How to go green in China: Explain the benefits

Oct. 12, 2006
Sustainability has become a hot topic for businesses looking to expand operations worldwide.

Mike Abbott
Director, Environment, Health,
and Safety
SKF Group
Gothenburg, Sweden

Intelligent use of resources, improving the quality of life of workers, and lessening the environmental impact from business operations are key tenets of such initiatives.

Our experience in China has shown sustainability initiatives work best when you explain the benefits. Energy usage drops. Safety figures improve. Waste is reduced. Costs drop. And further advantages ranging from better employee morale to more satisfied customers steadily emerge when managers and employees can foresee the rewards generated by this powerful business model.

The concept of sustainability has three dimensions: economic, environmental, and social. Legislation governing these issues in China is similar to that in the U.S and Europe. Awareness of it in the Chinese manufacturing community, however, and regulatory enforcement by government authority are in early stages. This can pose challenges to Western businesses that wish to run their Chinabased operations on a sustainability platform. But in our experience, the benefits of doing so justify the effort.

Consider a waste-reduction training program implemented at Beijing Nankou SKF Railway Bearings Co. Ltd. One of its primary objectives was to show management and employees how waste reduction would conserve raw material, as well as lower the cost of waste disposal, such as landfill, transportation, and handling expenses. The result: Waste sent to landfills declined fourfold during the period 2002 to 2005.

Another example concerns safety standards in China, which are not yet at high levels. Safety-related training lowers time lost to accidents and, of course, contributes to employee wellness. At SKF Automotive Bearings Co. Ltd., in Shanghai, for example, safety training lowered accidents per 100 employees from 2.4 in 2003 to zero in 2004 and 2005.

The process of implementing procedures for sustainability may necessitate introducing your own health, environment, and safety program, while also trying to meet such established standards as ISO 14001 (Environmental Management Systems).* This usually involves formal training and the possible use of outside consultants. Some areas of key concern include machine guarding and electrical safety, proper disposal of lubricants, and the need to comply with water-treatment regulations. In China, it may be that some of your local management team is not even aware of regulations covering such areas.

Equally important is commitment. Launching sustainability procedures via classroom and priority lists can be a deceptively routine process. Forging your sustainability processes into fully accepted work methods that continuously improve your operations may call for periodic audits and for reminders to employees about the benefits of doing their jobs in new and better ways.

The rewards for instilling commitment will be sizable. Our company has seen that once a factory's housekeeping improves, improvements to work quality and productivity soon follow. U.S. engineers who want to put their skills to work for such purposes can make large contributions in China.

SKF Group ( is a supplier of rolling bearings, seals, mechatronics services, and lubrications systems.

*SKF has a multisite ISO14001 certificate covering all major facilities in the group.

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