Sustainable Manufacturing: A Close Look at Key Strategies

Strategies For Advancing Sustainable Manufacturing Initiatives

Original article by Jane Marsh
Revised and updated by Brett Stadelmann

In the quest for a more sustainable future, there’s a noticeable momentum towards making sustainable manufacturing the standard rather than the exception. This collective effort not only enables product makers to operate more responsibly but also empowers consumers to make planet-conscious choices with their purchasing power.

Embracing sustainable manufacturing practices necessitates dedication, investment, and commitment from individuals at all levels of a company. Fortunately, there are numerous strategies for manufacturers to adopt sustainability, creating long-term and distinguishable changes across the industry.

For example, 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.

Here are actionable steps that conscious consumers can take to advocate for sustainability and encourage manufacturing representatives to prioritize eco-friendly practices:

Acknowledge and Celebrate Energy-Saving Initiatives

An energy audit involves a comprehensive evaluation of a facility’s energy consumption and potential avenues for reducing power usage. Typically conducted by third-party service providers, these assessments often reveal surprising and previously overlooked methods to cut energy costs and usage. Some audits extend beyond energy to assess other resources like water usage.

The U.S. Department of Energy trains individuals as “energy detectives” at its Industrial Assessment Centers (IACs). Monica Heng, an engineering student at Oregon State University, participated in one such audit at Deschutes Brewery. Heng and her team identified potential cost savings of nearly $250,000, coupled with a 41% reduction in utility expenses.

Manufacturers frequently employ Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to monitor the effectiveness of energy-related changes over time. These connected devices provide insights into energy usage patterns, highlighting areas of high consumption and identifying power-intensive operations.

Additionally, company leaders can promote ongoing energy conservation efforts by communicating updates through blogs or dedicated website hubs. While sustainable initiatives may not yield immediate results, they are generally worthwhile in the long run. Offering positive feedback to manufacturers whose energy-saving strategies stand out can further encourage their commitment to sustainability.

Understand the Effects of Thoughtful Product or Packaging Alterations

You’ve likely observed manufacturers implementing sustainable changes, such as transitioning to plastic-free packaging or enhancing product recyclability. By consciously selecting and purchasing items or packaging designed with sustainability in mind, you contribute to societal progress towards a sustainable manufacturing future.

While many car manufacturers prioritize electric vehicles for their significant energy savings and reduced carbon emissions, there are additional avenues for creating greener automobiles. Opting for lighter materials can decrease fuel consumption and environmental impact.

Another example, PUMA renowned for its athletic shoes, illustrates this principle of implementing sustainable changes. Upon reviewing the company’s shoebox design, representatives identified excessive cardboard usage. By refining the design to be more sustainable, PUMA saved 33,600 trees while maintaining container durability.

Furthermore, PUMA’s boxes now consist of over 95% recycled cardboard by weight, showcasing how minor adjustments can yield significant improvements in manufacturing sustainability. Although these changes may not be immediately apparent to consumers, they undeniably contribute to environmental conservation efforts.

Focus on Domestic and Localized Production When Possible

Reducing the environmental footprint associated with production and distribution begins with prioritizing domestic and localized manufacturing processes. By favoring products made closer to home, consumers can minimize carbon emissions resulting from transportation. Supporting local businesses not only strengthens communities but also fosters a deeper connection between consumers and products. Emphasizing the importance of proximity in manufacturing encourages manufacturers to explore sustainable production options within their localities.

Focus on Innovative Brands and Products

It requires courage and leadership for decision-makers to invest resources in sustainable manufacturing practices. While globally, consumers increasingly prefer sustainably made products, profitability may not be immediate for manufacturers. Despite a potential market, focusing on sustainability from the start can pose challenges.

However, as awareness grows around sustainable manufacturing increases, gaining traction becomes easier for these entities. It’s essential to note that sustainability takes various forms. For example, Fairphone, a smartphone manufacturer based in The Netherlands, offers devices crafted from recycled and responsibly sourced materials. The company made €2 million in profit in 2020 and provides spare parts, empowering users to conduct in-home repairs.

In another instance, surfing icon and 11-time world champion Kelly Slater founded Endorfins, specializing in sustainable surfboard fins. These fins boast a recyclable core material, featuring a screw-in design that reduces the risk of loss and potential marine-life hazards.

The internet facilitates the discovery of eco-friendly alternatives to beloved products. Thus, even in small towns, consumers can access and advocate for such innovations. While sustainable products may come at a higher cost initially, their popularity can drive down prices over time.

Embrace Imperfect Products & Promote Circular Economy Practices

Manufacturers implement rigorous quality control procedures to meet customer expectations and ensure overall satisfaction. While some examinations uncover genuinely hazardous flaws necessitating product disposal, many imperfections are purely visual and pose no safety concerns.

Supporting brands that sell or utilize imperfect items promotes lean manufacturing management. For instance, Dash Water offers sparkling beverages flavored with produce that may have deformed during processing or grown naturally in unconventional shapes. Similarly, Floyd, a furniture manufacturer specializing in tables to beds, introduced its Full Cycle marketplace. Here, consumers can save up to 50% by accepting pieces with minor imperfections, some of which were evident during manufacturing or resulted from refurbished returned items.

Traditionally, consumers have sought products with flawless appearances. However, this mindset contributes to unnecessary waste. Embracing imperfect items supports sustainability efforts and may even lead to cost savings.

You Can Encourage Sustainable Manufacturing

While the journey towards sustainable manufacturing requires collective action, conscious consumers play a crucial role in driving positive change. By advocating for sustainability, supporting eco-friendly brands, and embracing imperfect products, consumers can encourage manufacturers to prioritize sustainability in their operations. Together, let us continue to champion sustainable manufacturing practices and pave the way towards a greener future for generations to come.

Sustainable Manufacturing: greenery used in a factory