Just In Time -- Daddy, Why Does Your Company Want To Hurt Everybody?

March 7, 2007
Thanks to a constant drumbeat of negative news, kids believe the darndest things about manufacturers these days.

Did you ever wonder why kids just don't seem to be interested in manufacturing jobs? Oh sure, we've all heard the reasons the pundits trot out to explain this lack of interest, that nobody wants to punch a clock and stand on their feet all day in a windowless and noisy factory, blah blah blah. I think there's a much more obvious reason why kids don't want to go into manufacturing -- it's because they think manufacturers are a bunch of crooks.

How can you blame them for having such a negative opinion of manufacturers, considering the type of news stories they're most likely to see, read or hear about manufacturing companies:

  • Food makers are getting rich by loading up their products with trans fats and other additives that make kids obese and lethargic.
  • Pharmaceutical companies are skirting FDA regulations so they can rush their dangerous drugs to market.
  • High-tech companies are reporting bogus component shortages to heighten interest in their products.
  • Companies are laying off thousands of American workers, and then turning around and hiring even more workers in low-cost countries to do the same jobs.
  • And of course, the biggest crooks of all are the oil companies and automakers, who are directly responsible for global warming, which we're told will eventually doom the entire planet.

This global warming business has me downright scared -- and it's not the melting of glaciers that scares me. No, what's frightening is how eagerly people are placing the blame for global warming squarely and entirely on the backs of manufacturers.

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See Chain Reactions: David Blanchard's blog about supply chain management.
According to one recent poll (conducted by The MindClick Group), "50% of U.S. consumers believe the oil, gas and automotive industries value profits over climate change implications." One comment from JoAnna Abrams, CEO of MindClick, sounds like a not-so-subtle threat directed at those industries: "Companies that choose to ignore environmental concerns can expect to find themselves at an economic disadvantage to those who embrace and effectively respond to it."

(I guess the good news for manufacturers might be a recent Reuters poll, which says that 13% of Americans have never even heard of global warming.)

In any event, I find it intriguing that the "cure" being pushed on manufacturing companies is not to simply stop making stuff, but instead to make stuff using "environmentally responsible" methods and materials. If global warming really is the dire threat it is being portrayed as, why does the blame for it fall only on manufacturers? While we keep hearing that consumers are holding manufacturers accountable for destroying the world's climate, none of the pollsters ever ask the question: "Are you willing to give up your flat-screen TVs, your iPods, your Blackberrys, your dishwashers, your air conditioners, your furnaces, your automobiles, your plane trips, or any of that other energy-gobbling stuff that contributes to global warming?" Instead, we get the usual, "Would you be more likely to buy a green product?" questions and the usual "Absolutely" answers.

I recognize the difficult position manufacturers are in right now, as they're compelled to overcome the "manufacturers are criminals" mindset by going green at every opportunity, and playing along with the "carbon emission offsets" game. To do otherwise would probably be economic suicide. Even so, every single "environmentally responsible" answer to global warming has a dollar sign attached to it, and an awful lot of people seem to be getting rich off of this imminent disaster. I suspect that if we follow the money, we'll discover that manufacturers aren't quite the bad guys our kids think they are.

David Blanchard is IW's editor-in-chief. He is based in Cleveland. Also see Chain Reactions: David Blanchard's new blog about supply chain management.

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