Monday, February 22, 2010

Environment Management Systems

Multinational companies (MNC) engaged in electroplating processes in India outsourced them. Instead of doing it themselves, they had other smaller firms do it. The reason being that electroplating was a very polluting process. The organisations would not be able to seek ISO 14000 and other environment certifications. With vendors indulging in polluting processes would not impact in the certification of the organisation. The rights and wrongs of this could be an issue of another post.

One electroplating vendor installed additional equipment to neutralize the effluents from his unit. He hoped that since he himself had an environment friendly process, he would be a preferred choice for MNCs. These very companies in the United States and Europe were bragging the virtues of environmentally friendly practices in many conferences. The vendor was disappointed as no firm, neither MNC nor Indian, was willing to pay extra for environmentally friendly electroplating.

Two points here - industry leaders would follow 'green' norms only if their survival was directly threatened or because of government norms. To expect businesses to voluntarily take up such practices would be a case that is not supported by history. The pressure to achieve immediate bottom line results is far too immense.

Second, environmentally sound practices currently are like the end of the line inspection policies of early 1940s. Manufacturing plant would make the products and the Quality inspectors would assess the finished products. That a product is 'bad' would not be known till it comes to the very end of the assembly line.

Gurus like Deming and Juran had an emphasis on Total Quality that would avoid poor quality products. Feigenbaum's concept of cost of Prevention was supposed to overall reduce the cost of Appraisal and the cost of Rejection. They were in favour of ensuring that poor quality does not happen rather than correct a defective product.

This is the revolution we need in environmentally safe practices. Instead of developing a better scrubber technology that removes sulphur and other pollutants from flue gases, coal could be processed at mines to make it 'cleaner'. Every step of the manufacturing process has to be green. This should be a part of the plant design. On a short term, the costs might seem to go up, but over a period of time, they would always come down. So, our electroplating vendor needs to set up a smart system that is clean and does not increase the cost.