While most talk about the auto industry and the environment lately has centered on fuel economy, Toyota Motor Corp. thinks carmakers and suppliers need to take a wider view.
The manufacturing process has just as big an impact on the environment as do emissions and mileage, said Kevin Butt, general manager and chief environmental and safety officer for Toyota North American engineering and manufacturing.
Paint lines, energy use and landfill waste affect air, water and soil issues, Butt noted Aug. 1 during the Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, but they also affect economic health.
Toyota has been discussing environmental questions on a global basis since the 1960s, and runs an “environmental kaizen” survey on its manufacturing to find ways to improve production that save energy and reduce waste. It operates much the same way as its other lean-manufacturing surveys, which aim to streamline time and costs.
The company estimates it sees $500,000 in annual savings through those efforts, he said.
For instance, Toyota's North American plants send no waste to landfills, cutting costs otherwise needed to haul trash. To make that happen, though, the company has to educate all of its employees on how to separate recyclable items, reuse parts and eliminate waste.
At its engine-making plant in Buffalo, W.V., Toyota recycles 140 tons of plastic each year. That includes plastic caps installed on engines to keep dust out of sensitive areas. At one time, the company used to throw those caps away, Butt said.
Plastics that are harder to recycle are donated to a local agency that works with disadvantaged adults. The agency uses the caps in new products like guardrail bumpers and flying disc toys.
Toyota also wants its green message to extend to suppliers, and offers its expertise on environmental improvements and energy-use reduction by conducting surveys at their companies as well, Butt said.