The term “green” manufacturing can be looked at in two ways: the manufacturing of “green” products, particularly those used in renewable energy systems and clean technology equipment of all kinds, and the “greening” of manufacturing — reducing pollution and waste by minimizing natural resource use, recycling and reusing what was considered waste, and reducing emissions.
Revitalizing US manufacturing has grown to “rallying cry” levels in recent years, with rapidly growing renewable energy and clean technology investment at the thin end of the wedge. Proponents tout the economic and social benefits of a strong US manufacturing sector while urging government policy makers to enact policies that promote and foster its ongoing development and growth.
At the heart of such calls lay manufacturing’s potential to be an engine for long-term job creation and a primary means of assuring US competitiveness across globalized markets in which the US competes with state-managed, “non-market” economies.
US manufacturing has been on the decline as a percentage of GDP for decades. In the 2000s, according to a March 2012 research report from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, “U.S. manufacturing suffered its worst performance in American history in terms of jobs. Not only did America lose 5.7 million manufacturing jobs, but the decline as a share of total manufacturing jobs (33 percent) exceeded the rate of loss in the Great Depression.”
Advocates of developing and enacting stronger US government policies and incentives, including the report’s authors, lament such statistics and believe it is essential that this trend be reversed. They are coming out publicly, urging leaders to enact policies and take actions to revitalize US manufacturing, firm in the belief that it would be enormously beneficial socially as well as economically. In fact, there’s a lot to build on.
The Biggest Manufacturing Country in the World
Despite its decline relative to the services sector, the US manufacturing sector “produces $1.7 trillion of value each year, 11.7% of US GDP,” according to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). Of late, manufacturing and exports have been a comparative bright spot in a halting, still fragile US economic and jobs recovery.
You might find it surprising, but the US remains the world’s largest manufacturing economy, producing 21% of global manufactured products. China is second at 15% and Japan is third at 12%, according to NAM. Pillars for the advent of 21st-century “green” and “zero-carbon” economies, rapidly growing renewable energy and clean tech sectors are considered among the best opportunities to realize this goal.
President Obama and his administration are responding. Spurring a renewal of US manufacturing, and fostering growth in renewable energy and clean technology, are central planks of the President’s “Blueprint for an America Built to Last” strategic plan.
The first comprehensive empirical studies of renewable energy and clean tech manufacturing (and of “green” job creation) lend support to this belief. The most often cited of these have probably been those produced by the Pew Research Center and the Brookings Institute. CleanTechnica’s been on the trail as well, having covered this topic pretty extensively. It’s one we’re sure to continue to follow, so keep an eye out for our continued coverage of this important issue.
Green Manufacturing: Reducing Resource Use, Waste and Emissions
There’s a lot of buzz, hype, and real progress being made when it comes to our second definition of green manufacturing, as well. Growing numbers of businesses are finding that reducing resource use, waste, and pollution, along with recycling and reusing what was formerly looked at as waste, yields benefits not only in terms of an improved bottom line, but in terms of employee motivation, morale, and public relations.
Corporate and business leaders at the forefront of redesigning, restructuring, re-engineering, and retooling operations and processes to be more environmentally and socially sustainable are finding that doing so produces measurable results that others can and would like to emulate, even leading to new business lines and a notable recognition for their efforts.
New ways of thinking about manufacturing, both broadly and narrowly, are having a big impact on manufacturers worldwide. Such efforts are intimately entwined with a movement toward taking on, or accepting, greater corporate social responsibility (CSR). One such driving force has been the development of systems analysis, which has evolved into the growing field of industrial ecology.
The Ecology of Industry: Cradle-to-Cradle Design, Production, and Manufacturing
One notable aspect of applying this systematic way of viewing and analyzing manufacturing operations and processes has led to the concept of cradle-to-cradle product design and production. Simply put, cradle-to-cradle manufacturing calls for products to be designed and produced with an eye towards minimizing, or even eliminating, resource use, waste, and pollution — factoring in how a product will be disposed of into the manufacturing process. The process goes from initial product design right on through to production, distribution, disposal, and perhaps reuse (or rebirth).
Spurring them onward, governments, international and non-profit organizations, and business and industry watchdogs have all been urging manufacturers and other businesses to clean up their act and take greater responsibility for resource use, waste, and pollution.
The drive to reduce fossil fuel use, carbon dioxide emissions, and other greenhouse gas emissions has been at the forefront of this movement, though similar initiatives spanning use of water, forest, and mineral resources are also having an impact on the way business is being done across economic and industrial sectors.
International organizations such as the United Nations and World Bank are being joined by a host of public, non-profit, and private sector organizations, such as the Carbon War Room and Carbon Disclosure Project in making notable progress when it comes to driving forward green manufacturing, green business methods, and green practices. Prominent environmental organizations and businesses are even bridging the divide that separates them, joining in efforts to conserve natural resources, natural habitats, and biodiversity.
There’s scads of good reporting being done on the topic of green manufacturing, and we think we’re doing some of the best. Keep an eye on CleanTechnica for more on this topic.
I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.