If they build it, will people care?

Manufacturers integrate green practices, but are only starting to use it as a sales tactic
Sunday, July 1, 2007

YARMOUTH, Maine--John Turner, operations manager at British camera manufacturer Mercer Electronics, stood out like a green thumb on the floor of the recent IFSEC trade show, held in Birmingham, England. While most manufacturers solely touted functionality or price, Mercer's booth prominently displayed a poster promoting the company's RoHS compliance and environmental friendliness.
"Everything we make is environmentally friendly," Turner said. "We manufacture everything in Britain, for example, which cuts down on fuel used in transport. Even all our computer boards, every piece, is made within 50 kilometers of the factory." He also ticked off membership in the Green Business Network, a program to recycle every piece of a manufactured dome, and the reduction of sales literature to just one piece of paper and a CD as parts of the company's green campaign.
However, at the moment, "the green message doesn't get much traction. But as a business we try to run green anyway." Money, Turner admitted, "is the main driver in the industry at the moment. You might be getting a cheap dome, but what is it costing the earth?"
Turner's findings echo those of a poll taken by Security Systems News of more than 100 integrators and installers. Just 20 percent feel environmental regulations, like the Reduction of Hazardous Substances mandate imposed by the European Union and California, will positively impact business, while 30 percent worry about negative impact. However, there are signs that it's not all about money: 65 percent reported favoring RoHS-compliant manufacturers.
"This industry has the same social responsibility as every other industry, to provide the best solutions for our customers. This includes providing them with the products and services that have a positive impact on our environment," reported Ingersoll-Rand's Mike Morgan, in the survey.
Part of the RoHS appreciation may be practical. To do business in Europe, manufacturers are under a directive to limit levels of lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls, and polybrominated diphenyl ether. The situation in California is similar. As of Jan. 1, 2007, the sale of certain products, mostly television screens and monitors, are disallowed if they are also prohibited in the EU.
Still, some manufacturers have taken the directive as impetus to go further. DSC just received certification from international electronics association IPC for the Lead Free Electronics Assembly Process Capability Program, which required the audit of eight different assembly lines and makes the company one of just a dozen or so "IPC-certified manufacturers in any industry," said Bruce Nagy, DSC's director of marketing. "Lead is the big story and what most countries and citizens worry the most about." He said the company worried the decision to go lead-free would create extra costs, "but the plants now report that costs have not gone up significantly ... On the whole, it didn't cost any more to go to an innovative way of manufacturing without lead."
DSC is promoting its lead-free status through press releases, though it's too early to say whether getting the message out will help sales. Stephen Pineau, chief executive officer at Viscount, has, like Mercer, made a green theme part of his company's advertising, but it is part and parcel of his company's pitch that IP, server-based access control is superior to traditional methods. "Control panels are electronic waste," Pineau said of the environmental implications. "Tens of thousands are sent to landfills every year. They can't be reused and they can't be recycled."
Ray Shilling, vice president of marketing at wireless manufacturer AvaLAN, said he feels environmental sensitivity is something that should be inherent in a manufacturing process, whether it's going to make you any money or not. Though his product can transmit a DSL-speed wireless signal 40 miles using the same amount of power as a Christmas tree light, "we don't make that part of any marketing materials that we do," Shilling said, "we don't make it an issue. To be honest, it's by accident, but it's something that I'm quite pleased about ... It was mostly just, 'How can we do this most efficiently?' ... The idea going forward is to be proud of that, but we won't be presenting that in any way in our marketing materials ... I don't like the taste of that. I prefer people who use less power and materials just because they think it's the right thing to do."
But, he said, "if it takes dollars to start people moving in the right direction, that's all that really matters. If they use advertising as a vehicle to do that, I understand that. Because the market is very conservative with good old boys who think energy is free and plentiful and global warming is just a ploy by the Democrats. It's going to make people realize that, yes, there are dollars to make by being green. AvaLAN is just green by happenstance."