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Trust but verify: Ronald Reagan's arms control slogan also applies to establishing sustainable processes. Rigid adherence to pre-set goals can stifle necessary innovation.

"Manufacturing has tracked energy for a very, very long time," says Susan Brennan, director, Sustainable Manufacturing at Ford, "and we have some very strong processes around this metric." Sustainability, however, goes far beyond tracking and reducing energy usage: "There are financial, environmental, and societal aspects to the process, and we evaluate where we stand against the metrics that are set at the start of the fiscal year." These reviews take place monthly, quarterly, and annually within Ford's Environmental Council, a group that includes Manufacturing, Engineering, and the Environmental Quality office.

While this process sounds rather robust, it's still relatively new, and getting people on board isn't always easy. "In our 2002 Corporate Citizenship Report, [Ford chairman] Bill Ford talked about the importance of water conservation. However, water isn't an expensive commodity in the U.S., so getting it into the plan took a lot of energy," says Brennan without a hint of irony. By applying the well-worn metrics used to measure energy and water use, the Environmental Council was able to create a scorecard that would help Manufacturing--at both the plant and corporate level--determine how to evaluate existing processes, machinery, and new purchases in terms of water savings. "Once the price of water began to go up," says Brennan, "the support for this metric increased, but you can't let that be your deciding factor. Sometimes you have to push these things because they are the right thing to do."

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If this is beginning to sound a bit like the mantra of Lean Manufacturing, that's because there are similarities. Like lean, Brennan admits that driving sustainability into the system happens on the shop floor, not in the conference room. "There are a lot of synergies between sustainability and lean," she says. "You use the same type of processes that you'd use to improve the efficiency of a manufacturing process or plant. It's just a different metric that people need to be aware of and add to their toolbox."

An example of this synergy is the Fumes to Fuel process Ford first instituted at its Rouge Center in Dearborn, MI, to turn the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) given off in the painting process into a fuel that is used to generate power at the plant. Prior to this program, the VOCs were captured and incinerated, while solids like paint overspray were treated, made non-hazardous, and buried in industrial landfills. Brennan says, "That whole program began as a way to save the energy spent incinerating those paint fumes, but expanded to eliminate the solid waste." The program went from test to a full-scale pilot program at Ford's Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne, MI, and will be rolled out to other assembly plants as their equipment is updated or replaced.

One danger in all this, however, is that it is easy to bureaucratize the process to the point where the targets overshadow the goals. That is, you focus on recycling to reach an overall target, for example, and this prevents you from eliminating the waste in the system that is currently being recycled. According to Brennan, "All of the plants are very good at challenging their suppliers to reduce and eliminate waste in their parts and processes, but we have to leave enough room in the process and in our expectations to allow our people to innovate. The real challenge comes in replicating our success stories, recognizing best practices, and continuing to move forward toward our ultimate objective."

By Christopher A. Sawyer, Executive Editor
COPYRIGHT 2006 Gardner Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:The INDuSTRY
Author:Sawyer, Christopher A.
Publication:Automotive Design & Production
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2006
Words:582
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