The manufacturing industry consumes many resources to deliver products and services to its customers. Unfortunately, the current impact of many plant operations creates environmental, financial, and social harm to the company and its many internal and external stakeholders. Thankfully there are initial means to move toward net-zero impact, while some are taking it to the next level of becoming regenerative operations. We will explore the work of a sustainable manufacturing exemplar leading the path towards making these goals a feasible reality for all manufacturers.
"We care about the environment, and it's reflected in everything we do. By combining energy-efficient equipment with on-site green energy sources, we reduce our emissions, minimize our carbon footprint, and lower our environmental impact on natural resources such as water, land, and air." – Bob Bechtold
Bob Bechtold's journey to sustainable manufacturing began with a customer requirement in 1996 when his company HARBEC was required to become ISO 9001 Quality management systems certified. Bechtold, the company founder, and the president shared that they hated the requirement because they had to "do what we say and say what we do." The next step was integrating ISO 14001 Environmental management systems – Requirements with guidance for use in 2002 when they installed their first wind turbine. The company further benefited by adopting the ISO 50001 Energy management systems – Requirements with guidance to lessen their energy costs. The machining, tooling, and injection molding company in Ontario, NY, continued conversion with a mindset that led to achieving a goal in 2013 of a zero-carbon footprint.
HARBEC has adopted many available technologies to be a sustainable manufacturing operation through a purpose-driven attack on all forms of waste. In addition, the company has implemented a wide-ranging set of sustainability initiatives that include:
• Energy-efficient equipment – A transition from hydraulic to all-electric molding machines reduced energy usage by 50%.
• 100% green fleet – The company uses hybrids, all-electric, and bio-diesel vehicles.
• On-site renewable energy source – The company installed an initial wind turbine in 2002 and the second one in 2010, meeting approximately 60% of their needs for electrical power.
• Utility connection to green power – The company is a US EPA Green Power Partner and purchases the balance of its energy needs through renewable electricity.
• Efficient lighting – A recent second lighting upgrade from high efficiency to LED bulbs reduced energy consumption by 45%.
• Carbon offsetting – The purchase of carbon offsets counterbalances the balance of their CO2 emissions that the company does not eliminate.
• Co-generation – Microturbine generators use compressed natural gas to produce electricity. The hot exhaust is used in a heat exchanger to transfer the heat to the water in a radiant floor heating system in the colder months and sent to absorptive chillers in the summer to create chilled water for air conditioning.
• Water conservation and reuse – An 800K gallon reservoir captures and holds rainwater as a thermal mass to dissipate heat from process wastewater before sending it to a cooling tower, reducing overall cooling requirements.
• Ecostones™ - Producing these stones uses scrap plastic as an alternative to dolomite. These plastic stones have twice the surface area and voids to remediate parking lot runoff.
• Reusing waste – The company assembles reusable packing products to minimize landfill waste and reuses corrugated materials until the cardboard is exhausted.
• LEED™ warehouse – A "green" warehouse following the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design guidelines, including daylight gathering, double insulated walls and roof, and in-floor radiant heating.
The extensive list shows no one way to become a manufacturer with a zero-carbon footprint. The success of the many initiatives still falls short of zero emissions, which requires HARBEC to purchase carbon offsets to reach this level. HARBEC continues to explore and adopt alternative methods to reduce its carbon footprint.
HARBEC is a smaller company requiring them to be ingenious and innovative. As a result, recognition led to awards such as:
• Environmental Protection Agency Energy Star Small Business Award – The award was given in 2002 to recognize their leadership in using energy-efficient practices.
• Manufacturing Extension Partnership Excellence in Sustainability Award – The National Institute of Standards and Technology presented this award to HARBEC in 2011 for its outstanding work in developing and adopting green/sustainable practices.
Some manufacturers have chosen a race to the bottom to produce less expensive and lower-quality products. Others like HARBEC are shifting to a focus on environmental and societal needs through the reinvention of manufacturing. Their work has led to them becoming and maintaining carbon-neutral manufacturing status since 2013.
A guide that can be useful to those interested in beginning the sustainable manufacturing process is the OECD Sustainable Manufacturing Toolkit: Seven Steps to Environmental Excellence. The document provides an overview of the work required to start a similar path to that which Bob Bechtold has taken with his company.
Bechtold is an example of a manufacturing sustainability champion. I am grateful that he has laid the groundwork for others to follow if they also want to become purpose driven. They now have a baseline to work from to create innovative approaches that result in a win-win-win for people, the planet, and profit.
Next week's blog will continue exploring sustainable practices' benefits in manufacturing operations. The result is to lessen the negative environmental impact and aligns with the humanist manufacturing framework.
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