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Editorial – August 2013

Greening our reputation

August 12, 2013  By Patrick Flannery

A lot of people think manufacturing is always bad for the environment. It is time for us to educate them.

A lot of people think manufacturing is always bad for the environment. It is time for us to educate them.

There was a commercial on TV recently for Kijiji, which is an online marketplace where people can post classified ads to sell their used stuff. The commercial is listing all the reasons why the frumpy-looking guy who just bought a washer and drier on Kijiji is a “hero.” One of these reasons is that, because he bought a used item, no new washer and dryer had to be manufactured, which is good for the environment.

Is this what we have come to: not manufacturing things seen as so socially positive it can be used as a marketing benefit? Does anyone beside me see a problem with this?

We wonder why young people are not interested in getting into the trades. We wonder why our domestic industry takes flight overseas. We wonder why efforts to turn these destructive trends around never seem to get off the ground. Here is part of the answer. There are some people who simply do not see any benefit to having a manufacturing sector in our economy. In fact, if the makers of Kijiji’s marketing campaign have their numbers right, there are significant numbers of people who see manufacturing enterprise as downright detrimental. In such a political climate, it comes as little surprise that our capability as a nation to make things declines bit by bit every year.

The whole attitude is owed, in my opinion, to people who have little idea about and less interest in where the things they buy come from. They are not people who make things with their hands, and probably do not even know anyone who does. They have no idea what role manufacturing plays in the economy, or even the direct role it plays in their day-to-day well-being. Instead, it is just something dirty and distasteful that other people do. Oh, and someone told them it is bad for the environment.

Our industry needs tools to combat this kind of thinking, and this issue’s cover story is about one of those tools. Environmental Product Declarations give manufacturers a chance to show their customers proof of where their products come from and exactly what impact their production has in a number of different environmental categories. The declarations are certified and updated by third-party auditors, so there are no questions about “greenwashing” and everyone is on a level playing field. One of the article’s sources, Mike Silverberg of Technoform Bautec, described them as nutrition labels for manufactured products, and I agree they play an analogous role. Getting third-party certifiers to support industry standards is how North American manufacturers have proven product quality for years, so it makes sense to apply the same regime to environmental concerns. Another plus: EPDs are about giving the customer information, not about telling manufacturers how to make products or run their businesses.

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