Top Five Environmental Sustainability Trends in Manufacturing

by Brittany Willes, editor
Plastics Decorating

More than 30% of the world’s global energy consumption is attributed to manufacturing industries. In a world that is becoming increasingly concerned with matters pertaining to environmental protections and sustainability, many manufacturers are taking the initiative to develop more sustainable processes. The following are just a few examples of technologies and best practices being adopted by manufactures worldwide as a means of generating greater environmental sustainability in manufacturing.

1. Investing in energy-efficient machinery
As more and more customers and companies embrace green initiatives, finding machinery that is powerful, high-quality and energy-efficient is easier than ever. While making the switch to energy-efficient machinery can be a costly investment at first, there is no denying that the long-term benefits outweigh the immediate costs. That’s not to say that manufacturers must, or even should, immediately throw out their old machines. Replacing older machinery as needed with more environmentally stable machines over time is a reasonable compromise and will help cut down on unnecessary waste.

2. Energy management systems
Manufacturing industries are one of the biggest consumers of electric energy. As such, along with reducing energy costs and CO2 emissions, manufacturing systems themselves are experiencing an overhaul in favor of greater sustainability. Manufacturers have begun adopting factory energy management systems (FEMS) as a means of establishing energy conservation frameworks as a way to reduce energy consumption.

Along with investing in more environmentally friendly machinery, switching to more energy-efficient operating systems is a popular option, both for companies looking to update old systems and those looking to cut down on their carbon footprint.

3. Facility design
For manufacturers who are designing new (or redesigning existing) facilities, there are several steps that can be taken to create a more sustainable facility. For instance, sourcing building/construction materials locally. This allows for less energy and resources to be used while utilizing the most cost-efficient and easily obtained materials. Another growing trend is for facilities to incorporate on-site water filtration systems, which allows for reusing water rather than relying on municipally supplied potable water or on-site wells. On-site filtration systems also reduce the need to exert energy to pump groundwater. Still other facilities are coming up with systems where rainwater is used in bathrooms and for irrigation.

4. Use natural lighting
Use of natural lighting has grown increasingly popular for use in offices, schools and other environments but remains underutilized in manufacturing facilities. This is unfortunate given that natural lighting is free, clean and proven to create more pleasant working environments while increasing employee productivity. While it’s not always possible (or practical) to modify facilities for increased natural lighting, those who have made such changes have reaped the benefits including increased energy savings, decreased employee absenteeism and increased productivity, decreased operating expenses and higher overall return on investment.

5. Waste and scrap reduction
Many are at least familiar with the phrase lean manufacturing – a concept based on cycles of continuous improvement. A large part of lean manufacturing involves the reduction of scrap and waste materials. Many companies have taken to developing comprehensive action plans that allow for identifying ways to reduce waste at its source, including simple steps such as reusing packaging materials, repurposing items/materials when possible and converting scraps into new products. Through documenting the manufacturing process, monitoring how individual products are made – and, therefore, where the most waste is occurring – and making improvements to the manufacturing procedure, manufacturers are able to take steps to cut down on unnecessary waste while also improving their processes.

These are just a few ways manufacturers can improve sustainability. While it can seem like a daunting challenge, those who undertake the challenge to improve their facilities and processes to will find the ROI well worth the effort.