Sustainable manufacturing has been a hot topic in the global manufacturing space for several years now. In simplest terms, sustainability involves utilizing sound, ethical economic methods to manufacture goods that also minimize negative environmental impacts.
Sustainable manufacturing methods aim to conserve energy, preserve natural resources, and reduce generated waste. This type of manufacturing has also been known to enhance employee and community satisfaction as well as product safety.
The emphasis on protecting the planet has become more pronounced across many globalized industries. The change in these sectors has taken decades following the first Earth Day in 1970. Since then, more manufacturers have incorporated sustainable manufacturing into their operations and manifestos.
The world has its eye on climate change and carbon emissions. As a responsible contributor to the global business platform, it is essential to be conscientious about your company’s environmental awareness, not only in policy statements but in day-to-day manufacturing processes and materials.
The Three Pillars of Sustainable Manufacturing
Three primary areas overlap to precipitate sustainable manufacturing: environmental, social, and economic pillars:
The most public-facing pillar is environmental protection. It focuses on reducing carbon footprint, waste, water usage, and energy consumption. Environmental reductions must be significant enough for industries to directly affect the natural world, including sustainable connections to agriculture and mining.
The social aspect, or corporate social responsibility, comprises a business treating its employees well. It might also mean being a more proactive member of the local and/or global community it exists in. Companies should focus on the well-being and safety of their employees to encourage a beneficial impact on their immediate communities.
For a company to be successful, it must be profitable—that’s jut basic economics. However, profit does not necessarily need to come at the expense of environmental degradation, employee satisfaction, or exploitation of a community.
Sustainable manufacturing requires that a business is prosperous as part of its sustainability strategy, not despite it. There must be compliance, proper governance, and risk management, but there must also be a long-term commitment to align financial goals with sustainable practices.
Sustainable Manufacturing Is Good for Business
The trend of “going green” has moved beyond small businesses into many international corporations. Companies who have committed to it have seen:
- A rise in operational efficiency (by reducing costs and waste)
- A safer operating environment for employees
- A wider connection with potential customers
- Strengthened brand recognition and public trust
- The ability to conform to regulatory constraints
- Increased competitive advantage
These results are significant and make sustainable manufacturing appear highly cost-effective. Improvement in equipment and process efficiency also lowers your energy consumption. Reducing the amount of waste produced and using fewer materials also goes well with reducing your manufacturing time.
Cost savings benefit both companies and end-users, so it seems that sustainable manufacturing is indeed good for business.
Eco-friendly practices, materials, and efficient automated equipment provide a safer environment for workers and the community. Sustainable manufacturing also strengthens brand recognition and builds greater rapport with the public which can reap rewards for years to come.
An Efficient Paradigm Shift
Switching to a sustainable manufacturing mindset requires a fundamental change in how most businesses think about energy consumption and waste management.
This shift will provide long-term environmental benefits while reducing energy overheads and lowering waste disposal costs. Instead of annual energy and supply cost reviews, you should think about where your energy consumption is coming from and its use.
Real-time examinations of resource utilization should replace utilization comparisons year-on-year. As far as waste is concerned, it would be best to determine its cause and think about how to stop creating it. Reducing waste also alleviates worries about the costs and inconvenience of disposal.
Prevention and conservation are at the core of sustainability. If you need help, there are sustainability and environmental audits available. These tools point out where you can reduce waste, improve energy consumption, use less material, and save time.
7 Steps to Sustainable Manufacturing
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) outlines a seven-step process to achieving sustainable manufacturing. Depending on the size of your company, the timing of the process will vary.
Step 1: Map your impact and set priorities.
The first step to sustainable manufacturing is to bring together a team. These individuals should analyze where you currently are in relation to your desired aim. This step is vital for moving forward as you can see what you are already doing well and what needs to change to produce a more positive environmental impact.
Step 2: Select useful performance indicators.
Select the indicators for your facility to help you understand your data needs. It may not be the OECD’s 18 indicators, so think about what best represents your needs.
Step 3: Measure the inputs used in production.
Take a look at your raw materials and the intermediate products in your manufacturing process. What impact are these aspects having on your environmental performance? What could you change for environmental and economic alignment?
Step 4: Assess operations.
What steps do you take to turn your inputs into final products? This step looks at every aspect of your manufacturing process, including energy consumption and emissions from the entire process.
Step 5: Evaluate your products.
- What is the energy consumption of your end products?
- Are they recyclable?
- Does your operation contain hazardous material in your product creation?
- What is the overall environmental impact of your product during its use and disposal?
Step 6: Understand the results.
When you have gathered the critical data, you will need to use your indicators to improve your facility’s performance. If you aren’t sure, seek professional help in your niche or industry.
Step 7: Take action to improve performance.
Set a concrete action plan, create clear goals, and implement a realistic timeline. The more you delay, the less sustainable your operation will be in the next five to ten years.
Further Progress in Sustainable Manufacturing
Sustainable manufacturing does not stop at an action plan. Performance needs to improve continually to reduce your environmental footprint and other sustainability inhibitors.
Keep moving forward:
- Formalize sustainability as part of your company’s mission.
- Focus on how it increases your competitiveness and revenue.
- Innovate, analyze, and go beyond compliance.
- Embrace sustainability across all business functions long-term.
Once you embrace sustainable manufacturing and start to see improvement, follow-through is essential. Continue to make changes and provide better value for yourself, your employees, your community, and the environment.
Sustainability in global manufacturing keeps you competitive as others join the movement, but it is also the right thing to do.
The Federal Group USA & Sustainable Manufacturing
If you’re interested in sustainably producing a custom fabricated part or component, The Federal Group USA offers a number of sustainable metal fabrication options. As a leading contract manufacturer for more than 40 years, we utilize high-quality, sustainable materials and processes in our casting, machining, cutting, and stamping services. Contact us today for a free quote on your next project.