Going Green in the Manufacturing Industry

Going green is a growing trend that's proven to benefit more than just the environment. The greener an industry is, the faster its employment growth becomes. States that have a greater "green intensity," or share of employment in green jobs, typically fared better in the recent economic downturn. Manufacturing has the lead when it comes to green jobs. With numerous ways for companies to make their manufacturing more eco-friendly, the opportunities for jobs in this area are diverse.

Creating Green Facilities

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Image via Flickr by AZAdam

One of the most straightforward ways a company can go green is to adopt environmentally friendly practices in its facilities. An energy audit will highlight areas where the building is wasting energy and harming the environment. With this information in hand, manufacturers can turn to energy-efficient lighting products and automated lighting that turns on only when employees are present. A whopping 70 percent of energy consumed in industrial applications is used by electric motors. Upgrading to greener models can make a big dent in this.

Inspecting manufacturing buildings and sealing them properly against air leaks can reduce the use of heating and cooling. Adjusting the thermostat when possible to make it a few degrees warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter can have a big impact as well. These green measures are possible for nearly any type of manufacturing industry, regardless of the product made.

Reducing Waste

It is inevitable that most manufacturing facilities will use raw materials in the production of new items. However, facilities that are interested in going green can do so by implementing methods to carefully analyze the production process and examine waste. Implementing new procedures and better automation to reduce waste will instantly make any manufacturing company a little greener. Automated data collection is the key to success in this area. Understanding where waste occurs is the first step in making sure resources are used as efficiently as possible.

Companies have become experts at reducing waste and reusing materials. At some concrete plants, closed-loop weir structures reuse reclaimed water for concrete operations. Concrete can also be crushed and turned into reclaimed waste, using it as an eco-friendly aggregate base coarse material. Used motor oil is recycled for fuel in heaters. Customers are even encouraged to bring in broken asphalt for recycling and reuse at some facilities.

Choosing Green Materials

Using environmentally friendly materials in the manufacturing process is an excellent way for a company to become greener. However, this approach is distinctly different for every product, with some areas of manufacturing having more green options than others. Companies can source raw materials in an environmentally friendly fashion by getting them from waste streams, post-consumer waste, construction waste, or renewable agriculture sources.

Converting from a natural to a synthetic product can offer one solution. Gypsum is a mineral used in almost all residential construction. While companies can mine natural gypsum, they can do less harm to the planet by opting for synthetic gypsum instead. Synthetic gypsum is created at many power plants as a byproduct of their operations, where pollutants from the use of coal are filtered from the air. The filtering process creates a synthetic gypsum product that can be used in manufacturing in the place of natural gypsum.

Post-consumer waste can offer a wealth of options for innovative manufacturers. Cellulose Material Solutions, LLC produces Ecocell products that are made primarily with post-consumer and post-industrial paper. Recycled newspapers serve as the base for batts and blankets. The Ecocell products are themselves recyclable.

Jobs in Green Manufacturing

Eco-friendly practices can take place at many different levels for the manufacturing industry. One way to get a green job in manufacturing is simply to look for employment with companies that are actively pursuing environmentally friendly practices. This is becoming easier all the time as more manufacturers adopt sustainable methods or turn to recycled and recyclable materials. As you're researching potential employers, take some time to look over their company website. Going green is a great way to boost a company's image, and green practices are usually made public.

The manufacturing industry provides 10.8 percent of total private employment, yet represents 20.4 percent of green jobs. Private sector employment for green goods and services was highest in the manufacturing industry, representing 507,168 jobs in 2011. California had the largest share of these jobs, according to the Green Goods and Services report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Green manufacturing jobs can go beyond work at the plant. Anyone involved in creating or implementing eco-friendly manufacturing processes has an important role in this industry. This includes:

  • Electrical and electronic engineering technicians who work to improve energy efficiency
  • Environmental health and safety engineers who ensure firms meet environmental regulations
  • Industrial engineering technicians who work to conserve natural resources or improve energy efficiency
  • Manufacturing engineering technologists who help produce green products
  • Manufacturing engineers who develop lean production methods
  • Production supervisors who oversee the manufacturing of energy-efficient appliances and other green products
  • Supply chain managers who identify and reduce waste and streamline the production process

Creating Green Jobs

It's possible for nearly any manufacturing company to go green in at least one way. Even if your company isn't utilizing green practices when you begin, if you're in the right position, you may be able to help move them in this direction. Implementing green processes, such as using energy-saving devices, not only saves the environment, it also saves money. Sealing a plant against leaks, installing automatic lights, or reusing waste products are all financially beneficial. With the right changes, you can put a greener spin on any manufacturing firm.

If you're looking for a job where you have the satisfaction of making the world a little better, green manufacturing is a great place to start. Many of these jobs are available to entry-level applicants who have minimal education and experience. At higher levels, not only can you participate in green manufacturing, but you can also work to implement new environmentally friendly procedures that are easier on the planet.

Contributed to jobs.net by Kim Hale

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