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Counterpoint: The problem with green is that it’s always perceived as black or white

Tue, 04/29/2008 - 11:57am

Anna Wells
IMPO - Editor

By Anna Wells, Editor, IMPO.

I’d argue that becoming financially loyal to a certain company based on their green practices should be rephrased—instead of going green, maybe they’re just "going smart." Efficiency is the basis behind all process improvement initiatives, going back to Lean manufacturing, which has become a cornerstone for any competitive company in manufacturing.

Going green isn’t an easy way of pandering to public sympathies-It’s an efficiency improvement initiative, wrapped in recycled paper. In fact, I’d argue that the companies who embrace this full force are contending with an organizational culture shift that is as unwieldy and difficult to manage as any other industry buzzword. Going green is a serious capital investment in new equipment, certifications, consultants, training, and sometimes entirely new facilities. To undercut the initiatives by suggesting manufacturers are simply re-inventing their images based on a cultural shift is an oversimplification of this complicated process.

The problem is the fact that manufacturing has become so inundated with "flavor of the week" mentality, that energy efficiency initiatives are easily perceived as just another fad designed to improve a company’s competitive edge. If these are the end results, great—but there are other, more important benefits that can come with going green.

Employee well-being: By way of example, I’ve spoken with several plant mangers in the past year who have discovered the two-fold benefit of harnessing the use of natural lighting (read—lots of windows onto the floor) to both cut lighting and energy costs, but also improve working conditions for employees. Sure, energy is expensive, but perhaps more importantly, so is turnover.

Environmental: Despite the fact that this often comes across as lip service, environmental and sustainability goals are pragmatic for several reasons. Not only will they improve the world in which we live, but as the government becomes more involved in mandating emissions, it can’t hurt to have a plan in place. Look at the automotive market-when MPG begins to be more tightly regulated, do you want to be the one running the Hummer dealership?

I’d say that going green is as beneficial to manufacturing as many lean-based predecessors. In this environment of job cuts and economic downturn, going green can satisfy both internal financial goals as well as appeal to public sympathies. I don’t see the point in lambasting companies for their "selfish" reasoning behind these initiatives-to me, this just seems like a smart way of responding to business conditions.
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