The protection of the environment is crucial in every industrial sector today, but it is particularly important within the manufacturing industry, which typically involves heavy energy consumption and inevitably waste production.
Manufacturers that adopt green manufacturing principles attempt to refrain from using materials that are harmful to the earth. "To help save the environment, we are implementing practical measures to protect the environment throughout our production processes," says Chan Kei-biu, chairman and senior managing director, Surface Mount Technology (Holdings) Limited (SMT).
SMT specialises in the manufacturing of automotive electronics and computer peripherals. Since committing to green manufacturing in 2001, the expanding company has concentrated on streamlining each production process with environmental protection in mind, achieving a number of important milestones in devising measures to meet fast-changing green standards.
In compliance with European regulations on green electronics products, SMT follows three principal directives. These are the European Union's Restriction of Hazardous Substances directive (RoHS), the Control over Energy-using Products directive (EuP) and the Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive (WEEE).
SMT plants in mainland China have a strict policy of selecting the most energy-efficient machinery available. In addition to optimising energy consumption levels, the company also takes full control of industrial-waste emissions and processing.
Importantly, SMT strives to limit disposal of its machines. This initiative includes entire machines, as well as parts such as pipes, wires and iron frames. All the company's machines are reused and recycled in order to maximise their lifespan, Professor Chan stresses.
Regarding the reduction of harmful chemicals involved in the manufacturing process, Professor Chan notes that SMT started lead-free soldering (the process of joining two or more metallic items by melting and flowing filler metal into the joint area) as early as 2001. This has greatly helped to reduce the industrial use of lead, which can cause grave damage to ecosystems. It is SMT's primary mission to keep its assembly lines lead-free and compliant with the Restriction of Hazardous Substances directive, Professor Chan adds.
It is vital to limit chemical waste emissions, but as such emissions are inevitable in some manufacturing processes, it is a priority for the company to process waste before disposal.
Professor Chan points out that green principles have been incorporated into the entire SMT manufacturing process, including the selection of parts and materials, manufacturing, packaging, dealing with products that have become obsolete and remanufacturing.
Spreading the word
Green manufacturing can hardly be successful if only one or a few industry members take it seriously. As the founder and honorary chairman of the Hong Kong Green Manufacturing Alliance, Professor Chan has been actively spreading the message of green manufacturing to industry partners.
In order to raise industry awareness of green issues, SMT took part in seminars on green manufacturing topics over the past few years.
SMT also promotes green policies in an office context. With a view to minimising paper consumption, Professor Chan advocates a totally paperless office environment through an electronic document management system. In addition, dedicated staff are responsible for reviewing and assessing the company's compliance with green measures.
Increased production costs are often a hurdle for companies considering green manufacturing and Professor Chan concedes that environmental protection can be expensive in a financial sense. However, in some cases green manufacturing can help reduce operation costs in the long run. When SMT focused on reducing solder consumption for green manufacturing, for example, the company focused on selecting solders with fewer impurities, which in turn helped to significantly reduce operation costs.
A pioneer in green manufacturing, SMT's contribution to saving the planet has been widely recognised. In 2007, SMT became one of the first three companies recognised under Hong Kong's Green Mark Certification Scheme. The company has also received a number of green manufacturing awards as a result of its continuous and persistent efforts to maintain responsible global citizenship.
"Green manufacturing cannot be achieved overnight," Professor Chan emphasises, pointing out that it involves changing a company's entire outlook on resource management. Persistence and patience are of paramount importance employing green principles on a daily basis, but the results will be gradual and sustainable.