Sustainable businesses must be aware of their impact in all areas of operation, including manufacturing. Even if you don’t manufacture your products yourself, sustainability in manufacturing is still an essential piece of your footprint. Decisionmakers need to be aware of their company’s manufacturers and where they stand in terms of sustainability.
So, what is sustainable manufacturing, and what can you do to ensure that your company employs sustainable manufacturing practices? Here’s our guide.
What Is Sustainable Manufacturing?
Sustainable manufacturing is the production of goods in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. Implementing sustainable manufacturing practices is about minimizing negative environmental impacts, reducing waste, conserving energy and natural resources, and promoting human rights and employee safety. It’s an essential part of sustainable business practices and green ecommerce.
Businesses serious about achieving their sustainability KPIs or earning green business certifications must develop sustainable manufacturing strategies to ensure that their products are produced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. Read our guide to ESG certification to see exactly what this entails.
Want to know where your business stands? Get your sustainability scorecard with our quiz:
Key Aspects Of Sustainable Manufacturing
Sustainable manufacturing practices must include all three factors of ESG (environmental, social, and governance). Experts have determined that there are six key aspects of sustainable manufacturing that take ESG factors into consideration. These aspects provide essential metrics to help your company and its suppliers design sustainable manufacturing processes.
- Environmental impact: Measures GHG emissions, water usage, energy consumption, use of renewable resources, etc.
- Personnel health: Measures use of chemicals in a plant or factory, dust level, noise level, health-related absence rate, etc.
- Operational safety: Measures injury rate, exposure to chemicals, etc.
- Waste management: Measures mass of disposed waste, reuse ratio, mass of disposed scraps, etc.
- Energy consumption: Measures the ratio of renewable energy, energy consumption for transportation, energy consumption for facilities, etc.
- Manufacturing cost: Measures labor cost, cost for energy use, indirect labor cost, etc.
From these metrics, your company and its suppliers can create sustainability targets to reduce environmental impact, improve employee welfare, and reduce operational costs.
Read more: Regenerative Sustainability
Challenges To Sustainable Manufacturing
The challenges of a sustainable production process are much the same as the challenges surrounding sustainability as a whole. A lack of standardization, financial accessibility (especially for medium and small businesses), reliance on fossil fuels, and ineffective monitoring systems are oft-cited issues surrounding sustainable manufacturing practices.
Let’s take a look at some of the top challenges and how they might be mitigated.
Lack of standardization
This is a common critique of global sustainability. Although international entities like UNEP attempt to create a standardized sustainability approach for companies and countries to follow, there’s no real uniformity in sustainability approaches. This poses an extra challenge when using overseas manufacturers that aren’t beholden to the same regulations as the country in which you operate. To avoid this issue, sustainable ecommerce companies can seek manufacturers that carry globally recognized and validated green certifications to ensure that they follow best practices.
Often, it’s initially less expensive to invest in a manufacturer that uses unsustainable production processes, especially those that keep labor costs low or use cheap materials, like non-recyclable plastic. This can sometimes make sustainable manufacturing unappealing to businesses that carry smaller budgets. But it’s important to keep in mind that although investing in sustainable manufacturing may cost more upfront, cost savings are often much higher overall. This is due to avoiding fines according to regulatory compliance, increased customer loyalty, improved efficiency, lower energy consumption rates, and more. Furthermore, customers are willing to pay more for sustainable products, so if you have to raise the price of your products to use sustainable manufacturing practices, it shouldn’t negatively impact your sales.
Reliance on fossil fuels
Although companies and manufacturers across the globe are working on reducing their carbon footprint as per the Paris Agreement, we still rely heavily upon fossil fuels. Unfortunately, we are not yet at the point where we can eliminate fossil fuels from production processes entirely. You can help alleviate this by employing manufacturers that use recycled materials as much as possible, carry net zero ambitions, and invest in renewable energy sources.
Ineffective monitoring systems
Poor monitoring systems make it difficult to ascertain whether or not a manufacturer is genuinely working toward its sustainability targets. Because there is a lack of global standardization, it can be challenging to design useful sustainability programs, and often, monitoring systems don’t paint an accurate picture of a manufacturer’s impact. You can avoid this by investing in manufacturers that use trusted frameworks to track and measure their impact.
Sustainable Manufacturing Best Practices
As an ecommerce company, your role in developing sustainable manufacturing processes will be investing in manufacturers whose best practices align with your sustainability targets. If you already have a manufacturer, you can work with them to help them achieve certain sustainability goals.
Here are some things you can look for and areas you can support to ensure that sustainable development and manufacturing best practices are upheld.
- Minimize fossil fuel consumption: Conduct regular energy audits to identify areas where energy consumption can be minimized, invest in renewable energy sources, and create energy-saving practices, like switching to energy-efficient light bulbs.
- Promote circularity: Use recycled materials as much as possible, collect and reuse scraps, invest in eco-friendly packaging, and create upcycled products.
- Be more efficient: Streamlining your logistics can significantly minimize negative environmental impacts. Improve delivery times and use technology to track and optimize your processes.
- Conduct regular safety training: Part of a sustainable production process is ensuring employee safety. Regular safety training ensures that employees are always aware of security measures, which will minimize the number of on-site incidents.
- Conduct regular health screenings: Another part of sustainable manufacturing is employee health. Conduct regular health screenings and consistently check for potential hazards, like chemical leaks.
- Consistently measure your environmental impact: Sustainable manufacturing is an ongoing process. Regularly measure your energy consumption, water usage, carbon footprint, and more to ensure that you are on track to achieve sustainability goals.
Read our guide to sustainability best practices in ecommerce.
Examples Of Sustainable Manufacturing
Implementing sustainable manufacturing practices isn’t a simple task. It can take years of gathering data, strategizing, and implementation before sustainability goals are achieved. Luckily, many manufacturers are already pioneering ESG strategies. Here are some examples of sustainable manufacturing to offer inspiration as you develop your own manufacturing sustainability initiatives.
Roma Food Products
Roma Food Products is an Australian-based organic, allergen-free food manufacturer creating products like gluten-free pasta, gluten-free flour, cereals, and more. Besides manufacturing plant-based foods, they are committed to sustainability in several other ways: they’ve built strong relationships with their employees and suppliers, they use locally sourced ingredients, they’re investing in renewable energy by switching to solar power, they’ve invested in technology to improve efficiency, and more.
Gairdin Gardening Tools
The Gairden gardening tools product line was developed specifically to be sustainable. All of their products are 100% recycled from post-consumer plastic and reused metals, and their products are designed for efficiency. For example, they offer a self-watering flower pot that reduces water use. They’ve implemented sustainability best practices at every level of the manufacturing and production process, exemplifying sustainable manufacturing perfectly.
Offering a good example of what it looks like to transition into sustainable manufacturing, Honda has developed their Green Path program, seeking a holistic sustainability approach. Through this program, they are working to reduce and eliminate substances of concern in their products, minimize their carbon footprint, work with their dealerships to reduce their impact, reduce energy consumption, and more.
How Businesses Can Complete A Sustainability Manufacturing Assessment
To create a sustainable manufacturing plan, you first need to conduct a sustainable manufacturing assessment. This can be done internally or by an external auditor. Either way, the process will look similar.
Here are some actionable steps to completing a sustainable manufacturing assessment.
- Assess your current impact. You must conduct a life cycle analysis and gather data surrounding your GHG emissions, manufacturing processes, energy consumption, water use, waste generation, employee safety, community welfare, and more.
- Identify areas of improvement. Ideally, you’d adopt a holistic approach to sustainability, but this isn’t always feasible. Focus on the areas that need the most improvement, and align your manufacturing goals with the larger sustainability goals of your company.
- Determine data collection processes. Once you know which areas you need to improve, you must develop strategies to collect data to measure your progress. This may include things like measuring the mass of your waste production, recording your injury rate, or quantifying carbon emissions.
- Measure your progress. As you collect your data, consistently measure and analyze your progress to ensure you are on track to hit your sustainability targets. If you start to fall behind, gather relevant stakeholders to strategize ways to get back on track.
- Continuously improve. Once you’ve hit your sustainability targets, it’s time to reassess and determine more ways to do better. Sustainability is a never ending journey, and there are always things that you can improve.
Sustainability assessments aren’t something that you have to do on your own. EcoCart offers plenty of tools to help companies and manufacturers analyze their impact and stay on track toward their sustainability goals. Check out our sustainability scorecard to help you ascertain where you currently stand, or ask us to complete a Life Cycle Analysis for you.
Sustainable manufacturing simply means that your products are produced in a way that aligns with ESG goals. Ensuring sustainable manufacturing processes will help your company remain compliant, build brand loyalty, reduce waste, minimize risks, and earn green business certifications, all of which are great for business.
EcoCart can be your partner in achieving your carbon emission goals. We offer tools like an emissions dashboard that shows your carbon footprint so that you can be aware of areas that can be improved.
Interested in learning more? Reach out to our team for a demo today.