What Does Green Automation Mean, and How Can You Implement It?

Jane Marsh - August 8, 2023

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People talk a lot about what it means to have a green business or lifestyle. With automation becoming so popular in today’s industrial environment, many decision-makers wonder how to start green automation initiatives at their companies. Here are some critical things to keep in mind when taking this approach. 

Know That Sustainability Transformations Can Take a While

Many leaders pursue green automation as part of more extensive plans to embark on sustainability transformations. Something they may not realize at the start, though, is that such efforts don’t usually happen quickly. 

A 2023 study of decision-makers in nine countries revealed how those leaders are doing with their sustainability transformations. One takeaway showed only 8% are sustainability leaders. Being a “leader,” in this case, means making the most progress with the associated efforts relative to peers. 

However, 80% of respondents cited sustainability as a top-five management priority. That suggests many realize they can’t afford to overlook sustainability and must start taking meaningful actions to make improvements. 

The top challenge — cited by 47% of respondents — was the complexity and enormity of the required transformation. Only 20% of those polled had gotten to the point of setting a sustainability vision. Then, another 35% reached the next step of creating a sustainability strategy. 

These findings highlight the need to clarify what a company will do to become more sustainable, and what kind of timeline will be associated with the efforts. Since we’re focusing on green automation here, it’s important to think about how automated processes will support sustainability. 

Determine Your Green Automation Goals

Just like sustainability itself, green automation is somewhat of an umbrella term that will mean slightly different things depending on the organization. For example, most people would agree that green automation involves automating processes or practices to make them more sustainable. What happens from there is largely up to individual leaders. However, a good starting point is to choose some large goals you hope to achieve. Then, investigate how automation could help you reach them.

For example, maybe you want to reduce overall resource usage at a factory. One possibility is to deploy connected sensors that automatically collect real-time data. You could then dig into it and see how much electricity or water gets used on a given shift or during a particular day. 

When the data collection happens automatically and in the background, it’s easier to implement into existing processes because of the minimal disruption. 

Alternatively, green automation can reduce other waste by minimizing the slowdowns and stoppages associated with many manufacturing processes. Manufacturers from lean principles identify waiting time as a type of waste to avoid. Fortunately, automated machines often work for hours at a time with no stopping. Manufacturers often increase their overall efficiency through sustainable practices.  

Consider big goals like these suggestions, and think about what benefits they’d bring your company. Then, move into assessing how to use automated elements at your company. That might mean investing in new technologies or making major process changes. However, the efforts should be worth it in time.

Don’t Overlook How Strategic Automation Can Help Humans

Many people fear that automation will take their jobs. It’s true that it has replaced some of them. However, a common scenario is also a much more positive one. Many employers commit to retaining workers so that they can do more rewarding tasks while automated machines handle what they used to do. 

Automation can also have positive effects that help people stay in the workforce for longer. Modern machines can now do many of the repetitive duties that frequently caused short and long-term injuries in earlier workforce generations. It’s then possible for people to get reassigned to responsibilities that are safer — and more sustainable for them to do. 

Another possibility is to allow green automation to give employees lighter workloads. Then, encourage them to spend that extra time doing something to give back. That might mean helping to maintain a community garden or cleaning litter from public beaches. 

When people have more freedom to personally involve themselves in activities for the good of the planet, they’re more likely to have favorable views of automation. Another thing to remember is that employees often get overwhelmed if they feel that processes are getting automated without any of their input.

That’s why it’s essential to keep workers involved at every stage. Get their feedback about which tasks are most challenging or monotonous. Be receptive to their concerns about the potentially negative impacts of automation and give them straightforward, empathetic answers. A global survey of executives found more than half anticipated worker benefits from industrial automation initiatives. However, it’s up to you to help employees have balanced perspectives and recognize the perks. 

Let Third Parties Help With Your Green Automation Aims

Since green automation could take years to implement within a company, it often makes sense to rely on outside service providers that are well-equipped to assist. One of the most common ways that happens is if you buy cloud-based tech solutions to support automation goals. Alternatively, you might rely on a logistics provider that uses several types of automation in its facilities to get products to customers faster. 

If you’ve identified waste reduction as a goal, that might mean partnering with third-party companies that automate the sorting and recovery of discarded items. Some automated sorting machines can detect an item’s color, which can make identification easier. Such machines are instrumental in recycling precious metals from devices like smartphones. 

No matter which third-party companies you work with, take the time to thoroughly vet each one to see if they’re serious about sustainability. Find out about the company’s leadership and values. The more you learn, the easier it’ll be to see if sustainability is an authentic priority for them.

Many companies find it valuable to hold third-party partners to account by setting and enforcing minimum standards. Relatedly, you could perform periodic audits to check key performance indicators about sustainability and other aspects. 

Sustainable Automation Can Help Your Business

It should now be clear that there’s no single way to pursue green automation at a company. It all depends on factors such as your overall goals and company size. Regardless of how you proceed, remember that small, continuous progress is often more valuable than repeated stops and starts. 

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.