To green, or not to green? There is no question!

Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management

ISSN: 1741-038X

Article publication date: 5 September 2008



Nunes, B. (2008), "To green, or not to green? There is no question!", Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management, Vol. 19 No. 7.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

To green, or not to green? There is no question!

Article Type: Editorial From: Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management, Volume 19, Issue 7

It is becoming evident that the question of “greening” manufacturing industry no longer has a “yes or no” answer. The debate has moved on from “why” to “how”, such that the greening process supports other business conditions including profitability, customer satisfaction, speed or dependability.

The pressure from stricter environmental legislation, public opinion, NGOs and other external forces has been increasing and solutions are needed urgently. Within this context it is expected that manufacturing will experience even greater pressure with the industry being identified as one of the main sources of pollution. In 1995, manufacturing industries in OECD countries accounted for 40 per cent of sulphur dioxide emissions (the precursor of acid rain), 60 per cent of water pollution, 75 per cent of nonhazardous waste and 90 per cent of hazardous waste. As developing countries tend to repeat the historical development patterns of industrialised countries, it is likely that the principal emerging economies, i.e. Brazil, Russia, China and India, as well as others in the economic race, such as Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, will have similar pollution problems. In fact, China and Russia are already under the spotlight of the media and environmentalists due to their increasing pollution rates.

The challenges for China and India are especially daunting. With huge populations and, as sources of low-cost labour, they are the favourite (or even the obligatory) destinations for the manufacturing plants of multinational companies. Therefore, the challenge for them is to do better than the historical patterns of Europe, the USA and Japan; going beyond mere efficiency gains and making sure that going green is more than going lean. New technologies are available and they will play an important role in companies’ competitiveness while supporting these countries’ energy security, water supply, natural resources conservation, and appropriate disposal of waste.

The process of managing the environmental technologies for manufacturing is another crucial factor for achieving sustainability in the twenty-first century. Companies in developed countries that send their manufacturing offshore will be faced with the choice of transferring old and less efficient technology, and thereby, reducing their initial investment, or taking advantage of regarding the next manufacturing destination as a testing ground for new, green, technologies. Building up deeper relationships with suppliers, and especially transferring to them the latest environmental technologies, is also a key part of this process. Technology transfer is indeed a factor in determining business profit and it will continue to be. Nevertheless, a more tolerant and long-term perspective, with extended payback time for early-stage green technologies, may be needed to ensure they are viable and therefore implemented. Similarly to other types of technologies, they can then be allowed to mature and contribute to enhanced competitiveness.

Green policies should be considered as sustainability policies addressing economic prosperity, social inclusion, social responsibility and environmental protection. For example, Primark, the UK’s second largest fashion retailer, was recently accused by the national media of using child labour in India. In fact, the company’s suppliers were subcontracting embroidery work on dresses to children working from home. The risks involved with these kinds of incidents include far more than just damage to brand and image of the company. It also involves having to identify new suppliers and adapting to a new supply chain if they are obliged to cancel contracts with those suppliers that commit infringements against green principles and ethics codes.

A lot has to be asked (and answered) of those involved in the manufacturing technology management research field. I would like to end this editorial by sharing some concerns regarding the direction towards a greener manufacturing future:

  • Do local and global environmental demands at the new destination of manufacturing plants contradict each other? How does this affect technology management?

  • To what extent is scale of production a problem or a solution to our environmental concerns?

  • What are the risks and opportunities behind new materials and emergent technologies in the twenty-first century, with special consideration to biomaterials and nanotechnologies?

  • Should “utility” of products be considered in environmental performance measurement or should we concentrate only in the environmental performance of manufacturing processes?

Finally, I would like to thank JMTM for opening this space for discussing the theme of greener manufacturing and invite the readers of the journal to contribute to the daunting task of answering the above questions as well as considering and researching other more interesting questions they think are about to come!

Breno NunesAston Business School, Birminghan, UK