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September 2014

Part 5: What can we conclude from all of this, and what can everyone do to contribute to a greener world? (Article Series)

In our latest article series,  Automation GT takes a look at the role played by manufacturing and automation in climate change throughout history. Rachel Greenberg writes technical and marketing content for Automation GT. 

If there is one thing that we can conclude from the evidence collected here, it is that one of our major obstacles in changing our poor track record in regards to the environment is in changing our culture. While we as a culture continue to demand material goods in large, cheap quantities, manufacturers will continue to drive production, and while our economy continues to depend on fossil fuels, manufacturers will continue to produce goods in a way that is heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

So in the meantime, what can manufacturers do to produce goods in a more sustainable way, and how can they advocate for a more environmentally conscious consumer base and political scene? And what can consumers to do demand a more environmentally friendly marketplace?


For Manufacturers:

One of the most impactful things that a manufacturer can do to protect the environment is to constantly reevaluate their process and weed out inefficiencies. This will require a variety of steps:

  1. Identify and replace any out-of-date machinery in your factories. Older machines tend be less fuel efficient and clean than their newer counterparts.
  2. Examine your supply chain and eliminate redundancies and slow-ups. If there are any instances in which you could collocate certain operations that were previously spread out, you may be able to reduce your carbon footprint from travel and exportation/importation. You may also be able to utilize fewer employees to achieve the same amount of work. This will mean fewer people commuting every day and fewer resources that your business must allocate for all of their employees.
  3. Automate as appropriate. Choosing to automate your operations can grant you significant means to decrease your carbon footprint. The more you automate, the fewer employees performing redundant tasks you will need, which may mean fewer cars on the road. If you can automate sufficiently, you make be able to convert your operations into “lights out” manufacturing: in some such situations, businesses have been able to entirely or almost entirely automate their processes to the point that they can turn off the lights, air conditioning, and maybe even the running water for their facilities because there are no people inside who would require those facilities.
  4. If possible, restructure your factories to rely partly or entirely on renewable and cleaner energies. Investigate different options in converting your factories’ machines and central power supply to different types of energies based on what is available for your region. Consider hiring a consultant to help you improve your energy policy, or consider funding research projects on the local, national, or international level that might produce cleaner fuels, especially on the scale needed by manufacturers.

In addition, manufacturers can act as advocates for the development of cleaner systems, and more importantly, for a manufacturing culture that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels and that prioritizes ecological preservation. Depending on your place in the production process, you should be able to use your particular powers and privileges to your advantage in advocating for better environmental policies. And don’t restrict yourself to advocacy within your organization; seek out opportunities where your authority, position, skill set, and experiences might be valuable to advocacy groups or nonprofits engaged in environmental policy.


Advocacy for Manufacturers

As a manufacturer, you have particular insight on the inner workings of the manufacturing process and the specific ways in which the manufacturing process can be wasteful and inefficient. Be observant and make notes when you notice places where improvements could be made and bring those observations to your supervisors, administrators, etc. Do research on what other factories have been able to do and craft proposals for your own factories. Bring your successes to the public so that other manufacturers can achieve similar successes. If appropriate provide workshops or classes on improving environmental impact.


Advocacy for Administrators

As an administrator in a manufacturing or production operation, you likely have a good perspective on what goes into project and process development. This means that you have the unique opportunity to weigh in early in the production process when you notice waste. You have the ability to constantly press for more progress, for even better conservation, even when it seems that you’ve done the best you can do and are being maximally conservative.

You also have the power to encourage more research to ensure that your products are made from the best materials (safe, sourced responsibly, refined in fuel efficient ways, etc.) and that you always purchase from and sell to similarly environmentally responsible partners.

You can also fund and support research in your own and in other companies towards alternative fuels and technologies. If any feasible systems emerge, set an example by becoming an early adopter.


Advocacy for Everyone

Of course, there are always things to do politically and socially to encourage better environmental behaviors. However, industry represents 19% of global greenhouse gas emissions, so we would do well to specifically address how everyone can contribute to improving this sector.

Everyone can get engaged with this conversation on the political front. (Check out this interesting TED Talk on reaching out in an effective way to your representatives.) There are a few particularly important areas that deserve your attention:

  1. According to Greentech Media, there are three issues of particular importance: providing funding for the proposed clean energy hubs, reauthorizing the advanced manufacturing tax credit, and passing a progressive carbon tax. More clean energy hubs would give manufacturers greater options in choosing clean energy. The manufacturing tax credit rewards environmentally conscious manufacturing. And a progressive carbon tax would ensure that the cost of fossil fuels would reflect that actual environmental cost of our failure to alter our economic dependence on fossil fuels.
  2. Let your shopping habits reflect your environmental concerns. Decrease or eliminate unnecessary purchases. Whenever possible, choose locally and sustainably produced goods. Limit your consumption of meat and other high-environmental cost products.
  3. Limit your direct use of fossil fuels. Avoid unnecessary or extravagant travel. Choose biking, walking, and public transportation when possible. Offer incentives for your employees to do the same. Offer employees options to work from home or attend meetings remotely to reduce travel.
  4. Use your environmental advocacy to your marketing advantage. Advertise your positive environmental choices as a positive aspect of your business. Promote trends that similarly advocate environmentalism and minimal consumerism.

Part 1: The Industrial Revolution, Climate Change, Global Environmental Problems, and Manufacturing

Part 2: Does automation provide any environmental aid? How can innovation lead to a better environmental picture?

Part 3: Is automation a better environmental option than the alternative? Can we keep people at work while also saving the environment?

Part 4: How do global politics and other factors affect the environmental situation of manufacturing?

Part 5: What can we conclude from all of this, and what can everyone do to contribute to a greener world?