Reprinted from the August/September Business column in Metalforming magazine.
By: Michael Bleau
In today’s renewable energy sensitive culture some consumers seem to be obsessed with sustainability, which carries over into the boardroom, driving companies to rush ‘green’ content into their marketing materials. The good news is that people are paying attention—which is my point—people are far more informed than ever before when it comes to the topics of renewable energy, eco-friendly processes and products. So if you promote your company and products as being ‘green’, then your message needs to be accurate, genuine and above all, be relevant.
If your company is ISO 14001 registered, is working towards registration or has enacted other steps to curb your energy use and minimize your environmental impact through the process of how your products are produced, then fantastic, by all means share this news with your customers. If you’re not there just yet, then be patient and promote your efforts when you have something to share. You are correct to think that being an environmentally responsible manufacturer whose products provide ‘greener’ side benefits is important to your customers. Just try to not get carried away with the desire to project this image. If you force the topic into your marketing efforts you run the risk of being perceived as disingenuous.
Promoting your sustainability efforts is really not very different than how you approach promoting other aspects of your business. First and foremost, is understanding your audience and what is important to them. Next, ask yourself, what you want to achieve through the communication effort. What outcomes are your trying to achieve and what do you expect to gain from the sharing this message. Being able to quantify the outcome that is driving you to share this information is an important part of any promotional effort. If you can’t answer this question, then hold off until you can. And consider that once you present yourself as a ‘green’ company you inadvertently may invite consumers who probe with magnifying glasses, so be sure that you have all of your facts straight. If you want to say that you’re ‘green,’ then point to some specific, beneficial results for your community or your customers. It’s not enough to simply generalize and say that you’re working to reduce your carbon footprint or that you’re emitting less waste into the environment, since it’s given that we all should be doing this. Take steps to learn out how your efforts or the sustainability of your products extend downstream to your customers and onto their consumers.
FKM Walzentecknik (Duisburg, Germany) an industrial roll producer with a factory based in the Chicago area produces pressing rolls made from nonwoven materials used in a variety of sheet metal applications. Many of these products are used by automotive stampers to clean and remove excess lubrication from blank or coil stock prior to forming. During market diversification efforts aimed at entering the textile industry, FKM noticed an interesting benefit that their customers gained when using their rolls.
Let me back up a bit. Textile manufacturers produce fabric in a way that is similar to how coil steel is processed. Fabric is continuously fed through a series of machines as a long, continuous strip of material guided by tension and pinch rolls as it winds its way through various processes. Many of which involve wetting the fabric, which results in the need to dry the fabric as one of the final steps in the production process. In the case of textile production, the machine performing the final wringing operation is called a stenter and the rolls within it are called padder rolls. The wringing operation takes place just before the fabric is fed through a long, heated chamber for the final removal of excess fluid before packaging. Conventional padder rolls are polymer based, which do a fine job of wringing the fluid from the fabric, unless the fabric enters the rolls in a bunch. When this happens an impression or deboss mark is made in the face of the rolls, allowing excess fluid to pass until the roll materials ‘memory’ may or may not allow it to fully return to a smooth, flat state. Humidity sensors control line speed, so when excess fluid is carried through the stenter into the drying tunnel by the fabric, the line slows to allow more drying time. Eliminating this ‘memory effect’ was a problem and the focus of an effort to replace the padder rolls with a nonwoven alternative that is less prone to debossing. While the nonwoven solved the problem of maintaining it’s shape to reduce the intermittent passage of extra fluid, it created an additional, unanticipated benefit. It turned out that the overall wringing was far more effective, reducing the residual moisture content during normal operation from around 70% to 52%. This unintended effect translated into far less time in the final drying tunnel; the result, less drying time and a faster line speed.
So why is this an example of a green story? It all boils down to energy consumption and savings for the customer. Faster line speed and increased line throughput results in less BTUs consumed per pound of fabric produced. After months of validation with customers, FKM was convinced they had something tangible to share with prospective customers about energy savings. This gave FKM a genuine ‘green’ benefit to promote that didn’t overshadow the main value proposition of cost savings and an overall improvement to the textile mills production process.
While quality, cost and reliability are essential at the top of the list, your being a responsible, environmentally conscious manufacturer is on the minds of your customers, so addressing this buying influence is important. As you promote, you need to ensure that your message isn’t perceived as being disingenuous, which at best will be ignored or at worse can tarnish your company’s image. Tying in genuine ‘green’ benefits is an excellent way to differentiate your company and product offering, but only if the benefits are tangible, relevant and demonstrate real value.
Served in various capacities within capital equipment engineering, robotics, project management, sales and marketing.
L&A collaborates with Industry Scope, Prior to L&A Nancy was Vice President of Public Relations for a full service B2B agency.