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Sustainable = Green + Profitable

When I think of the word “sustainability,” I imagine lasting value based on reliability, efficiency, dependability, availability, affordability, and consistency — factors treasured by all manufacturers in the electronics industry. Though many other words may also apply, in general, these characteristics not only assure a long lifecycle, but when taken into consideration at the earliest conception and design stages, they also raise the probability of having a successful product or service.

When it comes to sustainable products or services, some of the same principles that make for a long-term relationship also apply. In a very general sense, we already have a pretty good understanding about what it takes to sustain a relationship involving two human beings. Failure to sustain the relationship dissolves into a breakup. Sooner or later, every relationship has to be renewed, replaced, or abandoned altogether.

If sustainability is a function of specific, targeted efforts as in a human relationship, then identifying the efforts, securing the necessary cooperations, and having a measurable outcome are all paramount to success. If one has to put in more effort than is deemed worthwhile, then the overall effort will be halfhearted and unlikely to yield positive results. Furthermore, if more material and energy resources are required to keep a product alive than would be required to create a whole new product, there is little economic reason to sustain the old product.

One key to sustainability is lessening the material and energy overhead such that the product's value equals or exceeds the value of a brand new or replacement product. When we consider solar energy as a potential sustainable supply, we have to consider the efficiencies and the costs of, not just the solar panels, but the battery storage systems, maintenance, power routing, and other equipment. While it is true that the sun's energy is free, harvesting it is relatively expensive and, watt for watt, still costs more than other common, unsustainable fuel sources.

When the efficiencies and cost-savings surpass the alternatives, we will see vast sales and deployments of solar equipment. Notwithstanding, the people who will be able to fund this solar product manufacturing will most likely be the same people who now profit off of excessive prices for our current alternatives.

Sustainability does not only imply that a resource never runs out, but that the cost associated with harvesting and processing that resource into a finished product or service is cheaper than the unsustainable practice. People pay more for organic vegetables because of an understanding that better health for the consumer and the environment is real and verifiable. People will not make the same sacrifice for energy as long as the oil keeps flowing and their cars keep getting them to work every day.

It will be years — perhaps too many — before we will hear that solar energy is a viable alternative to fossil fuel in more than just a few target markets. However, with a diminishing and finite supply of fossil fuels, it is just a matter of time before solar and wind will be the cheapest energy sources on the planet. Personally, if I were the Earth, I would be looking forward to that day.

17 comments on “Sustainable = Green + Profitable

  1. Cryptoman
    August 10, 2012

    I really like your analysis and explanations here Douglas.

    While I agree with the inanimate components that are required to ensure sustainability, I also think that there is an important human factor in the sustainability equilibrium.

    Any process that is not humane is likely to fail over the long term either because the people can no longer endure the pain and the unfairness or the inhumane process attracts too much negative attention from the public.

  2. Ariella
    August 10, 2012

    While some enviornmentalists do object to wind turbines because they sometimes have a detrimental effect on the bird and bat populations where they are set up, I haven't heard anything against solar power. Is there any downside to it other than the potential for inadequate power on cloudy days?

  3. Cryptoman
    August 10, 2012

    Hi Ariella,

    One downside to windturbines that I can think of is they are not the most pretty objects to look at. Aesthetically, windturbines do cause visual pollution especially when they are installed in high volumes on a wind farm.

     

  4. Ariella
    August 10, 2012

    @Cryptoman So they call it “visual pollution,” interesting. That's almost a trivial consideration, though the people concerned about property values that depend on pretty views may think otherwise. However, the effect on flying creatures is real, and I believe that some companies have invested in some designs that would be more bird and bat friendly.

     I have yet to hear of any objections whatsoever to solar power. Have you?

  5. Cryptoman
    August 10, 2012

    Making use of solar power is a function of surface area as well as the angle of incidence of sun's rays. As the surface area of a solar panel increases, more energy can be harvested. In order to allocate a large surface area, large areas on land need to be allocated. I can see a potential danger for wildlife and forests if the land to be allocated to solar energy harvesting compromises natural habitats. If solar panels are restricted to roof tops, car chassis, sidewalks etc. I do not see any potential issues with using solar energy at all. I must also add that visual pollution may also be applicable to solar panels as they are always large in size and dark in colour. Unfortunately, solar panels cannot be manufactured in bright and more pleasant colours as solar energy needs to be absorbed by the panels to be converted into electrical energy. (Light energy absorption increases as the colour of an object becomes darker.)

  6. Adeniji Kayode
    August 10, 2012

    @Ariella,

    Well, the only thing against solar power in my area is the installation cost- pretty high for now though blessed with enough sun light.

  7. Adeniji Kayode
    August 10, 2012

    @Cryptoman,

    I agree with you on that, they are not pretty objects to look at all.

    the tall poles with long blade-like fans  too.

    Another downside to it might be the volume of wind and the direction of the wind.

  8. Adeniji Kayode
    August 10, 2012

    I am  interested in seeing a design that is really flying creatures friendly.That may be hard to come- by due to the aero-design  but will be a very good innovation.

  9. Anand
    August 12, 2012

    the only thing against solar power in my area is the installation cost- pretty high for now though blessed with enough sun light.

    @Adenji, That is the disadvantage of solar power. Initial cost will be very high but its a one-time cost. Is government taking any steps to bring down this cost ? 

  10. Anand
    August 12, 2012

    @Douglas, thanks for the post. Solar panels can be used not only to generate electricity but also to stop water evaporation. In India solar panels were placed on a .75 km stretch of a canal, thus saving land costs as well as preventing water evaporation.

  11. Ariella
    August 12, 2012

    @Cryptoman very intersting. Have any forests been cut down for solar energy harvesting? That would be a concern, as well as counter-productive if one's goal is to maintain the enviornment by setting up a clean energy source. I never thought about the aesthetics involved. Perhaps that is something for engineers to work on: solar panels that maintian full function without diminsihing the curb appeal of where they are placed. 

    Edited to add: there's an article on solar power in today's NY Times

  12. Cryptoman
    August 12, 2012

    @Ariealla The environmental risk of losing forests for installing solar panels can be an issue in developing and third world countries. If the stakes are high enough in renewable energy in such countries, wildlife and forests can easly be compromised. I know of many cases where the forests were destroyed in order to build luxurious apartment blocks in the Middle East, for example. To me solar panel farms are no different. If there is a financially strong enough incentive to destroy forests, this usually happens. Sad but true…

  13. Ariella
    August 12, 2012

    @cryptoman Yes, as the motivation is usually monetary, I can see that happening.

  14. stochastic excursion
    August 13, 2012

    Generally the product life cycle tends toward a greater sustainability as time goes on.  The free market, as it minimizes costs, will generally minimize negative impacts of production on its resource base.  Government too has an important role as we can see, as it chooses what infrastructures to develop that are truly business-friendly.

  15. bolaji ojo
    August 14, 2012

    Douglas, I wonder how CFOs determine whether their efforts in green are contributing to profit?

  16. dalexander
    August 14, 2012

    @Bolaji, Good question. At the Engineering Level, development costs can be tracked by using project numbers. Usually, a Top level number like 2002 might represent an overall product development and adding a pre assigned suffix like -003 and -004 might represent Cad and Assembly respectively. So 2002-004 on a time card would show the hours of a engineering efforts by type. The different departments are assigned an hourly rate and after each employee has submitted time cards to their managers, the managers aggregate the hours by project and forward to finance. As the product efforts dedicated to Green development are tracked, finance can track their costs. If each operation in the company touches green tech records hours, the finance can either expense the costs under R&D or include any materials and direct labor into the COGS for accounting purposes. The impact on sales may or may not be detectable, but going greener from an environmental viewpoint is good marketing fodder and where regulatory mandates are served, then going green is just the cost of doing business. If you product is similar to your competitions at roughly the same price, then all other things being equal, if you gain market share, you could consider green as your edge and easily justify the added expenses…if any. If going green reduced your cost of materials or recovery, then the benefits will be immediately obvious. Finance will pick up the delta in COGS pre and post green.

  17. prabhakar_deosthali
    August 15, 2012

    In my opinion while talking about the solar energy or any such alternate energy we must consider the total enrgy spent on producing the equipment for such alternate enrgy generation products. For example the manufacturing of the solar panels or the wind mills itself consumes a lot of fossil fuels. More the proliferation of these technologies more will be the consumption of the fossil fuels to supply the equipment for the enegry generation.

    We need alternate technologies for solar or such alternate energy generation which are “green” all the way through.

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