Industrial Engineer Engineering and Management Solutions at Work

December 2014    |    Volume: 46    |    Number: 12

The member magazine of the Institute of Industrial Engineers

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Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

Sweet green suppliers

In this millennium, green (or sustainable) manufacturing has become an almostoverused catchphrase.

Everybody’s using it — environmental activists and CEOs, marketers and consumers, post-doctoral researchers and trendy magazines, cool kids and squares. But its meaning is as diverse as downtown Atlanta or the Old City of Jerusalem.

To some, green means a diet of homemade granola squares with all ingredients sourced from the backyard, or at least the nearest farmers’ market. Most people don’t want to go that far. Others see it as a way to make the same products more appealing to a more discerning public. But seriously, how much effect did British Petroleum’s “Beyond Petroleum” ad campaign, launched in 2000, have on the public after last year’s massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?

In the past (and for some, in the present), many businesses have viewed sustainable practices as a way to add unnecessary costs that would render their enterprises noncompetitive. After all, spending millions on sustainable initiatives that yield red ink is a good way to make your organization unsustainable.

However, as technology and the understanding of processes grow, industrial engineers often have reached the sustainable sweet spot — where the green color of money intersects with the savings possible from green manufacturing, all with a side dish of cleaner air from fewer toxic emissions.

In this month’s cover story, Ayse Bayat and three co-authors detail one company’s initiative to use sustainable manufacturing to drive a leaner supply chain. The business was one of thousands scrambling for change after retailing behemoth Wal-Mart demanded that its suppliers improve their sustainability. Starting on Page 26, “Sustainably Driven Supply Chains” explains the data collection, analysis and opportunities the team uncovered.

The improvement initiative discovered a number of lessons that others can use to “green” their supply chains. And its results gave the company involved opportunities to save $1.2 million each year and cut the pilot facility’s carbon footprint by more than 3,500 metric tons annually.

So take a look at the results, and clean costs and carbon out of your supply chain.

Because remember, a sustainable business is one profitable enough to keep its doors open for workers, customers and the environment alike.

Michael Hughes is managing editor of IIE. Reach him at mhughes@iienet.org or (770) 349-1110.