Everyone everywhere seems to be "going green" but is there real value in doing so or is it just a cliché term that gets thrown around far too often? In this month's Perspectives feature, industry leaders weigh in on how they perceive the value of the green movement and discuss the potential benefits and downside to device manufacturers considering it for their business.
Is “Going Green” the latest cliché buzz term or is it a truly valuable effort to be made by companies looking to stay competitive and environmentally friendly?
Global Practice Leader, Kepner-Tregoe
It is all a matter of perspective. Anaïs Nin, diarist and philosopher, once said, "We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are." We see “Going Green” as a very legitimate path to business success and one that all companies will have to embrace, whether they believe so now or not. We also see how some organizations today might approach this from the perspective of “fad-following”; pursuing only a path filled with “green-washing” and brazen attempts to display “green” credentials in an attempt to hoodwink an increasingly unforgiving customer base.
The value in going green, in embracing sustainability, is in what Daniel Esty and Andrew Winton describe as creating an “EcoAdvantage,” in their book, Green to Gold. It serves as the basis for competing in a crowded marketplace by prompting companies to explore ways to eliminate waste and improve the efficient use of resources—both activities that can contribute directly to an organization’s bottom line.
For a pharmaceutical company it can be as little as taking steps to reduce the amount of power consumed by facilities, or it may entail a global footprint assessment that considers all of the choices that are made from sourcing through distribution in an organization’s value chain that have carbon emissions impact. Nevertheless, the reduction in expenditure pays dividends and can actually lead to innovations in production and packaging that may make for market leadership.
The key issues that move this subject from cliché to substantive approach to performance improvement are organizational self-awareness and intent. The self-aware organization knows its limitations, seeking to work effectively and meaningfully within them—never over-promising. Clear about its intent, it also understands that “going green” is no panacea but must be a considered part of long-term business success to be a legitimate and valuable effort.
Business Development Manager, 3M Electronic Solutions Division
Is it important to offer environmentally friendly components and alternatives? Absolutely. But we can not do so to the exclusion of industry standards or customer expectations. A soy-based, organic, low-carbon-footprint connector is all well and good, but if it doesn’t deliver the promised or expected performance, green attributes will not make it any more attractive to customers. It’s about balancing choice (a customer’s performance requirements) and compliance (regulations on the use of materials that affect the environment we all share).
RoHS-compliant components are a good example. Adopted by the European Union in February 2003, the RoHS directive took effect July 1, 2006, restricting the use of six hazardous materials used in the manufacture of various types of electronic and electrical equipment. As world citizens, we all would like to see fewer hazardous materials used in the manufacture of products. But changing the formula of components may inadvertently affect a device’s performance characteristics, reliability, and durability. Recognizing that while some of these ingredients may be undesirable, these ingredients are necessary to make vital parts work in some applications. To ensure the continued performance of such parts, the EU established a temporary moratorium for medical devices and monitoring and control instruments.
Still, component manufacturers, like 3M, have an obligation to ensure compliance with prevailing regulations and directives wherever we sell products. 3M Electronic Solutions Division decided to offer RoHS-compliant versions of the majority of our products. 3M changed product materials and, as in the case of cables containing PVC, reformulated compounds in order to retain the performance characteristics customers had come to expect in the original products while still complying with the RoHS directive. This enables our customers to transition to RoHS-compliant components where and when appropriate.
In many cases, “going green” is a fact of the modern business that poses technical demands and challenges. Doing what is right for the community and the world we share must be balanced with keeping our shareholders happy. Increasingly, those two interests are aligned.
VP Regulatory Affairs, Pilgrim Software Inc.
Medical device companies already have the challenge of meeting the many environmental regulations and avoiding environmental fines, while cutting operational costs, and still achieving the growth and profitability needed in this globally competitive economy. Companies constructing new facilities face an easier choice to include green design approaches that both reduce energy cost and overall impact to the environment. Programs such as LEED from the U.S. Green Building Council provide guidelines to help companies improve and operate their existing buildings, including optimizing the use of energy and water, indoor and outdoor maintenance, environmental quality, and material use. It’s a choice that medical device manufacturers will have to face in altering their manufacturing methods to support and sustain a renewable way of producing products that cause no harm to the environment or risk to the patient.
However existing companies will have to balance the cost of green improvement or achieving LEED certification and sustaining these programs with the cost of doing business.
The influx of new medical device imports is driving the commoditization of some medical products. So will a “Green” or “Produced from a LEED Certified Company” label provide the additional value and competitive difference to influence a customer’s buying choice if “being Green” has also resulted in a price differential? Today, a customer’s response is based on whether the product is safe and cost-effective, not if it was produced Green.
Going “green” means that companies will need to purchase technology and systems that are not yet mature or commoditized, affording companies to invest further in these improvements. New quality programs with critical continuous monitoring will need to be implemented to ensure sustainability, adding to the process cycle and resource load.
As the world community continues to race to new technology and cost-effective renewable energy, green choices will become easier and more economical to adopt in everyday manufacturing. Therefore, in the future, a customer’s reflection of product evaluation may indeed include Green. However, today, it’s still simply a matter of choice, not yet a competitive difference.
COO, BIT Analytical Instruments
Certainly much noise is being made lately about “Sustainability” and “Going Green,” but, quite frankly, it started years ago. Because we have multi-country manufacturing facilities and a global client base, we must follow the strict legal requirements set forth by governments around the world. Simple, obvious aspects—such as recycling—were conquered years ago. The new developments are RoHS compliance and the development of manufacturing methods based on the environmental aspects. For example, utilization of aluminum parts and tooling for plastic parts saves energy in the CNC machining process drastically.
In the United States, we are more focused on RoHS [Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive] and electronics [the WEEE initiative on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment]. All of our electronic design is based on RoHS compatible parts. But RoHS and WEEE represent only one tentacle in the “go green” movement, which extends much further and can cast its influence on virtually all manufacturing processes. For instance, in Germany, there is a law that requires companies to reduce the content of certain gases/fluids, and all the paint chips have to be based on water, not on chemicals. And, in Germany, we are reminded that RoHS is not just electronics; it also has to do with paint or corrosion protection of sheet metals etc. There is a growing list of materials that are no longer allowed.
It is easy to become tunnel-visioned about “going green”—concentrating only on the manufacturing challenges and associated expense. But, looking back in history, didn’t CEOs feel the same way when the use and handling of asbestos was questioned—“much ado about nothing”? Bottom line, “sustainability” is really about being responsible and doing what’s right. Painful though it may be, we must evolve. We must all do our part to try to make the Earth habitable after we are gone.
Product Line Director, Analog Devices
"Green" technology has many meanings: the use of environmentally-friendly or recycled materials; minimization of energy consumption/carbon footprint; etc. Even within the medical device field, you’ll find a wide range of products with ‘green’ attributes. Some device manufacturers may be guilty of jumping on the latest bandwagon, like a Hollywood star to the latest cause, but most OEMs are making a good faith effort to conserve energy and other precious resources. In some cases, "green" technologies are actually driving significant product innovation.
In general terms, lower energy processors are the natural outcome of Moore's Law. As chips are fabricated in deeper and deeper submicron process technologies, the design rule scaling results in supply voltage scaling. Since power (and thus energy) consumption is proportional to the square of the supply voltage, newer chips tend to consume less energy, up to a limit. Lower energy means smaller batteries for the same operating life, and smaller battery packs in turn mean lower build cost and lower weight, enhancing portability.
But low-power embedded computing without performance compromise is the green technology that allows the development of exciting new medical electronics applications and the migration of existing applications from the in-patient hospital bedside to the out-patient clinic or home. The new generation of portable automatic heart rhythm monitors/defibrillators (AEDs), blood analyzers (reflectance and amperometric), and rapid diagnosis optical chromatographs are characterized by bursts of high computing demand in a background of low CPU activity. Utilizing a processor with high computing efficiency is a necessity to conserve energy and extend battery life. The ability to dynamically manage a processor, using programmable frequency and voltage, from a low-power "standby mode" to a high performance "hard real-time mode" is the key to innovative and differentiated digital signal processing in portable battery-powered medical devices. Much of the same "scalable compute capacity" technology that is driving advances in features and battery life in cell phones and portable media players is finding its way into life-saving portable medical electronics, while conserving energy in the process. Next generation scalable mobile processors: saving more lives by deploying powerful medical technology closer to our everyday worlds, and saving more precious energy resources for a healthier planet.