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The greening of manufacturing: Being eco-friendly is simply good business


June 15, 2009
By John Tenpenny

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The greening of manufacturing is not yet complete, but the idea of sustainability and reducing the impact industry has on the environment being a competitive weapon seems to have infiltrated many corporate boardrooms. Increasing environmental regulations and growing consumer demand for a new generation of environmentally friendly products have created the mindset that green manufacturing must be a strategic priority.

“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,” says journalist and engineer Russ Kratowicz.

Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd., based in Bolton, Ont., works to reduce its environmental footprint to as close to zero as it can get. It isn’t solely about saving the environment; it’s as much about that old saying, ‘waste not, want not.’ The side benefits are a positive work environment and a creative mindset that have bolstered its global growth.

“Our customers are paying for the value we add and anything that goes into our trash bin, any vapours that are released, any energy that is not directly put into their product is not value added,” says Glenn Atkinson, director of environmental, health & safety for Husky, explaining the business case for environmental responsibility.

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“It’s not just that it’s healthier for the employees or that it reduces energy consumption or it reduces greenhouse gases. It is also significantly advancing the value our customers see because they’re not paying for the waste.”

When you arrive at Husky headquarters you’re left wondering if your GPS device is on the fritz. Pulling into the parking lot you’re surrounded by low-slung buildings, which sit amongst leafy landscaping, including a pond, replete with a waterfall. Outside the doors of every building sit racks full of yellow bicycles used by employees to navigate the 70-acre location.

The setting, reminiscent of a university campus (and indeed, Husky officials refer to the complex as a campus), is the first clue to how seriously this company takes environmental stewardship.

Equally important in the equation is the bottom line – always a consideration when Husky seeks to reduce its overall environmental footprint.

It reflects the general premise that Husky founder Robert Schad embraced: any waste is bad for the environment.

Founded in 1953, Husky started as a machine shop in a Toronto garage. It is now one of the world’s leading suppliers of injection molding equipment and services for the global plastics industry, designing and manufacturing a broad range of injection molding machines, hot runners, robots, molds, and integrated systems.

Husky’s service and sales network consists of more than 40 offices – including technical centres – supporting customers in over 100 countries. Manufacturing facilities are located in Bolton, Vermont, Luxembourg, and China.

The list of initiatives and programs at Husky that seek to drive out waste are impressive and include:

• Using highly efficient lighting, heating, cooling, and insulation in all buildings, which lead to a 30-per-cent kWh energy reduction in Canada since 2001. This translates into a reduction of about 4,500 tons of CO2 equivalent;
• Using the natural environment to reduce costs (e.g. the use of natural light in campus facilities, ground cooling), choosing pesticide free landscaping, and integrated storm water management systems;
• Using 40 per cent of the average amount of energy normally required;
• Rewarding employees for making environmentally responsible choices in their personal lives, such as recycling and using hybrid or fuel efficient cars;
• Incorporating waste diversion programs on all campuses. The Bolton campus currently boasts a 94-per-cent waste diversion rate, which, each year, generates in excess of $800,000 in recycling savings; and
• Proactively managing chemical use, which has reduced the number of hazardous chemicals Husky uses by about 40 per cent.

It’s considerations like these that are good for the environment, and for Husky’s internal and external profile as a socially responsible operation. But these efforts also provide a valuable return on investment – in creative problem solving and developing the efficiency of operations. According to Atkinson, the direct and indirect savings and benefits from these and other programs is at least twice their cost. “Typically, we don’t engage in activities that are a higher cost, but we do scratch our heads pretty hard to find activities and ways to use the least amount of resources,” says Atkinson.

And what is used is usually reused or recycled. Husky’s waste management program in Bolton diverts 94 per cent of all waste from landfills. Its recycling program’s slogan could be: what don’t we recycle?

Husky recycles all electronic devices such as computers (which are donated if they are still working), composts cafeteria waste, and even reuses pallets when possible. And when they can’t be reused, they’re chipped and diverted to landscaping. All plastic used in testing its equipment and doing customer trial runs is collected, sorted, and resold as are metal shavings and chips – all of which recovered more than $1.2 million for the company in 2006.

“This is in stark contrast to the early ’90s, when we were paying approximately $400,000 to have those materials taken off site,” says Atkinson.
When it comes to environmental footprints, Swedish-based SKF Group tries not to leave any tracks. The 100-year-old manufacturer that invented the first self-aligning ball bearing operates 120 facilities around the world and in 2005 initiated a program it calls BeyondZero, aimed at challenging the limitations of conventional environmental targets, which drive for zero negative impacts on nature.
The principle is simple. Not only does SKF strive to reduce the environmental footprint of its own operations toward that ‘zero’ target, it develops and produces products that will result in real environmental gains for its customers. The net result of the two combined is a positive balance for the environment.
“Our goal is to reduce the negative environmental impact and increase the positive impact in everything we do, so that the balance is increasingly positive,” says SKF CEO Tom Johnstone.
However, in order to do that, companies must satisfy both business and environmental objectives. “It has to make environmental sense and business sense,” says Johnstone.
The greening of the supply chain is another challenge. A recent survey of manufacturers commissioned by Dow Corning reveals that eight out of 10 companies globally say that environmental and sustainability factors are taken into account when they select suppliers.
“We’re still in the early days of the process,” Johnstone explains. “The key is to work with their customer – the end customer – to create a pull-through demand. That’s where the energy saving will result. But if it doesn’t create value they won’t buy it.”
Getting manufacturers to invest in emerging green or eco-friendly technologies that have a positive impact on the environment is the goal of a recent initiative from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME). “Innovations That Could Change The Way You Manufacture” outlines technologies such as ultracapacitors that are already making an impact on industry.
While ultracapacitors may sound like something out of the 1980s movie classic, Back to The Future, this invention has 10,000 times more stored power than a typical D-cell sized electrolytic capacitor. Ultracapacitors also have an unparalleled life span. In our daily lives, these “super batteries” already provide long-lasting power solutions for cellular electronics, medical equipment and most notably hybrid automobiles.
“Imagine the positive impact future, widespread use of this innovation could have on our current dependence on limited natural resources and ultimately our environment. This is one of manufacturing’s “greenest” ways to go,” says Dick Morley, a member of SME’s Manufacturing Enterprise Council and founder of R. Morley Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in the application of advanced technologies in the manufacturing and computer systems industries.
Quality of life is also good for business, and as far as Husky is concerned, the work environment is as important as the environment at large. The company’s Bolton headquarters has both a wellness and a childcare centre and its Greenshares program, which offers initiatives for employees who demonstrate environmental responsibility, has 40 per cent participation rate.
Transportation is another area where Husky feels it can save money and do its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The company has reduced its commercial air use by equipping all campuses with video teleconferencing, and it’s now moving towards having a fleet comprised only of hybrid cars.
Husky’s green business practices are also a benefit when it comes to dealing with government bureaucracy. “Because of the types of programs we have, where we really focus on reducing our emissions and reducing our waste, our relationship with the regulatory bodies is very good. They know that we are interested in preserving the environment, and we’re really self-administering that,” says Atkinson. “It is certainly an advantage when you’re looking to expand your business or apply for permits for new areas.”
Doing business and doing it well – making money – means expanding your presence around the globe, and Husky does this.
But inextricably bound to that notion is a belief that it must be achieved in a certain manner. “If you believe that an organized business and a business that generates as little waste as possible is efficient, then there is no additional cost because that’s good for the environment as well,” says Atkinson.
Today’s consumers are demanding environmentally friendly products and manufacturing methods. Balancing the benefits of green practices and regulations against costs is becoming attainable and for many companies being environmentally conscious need no longer be contrary to financial considerations. Being green is good for Mother Nature and for the company’s bottom line.

John Tenpenny is the editor of Advanced Manufacturing. He can be reached at jtenpenny@clbmedia.ca.