Stop on green

Stop on green

Robert Brooks

SA Baxter, which produces customized and specialty architectural hardware for doors, windows, and cabinetry, recently earned the praise of this country’s most influential newspaper for its “green” approach to investment casting. Baxter’s products are handsome and the reporting was complimentary, and after so many half-informed reports from this newspaper and others about the environmental and occupational standards of the metalcasting industry it was a nice surprise to find an operation they will endorse.

The basis for this turnabout? SA Baxter, and some other foundries, are earning the green label “because they use cleaner materials and new machines and processes that have sharply reduced toxic waste.”

That’s it? Melting lead-free alloys and recycling wastewater are the chief reasons the paper grants green status to SA Baxter, and while I have no doubt it is a first-rate operation this seems like a fairly simple standard for earning the coveted label. As Investment Casting Institute executive director Michael Perry notes within the report, “a lot of the things Baxter’s doing are already employed by many of our foundries.”

Across the country, by contrast, California’s Bay Area Air Quality Management District recently completed a yearlong air-monitoring program near Pacific Steel Casting — a much-harassed foundry in Berkeley. The state agency found that the local air quality meets federal and state standards.

Despite this conclusion, and despite its efforts and success at containing emissions with new capture equipment, Pacific Steel Casting for years has faced complaints, protests, and lawsuits by local residents and authorities who simply will not acknowledge that the controls are working. And, just as SA Baxter can claim to have earned mainstream press attention for its environmental progress, Pacific Steel Casting continues to combat misstatements and distortions in news reporting about its impact on the local environment. “Green,” apparently, is a matter of some perspective.

Claiming your operation, organization, or products are “green” can be highly marketable, in many cases fashionable, conceivably profitable, but the term is for the most part un-measurable. Thresher Industries announced recently it is “(reshaping) the future of ‘green’ casting” with a biodegradable core it has developed. Sounds good. But, what is green casting, and what isn’t?

There is, of course, the ISO 14001 standard for grading environmental management systems, i.e., efforts to reduce the impact of a business on its surroundings and to decrease the pollution and waste a business produces. But this doesn’t define the term that everyone seeks to attach to their enterprises.

There’s more at stake than labels. There is a rhetorical device at large in political and economic debates that urges us, as individuals and as a society, to encourage and develop “green” jobs. We must seek and adopt green building methods, green production standards, green living habits. Every good thing we hope for — purity, cleanliness, vitality, profitability — is green. If it’s all so good, why can’t anyone be clearer about what it is?

In our behalf, public officials conclude that we will invest in “green” energy. “Non-green” energy must be discouraged, even penalized. We’re pressed to make decisions on daunting proposals about taxation, regulation, and industrial policy that affect hundreds of millions of people, and much of it premised on this elusive ideal. We all want green. No one dares argue against it. And yet, no one can say what it is.

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