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Green Manufacturing: State of the Industry

Thanks to federal tax credits and other incentives to be environmentally responsible, consumers and manufacturers have shifted their focus to sustainable living and production. Design Intelligence recently published an article on the state of the manufacturing industry, which discussed some of the obstacles and solutions to creating a green industry.

With environmentally responsible production comes cost savings, which is the driving force behind many companies endeavoring to become greener. Waste reduction and better energy efficiency are important motivating factors as they lead to higher operating income.

Additionally, the market for sustainable products continues to increase, leading to product innovation. While this diverse innovation is not negative, it can lead to confusion and differentiation as manufacturers – and purchasers – find it hard to define accepted industry standards and definitions. One product may be composed of solely recycled material while another may be created through a highly efficient manufacturing process yielding minimal waste. How does one differentiate between which is greener?

This type of product diversity has led to a chasm in marketing efforts as well. While informative on how a product is environmentally friendly, the variety of messages portrayed about what is green leads to confusion and frustration. It is almost impossible not to compare apples and oranges when it comes to green production.

One of the barriers in determining what is eligible to be called a “green” or “sustainable” product is that no solid industry standards seem to exist yet. This leads to inconsistent claims by manufacturers that – while true – confuse purchasers and designers. There are key points that manufacturers address when asserting that a product is green:

  • Which materials are used within the product
  • By what methods/processes the product was fabricated
  • What will happen to the product after use

The next major movement within the industry needs to be the creation of commonly accepted standards for what constitutes a green product. By aligning the processes and definitions, mistrust can be eliminated and designers and purchasers will be able to more easily evaluate products and make honest, informed decisions.

There are numerous bodies in existence that provide guidance and forward thinking on the subject of “green,” such as the U.S. Green Buildings Council, LEED and professional and research organizations. All are somewhat fragmented in what they are communicating. Rather than focusing on individual green efforts, the industry might be better served via cooperation among these groups to chart a common path.

As the market for green products continues to emerge, the creation of standards is imminent. Ideally, all manufacturers will be a part of that dialogue to create reasonable and meaningful measurements for the products they make. This type of consensus will aid in boosting the industry’s progress toward a truly sustainable future.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the manufacturing industry? How do you measure your green practices? We would love to hear your feedback.

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