Tools of the Trade, Part II

by | Nov 15, 2011

In my last article, we began digging into the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) Sustainable Manufacturing Toolkit. The toolkit can help companies the their business approach to be more viable, socially responsible and get the most out of greening opportunities and features a set of 18 key performance indicators (KPI) to measure and improve the environmental performance of manufacturing facilities.

You can find details on line: a Start-up Guide and a Web Portal with additional technical guidance, data tools and useful links.

The discussion in the toolkit elaborates on the relationships between manufacturing and the environment from the perspective of:

– inputs ( materials and things used in the product you make or in elements that go into the product you make),
– operations (process and systems that take the inputs and convert them into products, including facilities, transport of inputs and products, business travel, employee commuting, and other overhead), and
– products (including their use and end of life disposition)

But, the toolkit indicators mentioned above do not include the impact from commuting staff and logistics to transport inputs or products shown in the figure, but include the impact from business travel. This can be included in other ways.

The tool kit suggests “seven steps” to utilize the KPI’s as illustrated in the circle image below from OECD. See the last posting for the list of KPI’s.

The process starts with setting priorities and moves through measurement and improvement. Two significant steps are #2, select useful performance indicators (and determining what data needs to be collected), and step #3, measure the inputs used in production (this helps to identify how the materials and components used in production processes and systems influence environmental performance.)

Following this are the improvement steps.

An important part of the analysis is the selection of normalization factors – that is, relating the level of performance to the individual product (piece, weight, volume) or to sales volume, etc. The tool kit illustrates a number of different factors you can select to normalize the performance, including:

– Number, weight or units of products produced in the facility.
– Sales or value added in the facility.
– Person-hours worked in the facility.
– Units of function or level of services to be provided by the products produced in the facility.
– Lifetime of the products produced in the facility.

In our very early discussion of green metrics we introduced normalization factors, for example green house gas emission per capita, or area, or country. These are similar. You want to relate the impact to some measurable unit that makes sense in your business. Then determining where you are, and tracking where you have been or are going, is much easier.

The tool kit also discusses how to prioritize areas of improvement to focus on. It suggests a matrix showing the relative impact in terms of both environmental and business effects/results. This has been proposed by others as well and can be a powerful illustrative tool for plotting changes.

We’ll go on to that in the next posting.

Finally, my lab has been looking into social metrics of sustainability and how they intersect engineering and manufacturing decision making and activities. There will be more to come on this for sure. But, in the meantime, one of the researchers found an interesting web-based  survey from the Fair Trade Fund, Inc. to estimate your “slavery footprint.”

Starting from the question “how many slaves work for you?” (!) it guides you through a set of questions starting with your gender through your living standard, eating habits (including exceptional interest in what kind of nuts you eat), jewels you own, electronics you have, sports you play (and at each stage mentioning the conditions some folks in various parts of the world work in to provide these – for example, did you know that “In China, soccer ball manufacturers will work up to 21 hours in a day, for a month straight” – according to the survey?), and, of course, your closet (and reminding me that “1.4 million children have been forced to work in Uzbek cotton fields. There are fewer children in the entire New York City public school system”!).

At the end it tells you “how many slaves [are] working for [me]” based on their data and on my consumption patterns and, then, the typical supply chains and sources for these goods and materials.

I have no idea how accurate this website is and I do not endorse its data base or determinations. But, it is very illuminating, and sobering if at least true to some extent. It told me I have 48 slaves working for me. (It looks like my closet is the culprit!) Even if it is off by 50% that is still 24 slaves – nothing I am comfortable with.

Try it – it is sobering. And if you are a manufacturer with supply chains or materials sources from some of the suspect regions this can be a cause of concern and risk.

David Dornfeld is the Will C. Hall Family Chair in Engineering in Mechanical Engineering at University of California Berkeley. He leads the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Sustainability (LMAS), and he writes the Green Manufacturing blog.

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