A common misconception is that business must choose between profit and the environment. But just the opposite can be true, contends Pamela Gordon, president of Technology Forecasters Inc., a market-research consultancy based in Alameda, Calif., and author of Lean and Green, Profit for Your Workplace and the Environment, published by BK Publishers, San Francisco. Electronics companies can gain substantial economic benefits by designing Electric Electronic (EE) products that can be easily upgraded and recycled, are free of hazardous substances, and consume fewer resources.

Taking a strategic design for environment (DfE) stance can bring new revenue streams as well as reduce production costs, Gordon states. To increase profits in the face of escalating environmental restrictions, electronic OEMs need a visionary champion (at the highest executive level).

An authoritative leader can spearhead a strategic shift in the company's product-life-cycle-management goals, coordinate a multifunctional DfE team, and provide necessary resources for documentation and PLM-reporting software, as well as solicit out-side expertise. Here are general guidelines from a few leading EE companies that have boosted profits by making environmental improvements:

  • Question wasteful practices. Think outside the box to encourage employees to find more economical lean/green solutions.
  • Emphasize business benefits. Start an environmental initiative with strategies that will yield the highest impact on profit and the planet. Without a sound business strategy — avoiding revenue disruption, reducing costs, attacking competitors' market share, earning new revenue streams — management could actually be turned against the initiative.
  • Collaborate to reach the goal. Getting the senior executive on board early is often key to changing company culture and motivating people to create and implement "lean and green" solutions.
  • Track your progress. Software tools already in use, including PLM, can be instrumental in automating compliance tracking, reducing wasteful practices, and helping to meet competitive and profitability goals.