As EPA rules change and sustainability becomes a bigger topic, manufacturing practices are changing. Much of that change is driven by governmental regulations, companies themselves, and end users. Also, a new generation of employees want to work for companies that are socially and environmentally responsible.
Before I go into what manufacturing can do to be more sustainable, let me define two terms that are often used interchangeably but mean different things to different people.
To me, green means efforts that reduce impact on the environment. An example would be using corrugated cardboard that can be recycled. Sustainability, on the other hand, means developing solutions to eliminate impact to the environment and society. An example would be using packaging materials like mushrooms or bamboo that are less impactful to the environment and fair-trade compliant.
Here are a few low-cost ideas that may be relatively simple for your manufacturing company to implement.
Let’s start with your roof. Consider collecting rainwater and melting snow for irrigation or to supplement your municipal water intake. It can be used untreated in your bathrooms and for washing certain equipment. If this is not a possibility, consider placing retention ponds and establishing wetland habitats around your facility. Also, consider the possibility of installing wind turbines or solar panels to generate electricity. If you have a roof that is stable enough, you might want to go as far as installing a green or living roof.
Installing sensors within your facility can be another relatively inexpensive solution. Sensors can be used to completely power down idle machines that otherwise continue to draw power. Temperature sensors can lower temperatures in unoccupied sections of the building or on days the plant is not operating. Other sensors can be used to turn off lights when no movement is sensed within the workspace. These sensors can save you money on energy costs and reduce the need for power generation. In addition, a solid preventative and predictive maintenanceprogram not only keeps your machines operating efficiently, but can save you money on energy costs. To help save money on cooling or heating your facility, ask your utility company to do a heat-loss analysis or rent a thermal imaging camera. In addition, use infrared cameras to check wiring panels and control boxes to see if you have hot spots, which could indicate connection problems. These can increase power draws or even cause a fire.
You might also be able to use some of your generated heat to sublimate heating or cooling areas of your building. This can have a great impact, as you are conserving energy and reducing costs at the same time.
If you truly want to become a more sustainable company, you need to commit to sustainability. This starts at the top of the company. Your C-suite needs to make sustainability a priority, not only during the manufacturing process, but in designing sustainable products and moving to a sustainable supply chain.
When developing new products, ask questions about what materials will be used, where the material will be sourced from, and how the materials will get to the facility. In addition, product life cycle should be a top priority. How long is the product expected to be used, and what will happen to the product after its useful life? Product life cycle management looks at the environmental and sustainable impact from product conception to the disposal or reclamation of the product after its useful life.
Consider selecting a sustainable material rather than one that isn’t—for instance, choose glass bottles over aluminum cans. Glass, unlike aluminum, can be recycled an almost unlimited number of times. Also, most bauxite, the principal ore for aluminum, is imported from abroad, adding long supply chains and increased energy for transportation. Glass, on the other hand, is made from sand, which can be locally sourced and manufactured in many cases, making it a more sustainable resource than aluminum. Also, the supply chain must be scrutinized to be fair-trade compliant.
ISO released the 26000 standard back in 2018. This social responsibility standard can be a great tool to help your business achieve sustainability. You can start certifying your business to the standard, showing your employees and customers that your company is a leader in sustainability.