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Sustainability in manufacturing is gaining traction and the companies that are engaging in eco-friendly or green practices are becoming more efficient, driving down expenses, differentiating from their competitors and positioning themselves to get ahead of legislation.  Customers and employees are driving the acceleration of this sustainable business trend. A study by Nielson (2018) found that 87% of consumers would purchase from a company based on CSR issues and 76% say they would boycott one that didn’t meet standards. Another study found that 66% of consumers are even willing to pay more for a sustainable product. These numbers have increased in recent years and the trend is expected to continue.

Sustainable Manufacturing

According to the EPA, sustainable manufacturing is the creation of manufactured products through economically-sound processes that minimize negative environmental impacts while conserving energy and natural resources.  In other words, make stuff without hurting the planet and its inhabitants. Historically, this has not been the case and the government has been forced to regulate companies to limit the pollution and damage manufacturers often cause. Given that manufacturing is receiving increased scrutiny from customers, employees and partners, due to the nature of their business, it is even more vital today for manufacturers to implement sustainable initiatives.

One might not immediately associate business improvement with sustainability in the manufacturing industry but surprisingly, these businesses are arguably in the best position to capitalize on the benefits associated with sustainable operations and policies. Looking at a vast manufacturing operation for opportunity can be daunting for those just beginning their green journey.  Here are some easy first steps to make a significant impact and quickly enjoy the returns associated with sustainable manufacturing.

Engage Employees

One incredibly valuable first step that should not be overlooked is to start off by promoting a culture of sustainability with your employees as it  can make the difference between a company that truly embodies sustainability to one that struggles to meet its set goals. The following is a link to a blog written by a GBB Platinum Member (Great Green Content) about how to get started promoting a culture of sustainability within your company. One of the most valuable initial steps should be to use a kickoff meeting to announce the companies focus on sustainability, new targets and education on the how and why behind the decisions. You will want to clearly define your company’s sustainability plan and the goals that the company expects to reach within a 1 year period. It can be wise to break this annual target into quarterly targets and offer current statistics in a publicly displayed place for the employees to track their progress. Incentives/awards go along way to showcase a companies commitment to these initiatives and reinforce employee dedication. If feasible, the formation of a Green Team within your companies ranks consisting of individuals who already value these sustainability principles can be extremely beneficial as they will focus efforts and perhaps recognize new opportunities to improve. Here is a quick guide on starting your own green team.

Use Less Energy

One of the most important and valuable things a manufacturer can do is to conduct an energy audit. The goal of this is to take into account how energy is used across your entire operation, specifically to identify areas of deficiency and ensure that they are improved. This can be conducted however in depth you wish it to be and can range from a personal walkthrough to hiring an experienced energy professional for an investment grade assessment. The following link from the Carbon Trust provides a comprehensive guide to conducting your own audit and steps to follow if you wanted to achieve investment grade quality energy audit on your own. Another vital reason that this should be your first step towards energy reduction is that it will provide your company with a benchmark from which you can track your progress and recognize when goals have been achieved. This can be important not only for realizing ROI but also for ensuring continual employee engagement when tracked and displayed properly.

Use More Efficient Lighting

A simple step to drastically improve your energy usage is to replace all outdated incandescent bulbs in your buildings with new longer lasting and high efficiency CFL/LED bulbs. The following article highlights the benefits of the various forms of lighting and how best to implement the new lighting systems within your operations. One primary advantage to making this switch is that they are drastically more efficient than the old style and can save you upwards of 20% on your electricity bill. In addition to this, their longer lifespan (25 times longer in some cases) means that you won’t be spending money on purchasing new ones, occupying storage space with replacements or wasting productivity by installing new bulbs which further drives your ROI. You can further these savings by installing motion sensors for the lights in lesser used areas to decrease the time that energy is being used to light a space that isn’t being occupied.

Upgrade Insulation

Upgrading insulation can be another energy saver that has a significant impact on energy usage. Keeping cool or hot air in to ensure your HVAC units are not overworking will not only decrease energy usage drastically but also significantly increase the longevity of your HVAC units due to decrease in usage. Proper maintenance combined with a programmable thermostat and you have the makings of an efficient HVAC operation that will certainly show its worth on your next energy bill.

Minimize Waste

Aside from reducing overall energy usage, what a company does to minimize or recycle its waste can really define how sustainable their manufacturing operation is. What specific actions a company can take to reduce their waste will vary as each operation will be different but the underlying themes still remain a constant. One of the biggest improvements that can be made is developing a proper recycling program for your company. This could take form In the shape of a multi-stream approach or more simple single stream. The following link takes a closer look at the pros and cons of both forms of recycling so that you can decide what works best in your area. While a touch more involved initially, multi-stream recycling will yield a more effective program with less contamination. Furthermore, some companies are developing innovative ways to turn their waste and extra materials into new revenue streams. The following link shows an example of how GM has created over 1 billion in new revenue simply reevaluating their waste/byproduct.  It is possible that after making all efforts to reuse your own extra material you could find that a different company that would be willing to buy it as an input material for their manufacturing processes. This concept is known as closed loop manufacturing or CLM and is an ideal goal for a sustainable manufacturer.

A very easy solution you can implement to green your employee break rooms is to begin purchasing compostable or recyclable plates, cups, plastic ware, etc. There are many national or local suppliers that have the capabilities to supply all of your material needs for the entire business usually while still at competitive prices. One important aspect of a successful recycling program to not overlook is the level of employee engagement as they are the drivers for this initiative.

Further Greenification Ideas

There are dozens of other green initiatives manufacturers should consider.  We’ll cover many of them in future GBB blog articles and sustainability guides.  Topics will include alternative energy sources, electric equipment, forklifts, warehousing, logistical efficiencies, lean and sustainable supply chain management, green procurement, office supplies, air quality, cafeterias, and bathrooms. If you have anything specific regarding this topic or anything else you would like to see covered, please feel free to contact GBB and we’ll happily get an article out on the topic.

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