Lean, Clean And Green

February 9, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — West Michigan manufacturers have an opportunity to be lean, clean and green with a $396,800 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The West Michigan Strategic Alliance and The Right Place Inc. will collaborate to use the grant to increase participation of area manufacturers in the Green Suppliers Network. The network is a national program that helps support implementation of sustainable business practices.

West Michigan has about 15 suppliers in the network to date, with goals of including 26 more in the next two years with help from the grant, said Bill Stough, CEO of Sustainable Research Group and an assessor for the Green Suppliers Network.

“The goal of this is to make them a stronger, more profitable competitor in the world market,” Stough said. “The goal of my company — Sustainable Research Group — and The Right Place is to accomplish two things out of this process: to retain existing jobs and make the company more efficient and more profitable.”

There is a cost involved with being part of the network, but the EPA subsidizes 35 percent of it, Stough said.

Stough said companies have been able to scale back on expansions and reconfigure existing space to make more products after eliminating waste by using the Green Suppliers Network assessment.

“That made them much more competitive,” he said.

In the assessment process, Stough said they work with companies to do a value-stream mapping, looking at one of the products from ordering to delivering, assessing the process, and then identifying and eliminating waste. During the assessment, employees are trained to assess other product lines to continue the process.

Stough said one of the first steps is to outline a company’s goals for assessment.

“I know that we have exceeded their expectations in every instance,” he said. “Even companies that think they’re really on top of this, there are opportunities to do better.”

In addition to helping the 26 companies become a part of the Green Suppliers Network, Stough said the EPA grant will also help get the word out about the network and inform manufacturers about how it can help them be sustainable and competitive.

Stough said the organization has been working with Herman Miller and Steelcase to identify suppliers that would benefit from the network, focusing on the furniture industry because The Right Place has been tapped by the EPA to lead the network for the industry.

“This EPA grant is trying to establish West Michigan as one of the leaders in sustainable manufacturing in the USA,” he said.

Greg Northrup, president of the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, said he hopes that being a part of the Green Suppliers Network will be a way to expand companies’ presence as sustainable suppliers.

“It’s a way of trying to create sensitivity and thinking around how can suppliers help develop product to achieve sustainability,” Northrup said. “We’re going to try and better connect ourselves with what’s going on.”

Jim Ross, vice president of advance manufacturing strategies for The Right Place and Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center regional manager, said he thinks the Green Suppliers Network is a phenomenal program that merges lean principles with environmental awareness.

“People aren’t doing it just for their own benefit, but also the community as a whole,” he said.

Ross said the network benefits original equipment manufacturers because it gives them a good, strong supply base to turn to.

“When OEMs talk about being a company that has an eye on sustainability, and you ignore your supplier base, it would hurt credibility to some extent,” he said.

Once included in the network, Northrup said he hopes companies will be able to offer more value to their customers by being environmentally conscious.

“If we do this, I think we’re going to be leading the country,” Northrup said. “It’s just another piece in the puzzle in building a sustainable marketplace.”    

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