Green, sustainability and corporate social responsibility, are terms that appear increasingly in our publications and conversations. They draw our attention on the fact our products interact with their environment and potentially harm it. Reducing that impact needs to be a driver right from the definition and design of the product. This is what is being called DfE, design for the environment.
But this is easier said than done. Indeed, in today’s environment, suppliers do not have the information at hand for each of their components, ingredients or substances. Actually, as mentioned in my previous post, the way to calculate the impact is not standardized, so even if the values exist, what do they mean, and how can they be combined to provide a reasonable assessment of the impact of the final product?
During the development of a product, a Bill of Materials (BOM) and Bill of Process (BOP) are created. These will be used at a later stage in the operational systems. I would like to argue that we need to add two new bills to the series. These are first, the Bill of Substances (BOS), which would include all the substances contained in the product and their quantities, and second, the Bill of Carbon (BOC), containing the amount of carbon emissions for the product at all stages in the manufacturing and logistics. There should be a close link between the BOM and the BOS, and between the BOP and the BOC. Operational systems should include modules to report on those two bills. In todays quest to develop green products, I have seen companies taking slams of aluminium, removing 90% through the use of NC machines and lasers, and then claiming their products are green because they are lighter. How much energy has been used during the manufacturing process and how much will be used to recycle the engeneered out particles of aluminium. We really need to look at the end-to-end process.
But now, how do we get the data to populate them. Obviously, the base information related to the components, ingredients and substances needs to come from the suppliers and be augmented with the data associated with the company’s operations. The easiest way to do this would be for each company to report both the BOC and BOS for their own products. For the BOS, the information should be the sum of the information of each of the components, ingredients and substances included in the product, potentially reduced by the substances subtracted during the process. For the BOC, we should start from the sum of the information coming from the suppliers and add the quantities generated during manufacturing and transportation.
For the Bill of Carbon, we should agree on a standard way of calculation to ensure the numbers are meaningful and reflect reality. Obviously averages may have to be used, as not all manufacturing facilities generate the same amount of CO2 to make the same product, and as transportation can depend on the warehouse/distribution center used, on the distance to the customer etc. Let’s stay pragmatic. Gaining visibility of the amount of CO2 generated, even if it is an average, would already go a long way to focus the attention on reducing it.
So, are we ready to increase our usage of three letter acronyms?