Manufacturing Sustainability with Julia Goldstein
Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturer's Network Podcast. Our guest today is Julia Goldstein. Julia is an award-winning author and business owner on a mission to make manufacturing more environmentally responsible. Her company, J L F G Communications, helps manufacturers connect business environmental action and effective communication. Julia holds a Ph.D. in material science and began her career as an engineer in semiconductor packaging before migrating to writing and consulting. So, Julia, welcome to the show.
Julia Goldstein: Thanks, Lisa. I'm glad to be here.
Lisa Ryan: So, share a little about your background and what led you to do what you do.
Julia Goldstein: Yeah, it's quite the story. I started my semiconductor industry career, which made sense based on my education. I did a Ph.D. working on solder alloys, and so as said, it was a natural lead-in in working in semiconductor packaging. And then, I was always the engineer who wrote articles for publications, trade magazines, and reports for government contracts. And when I look back in college, we had this fantastic program called Engineering Clinic, where teams of students would work directly with a company on a project. It was my senior year; I was the team lead.
I was also the one who wrote most of the. And my other team members did most of the coding because I did one that involved software. After all, I wanted to get over my lack of interest in doing software. So I'm like, I'm going to make myself do it. I'm going to write some code. So they wrote most of the code. So we got lots of great people writing code.
That's not what I want to do. So I then ended up working for a trade publication. It was one of the ones I had written for when I was an engineer. So again, I did that for about a decade. Eventually, I started this version of the business I founded in 2011. I initially focused on content writing, white papers, blog posts, and articles for trade magazines because I've been on both sides, and I can understand what the magazines will want.
And I was then moving much more into consulting for companies and bringing that teaching background. So I've always wanted to do teaching.
Lisa Ryan: Okay. And how did your early experience in production control help you in your career?
Julia Goldstein: Yes. That was a job I got right out of high school. It was the company my dad worked for, so I had an in, it's who you know. But the following summer, they hired me back with a raise. So that was on me because of what I did. When I first became an engineer, I sometimes worked with the people in production control, and I understood their frustrations.
I understood that they had to do something on the back end when we would change something about a design. And so, it's helpful to work in different areas of the business and to understand what it looks like for people sitting in some of those other places in a company.
Lisa Ryan: And it's also where you are focusing right now on sustainability, which is huge for all industries, particularly in manufacturing. So talk a little bit about that. What you got, what got you interested in it, and why is it important for manufacturers to pay attention to?
Julia Goldstein: Thanks. I am a materials geek. Since I decided to pursue graduate education in material science, I have become fascinated with all these amazing materials that engineers could invent. You could tailor materials to have these particular properties. I became more concerned about these fascinating materials' health and environmental impact. It coalesced around when I decided to write my first book in early 2017. I said I wanted to be about materials because that's my interest, and I also want to make materials better. How are these materials? People don't; many people are not aware of it. Where plastics and metals come from. More people are right now. People know, Oh, plastics come from fossil fuels.
But I thought even five years ago, people had no idea, and I wanted to bring that in. So the more research I did, the more people I talked to in developing that book, the more I became convinced that it was truly the way forward. And I remember thinking that 2018 is the right time to bring forth this message.
And it was almost too early because not many companies were willing to listen to it. And today, they are. And companies of all sorts can improve their sustainability. For example, if you have office buildings, you can think about whether you are keeping the lights on. Do you have reusable coffee mugs instead of disposable ones?
That's nice. The companies making products have a long supply chain and must deal with all the energy and resources used to make these products, package them and ship them around the world. So we need all sorts of manufacturers to think about how they can improve what they're doing to use fewer resources, serve energy, and not produce as many greenhouse gases.
Lisa Ryan: What do you find are the biggest reasons why manufacturers are going into this kicking and screaming? Why don't they? Why are they fighting sustainability in some of those cases still?
Julia Goldstein: I think a lot of them, they still seem to think of it as something that's going to cost them more money today depending on where they are in, say, the supply chain, right? Who's buying from them? Who are they selling to? Their customers may or may need to prioritize this. What they may be hearing from customers is, we need performance, we need cost, we need fast delivery. So, therefore, that's what they're going to prioritize, and they're looking at those short-term, quarterly earnings and keeping those customers happy. What they are often not thinking about as much is the long-term repercussions, the long-term problems in that eventually those customers may say, Oh, we need you to show us your greenhouse gas emissions. What are you doing about being environmentally responsible? Are you polluting our waterways in our cities?
And if so, we don't want to do business with you anymore. So, it's more of a long tailpiece of things. It requires longer-term thinking, and it's. There's also a psychology that says if I have an immediate problem that I need to solve in the next hour, the next week, or this quarter, that will demand my attention. If I have an issue where I don't do things right, I will have problems in two or five, or ten years. So it's harder to feel the urgency.
Lisa Ryan: And so when it comes to the costs involved, because there are some, but what are some simple things that manufacturers can do to get started?
Julia Goldstein: It's about looking at what you are doing now. It's that audit of your processes, your supplies of your suppliers. It's looking for; there may be opportunities where you can save resources. So we can save here by investing a little bit there. And a simple example is stuff like changing out lighting. There will be a capital expense to change to more energy efficient. But it will pay off. It's good to involve employees throughout the company.
Those on the manufacturing floor making the products may see opportunities to reduce waste. Sometimes consultants can come in and give a solution that would seem almost simple and obvious and will reduce scrap. It will help efficiency, and they just haven't thought about it because they're used to it. This is just how we do things.
We have this process, this stuff goes over here, and then it gets shipped out of the building. And I don't know what happens to it, but if the employees ask those questions, what happens to it? And how much scrap are we creating, and how can we do it? And empower all the employees to have a say based on what they are seeing and experiencing so that they can make suggestions.
Lisa Ryan: A lot of times in workplace culture, it's creating a safe environment, to begin with, where employees trust management, not only trust management, but they like them well enough to give them ideas that can save them money and make more profits and all that. So again, when we're looking at starting that very process, if management doesn't have the best relationship with their employees or they are going to try this time, what baby steps could they take to get started with that?
Julia Goldstein: The top management needs to decide that they want to make those changes and admit where the communication might be breaking. One option, and again, depends on the company's size. Say you've got a company with 500 employees and have a town hall where the C-suite is giving a presentation saying, here's where we stand.
Here is what we want to do. We want to become more environmentally responsible. We know that we need to do something. We want to listen to you and take questions without dismissing them to make it. Okay. We are going to listen. And how are employees going to know? Okay, they said it before, but they're not going to listen.
Something needs to change in terms of the set where yes, they are going to listen. They're going to let people know that they heard them. People want to feel heard. They want to think that they can bring something up without being dismissed. They feel like they might lose their job if they complain and say, this isn't working right, because that's a real fear, and sometimes employees might remain.
Because they don't want to be the whistleblower, and if you can create a safe environment within the company where employees know, who should they talk to and what can they say? And hopefully, they can be open about what's going on.
Lisa Ryan: It reminds me of a couple of years ago. I was speaking at a conference, and they had chosen, I believe it was 4-Water for their, to make people aware of environmental impact, where they showed those guys, those two guys who started surfing. It was supposed to be this beautiful area in the world and wholly cluttered with plastic.
So they started this whole movement. I had never heard of it; I had never had any exposure. So, there's something to that of making it compelling and interesting and allowing employees to understand the impact we humans have on the planet. And like you just said, reinforcing that with the company mission that comes from upper leadership and that employee.
They are open to their feedback and ideas because those employees know their job and understand what they're exposed to more probably than the C-Suite does.
Julia Goldstein: Yes. And they might learn about something that affects employee safety. There's usually a great mechanism for that. They can work with EHS and say, Okay, we'd better get some better protective gear or better filtration or something like that to make a safer workplace. They can also bring in an environmental benefit by asking if we handle hazardous waste better. Not only are the employees safer, but that's a less hazardous waste to deal with and determine how to dispose of and pay costs.
And suppose you need to pay the cost of your accidentally releasing something. In that case, there are severe consequences to that for the community that often, I don't know, companies don't always think about that, but I think it's also important to go in with an understanding that yes, you can't just easily and quickly solve all these problems.
Lisa Ryan: And that allows the employees to feel a part of a bigger mission too. This is the difference. This is the amount of waste we save from going into landfills because of your efforts. This is what happened. Going to the airport and one of the things I look for when I'm filling up my water bottle is I want to see how the water bottles were saved.
I want to see that. And it's just these little things that I know. And then my online thrift store, thread up that will show how much my purchase, how many gallons of water it's saved because I'm using, what I say is ops other or OPC other people's clothing. But it's just these little things that employees look for, and they can feel better just by knowing these little differences that they are making and the bigger difference that they're part of an organization that's now making too.
Julia Goldstein: Absolutely. And to start those kinds of initiatives before. Okay. We're going to shout out to the world that we've saved this many gallons of water; having those metrics within the work is great. Because, as you said, that tracker that says, How many plastic bottles has this device saved? Okay, let's see what we can do. And that some of what gets measured is what matters. If all the company measures are quarterly revenue, then that matters. And if it costs 10% more per part to change something out, there's going to be that, Oh, no, that can't happen.
But it can make sense if what's being measured is more than the revenue piece. And there are all kinds of different ways. So, for example, if something supplies cost more, there are various ways to work around that and figure out how to absorb those costs.
Lisa Ryan: So, do you have examples of companies that you had worked with as far as a before and after or some of the things that they did to put together a successful sustainability project?
Julia Goldstein: Some of the examples that I have seen are where, They offer a challenge for employees to come up with ideas that can help with, and some of them are for environmental, some of them also might be social issues. They might be dealing with DEI in the workplace, so they can. There's sometimes overlap because one of the essential pieces is employee retention.
And attract. More employees, especially the younger employees, right? The new graduates are getting jobs or want to make a difference. So by including them and saying, Okay, we're going to have this challenge, and we're going to give feedback to everybody who responds to let them know we heard your idea if they can't implement it or not, to let the employees know why.
Lisa Ryan: Yeah, it reminds me of, I worked with a golf course several years ago, and they would pay $5 for every idea. They didn't care what the idea was. So if the employee had an idea as far as how to make money or save money, like one thing in the snack shop, the employee thought that they should use the over-ripe bananas in banana splits so that they could cover them with whipped cream and people wouldn't know that they were over rip. So they got five bucks, then at the end of the year, they would pick the best idea, and that person would win like $250 or whatever. But it was such an easy idea. It made the company tens of thousands of dollars in those $5 increments.
So it's not like you have to shell out money, but if you are having fun with it, not taking yourself so seriously that hey, and then I had another client. What they did is they would have on a whiteboard in the office, they would have what you wanted on one side and what we did. So when it comes to integrating those two of getting the ideas from the employees. And, as you said, you can only act on some of the ideas out there. But if you let the employees know that they're being heard, you reward them for their efforts, having some fun with it along the way, it's tough, and the employees see that they're being recognized for those things. So that can make a massive difference in the culture again.
Julia Goldstein: Yes. I'm starting up a new program, an assessment about where companies find out how well they're communicating their sustainability initiatives and strategies, and policies throughout the company where there's a questionnaire for employees to answer.
There are individual interviews where employees can use one on one share what's going well and what isn't. What do they care? And say, Okay, are there disconnects? Are there mismatches, or are there areas where the company is doing well, and they should celebrate? Because on a scale of one to five, a four is fantastic.
Many companies have yet to arrive. Five is the best. And do you want to get to five? Here are some ideas. And again, and if they're scoring, that's maybe a message. There are some quick wins to just something as simple as that town hall, which might be new for the employees.
We had no idea that our company wanted to do this, and we appreciate it.
Lisa Ryan: Yeah. And going into that town hall meeting with only a thank you for sharing. But, yes, as I've seen this. I just had an audience member last week that was doing stay interviews. He decided that he had heard about them and thought he'd start it.
But unfortunately, when employees were giving him honest feedback, he fought with them. He tried to justify it, and he admitted in front of a room full of people that he messed up because it should just be, Thank you for sharing, even knowing that some employees are going to use it as an opportunity to vent. There could be a seed of something, an idea you can use going forward. So, no matter what employees say, remember that. Thank you for sharing.
Julia Goldstein: Absolutely. It can be a tough thing for all of us to be able to take criticism without getting defensive.
Lisa Ryan: Exactly. You have your newest book out, Beyond the Green Team. So what are some of the main takeaways that you cover when it comes to sustainability?
Julia Goldstein: It is primarily about communication, and the book is aimed at manufacturing companies. We discussed earlier why manufacturers are the key to making a difference here. So there's a chapter that's about that internal communication piece; why it's crucial and critical to start within your company, and then moving to the external communication because the marketing team is already talking about what you're doing, what the products are, this initiative, that initiative, what are they saying about sustainability?
Is there a reason to pause and rethink what you're doing inside? Then make sure that your outside messaging matches. It is a very tricky thing to do. Also, talk about the issue of greenwashing, which has become more of a buzzword. I don't know if you're hearing it where you sit, but what is it?
What does that mean? So greenwashing is where a company will brag about its green credential, saying, we are saving the planet because we are packaging your product in a cardboard box instead of a whole bunch of plastic. But it needs to tell the story about some of the other things the company is doing to the detriment of that. So it's overselling those green credentials. Ooh, we better talk about being green and sustainable and eco-friendly. Or here's our new eco-friendly product, and all the details about that and what's behind the scenes is that's five or 10% of their portfolio. What's going on with the other 90%?
The trick is to be honest about it. But not open it up so that people say, " Oh, 90% of your products are terrible for the environment. Oh goodness, that's awful. So it's a tricky mix in terms of figuring out what to say when, and again, humility, that being able to admit if you had a misstep in that area without getting defensive, is going to be a critical path forward.
Lisa Ryan: So, as we're getting to the end...