Cutting Carbon

The Impact of Climate Change on Manufacturing
Written by Robert Hoshowsky

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Industrial Revolution was fuelled mainly by coal. Abundant coal made machines cheap to operate while devastating air and water with pollution, engulfing entire cities like London, England in smoke and soot.

While later fuel sources like natural gas are less toxic, particularly when combusted in new and efficient power plants, burning fuel still contributes to global warming and greenhouse gas emissions.

Our collective carbon footprint affects the entire planet. Manufacturers are reducing their carbon footprints, and this is far from trendy. It is good for the environment and a business’ bottom line. Companies of all kinds are embracing better environmental practices not only because it is the right thing to do for the planet but also because it favourably bolsters the public’s perception.

Manufacturing today across North America is light years away from where it was in the past. It is more efficient than ever, thanks to technology and Lean manufacturing, which reduces waste by focusing on continuous improvement, perfect first-time quality, and intelligent automation.

Many of us already practice the three R of reduce, reuse, and recycle in our daily lives, but how are manufacturers and other businesses – the biggest users of water, gas, oil, and other resources – cutting their resource use and reducing costs?

Here and abroad, businesses from grocery stores to tool and die makers are lessening their carbon footprints. In Europe, 171-year-old German multinational conglomerate Siemens AG has pledged to be entirely carbon neutral by 2030. Siemens is known worldwide for manufacturing medical, industrial, energy, and healthcare products, and it is doing much more than talk about energy savings. It is investing over 100 million Euros in its environmental plans.

To reach its goal in the coming decade, the company will incorporate low-emission vehicles into its fleet, optimize energy use in manufacturing facilities and offices through distributed energy systems, and bolster the use of clean, renewable energy sources like wind and natural gas.

American and Canadian companies are also taking up the challenge of lowering their environmental impact. Many people are familiar with companies like Seattle-based coffee giant Starbucks eliminating the use of plastic straws by 2020, but other companies are taking plastic waste into bold new directions.

Several years ago, well-known jeans manufacturer Levi Strauss & Co. introduced the Waste2 emissions in half by 2030 to protect us from climate change. More manufacturers are taking the lead since a global increase in temperature of just 1.5 degrees Celsius will adversely affect the Earth. One key way to keep things cool is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and adapt to change as soon as possible.

While switching to one hundred percent renewable sources of energy like solar, wind, and hydropower may still be years’ away for manufacturers, there is much that can be done right now to reduce carbon emissions, from investing in renewable energy and supporting environmental policies carbon to purchasing carbon offsets. All changes, even small ones like turning off lights, getting an energy audit, and buying local to save on transportation makes sense for all manufacturers.



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