Quality Management is good for the environment

We often think of quality and environmental issues as being distinct. After all, they have different standards, different requirements, and in many organizations different people with responsibilities for managing them. However, when many of the common methods for measuring the performance of a quality management system are looked at in more detail, there are links to environmental performance.

               Some typical quality measures include:

  • Meeting customer specifications – measured by scrap rate
  • Avoiding rework by making products correctly the first time
  • Efficiency – meeting the planned run rate
  • Uptime – equipment running as scheduled
  • Using the right packaging
  • Packing the correct quantity
  • Delivering on time
  • Filling out the correct paperwork

               What are the links to environmental performance?

Making good product instead of scrap saves raw material, energy, cooling water, and so on equivalent to any scrap avoided – directly linked to the amount the product requires. A scrap part effectively has twice the impact on the environment: once when it is made, and again when a good replacement is made. Improvements in efficiency and uptime save on the overhead environmental impacts that exist when a process runs whether or not product is being manufactured.

These can be quantified. Improving a scrap rate from 3% to 2% will save about 1% of the direct and indirect environmental impacts. Improving efficiency or uptime by 5% will provide a 5% improvement with respect to the indirect impacts.

               Packaging and handling issues also have direct impacts. If expendable packaging is used instead of returnable, there is a direct impact based on the packaging itself and any downstream disposal. Packing an incorrect quantity could result in the use of more packaging than planned, or potentially in the return of a shipment. Returns of any kind – due to defects, packaging, paperwork, damage in shipping etc. – all have an environmental impact based on the type of transport used and the distance travelled. To have a shipment returned for any reason effectively triples the environmental impact: original shipment, return, and replacement shipment.

               Failure to deliver on time doesn’t typically have a direct impact but can often result in delays in downstream processes or in expedited shipments. If an expedited shipment needs to go by a different method (rail to truck, truck to air, for example), then there can be a direct impact on the environment.

Rework or repair is often a good way to minimize impact as little or no additional raw material is required, but there are impacts in terms of energy use, replacing damaged components and so on. Making the product correctly the first time is the best way.

The change on environmental impacts may not be felt directly by the organization itself but may manifest at a supplier or customer. Changes in orders or specifications may cause additional impacts at a supplier, and issues with shipments, quality, time, etc. may cause environmental impacts at the immediate downstream customer and beyond.

             Some methods to improve quality and therefore the impact on the environment:

  1. Makes sure everyone understands the requirements. This includes specifications, packaging, shipments, and any associated paperwork.
  2. Evaluate process variation, then look for methods to reduce variation and scrap.
  3. Manage changes to processes, set-ups, etc. and implement error-proofing to prevent upset conditions.