the phrase “how green is green” in the search box. This brings up an article titled “How ‘green’ is ‘green’ manufacturing,” which is based on a paper Gerngross delivered at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in 1999.
From Down Under
Research for this column uncovered a Web site that’s dedicated to transforming everything we know and love into a sustainable global society and economy. Its content is primarily of a philosophical nature more than it is a cookbook approach to developing ecological, social and economic sustainability. The site, the product of Green Innovations, a non-profit Australian environmental think-tank and services organization, takes the big-picture approach to what individuals, companies and states ought to be doing to ensure that your grandchildren will be able to live an acceptable lifestyle. Unfortunately, achieving the noble goals being promoted here requires us to scale back our consumption to the adequate level, which is well below our desired level and current standard of living. What’s not clear, though, is who will be in charge of determining the extent to which we must deny ourselves those pleasures we now take for granted. Anyway, if you’re interested, drop in at www.green-innovations.asn.au/ [hyphens after green] for rather text-heavy exploration of the organization’s philosophy. The major takeaway is the link to “Great Transition,” a 111-page online book about the organization’s approach to sustainability.
An integration issue
A term you’re likely to be hearing soon is industrial ecology. Essentially, it’s an interdisciplinary approach that studies the nonlinear ways industrial, ecological and socioeconomic systems interact and the flow of materials and energy among the three systems. The purpose is to reduce the effect human activity has on our natural systems.
The philosophy behind industrial ecology produces definitions such as dissipative use of a material. This refers to any release to the environment that is too diluted or chemically locked up to be of economic value. Such releases are non-sustainable because they move the material out of reach of the other industrial cycles that depend on it. Recycling is then impossible. Indigo Development, Oakland, Calif., is a consultancy that has participated in several industrial ecology projects, mainly in Asia. An example contains and recycles the waste and by-products resulting from human activity for use as input to other human processes. These eco-industrial parks are an interesting concept, which you can research at www.indigodev.com/ [no hyphens]. I’d be interested in hearing if any of you have implemented this concept in the United States. Let me know.
From the Capitol
The National Academy of Engineering, Washington, D.C., played a part in developing the concept of industrial ecology. The goal, of course, is sustainability, a difficult goal to achieve. You can get a flavor of what NAE represents by going to www.nae.edu/nae/naehome.nsf [no hyphens] and clicking on “Publications” at the left side of the screen. Then click on “The Bridge,” which is found immediately below. Click on “Archives” at the top, right corner, scroll down and click on “1999.” Finally, click on “Sustainability Engineering” to access five articles dedicated to the subject. The first discusses the idea of one company using another’s scrap to make salable product. The second explains how and why DuPont became environmentally proactive. Because environmental permitting takes so long, the third article explores ideas for developing metrics that can help you stay out of that bureaucratic bog. The fourth piece discusses the idea of using innovation to achieve ecoefficiency, the strategy that can enhance standard measures of financial efficiency. The last focuses on industrial ecology and living as we choose, given the world’s unbridled population growth.
The next site seeks to highlight the complex connections among the idea of sustainability, the standard economic theory, a country’s rate of energy consumption and its population growth. Jay Hanson from Computer Vectors, Inc. in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, started http://dieoff.org/ [no hyphens] because of his interest in what happens to us after the worldwide rate of oil extraction hits its peak value. Hanson’s major conclusion is that civilization will be hard pressed to survive when we run out of fossil fuel, even if greenhouse gases weren’t an issue. For example, consider agriculture. Manufacturing fertilizer requires a certain energy input per unit of plant food output. Energy economics determine when fertilizer factories can no longer afford to use costly energy to produce inexpensive fertilizer. The facilities close, agricultural output drops the following season, mankind has less food available, somebody goes hungry. The site has, literally, hundreds of articles, many of which have bibliographic references indicating the source of the astounding statements you’ll find on this site.
It’s common knowledge that keeping a plant’s electric motors humming can be expensive. The dollars associated with an efficiency decrease of only 1% rapidly mount. That’s a pile of long green that we prefer to be in your pocket than in the utility’s coffers. High efficiency is what you want and it’s also the [i]raison d’etre[i] for the folks behind www.greenmotors.org [no hyphens]. The Green Motors Practices Group, Boise, Idaho, is a non-profit organization promoting the idea that your motor system actually starts at your electrical service entrance and extends to your final process output. Because the motor forms such a big piece of that chain, GMPG identifies and promotes those motor rewind shops that can retain or improve motor reliability and efficiency by using best practices. If you’re unfamiliar with those practices, use the “Getting Started” link at the left of the page to access "Guidelines for Maintaining Motor Efficiency During Rebuilding," which is published by EASA. It’s a document that should form the basis for any future rewind service contracts you might contemplate signing. Of course, you wouldn’t need to be too concerned with this if you used one of the shops listed under the “Practicing Members” link at the top of the page. They already conform to the guidelines as a matter of routine. If you don’t want to ship motors across the country, consider pushing your local shop to adopt the practices and join this organization. It will be good for both you and your rewinder.
Your tax money at work
Whole Building Design Guide is presented by the National Institute of Building Sciences in Washington, D.C. This link-rich Web site promotes high-performance buildings that result from better integrating the various technical disciplines involved in designing, constructing and operating them. Among the many relevant offerings you’re going to find at www.wbdg.org [no hyphens] is a link (upper left of page) to a series of building design objectives. When the new page loads, click the link to “sustainable,” found at the bottom. This accesses links to green factors to consider for your own plant infrastructure — optimum site potential, energy consumption, water use, choice of building products, indoor air quality and the operational and maintenance practices you elect to use during the building’s useful lifespan. By the way, the site is consistent in the use of the word “tools” to refer to software packages, many of which you can download for free, that assist your what-if analysis to optimize the greenness of your building and the ways it’s being used and maintained. Our hired hands in Washington certainly put some thought into the design of this site. Check it out. You already paid for it.