Sustainable Manufacturing Must Balance Profitability, People And The Planet

By Richard Howells and Xuan-Yen To

Sustainability and environmental protection are becoming increasingly important to customers, shareholders, regulatory bodies and employees. This often manifests itself on company websites as part of a mission statement or corporate values where big commitments are being made when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, waste, and inequality across businesses and supply chains.

And no manufacturing company can claim to be sustainable without sustainable supply chain and manufacturing processes. These include socially responsible design practices, ethical sourcing, sustainable manufacturing and logistics practices, and safe maintenance and services. Let’s take a look at the critical building blocks of sustainable manufacturing.

What is Sustainable Manufacturing?

According to a report from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Sustainable manufacturing is the creation of manufactured products through economically-sound processes that minimize negative environmental impacts while conserving energy and natural resources. Sustainable manufacturing also enhances employee, community and product safety.”

When it comes to manufacturing plants and processes, we need to balance the economic need for profitability, the environmental needs of the planet and the health and safety needs of the people.

What are the building blocks of sustainable manufacturing processes?

It is often said that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” and this is particularly true in a manufacturing plant. It might sound obvious, but If you need to reduce carbon emissions and waste, you need to first capture a measurement of what is being emitted, and what is being wasted. Having sensors on equipment and measurement devices to capture this data is a fundamental building block.

Once we have the data, manufacturing leaders need the visibility to account for and manage climate-related emissions and waste across all facilities.

With deep visibility into manufacturing and supply chain data, you can more effectively minimize waste, cut emissions, and reduce your carbon footprint. And with sustainability processes built into the way you work, you can comply more effectively and meet the expectations of consumers, stakeholders, and regulatory authorities everywhere.

When rolling out a sustainable strategy, companies must also have buy-in and support from the entire workforce. This starts with respecting the workforce by providing a safe workspace, placing an emphasis on human rights, equality, and environmental health and safety.

Adhering to regulatory compliance

We are increasingly seeing regulations around sustainability coming into force around the world at regional, county or industry levels. These include:

These, and many more regulations will increase the need to ensure manufacturing operational compliance with regulatory mandates as well as corporate policies.

Sustainability is good for the bottom line and the green line

At the end of the day, sustainability is not just an environmental imperative, it’s a financial imperative and an opportunity. Sustainable manufacturing processes can have a positive impact on product quality, customer satisfaction, and the bottom line.

In most cases, sustainability is good for the planet and good for business, and many sustainability initiatives, in fact, are designed to increase efficiency and drive down cost:

  • Improved visibility across the manufacturing plants can help reduce emissions and increase efficiency
  • If you can reduce waste, you can reduce costs
  • Sustainability is good for your brand
  • Sustainable companies can help attract and retain customers, investors and employees

Aggressive zero-emission targets and environmental regulations must be met for a sustainable future. When it comes to sustainable manufacturing, significant change is demanded, and it requires bigger thinking – especially on the shop floor. Companies who are ready to embrace this change will have the chance to uncover new opportunities for innovation for their sustainable journey.

Download a new Supply Chain Digital whitepaper on how to enable sustainability across the end-to-end supply chain.