Is Manufacturing in America Greener Than Overseas Manufacturing?

Rahm Emanuel said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Whether or not we like or agree with it, a percentage of goods shipped from several overseas locations, China primarily, will cost more than they did before.  In addition, Black Rock and other investment firms are stacking their portfolios in favor of socially and environmentally conscious companies. We are in a unique position for the first time in several decades; it is now financially advantageous to build green products in America.  But, is manufacturing in America really greener than overseas manufacturing? Yes.

If this was a documentary, I would cue the smokestacks and grime of our first and second industrial revolutions, where our agrarian culture made way for a solid manufacturing base fortified by rich natural resources and an abundant labor supply.  While Charlie Chaplin wiggled through gears in a factory like a modacrome noodle (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r16Cfz36KME), and Henry Ford went camping with Edison, the unresolved social and environmental issues discussed by Upton Sinclair (https://www.amazon.com/Jungle-Upton-Sinclair/dp/1503331865/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1523584070&sr=1-1-spons&keywords=the+jungle&psc=1) and others meant that we were heavily destroying both the environment and workers in the process.  

It’s fair to say now that we are not as industrial as we once were as a nation and our population has moved more to a service and digital economy.  A world away, you must wear a face mask in Shenzhen because of the industrial pollution and very few developing countries have frameworks in place to combat environmental dangers.  2018’s metal of the year and the cathode of high-tech batteries, cobalt is often strip mined, by hand, by forced labor. Environmental frameworks add cost and complexity to business and to many nations, it’s much more important to accelerate progress than to be mired in the sometimes Kafka-esque details of making products green.

Even if just by process of elimination, America is one of the more environmentally-friendly manufacturing countries.  In America, have strict rules on what can be manufactured and from which safe materials, especially in terms of medical and consumer products.  After products are made, manufacturing companies dispose of their waste safely and securely, and if they do not in the few rare instances, they pay heavy fines to environmentally remediate the mess they made.  Shipping done within the continental US requires nowhere near as much fuel as a container ship does to travel from Hong Kong to Los Angeles. Let alone the fact that with the incoming tariffs, many of these imported goods are going to have a much more rigorous inspection at the dock, which certainly uses a great deal more paperwork, man power, electricity and gas than American-made goods.  Add in the fact that trucking firms settled a lawsuit with the port of Long Beach meant to rein in their emissions transporting overseas freight from the docks to warehouses (http://www.polb.com/news/displaynews.asp?NewsID=629) and overseas manufacturing isn’t looking so green.

Once Amazon ships these products to your door, you can see the real environmental issues with overseas manufacturing.  The excess of packaging is rampart, double and triple boxed items to withstand transoceanic travel, rubber, tape and bags that strongly smell of chemicals, and styrofoam sheets that literally crumble in your hand.  The only way these packing supplies could be considered green is if they were painted. And finally, manufacturing standards overseas are not yet where they need to be in terms of quality. Even though products manufactured overseas are cheaper, you end up buying more of them to make up for their less-than-stellar construction and use more in the long run.  

Let me be clear, I am not against foreign goods, nor am I saying one country in particular makes poor products.  I am typing this article in a room where I can more easily count products not made overseas than imported items. All I would like to leave you with is this;  If making green products means less waste, environmentally friendlier materials and increased resilience, American-made products are as green as they come and now is a great time for American manufacturing to shine.

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