How Can We Work Towards Sustainable Manufacturing?

There’s a growing push towards making sustainable manufacturing the norm rather than the exception. Such efforts let product makers operate more responsibly, plus give consumers more opportunities to make planet-conscious choices with their money.

Committing to more-sustainable manufacturing methods requires time, money and dedication from people at all company levels. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for a manufacturer to embrace sustainability. By doing so, they encourage others to follow their lead, causing long-term, noticeable changes across the sector.

Here are some strategies you can try as a conscious consumer to tell manufacturing representatives you care about sustainability and want them to pursue it.

Sustainable Manufacturing Guide: an empty factory

By Jane Marsh

Praise Companies’ Energy-Saving Efforts

An energy audit is a detailed assessment that shows how a facility currently consumes energy and how it could reduce the power required. Because third-party service providers usually carry out these examinations, they tend to provide surprising and previously overlooked ways to cut energy costs and usage. Some audits are more extensive and span to other resources, such as water.

The U.S. Department of Energy trains “energy detectives” at its Industrial Assessment Centers (IACs). Monica Heng is one such person who had that role as an engineering student at Oregon State University. She recalled doing an energy audit at Deschutes Brewery. Heng and her team members uncovered potential cost savings nearing $250,000, along with a 41% reduction in utility costs.

Manufacturers also frequently use Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to verify that energy-related changes have the desired effects over time. Those connected devices can unlock insights about which machines use the most energy in a given day or whether certain shifts at a manufacturing plant are especially power-intensive.

Company leaders can also keep the public updated about ongoing energy conservation efforts, such as by publishing content in a blog or dedicated website hub. Most people realize that sustainable efforts don’t often have immediate results, but they’re usually worth it in the end. If a manufacturer’s energy-saving strategy catches your eye, give them positive feedback.

Understand the Effects of Thoughtful Product or Packaging Alterations

You’ve almost certainly seen the evidence of manufacturers making sustainable changes. That might mean changing to a plastic-free package or making a product easier to recycle once it reaches its end of life. You can help society progress towards a sustainable manufacturing future by seeking out and buying products or packaging designed from a sustainable perspective.

Many car manufacturers prioritize electric vehicles in their plans. That’s crucial, especially since statistics show the associated energy savings cause an approximate halving of the vehicle’s lifetime carbon emissions. However, there are other ways to design greener cars. One option is to choose lighter materials for them, making the automobiles consume less fuel.

One recent real-life example comes from PUMA, the brand known for athletic shoes. Representatives scrutinized the company’s shoebox design and realized it used too much cardboard. Tweaking it in favor of something more sustainable saved 33,600 trees while making the container lighter but still sturdy.

Another notable change is that the boxes are made from more than 95% recycled cardboard by weight. The PUMA team showed how seemingly minor adjustments could have major impacts on manufacturing sustainability. The boxes may not feel any different to you, but they’re undoubtedly helping the planet.

Focus on Domestic and Localized Production When Possible

Products usually become less sustainable when their production and distribution require more miles traveled. If a manufacturer gets raw materials from one continent, produces the merchandise on another, then sends it to a different country where people buy it, that’s not a very sustainable process, even if the item itself is Earth and resource-conscious.

Many manufacturers rely on overseas manufacturing. They commonly find it gives them less expensive labor and raw goods rates.

However, making changes so that more production activity happens domestically can be a practical path towards improved sustainability. For example, ocean shipping is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Making more products closer to home can be better for the planet, plus enable manufacturers to save on delivery costs.

Relatedly, it’s often easier for consumers to connect with products made in the same country, city or even town where they reside. Suppose a person buys a handcrafted rocking chair from a carpenter located within 25 miles of their home. In that case, they may have the chance to talk with the maker about their process or even visit the manufacturing site to pick out a preferred model.

Look for ways to buy products produced close to where you live whenever possible. That planet-friendly choice could mean you get the items faster, too.

Sustainable Manufacturing: greenery used in a factory

Give Attention to Pioneering Brands and Products

It takes guts and leadership for decision-makers to put resources into sustainable manufacturing. Although people worldwide frequently choose sustainably made products when possible, those items are not always immediately profitable for the makers. There may be a market for something, but is it large enough to go against the grain by focusing on sustainability from the start?

However, as people become more aware of sustainable manufacturing leaders, it’ll be easier for those entities to gain traction. Bear in mind that sustainability comes in many forms, too. Fairphone is a smartphone maker based in The Netherlands that offers devices made from recycled and responsibly sourced materials. The company made €2 million in profit during 2020. It also sells spare parts, empowering device owners to do in-home repairs.

In another recent example, surfing veteran and 11-time world champion Kelly Slater launched Endorfins, a company specializing in sustainable surfboard fins. The board attachments feature a recyclable core material. They also float and have a screw-in design that makes them difficult to lose. Then it’s less likely a lost or broken fin would end up on the ocean floor, causing a marine-life hazard.

The internet makes it easier for consumers to find eco-friendly versions of the products they love. So, even if you live in a small town, there’s a good chance you can purchase and spread the word about such creations. Sometimes, they’ll cost more. Sustainable products are not often the least expensive options, but the price should come down as their popularity rises.

Stop Avoiding Product Imperfections When Possible

Manufacturers have quality control processes that help maintain customer expectations and overall satisfaction. Sometimes, the associated examinations uncover genuinely dangerous flaws, requiring the makers to throw away the problematic products. However, many other cases exist where the items have minor visual defects but are otherwise safe to use.

Supporting brands that sell or use imperfect items is an excellent step that promotes sustainable manufacturing. For example, Dash Water makes sparkling beverages flavored with produce that got deformed during processing or naturally grew in unusual shapes.

Floyd, a furniture maker of products ranging from tables to beds, recently unveiled its Full Cycle marketplace. It’s a place where people can save up to 50% off by accepting pieces with minor imperfections. Some of those abnormalities became evident during manufacturing. In other cases, the products are returned items that the company refurbished before making them available again.

Many people learned through the decades to look for products that look perfect in every way. However, that practice causes unnecessary waste. Changing your habits supports sustainability and could cut costs.

You Can Encourage Manufacturing Sustainability

Manufacturing sustainability won’t happen through the actions of conscious consumers alone. However, these tips provide valuable inspiration for playing your part to increase the number of responsibly produced products in the marketplace.

Company leaders appreciate hearing from stakeholders. If they know you’ve recognized their sustainable actions and will keep supporting them financially and otherwise, they’ll feel more confident that sustainability in production is the way of the future.