The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines sustainable manufacturing as the creation of products using economically-sound processes that minimize the negative environmental impacts while conserving energy and natural resources. Thanks to the increasing awareness, the government regulations, and the customer demand, manufacturers are embracing sustainable manufacturing practices to conserve natural resources and reduce the carbon footprint.
However, sustainable manufacturing is not merely about creating public trust, gaining a competitive edge, and complying with the local regulations. It is transforming the manufacturing domain by being a strategic pillar in the corporate ethos of organizations.
Here are six things every manufacturer should know about sustainable manufacturing, enabling them to improve their firm’s efficiency, reduce costs and industrial waste, and boost the bottom line.
1. Sustainable Manufacturing Starts with Product Design
The responsibility lies with manufacturers to design and manufacture products that have minimum impact on the environment. After they have served their purpose, products that are returned for recycling may either end up in the landfills or the oceans or can be used productively to reduce the carbon footprint.
Manufacturers adopting sustainable manufacturing practices must encourage their design team to address the technical and environmental aspects of resource use in the cycle of design, source, make, deliver, use, return, waste and disposal.
Here are a few things manufacturers must mull over when designing eco-friendly products.
- Select raw materials that can be easily recycled and mention it on the label. This will help in diverting waste from the landfill, reducing the carbon and methane emissions.
- Design products that are easy to break apart when recycled. For instance, avoid using screws, synthetic glues and adhesives, paints and varnishes, and plastics that make it challenging for recyclers to reuse the product components.
- Use eco-friendly material for packaging and share recycling instructions on the product label, enabling consumers to manage waste effectively.
2. Environmental Responsibility in the Supply Chain Is Gaining Significance
The supply chain accounts for nearly 5o to 70 percent of both the firms’ costs and the ensuing greenhouse emissions. Moreover, supply chain management in a manufacturing firm is highly fragile and complex with many suppliers involved in multiple tiers of the production process.
In this age of environmental whistle-blowing, it is critical that manufacturers select only those supply chain partners who use sustainable manufacturing practices. By collaborating with their suppliers to methodically audit, measure, and communicate the benefits of a more socially-responsible business, manufacturers can turn supply chain sustainability into a driver of competitive advantage.
Supply chain sustainability involves the development of a collaborative and cross-functional supply chain team, exploring new business models with suppliers, and developing sophisticated tools to measure the gains from the sustainable practices. An increasing number of organizations are realizing that a sustainable supply chain is no longer a nice-to-have option. It forms a critical aspect of a business, driving the profitability and strengthening its image as an eco-friendly organization.
3. Going Green and Adopting Sustainable Manufacturing Practices Are Not the Same Things
Although the terms, ‘going green’ and sustainability are used interchangeably, they are not the same things. The term ‘green’ is associated with a specific product or manufacturing process that is not harmful to the environment; whereas, sustainability is a holistic approach that takes into consideration the entire production process and the logistics. For instance, a company may claim that its products are green as they are made from recycled material. However, if the material is procured from an overseas supplier who uses environmentally-harmful manufacturing processes and means of transport, the product does not comply with the sustainability principles.
In the manufacturing domain, it is critical to focus on both ‘going green’ and sustainability. However, manufacturers must know that though these terms are related, they cannot be used interchangeably.
4. Sustainable Manufacturing Strengthens Company’s Reputation
Incorporating sustainable manufacturing processes into the operations goes a long way in boosting the organization’s reputation, building customer trust and improving the bottom-line. With the increasing noise level, customers are specifically looking for products that are produced using sustainable manufacturing processes.
Adopting these sustainable practices demonstrates that the organization is serious about conserving the natural resources, reducing its impact on the environment, and protecting the community as a whole.
5. Greenblushing Does Not Help
Greenblushing is when companies communicate too little about their environment-friendly manufacturing practices. Manufacturers must understand that neglecting to share their sustainability accomplishments, assuming that customers do not care about these efforts, and being fearful that these attempts will boomerang cannot help anyone.
Companies actively involved in sustainable practices must talk about it regularly, signaling to customers and employees that they are committed to the eco-friendly cause. They must use it as a marketing opportunity to gain a competitive edge, boosting the firms’ reputation and overall profitability.
6. Customers Can See through Greenwashing
Though customers must to be aware of the organization’s sustainability efforts, manufacturers need to appreciate the thin line that separates shameless self-promotion from sharing a brand-strengthening sustainability message. Thus, when it comes to creating awareness about an organization’s sustainable manufacturing efforts, the marketing communication should revolve around the societal impact of adopting these processes rather than focusing on ‘what we do.’
Additionally, customers can see through greenwashing (the opposite of greenblushing), the practice of making the misleading sustainability claims that are vague, irrelevant, void of proof, or outright false. This not only exposes the firm to potential civil legal action but also breeds feelings of mistrust amongst customers and other stakeholders.
Consequently, before jumping on the sustainability bandwagon, manufacturing firms should make sure they adhere to the marketing guidelines on making such claims.
Several organizations are incorporating the principles of sustainability in their manufacturing processes. Companies that have gone the sustainable way have experienced that environmental improvements go hand in hand with profit-making and improved competitiveness.
If you are looking at incorporating sustainability into your manufacturing operations, the above-mentioned points will help you get your environmental-friendly efforts on the right track.