Green Manufacturing: Noble And Profitable

Reducing hazardous substances in the development and commercialization of industrial processes is not only good for the environment - it can be healthy for your bottom-line, as well.

Green Chemistry and Green Engineering principles have long been touted as important for the environment, but it has only been in the past few years that many manufacturers have started to reap all of advantages of incorporating these practices into their production processes.

According to the Green Chemical Institute (GCI), a division of the American Chemical Society, green chemistry is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances, while green engineering is the development and commercialization of industrial processes that are economically feasible and reduce the risk to human health and the environment.

(There are 12 principles of green chemistry and 12 principles of green engineering, set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency, that provide a guideline for meeting green goals.)

"The principles of green chemistry and green engineering are not just 'noble' goals," explained Paul Anastas, director of the GCI. "For instance, the 12 principles of green engineering are a design framework of basic engineering principles to use when designing new materials, products, processes, and systems."

Designing to green engineering principles is real designing, as the design principles are built right into the system to meet environmental and economic goals, simultaneously.

"Green engineering is not just a theory," Anastas said. "Rather, sustainability, economics, environmental concerns, and the impact on society are all balanced in the design principles."

Whereas in Europe companies are driven by government regulations to make changes in their manufacturing processes to meet environmental considerations, manufacturers in the U.S. are driven by innovation. U.S. manufacturers tend to anticipate what needs to be changed; they look at sustainability in their processes and how they can build sound environmental practices into their operations.

At Dow Corning, green chemistry means developing solutions that are less of a burden on the environment and safer for humans and animals, but also meet customer needs.

"We call this eco-design or eco-innovation," explained Jarrod Erpelding, spokesperson for Dow Corning, which manufactures silicon- and silicone-based products. There are two elements to Dow Corning's "eco-criteria" initiative: the phasing out of environmentally unfriendly materials and the search for alternatives to these materials.

Dow Corning's experiences with green chemistry manufacturing can serve as a good example for other manufacturers, also. Erpelding suggests manufacturers look at what their customers need and work to meet these needs through green chemistry practices in designing and manufacturing products.

"Dow Corning's customer's are facing more environmental regulations, and that makes Dow Corning more customer-driven to find solutions that meet their customer's needs," Erpelding said. "We are dedicated, as part of the values and vision for our company, to reducing the environmental footprint of the products we make, the manufacturing processes we use, and how we operate."

Although Dow Corning has been heavily involved in environmental practices, it has developed formalized programs for green chemistry practices within the past five years.

"Green chemistry as part of a manufacturing process will result in reducing total energy usage," Erpelding noted. "So there is a financial motivation to reducing energy usage through green chemistry initiatives. It's just good business sense, for Dow Corning or for any manufacturer, to use green chemistry or green engineering in the design and production of their products."

That underlying message - that green chemistry is good for business - is also seen at Codexis Inc., a provider of bio-based solutions for pharmaceutical chemical process development and manufacturing.

"We are a biotechnology company, and everything we do is focused on biocatalysts," explained Dr. John Grate, senior vice president for Research & Development at Codexis. "We have an intrinsically green approach to making only the product we need with no byproducts."

For many companies, the stumbling block in going green is that some investment is required. In a perfect world, green would be embraced because it's the right thing to do, but the fact is that it’s being increasingly embraced by companies because it just makes good business sense in the long run.

"When you prevent hazardous generation, you save money; when you use less hazardous chemicals, you avoid liability; when you design products so the waste stream is easily biodegradable, less money is spent on waste stream reclamation," Grate said.

Codexis has invested in its own green processes for making pharmaceutical chemical products, and is in partnership with other pharmaceutical chemical manufacturers around the world, along with the Green Chemistry Institute, to develop green process applications.

This past June, Codexis won a Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award, from the EPA, for its green-by-design HN (hydroxyl nitrile) process that increases yield and is more efficient and kinder to the environment in comparison to older, more energy-intensive methods that generated harmful by-products.

For more information about applying green principles visit the GCI website at www.chemistry.org.

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