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Jera Sustainable Development

A Pragmatic Approach to Sustainability for Smaller Manufacturers


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… Chuck Harrington

Artisanal Manufacturing and Marketing

One day in April of 2008, I was having lunch in a transit lounge in the Singapore airport. A news story on the TV over the bar showed me the Jerome (AZ) Grand Hotel and a number of visiting politicos. By April of 2008, Senator McCain was the presumptive Republican candidate for President. McCain has a property near Jerome. The politicos were VP candidate – wannabes visiting with the Senator.

Seeing little Jerome on TV news a half a world away strikes me as a strange story. But there a lot of strange stories in Jerome. One of those is about a Jerome shop that has become a global artisanal marketing focal point. That story is worth retelling here.

… C.H.

Artisanal Manufacturing and the Power of Stories

Were it not for a mesquite tree, Jerome would be readily visible from my bedroom window. The town of Jerome clings to the steep slopes of Cleopatra Mountain, a mile high – about half way between the Verde River and the mountain’s summit. As the 19th century turned into the 20th, in the twilight of the Wild West, rich copper mines made Jerome one of the largest settlements in Arizona Territory. Ores dwindled until the mines closed in 1953. Today, Jerome is home to about 450 souls, largely artisans and artists. A modest but growing tourist trade keeps them occupied.

Today, Jerome provides a rather remarkable story for artisanal manufacturers – a story about stories. Among the shops, restaurants and such that clutch the mountainside, two ladies run the largest kaleidoscope store in the world. It is fair to say that Nellie Bly (the store’s name) is the focal point of the kaleidoscope world.

Being a curious fellow, I wondered how a retail shop in an off-the-beaten-path tourist town had become central to a niche market like kaleidoscopes. So I drove up the mountain and asked. Mary Wills, one of Nellie Bly’s owners, said that she didn’t know. But she did kindly make time to show me around her busy shop and to chat with me for a while. I drew my own conclusions.

The Stories

Mary Wills and Sally Dryer, her partner, do not make kaleidoscopes. Their shop does provide an interface linking those who make kaleidoscopes with the collectors and retail customers who buy them. I think that the necessary network of contacts came to be largely by word of mouth, likely aided by several stories that serve to “break the ice” and promote pass-it-along conversations. Here are a few of such stories:

> Kaleidoscopes: Most of us remember kaleidoscopes as toys – paperboard tubes that display pretty geometric patterns. The kaleidoscopes that Nellie Bly sells are certainly not toys. Rather, they are artistic or artisanal creations. The juxtaposition of the familiar toy kaleidoscopes with their unfamiliar Nellie Bly counterparts fuels conversation.

Nellie Bly> Nellie Bly – Take 1: Mary Wills is a Nellie Bly fan. Nellie Bly was the pen name of an intrepid woman reporter with Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World who achieved considerable celebrity in the later decades of the 19th century. She visited northern Arizona in 1890 as part of her around the world race against time. (She beat Jules Verne’s fictional Around the World in 80 Days record by about 6 days). Her celebrity in the mining community resulted in her name being associated with several Jerome mining claims. This remarkable woman spurred conversation in 19th century. She still does.

> Lucy van Pelt: Mary’s partner Sally Dryer has her own story. As a child, she was the voice of crabby Lucy van Pelt in a number of Peanuts animated TV specials. Everybody remembers Lucy, Charley Brown and the Great Pumpkin. Again, a story to talk about and to pass along. Throw in the kaleidoscopes.

> Belgian Jennie: Nellie Bly – the store – is built on the foundation of an earlier structure that burned in the late 1800’s. That building housed one of Belgian Jennie’s Jerome establishments. Belgian Jennie was easily the most prominent Madame in the Arizona mining camps. She was also generally regarded as the wealthiest woman in Arizona at the time of her murder in 1905. Yet again, a remarkable character to talk about, then by-the-way into discussion about kaleidoscopes.

Nellie Bly – Take 2

Stories offer one means to open doors toward building relationship with prospective customers and with prospective suppliers. Once a door is opened, however it is opened, it is still necessary to build lasting relationships that generate repeat and referral business. Nellie Bly — the store – helps do this in several ways. For example, customers are actually encouraged to touch, hence experience, the kaleidoscopes, even though many are priced in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. Take a minute to check out what Trip Advisor has to say about the store:  http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g31253-d5209037-Reviews-Nellie_Bly_Kaleidoscopes-Jerome_Arizona.html

Relationships with suppliers are fostered by an annual weekend of kaleidoscope workshops, experience sharing and social events. Sally and Mary, the owners, also take deep personal interest, especially in those who make the kaleidoscopes. Its about relationships.

For Smaller Manufacturers

For many smaller manufacturers, artisanal or otherwise, accessing markets and building sales is the primary constraint to sustainability, let alone growth. Smaller manufacturers face a big world and well heeled competition. Getting the word out in a cost – effective manner is tough, but not impossible. Stories like Nellie Bly’s offer one inexpensive approach that some businesses may find useful.

Quick BS check: Suppose that you are one of the four million plus people who visit Sedona AZ this year. Now that you have heard the stories, would you be more likely to take a short side trip to Jerome? If you did, would you be more likely to visit Nellie Bly? If you did, would you be more likely to buy a kaleidoscope as a gift or for yourself?

Chuck - SedonaThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

The Wages of Sustainability

Sustainable Development?

Speaking generally, Sustainable Development can be defined this way:

Sustainable development is the organizing principle for meeting human development goals while at the same time sustaining the ability of natural systems to provide the natural resources and ecosystem services upon with the economy and society depend. [1]

Clearly, this implies an on-going win – win situation for humanity and for Mother Nature. But “speaking generally” isn’t always good enough. Pursuing human development goals (be those goals global, local or anywhere in between) implies economic expansion, with its attendant costs and/or trade-offs.

The Hopi

Hopi Land

Hopi Land Near Oraibi
BG Jaume – Public Domain via Wikipedia

Traditionally, the Hopi regard themselves as the original human occupants of the western hemisphere. Their tradition indicates that the Hopi emerged into this hemisphere from the sea, most likely in Central America. From there, the Hopi spent centuries in migration: to ice and snow in the north, to the end of the world in the south, east and west to both coasts. Their permanent place of residence, as stipulated by the Creator, was to be at the crossing of the north – south and east – west meridians of the hemisphere. They settled at their reckoning of that crossing about 1,000 years ago and built what archaeologists regard as the oldest continuously occupied human habitation on this continent. The Hopi are still there. [2]

That unlikely promised land is in the northeastern corner of Arizona. It lies in remote, high (generally 5,000 – 7,000 feet), dry (typically 6 – 7 inches of rain annually), barren country. Today’s Hopi reservation is entirely surrounded by a much larger Navajo reservation. There are about 19,000 Hopi today, of which perhaps half live on the 2,500+ square mile reservation. As individuals, Hopi who live on the reservation follow their traditional way of life more or less rigorously, resulting in “traditional” and “progressive” factions. [3]

Black Mesa

Black Mesa lies within the Navajo and Hopi lands. It is well named – it has large deposits of coal that can be rather readily strip mined. Some years ago, Peabody Western Coal Company obtained a concession from the Hopi and Navajo tribal councils to conduct mining operations, primarily to serve two very large coal-fired electric power generation stations. One of those power plants was closed in 2007 due to environmental (water and air) concerns. The second is scheduled for closure in 2019, due to stiffening environmental regulations in the face of competition from cheaper natural gas fired facilities. [4]


The rub here is the asymmetry of benefit and cost. Closure of the remaining power plant and attendant coal mining operations will result in a reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to the atmosphere, providing an unquantified benefit to humanity generally.

The cost of discontinuing revenues from coal production, on the other hand, will impact the Hopi specifically and dramatically. In 2010, the Hopi tribal council had a budget of $21.8 million. Coal revenues provided $12.8 million, or about 59% of that budget. The problem in 2019 — losing almost 60% of revenue — would impact the ability of any governing entity to provide public services. Further, there are few viable options available to the Hopi to make up those revenues from other sources. [5]

This is but one of many issues of asymmetry of costs and benefits that will challenge those who pursue Sustainable Development in an age of globalization. Kermit is right: It isn’t easy being green.

Chuck - VancouverThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

[1] From: www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/sustainable_development

[2] The Hopi, their traditional history, and their worldview are quite remarkable, as is Frank Waters’ Book of the Hopi, which was written in the early 1960s in collaboration with 32 Hopi elders. The book is still available on Amazon. It is a great read. Frank Waters, incidentally, was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature – FIVE times.

“Hopi” means peaceful – the oldest existent culture on this continent actively espouses nonviolence. The Hopis’ history, traditions, religious views and way of life constitute an important part of humanity’s cultural heritage.

[3] The specific figures presented here are from www.en.wikipedia/wiki/Hopi

[4] The Black Mesa mining concession has been controversial since its inception. See www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Mesa_Peabody_Coal_Controversy

[5] “When coal-fired power plant closes, this mine will die. So will a lifeline for one Native American tribe”, Ryan Randazzo’s article for The Republic, takes a close look at the consequences of closing the power plant and the mine that feeds it. The article is available on-line at: www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/energy/2017/o2/23/arizona-kayenta-coal-mine-hopi-navajo-tribes-power-plant-98144914


The Foundations of a Sustainable Business

The ABCs of Structured Maintenance, a recent post to this blog, emphasized the importance of maintenance as a foundation for viable manufacturing operations. The following updated version of Cultivating Disciplined Operations, a post from October 2015, expands on the necessity for structure and discipline. — C.H.

Cultivating Disciplined Operations

In order for an organization to function effectively in a competitive world, a culture of disciplined operations is necessary. This does not mean the imposed discipline of a military boot camp. Rather, it means a voluntary coordination of efforts among all involved. As an ideal, consider a symphony orchestra, where a group of highly skilled musicians coordinate their personal talents to a mutually understood and desired end. Yes, a conductor does arrange the music and does direct the tempo. But it is the blended performances of the musicians that work the magic.

Cultivate Text Box“Cultivating” is the right word here. A voluntary coordination of efforts comes about through a culture of mutual respect, directed toward a mutually desired end. It is that culture that needs to be cultivated. Here, “mutual respect” means a sincere regard for the interests and aspirations of everyone involved, diverse though those interests and aspirations may be. “Mutually desired end” refers to a condition in which everyone involved can prosper indefinitely.

An initial assessment of how closely a given organization’s culture approaches one of mutual respect, directed toward a mutually desired end is pretty easy. Employee turnover rates, absentee rates, equipment downtime rates and OSHA recordable safety incidents can readily be compared with relevant norms. Apply Pareto’s rule: if your organization isn’t comfortably in the top 20% for each of these, your competitive posture is at risk. [1] Even if your numbers are all in the top 20% — or even the top 1% — remember that everything and everyone can always improve. Including your competitors, today and tomorrow.

Here are some areas that require constant cultivation:

>> Safety: In manufacturing, a top notch safety program is essential. The benefits of a pain free working environment are immediately clear to everyone. Cultivation of safe operating practices is fundamental to the cultivation of mutual respect. [2]

>> Maintenance: Equipment and facilities need be designed for operability as well as for throughput. Poor working conditions and dysfunctional equipment are antithetical to the cultivation of mutual respect.

>> Training: It is not reasonable to ask anyone to participate in manufacturing operations absent a clear understanding of what that individual is to do and how to do it safely and effectively. My personal preference is that written work instructions be used as a basis for training materials. Trainers should be trained in how to train others. Understanding should be confirmed by demonstration.

>> ISO 9001: The ISO 9001 Standard for Quality Management Systems provides a systematic framework for disciplined operations. It is worth studying, even in part. Implementing systems compliant with the ISO 9001 Standard is a substantial undertaking. However, the cultivation of disciplined operations that occurs while doing so is a substantial reward for everyone and a substantial step toward an organization that can prosper indefinitely. [3]

Chuck in FranceThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)


This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

[1] For more on Pareto and operating performance, see Operational Excellence – The Performance Curve, this blog, http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2012/05/24/operational-excellence-the-performance-curve/

[2] For more on safety and its importance, see On Safety and Sustainability, this blog, http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2013/10/24/on-safety-and-sustainability/

[3] For more on the ISO 9001 Standard and its application, see What’s Wrong With ISO?, this blog,  http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2012/07/05/whats-wrong-with-iso/  and Keeping Up With ISO, this blog, http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2014/08/28/keeping-up-with-iso/

The ABCs of Structured Maintenance

Order In – Order Out, Order In – Order Out, Order In – Order Out… is the life breath of a manufacturing business. And the effective maintenance of the equipment, processes and systems that convert Orders In to Orders Out are foundational to the success of that business. This post is an update to a post from five years ago that focuses on the critical importance of structure in keeping maintenance effective. – C.H.

Structured Maintenance (From 1/12/2012)

Sustainability goes far beyond concern for the environment. Adam Werbach* says that “being a sustainable business means thriving in perpetuity”. To thrive in perpetuity requires constant attention to the present and the future on the factory floor, within the business as an organization, within the industry in which the business operates, within global economic and social realities, and within the natural world we all rely on.

For manufacturers, that begins with efficient production and timely delivery of high quality products — all the time. And that requires production equipment that reliably performs as intended. It is the function of the maintenance program to assure that the equipment performs reliably. As extreme examples, think about what “reliably performs” means to passengers in jet aircraft or to sailors in nuclear submarines, not to mention astronauts. The sign on the shop wall that said “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” was retired some time ago.

To be clear on terms, that which is to be maintained, I refer to as a “maintained item”, or, more simply, “item”. An item may be a machine (such as a lathe), a system (e.g. electrical power distribution) or anything else that you may want to declare as a unit for the purposes of maintenance and performance records keeping.

ABC BlocksIt is convenient and useful to divide maintained items into three classes:

Class A Items – The failure of a Class A item can shut down or significantly impair production, or create a serious safety condition, in the entire facility. Most Class A items are utilities or similar services, such as a main power transformer, a boiler, materials conveying system or critical ventilation unit.

Each of these critical items needs both a plan to keep it performing reliably and a plan for its rapid repair or replacement, in case it does fail. The “keep it performing” plan might include a scheduled inspect / clean / service routine, pre-emptive parts replacement based on service hours or proactive parts replacement based on throughput or on monitored machine condition (for example, vibrations analysis).

The corresponding rapid repair / replacement plan might involve in-line spare capacity, critical spare parts inventory, rental equipment (for example, an air compressor) and/or fast response third party service (examples: digital control systems or boilers). Since parts for critical items are often quite expensive, spare parts inventory costs must be weighed appropriately during the planning process.

For critical items, Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) may be of significant use in formulating both plans. FMEA is a technique for evaluating the probable occurrence of various failure modes and the likely effects of such failures. FMEA is widely used in the automotive, aerospace and other industries for product and process design and improvement. It works well for critical item maintenance planning too. If you aren’t familiar with FMEA, start with a free power point presentation from Purdue University at www.stat.purdue.edu/~kuczek/stat513/IT 381_Chap_7.ppt. There is a lot more on FMEA on the web. Don’t confuse FMEA with FEMA, the federal agency that is supposed to respond to natural disasters.

Class B Items – Class B includes most primary production equipment, failure of which can shut down or significantly impair operation of a single production line, or create a localized safety concern.

The “keep it performing” plan for each of these less critical items might, as with Class A items, include a scheduled inspect / clean / service routine, pre-emptive parts replacement based on service hours or proactive parts replacement based on throughput or on monitored machine condition.

Appropriate repair / replacement plans might include common spare parts, reconditioned parts (e.g. gear boxes or rewound motors), prearranged “order as needed” parts from reliable suppliers or specialized third – party service calls (preferably with pre-arranged vendors).

Class C Items – Repairs or replacement of Class C items, taken individually or in small groups, are less urgent. Scheduled inspect / clean /service routines are often appropriate. For some high wear parts or for items that require other items to be down while maintenance to be performed, scheduled preventative maintenance may be the best route. Run to failure is an acceptable strategy for some Class C items.

The real point to this post is that effective and cost efficient equipment maintenance requires item–by–item planning, to keep the equipment performing reliably and to correct failures when they do occur. Grouping items by criticality helps make maintenance planning easier.

There is a lot more to maintenance planning than any one post can even hope to cover – look for more on maintenance in future posts.

Chuck at ReneThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

* Werbach, Adam, Strategy for Sustainability, Harvard Business Press, Boston (2009), page 9.

Driving Change – Demographics & Trends

Proactive management presupposes an organized approach to anticipating change, in so far as that is possible. Sometimes, a recognition of the underlying factors driving change helps to do that. This post, reprised from one of a series of posts on proactive management from about two years ago, offers a “heads up” on demographics and trends that may affect your business as the future makes itself manifest. — C.H.

Driving Change

In order to survive – let alone thrive – in the 21st century, management must proactively cope with ceaseless waves of change. One way to proactively approach the future (which doesn’t yet exist) is to examine existing conditions that are likely to drive change as the 21st century unfolds. There are a daunting number of current realities that, jointly or severally, are likely to drive change. For convenience of organization, this blog groups change drivers as:




Demographics & Trends

This series of posts examines a few especially significant change drivers in each of the four categories. This post, the last in this series, focuses on Demographics & Trends along with two of the change drivers associated with demographics and trends:

The Future is Now?

No, the future isn’t now. But demographics and trends allows one to reasonably project into the future. For example, given the number of people in the world who are 20 to 30 years old today, it is straightforward to approximate the number of people who will be 40 to 50 years old 20 years from now. Accordingly, demographic and trend information is at the core of the insurance industry. Insurers use demographic and trend information to approximate the number of life insurance customers will die in the year 2035, or the cost of replacing the insured houses that will burn down next year. For health insurance, segmented demographic information (segmentation by age, sub grouped by gender, medical history, lifestyle and so on), along with critical trend information such as medical treatment cost trends and advances in medicines.

Reliable demographic and trend information is powerful stuff. Especially demographics or trends which indicate that the future will be substantially different from the present. This isn’t just for insurance companies. A systematic means for continuously paying attention to a wide range of demographic and trend information can help businesses anticipate opportunities and avoid disruption.

Here are two “zoomed out” examples that may well affect every business:

Aging Populations

World Fertility RateIt is my personal opinion that the single most important technical innovation of the 20th century isn’t space flight, penicillin, the internet or atomic bombs. Nope. It’s practical contraception. Practical contraception has already sharply reduced birth rates globally, and continues to reduce them. The graph labeled Total Fertility Worldwide, 1950 – 2050 indicates that the rate at which children are born has been cut it half (from 5.0, down to 2.5) since 1950 and is trending toward 2.1 around 2050. The projection to 2.1 is especially significant: a fertility rate of 2.1 corresponds to zero population growth, worldwide!

Of course, fertility rates, hence rates of population growth, vary widely from country to country. Rates in most economically developed countries are near or below 2.1 (populations in Japan and in some western European countries are already shrinking). People in less economically developed countries still prefer to have, on the average, more children, hence growing populations.

Changing age profiles within populations have enormous consequences for businesses – opportunities along with dangers. Population pyramids, a graphic device, helps make this clear. Rather than explaining, here is a five minute TED educational video titled Population Profiles: Powerful Predictors of the Future. It is worth your time to watch:


Global Financial System

Many, if not most American manufacturers have foreign components in their value chain, on the supplier side, on the customer side, or both. Those who do not still need to be aware of possible foreign suppliers or customers (or financiers, or competitors) in the future. So, an understanding of trends within the global financial system that makes globalization practical.

Today’s global financial systems consist of remnants from the Bretton Woods accords, elements from socialist systems and several quite new wrinkles, especially:

>> Fiat currencies – most national currencies today have no extrinsic value, save the credit worthiness of the issuing nation. Some of us remember dollar links to gold or silver. Those links no longer exist, so, to borrow John Maynard Keynes’ observation, the financial system and the economies that system supports “has no anchor”.

>> Currencies that do not correspond with national borders – The Euro comes to mind here. Each member of the Euro group is a sovereign nation, entitled to set its own national tax and spending policies. The rub comes when financially stronger members of the group are expected to support the weaker ones. The current situation with Greece and Germany is a primary example.

>> A trend toward perpetually unbalanced national budgets – Chronically unbalanced budgets – intentional or otherwise — result in ballooning national debt. Growing national debt means growing present and future interest obligations. Interest rates today are at historic lows. But many of us remember double digit interest rates not so long ago.

The point here is that the financial system that supports today’s globalized economies is quite fragile. Nobody really knows how that system might react to another situation like the 2008 financial meltdown.

This post mentions only a few of many demographics and trends worth following and understanding. There are many more. Because of the scale of these matters, the resulting conditions as they specifically affect your business may prove to be surprising. In the 21st century, it is absolutely necessary for even small businesses to follow and understand these zoomed-out, big picture change drivers, so that proactive steps can be taken.

Chuck - Mt. HumphriesThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington

This post and its associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

Post-Paris Pragmatism

The Paris Pact

In December 2015, an international agreement was reached whereby almost 200 nations, along with other political and commercial entities, agreed to significantly reduce annual greenhouse gases (principally carbon dioxide). Many also agreed to participate in a US$ 100 billion U.N. administered fund, intended to help less developed nations reduce emissions and abate damages due to climate change*. The sizes of each entity’s commitments vary widely.

President Obama’s commitment was for the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 25% – 28% below 2006 levels (the highest ever) by 2025, and to make substantial contributions to the U.N. administered fund. Neither the agreement nor President Obama’s commitments were submitted for ratification by the U.S. Senate; hence lack the obligatory nature of a formal international treaty.

Earlier this month (June 2017), President Trump announced that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris agreement, apparently after substantial discussions with many people. The President’s decision was greeted with both applause and cat-calls, as one might expect. International reaction was almost entirely negative, since withdraw of U.S. support greatly weakens the viability of the Paris agreement.

The properness of the President’s decision has been widely discussed in the media. No need to add to that here. Rather, this post attempts to assess the pragmatic realities going forward, especially as those realities affect smaller manufacturers.

Going Forward

Regarding Emissions Reduction:

>> I think that achieving President Obama’s commitment for the U.S. to reduce emissions by 25% by 2025 is going to happen, Paris or no Paris. The advent of “fracking”, advances in renewable energy technologies and improvements in energy utilization efficiency all have too much momentum. The economics of power generation are rapidly favoring replacing the old with the new.

As you can see from this graph labeled “Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions”, U.S. emissions peaked near 6 billion annual metric tons about 2006. A 25% reduction by would mean emissions near 4.5 billion tons by 2025. The graph projects emissions around 4.9 – 5.3 billion tons for 2025, considering eight different cases. However, these extrapolations specifically exclude technical advances not already in place (or required to be in place by regulation or legislation) at the end of 2016.

CO@ Emissions Projections

Global CO2 EmissionsNevertheless, even if the U.S. and everybody else achieve their emissions reductions commitments in full, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the global atmosphere will continue to increase, not decline. This occurs because increasing populations and increasing per-capita incomes in the developing world will generate additional emissions well in excess of emissions declines in the economically developed nations.

The graph labeled “Figure 9-1”, where “OECD” refers to economically developed countries, illustrates this.

Projected Global Emissions>> President Trump has reversed the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, meaning that some coal fired electric generation plants will stay on stream longer than they would have otherwise. However, “fracking” (cheap natural gas) and rapid advances in renewable energy are making coal fired plants increasingly less economically attractive here in the U.S. However, “fracking” and cheap natural gas are not generally available worldwide, so, in many places globally, coal will remain a low cost choice for years to come. The graph labeled “ES-8. World energy related carbon dioxide emissions by fuel” illustrates this. Coal is dying, and has been dying since around 1950. But coal isn’t dead just yet.

>> You may recall that, prior to the election last November, then-candidate Trump chastised Ford Motor Company about Ford’s plans to move small car production (and jobs) from the U.S. to Mexico. Ford reversed their decision. Then, early this year, Ford’s then-CEO Mark Fields asked President-elect Trump to reconsider the EPA’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (“CAFE”) program that mandates a series of increases in miles per gallon fuel economy for automobiles. Ford’s problem is that small cars are expensive to produce in the U.S. – and Ford needs to produce and sell a lot of them in order to sell a lot of large (and profitable) SUVs (the “corporate average” part of “CAFE”). To date, there has been no change in the CAFE requirements, nor do I, speaking personally, expect any.

>> It was the Obama administration’s policy to actively support research and development for emissions reduction technology. The Trump administration is expected to be less aggressive in doing so. Government supported R&D is, in my view, best applied to fundamental research and I expect that to be where most government R&D dollars will spent in the next several years. So, most practical, year over year advances in technology will continue to come from the private sector. 

The U.S. contribution to the U.N. climate change relief fund.

>> Take another look at the graph labeled “Figure 9-1”. Total global emissions are equal to the sum of the two lines. For 2012, for example, the sum of the two lines is about 13 + 19 = 32 billion metric tons. In order to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the sum of the two lines has to decrease year after year, not increase. Even if the U.S could somehow eliminate its entire 5 billion tons of emissions, that would not, by itself, be sufficient to stop the sum of those two lines from increasing.

>> Quite obviously, any viable solution lies requires substantial mitigation of expected future increases in emissions everywhere in the world. That is the purpose of the fund. However, there seems to be very little public discussion of how the fund will actually work: for example: what types of projects will be funded, on what basis the money will be dispersed, and how transparency of the disposition of the money will be assured.

The U.S. withdraw from the Paris agreements have likely confounded expectations as to who pays and how much. It is not clear how the less economically developed nations are actually going to reduce emissions, rather than continue to increase them. Perhaps the international private sector will take the lead in doing so.

So What?

The point here for pragmatists is that, Paris pact or no Paris pact, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are going to continue, regardless of individual views on the reality of Climate Change. The Trump administration is expected to be considerably less aggressive than its predecessor in forcing emissions reductions. Still, there is substantial pressure from governments abroad, from the U.S. private sector and from other interested groups to continue to push for reductions.

As usual in business, dangers and opportunities – of which there will be many, in operations and in marketing — are two sides of the same coin. Operate your business.

Chuck & Joan in ParisThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

* “Climate Change”, as that term is used in the Paris agreements and almost everywhere else, refers to a set of negative events (changes in the global climate) caused by increases in the mean temperature of the Earth’s surface (“Global Warming”). The Paris pacts are predicated on efforts to restrain temperature increase to two degrees Celsius (2o C) compared to temperatures before the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, about 250 years ago. Increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration are regarded as causing Global Warming.

Graphs are from the 2016 International Energy Outlook (IEO 2016) and the 2017 Annual Energy Outlook. Both are published by the U.S. Department of Energy and are available free on line at www.eia.gov


Another Look at Continuous Improvement

Dreamstime - Crystal BallEverybody knows that the reality of globalized manufacturing is a continuous spiral of faster, better, cheaper. Regardless of how good your processes, practices and products are, it is essential to keep improving. On Continuous Improvement, a post from November 2015, takes a pragmatic look at continuous improvement, with some thoughts on how that might actually be accomplished. Another look at On Continuous Improvement is always timely. — C.H.

On Continuous Improvement (from November 2015)

Remaining Competitive

Everybody understands the need to be truly competitive in this globalized economy. What’s more, since everybody knows, everybody is trying to improve – so the bar is continually being raised. The 5th of Dr. Edwards Deming’s famous 14 points is characteristically blunt: [1]

“Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service.”

In practice, there are two ongoing modes of improvement. The first mode consists of numerous incremental improvements to existing products, processes and practices. The second mode involves fewer, larger improvements such as new products, new equipment, or R&D advancements. This essay focuses on the first ongoing mode of improvements.

What to Improve Continuously?

Rereading Deming’s 5th point clearly answers the “what to improve” question: “the system of production and service”. The “system of production and service” means the entire assemblage of manufacturing and processes, procedures and practices, along with their interactions and inter-dependencies, through with your organization functions. It is necessary to appreciate that Deming’s use of the term “system” is not an accident.  A “system”, as Deming intends that term, is assembled in order to serve a specific purpose (Deming prefers the term “aim”, rather than “purpose”).

Deming says that the aim (purpose) of a business is to “stay in business, create more and more jobs”. To me, that means a sustainable business that can continue to grow indefinitely.

To be more specific, it is necessary to constantly improve our products, our manufacturing processes, procedures and practices; as well as our business processes, practices and procedures. Further, it is necessary to do so in a manner that advances the overall aim of the system. Improvement in one component of the system at the expense of another component is counterproductive. Usually, most improvement efforts focus on diminishing variation and waste.

How to Improve Continuously?

Deming tells us that wanting to improve is not sufficient. It is necessary to have a method for doing so. Fortunately, there are several methods that are widely used by manufacturers, each with many books, publications, courses and consultants ready to assist. Generally speaking, my personal preferences are Lean Manufacturing (especially for reducing wastes), Shewhart Cycles with control charts (for reducing variation) and Theory of Constraints (for prioritizing improvement efforts).

Lean Manufacturing

Competitiveness starts with the systematic elimination of waste in all of its many forms. “Waste in all of its many forms” includes losses due to hazardous working conditions, unsafe work practices, emissions to the environment, inefficient use of energy, and on and on. Lean Manufacturing provides a proven, readily available means to do that.

Lean Mfg Text Box

Just about everybody in manufacturing has heard about Lean Manufacturing, or about the stunning success of the Toyota manufacturing system, which serves as Lean’s global model. The fact is that Lean Manufacturing is good sense, systematically applied. Lean doesn’t require computers, robots or big capital outlays. It does require access to the know-how, a willingness to apply that know-how, and a person experienced with Lean implementations to lead the effort.

Shewhart Cycles

Dr. Deming was a statistician. Early in his career, Deming met Walter Shewhart, a pioneer in statistical quality management. He learned of Shewhart’s work with control charts and PDCA improvement cycles. Control charts provide a ready method to plot process outputs and, importantly, to distinguish variation due to the process itself (common causes) from variation due to other causes (special causes).

Variation can be reduced by identifying and eliminating special causes. Shewhart Cycles, more commonly called PDCA Cycles, provide a way to do that. Shewhart Cycles consist of four steps:

Deming PDCA CycleStep 1: The first step is to study a process, to decide what change might improve it. Organize an appropriate team. Do not proceed without a plan.

Step 2: Carry out the tests or make the change, preferably on a small scale.

Step 3: Observe the effects.

Step 4: What did we learn? Repeat the test if necessary. Look for side effects.

Theory of Constraints (TOC) [2]

TOC regards a manufacturing facility as a system consisting of interacting and interdependent processes. Those processes are not all equally important to increasing throughput. A few, usually one, process limits — constrains — the system. TOC focuses on identifying the limiting process and addressing that limitation. “Addressing that limitation” means increasing the capacity of that process, such that it no longer bottlenecks the facility. In addition, TOC uses a buffer before the constrained resource and a raw materials release system to prevent overproduction at non-constrained resources.

Once a constraint is addressed and throughput increases, another constraint will be revealed — otherwise, throughput would be unbounded. So, TOC is an ongoing process of identifying and addressing constraints. As production capacity increases, the constraint to increasing revenues eventually moves from the factory to the market or to some business practice or policy.

Concisely, Theory of Constraints provides a convenient way to prioritize opportunities for improvement so as to improve the aim of the system.

Chuck - Red Rocks3Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

Image: PDCA Cycle ID 46845201 © Raducomes | Dreamstime.com

[1] Understanding continuous improvement starts with Dr. Deming. For those not familiar with Deming’s work, I suggest Mary Walton’s The Deming Management Method, Perigee Books (1986)

[2] To learn more about the Theory of Constraints, see Appreciating the Theory of Constraints, this blog, http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2015/06/27/appreciating-the-theory-of-constraints/

Getting to Drawdown


Book CoverDrawdown, [1] a new book edited by Paul Hawken, presents about 80 proven action areas for reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions. The book and its action areas take a notably comprehensive view by including greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide, and by not limiting carbon dioxide emissions to those related to energy production. Each of the action areas is well researched, with quantitative projections for future greenhouse gas emissions reductions. About 20 “coming attractions” – emerging technologies – are also presented, but, appropriately, are not considered in a quantitative sense.

Since Climate Change is a set of anticipated negative effects from Global Warming, which is attributed to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, it follows that reducing future emissions of greenhouse gases can delay those negative effects. Further, there are natural processes that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (notably, but not exclusively, photosynthesis). If annual global emissions of greenhouse gases can be reduced sufficiently, then atmospheric concentrations of those gases can reach a point where natural removal processes, perhaps augmented with new technologies, can begin to be reduced — drawn down — year over year.

The book does not present a plan for systematically implementing the several action areas on a global scale, never mind the book’s subtitle. Realistically, creating such a plan, with an objective of achieving drawdown, is certainly not a simple matter. Effectively executing that plan is likely much tougher.


There are a number of serious and fundamental challenges that creating and effectively executing a globally sufficient plan that should be expected. Here are two of them:

>> U.S. and the World: Over the coming decades, the U.S., along with other economically developed nations, faces a vastly different set of demographics than do less developed nations. Developed nations can expect slow population growth rates, aging populations and rather static economies. Less developed nations face more rapid population growth, along with rapidly rising expectations for economic growth. [2] This chart projects greenhouse gas emissions over the next several decades: [3]

IEO 2016 - Carbon Dioxide

As you can see, greenhouse gas emissions are projected to roughly correlate with population growth and economic growth, such that the U.S. cannot directly control reduction in global emissions sufficiently to achieve drawdown. Even if the U.S. were able to eliminate all of its emissions, global emissions would continue to rise. Direct control over sufficient emissions reductions to achieve drawdown lies among the many developing nations, each with its own interests and priorities. There, the U.S. can only indirectly influence emissions to some degree or another.

This does not mean that American emissions don’t matter or should not be reduced. It does mean that the U.S. alone cannot achieve global drawdown.

>> Urgent vs Important: Dr. Covey [4] taught many of us that the urgent almost always gets priority over the important. At the most zoomed out level, Climate Change competes for active attention with other potential global threats, such as global war, financial system collapse, terrorism or epidemic. Zooming in, Climate Change competes with the panoply of routine business issues – supply chains, customers, production, technology, industry issues, ad nausium — for the active awareness of business people.

Drawdown provides a ready collection of proven techniques and a rational objective: achieving drawdown. An executable plan for achieving that objective within a few decades is still needed.

Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

[1] Paul Hawken, editor, Drawdown The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, Penguin Books (2017)

[2] For more on this, see: Carbon, America and the World, this blog, http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2017/04/01/carbon-america-and-the-world/

[3] This chart is from the 2016 International Energy Outlook, published by the U.S. Energy Information Agency. Available on-line at www.eia.gov . The  chart is restricted to carbon dioxide emissions, rather than the more comprehensive view of greenhouse gases that Downturn takes. However, it does make the point that the U.S., of itself, cannot control reaching a condition of global drawdown.

[4] Covey, Stephen, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Revised Edition, Free Press (2004)

Recycling the Circular Economy

Recycling is at the heart of the Circular Economy. Embracing the Circular Economy, a post from 21 March 2016 discuses the concept of a Circular Economy, especially as it applies to smaller manufacturers. Embracing the Circular Economy is worth recycling — so here it is:

Embracing the Circular Economy

The Circular Economy

In an industrial sense, the term circular economy refers to a systemic view of resources utilization. It replaces the linear one pass take (from the natural world) … make (something incompatible with the natural world) … and dispose of (that is, burden the natural world with) production wastes along with the product itself at the end of its useful life. Instead, the circular economy envisions closed loop production which minimizes impacts on the natural world. Circular economy begins with products designed with multiple cycles of reuse and recycling in mind. Corresponding industrial processes are designed to minimize interactions which degrade the natural world, including interactions which occur anywhere along the product’s value chain.

Cutting to the Chase

It is readily apparent that a circular economy mindset might lead to lower costs, as well as a better world. The question becomes how to improve on what you are already doing to improve resource utilization. Here are some comments and examples to stimulate your thinking:

BMW i3 Press Kit Photo

BMW i3 Electric Vehicle

>> BMW i3 – The BMW i3 all-electric city car is an example of a circular economy product. Attention to sustainability is obvious in just about everything about the design and construction of the BMW i3. Recycled materials are used extensively.  Plans are in place for disposal of each component of the i3 at the end of its useful product life. For more on the i3, see BMW – A Case Study in Sustainability. [1]

>> Waste Management Corporation – Waste Management makes more than half of its money on recycling and upcycling refuse that people like you and me pay them to take from us. Sustainability – especially the circular economy aspect – Is integral to Waste Management’s business model. For more on how this works, see Waste Management Corp – A Case Study in Sustainability [2] and Waste Management’s 2015 Sustainability Report Update (which is entitled “The Circular Economy Revs Up”!) [3]

>> USBCSD – The United States Business Council on Sustainable Development is a not for profit business association that, among other projects, seeks to match bi-product streams with firms – often in other industries — that can use those bi-products as raw materials. In other words, one firm’s waste becomes another firm’s feedstock, to the benefit of both. See USBCSD’s website [4] for more on their work.

Scrap Tires 350pxh>> Tires – Where Waste Management Corporation seeks to find uses with the broad range of wastes it collects from residences, commercial facilities and industry, the tire industry focuses on new uses for its hard to dispose of product. Tire Recycling: An Industry Success Story was one of the first posts to this blog, almost five years ago. This lightly edited version still provides a useful example today: 

Tire Recycling: An Industry Success Story

(From 29 June 2011) 

American motorists discard a lot of tires; roughly one tire per capita or around 310 million used tires annually. On the average, tire carcasses weigh about 37 pounds, so that’s something like 11 billion pounds of waste rubber and metal every year. In the past, most of these used tires went to dumps, where they were ugly, mosquito – breeding fire hazards. Today, the recycle rate is sufficient to handle this year’s carcasses, while also significantly drawing down inventories at tire dumps nationwide.

Tire dealers add a state–mandated “tipping fee”, usually around $4.00, to each new tire sold. The “tipping fee” is passed on to the tire reclaim firm when the tire reclaimer collects carcasses from the tire dealer. The tire reclaimer converts the scrap tires into some useful form, usually by shredding the scrap tires and separating the rubber from the steel tire cords. The rubber scrap may be processed further, depending on the intended application. 

More than half of the recovered scrap rubber is used as tire–derived fuel, burned as an alternate to coal, primarily to fuel cement kilns. Ground rubber has a multitude of uses, ranging from landscaping mulch, to athletic fields, to molded rubber products, and on to de-vulcanized rubber, which can be used to produce new tires. Those who are interested can download a free report chock full of information on scrap tire products and markets at www.rma.org/scrap-tires. 

One take-away for all manufacturers is that the conversion of billions of pounds of scrap from dangerous eye-sore to useful products came to be through the efforts of a trade association. Trade associations offer a particularly useful vehicle for addressing many of the industry-wide problems and opportunities that Sustainability presents. 

>> Learning from Nature – Proponents of the Circular Economy point out that there are no wastes in biological processes. Everything eventually becomes food for something else. Actually, it is better than that. Biological processes operate at or near ambient pressures and temperatures, as opposed to the energy intensive demands of many industrial processes. I was surprised to learn that the Department of Chemical Engineering where I studied is now the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering – a strong indication of the growing importance of bio – based products and processes.

>> Books – Consider the entire value chain for books and other printed matter. Start with cutting forests, then the environmental concerns with paper making, ink chemistry, collecting end of useful life products, transportation costs across the value chain, and recycling or disposal costs. Compare all of that that with a Kindle. Replacing a tangible product – or a component of a tangible product, such as the operating instructions – with a virtual (digital) product changes everything!

For Smaller Manufacturers

The ideas behind the Circular Economy are quite powerful and potentially disruptive. Every manufacturer needs to consider how to modify its business model to embrace those ideas. As you can see, there are a lot of ways to approach this – new product development / new manufacturing processes / teaming with somebody like Waste Management or USBCSD / through a trade association / even virtualization – are just for starters, there are many more possibilities.

Chuck - FranceThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington


This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

[1] http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2014/10/04/bmw-a-case-study-in-sustainability/

[2] http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2015/01/30/waste-management-corp-a-case-study-in-sustainability/

[3] Download for free at http://wm.com/sustainability

[4] www.usbcsd.org


Radical Uncertainty

Sustainability and Uncertainty

A Sustainable business, says Adam Werbach, is one that is able to thrive in perpetuity. [1] The same definition also applies nations, civilizations and even humanity as an entirety. The term “perpetuity”, however, involves anticipation of the future, so that appropriate actions can be taken in the present.

“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future” – attributed to Niels Bohr, (or maybe Yogi Berra).

In some circumstances, prediction is not so difficult. For example, it is easy to predict that a roll of two dice will result in an outcome between 2 and 12, and the probability of each outcome (from 2 to 12) is readily calculated. Insurance companies prosper because probabilities of morbidity, mortality and other risks within suitably defined groups can be reliably estimated.

However, prediction becomes increasingly difficult as situations become increasingly complex and the set of possible outcomes becomes less well defined, as they do in the real world. Uncertainty prevails. And it gets worse:

“Radical uncertainty refers to uncertainty so profound that it is impossible to represent the future of a knowable and exhaustive list of possibilities to which we can attach probabilities… when businesses invest, there are no dice with known and finite outcomes on the faces; rather they face a future in which the possibilities are limitless and impossible to imagine.” [2]

The concept of “radical uncertainty” originated in macroeconomics. [3] Macroeconomics, of course, deals with the aggregate economic behaviors of large groups of people, their enterprises and their governments. Aggregated economic behaviors can be viewed as systems that can, at least in principle, be modeled mathematically. Such systems are usually complex, with components that interact, time dependences and feedback loops. When complex systems are perturbed, outcomes can be quite surprising. This applies to macroeconomic systems and to other complex system, especially those where human behaviors are involved.

Here are several examples where complex systems might well threaten a firm’s, a nation’s, or even humanity’s ability to thrive in perpetuity in today’s globalized world:

>> Climate Change – As a recent post to this blog explained, the term “Climate Change” refers to a set of negative effects expected from warming of the Earth’s atmosphere due to human – induced increases in the concentration of greenhouse gases — especially carbon dioxide – in the atmosphere. The atmosphere and its behavior as expressed in weather patterns is a complex system indeed. The nature, magnitude and timing of effects (changes in weather patterns) due to increases in greenhouse gas concentrations remain to be seen.

>> World Financial System: Over the last half century or so, the American economy has experienced recession about once a decade. Over that time, the financial systems that support national economies have globalized and changed in very significant ways. In 2007 – 2008, a major disturbance occurred that, we are told, very nearly resulted in total collapse of those financial systems. Instead, we experienced about seven years of pernicious recession.

However, very little has been done to make those financial systems more robust to future disturbances. The periodic occurrence of recessions suggests that the financial system is not stable. If the episode of 2007 – 2008 very nearly resulted in total collapse of the world’s financial system, worse may well be in store in the future.

>> Global Epidemic: The 20th century witnessed a dramatic reduction in epidemic outbreaks of communicable disease. In the aftermath of World War I, an outbreak of “Spanish” influenza resulted in more deaths than the war itself. “Childhood diseases” including mumps, chicken pox and measles (along with many other once common diseases) have all but disappeared.

However, a recent outbreak of Ebola fever in Africa emphasized the ease with which today’s global transportation system can change a local outbreak into a global catastrophe. Further, science has learned that pathogens can evolve rapidly into new forms that require new vaccines or new treatment techniques – which may require considerable time to find, prove, and distribute.  

>> Black Swans: Nassim Taleb teaches us of the ubiquity of Black Swans:

“A Black Swan is an event, positive or negative, that is deemed improbable, yet causes massive consequences”

“… the world is far, far more complicated than we think, which is not a problem, except when most of us don’t know it. We tend to ‘tunnel’ while looking into the future, making it business as usual, Black Swan free, when in fact there is nothing usual about the future.” [4]

What to Do?

The world, then, may well be “far, far more complicated than we think”. Radical uncertainty may be considerably closer to the norm than we appreciate. If so, how does an individual, a firm, a nation, or humanity as a whole best approach the future? Look for some thoughts on that in the next post to this blog.

Chuck - SedonaThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

[1] Adam Werback, Strategy for Sustainability (2009), Harvard University Press, page 9

[2] Mervyn King was Governor of the Bank of England during the financial crisis of 2007 – 2008. This quotation is from his 2016 book The End of Alchemy – Money, Banking and the Future of the Global Economy.  This book includes a full chapter entitled Radical Uncertainty: The Purpose of Financial Markets.

[3] Dr. Frank Knight, often referred to as the “father of macroeconomics”, introduced the concept of radical uncertainty in a 1921 academic paper, Risk, Uncertainty and Profit, University of Chicago.

M. Keynes, likely the most influential economist of the 20th century, devoted Chapter 12 of his best known work, General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) to the concept of radical uncertainty. (Keynes, incidentally, did not hold a degree in economics, doctorate or otherwise. He studied mathematics, emphasizing probability, at Cambridge.)

[4] These quotations are from Nassim Talib’s New York Times bestseller The Black Swan (2016) Talib and his book are both engaging, as well as perceptive.