Volume 9, Issue 5 - May 2008

Eye on Energy

Embodied Energy
The Next Phase in Green
by Ric Jackson

Embodied energy—if you aren’t familiar with the term, you will be soon. For window manufacturers and sellers striving to meet the growing demand for green products, understanding embodied energy will be a requirement.

As the number of consumers seeking environmentally friendly products rises, so, too, do their standards for what makes a product green. Homeowners traditionally have looked at a building product from a conservation perspective—how well the product saves energy or protects the environment. But increasingly they also want to know how much energy was consumed to create the product, or how much energy is “embodied” in the product before it begins its useful functioning.

Embodied energy is the next phase of the sustainability movement. It is the sum total of all the energy necessary to produce and install a product. The concept takes into account everything from extracting and transporting the raw materials to manufacturing, assembly and installation. Embodied energy is a subset of life-cycle analysis, which tracks a product’s energy consumption from “cradle” (creation) to “grave” (demolition, decomposition, etc.).

Embodied energy will affect how we make, market and sell windows to environmentally oriented homeowners. We will be asked to answer the question, “Is the amount of energy it takes to produce the window greater than the amount of energy the window will save the environment over its lifespan?” Green-savvy consumers will want to know if your window—and the components that constitute it—is the most sustainable on the market, or if its embodied energy left a carbon footprint that will not be erased by the window’s lifetime energy savings.

The concept is new enough that a standard procedure for calculating embodied energy is still in the works. Precise figures, however, are not necessary for you to begin taking steps to reduce the embodied energy of your windows. Start by recognizing how choices you make in material selection and manufacturing methods will affect the embodied energy of your finished product.

Consider the following actions:

• Improve efficiency in manufacturing and installation. A sloppy manufacturing process can send half of your components to a landfill, increasing the embodied energy of your window and ultimately undermine an efficient window’s positive impact on the environment. Lower embodied energy by reducing the energy required at any stage of production. Begin by examining your entire manufacturing process and identify areas where waste and energy used can be reduced—or eliminated. Energy and waste can be reduced by applying the principles of lean to your manufacturing process. Lean manufacturing most often is employed for its cost- and time-saving benefits, but it can be part of your green story as well.

 • Reduce, reuse and recycle your packaging. Reconsider the amount of packaging necessary for your window and reduce where you can. By eliminating as much of the packaging as possible, you can prevent waste material from being produced and will have less waste to manage at the end of the process. Less waste almost always leads to less embodied energy. You should also consider reusing packaging when you can. Prevent your packaging from going to the landfill by recycling it.

 • Efficient distribution. Transpor-tation is a significant element in the embodied energy equation. Identifying the most efficient routes and processes to distribute your window will decrease its embodied energy and create more timely delivery of your product. Lean principles can be applied to your distribution process, as well as your manufacturing. Similar to lean manufacturing, lean distribution focuses on eliminating seven wastes: defects, inventory, processing, waiting time, motion, transportation and overproduction. Efficient distribution benefits your bottom line, your customers and your environment.

Embodied energy is among the latest concepts in the evolving notion of green. Take action to learn what embodied energy is and how to reduce it. You will help your customers, your planet and your business. yRic Jackson is the director of marketing and business development for Truseal Technologies Inc. He can be reached at rjackson@truseal.com. The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of this magazine.


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