As people become more educated about the state of our environment, there has been a push to encourage manufacturers to modify their production processes. Consumers have demonstrated a huge demand for eco-friendly products, and companies are aware that their bottom line may be affected if they fail to implement more sustainable manufacturing practices. Overseas manufacturers in Europe and Japan have worked to improve their processes, but in many ways, the United States still lags behind when it comes to considering environmental concerns related to production.
The US manufacturing industry contributes about $2.1 trillion to the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or about 12% of the total. With numbers like these, it’s easy to understand why pushing the adoption of green manufacturing is so important.
Green Manufacturing Goals
The primary goal of green manufacturing is to conserve energy and prevent pollution. This is accomplished by reducing or completely removing hazardous substances produced as byproducts during the manufacturing process.
Green manufacturing can be viewed from the perspective of producing green products to be used by consumers and/or producing traditional products in such a way that is less harmful to the environment. Green manufacturers focus on reducing pollution, conserving energy and natural resources, and making safer products for consumers. Many of these companies strictly adhere to green production standards established by ISO and LEED, as well as green supply chain management principles.
Benefits of Green Manufacturing
Anything that serves to promote a cleaner environment undoubtedly has numerous benefits. For starters, green manufacturing can significantly reduce air and water pollution. Traditional manufacturing processes focus heavily on processing raw materials at the expense of the environment. Green manufacturing not only represents a change in the way these materials are handled, it also emphasizes responsible waste management and recycling in post-production.
In addition to reducing environmental stressors, green manufacturing can significantly reduce landfill waste. For example, since steel can be recycled and repurposed into entirely new products, less waste steel is deposited into landfills, and damage from harmful chemicals leaching into the water supply is reduced.
Energy conservation is another important benefit of green manufacturing. Using repurposed scrap metal, for instance, uses much less energy than the production of steel from raw materials such as iron, coal, and limestone.
On top of the obvious environmental benefits, companies also can benefit from reduced production costs, which are typically the result of upgrading production facilities to include green building technologies such as solar and wind power. These businesses also become eligible for special green incentives and tax credits offered by the US government. Green manufacturers have a documented competitive advantage when it comes to winning government contracts, as many of these are designated specifically for green building and manufacturing. These companies may also see an uptick in sales, as many consumers feel better about supporting companies that share their eco-friendly values.
Green Auto Manufacturing
One sector that has made significant strides in terms of green manufacturing is the auto industry. Between low- and zero-emission vehicles, better gas mileage, and the use of lighter, more sustainable materials, the United States has ramped up efforts to increase the number of eco-friendly vehicles on the road.
Green vehicles significantly reduce the pollutants that directly contribute to climate change. These cars are also more consumer-friendly, as they get better gas mileage (or don’t even require gas at all), and manufacturers have been able to bring down prices. Overall vehicle cost has decreased considerably since the US market was introduced to its first hybrid in 1997.
Europe pioneered the manufacture of the Smart car, which has experienced a surge in popularity among environmentally conscious consumers. Smart cars are manufactured from 95 percent recyclable parts and boast 60 mpg fuel efficiency. In comparison to standard vehicles, the gas mileage is double. Not only this, but Smart cars are made using eco-friendly production methods, resulting in less production-related emissions and waste.
Green Manufacturing of Steel
Another industry making great progress in green manufacturing is steel production. Traditionally, steel is produced by heating iron oxide and carbon, leading to large amounts of carbon emissions. This conventional method is responsible for a great deal of greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s estimated that two tons of CO2 emissions are generated for every one ton of steel produced.
Eco-friendly steel production has been studied by MIT researchers with the goal of major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and improved steel quality. Their new approach relies on a process called molten oxide electrolysis and the use of an iron-chromium alloy. This method of making steel was accidentally discovered by NASA researchers who were working to create oxygen from the iron oxide in the Moon’s soil. The researchers found that subjecting lunar soil to molten oxide electrolysis resulted in the creation of steel as a byproduct. This process has the potential to greatly reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses being released into the atmosphere during steel production.