Sustainable Manufacturing: Is It Even Possible?

With our increasing awareness of the limits of the finite resources available on our planet, companies are looking for ways to implement sustainable business practices in nearly every industry from aviation to zoological facilities, but most particularly those relating to manufacturing. Aside from the obvious environmental benefits of integrating sustainability into their operations, companies are realizing financial benefits, as well. Because a large part of sustainable practices depends upon recycling existing materials to give them new life in commercial, agricultural, residential, and industrial sectors, the exhaustion of natural resources and fossil fuels is greatly reduced.

What is sustainable manufacturing?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines sustainable manufacturing as "the creation of manufactured products through environmentally-sound processes that minimize negative environmental impacts while conserving energy and natural resources." The National Council for Advanced Manufacturing (NACFAM) adopts a similar definition while adding that sustainable manufacturing should employ processes that are "economically sound" for employees, consumers, and communities.
Sustainable manufacturing does not solely encompass the processes and operations in use by businesses in the manufacturing industry, however. It also includes the manufacture of sustainable products for use by other businesses and individual consumers. While sustainable processes include aspects of manufacturing such as their choice in supply chain partners and integrating energy-efficient equipment, sustainable products would include items created from renewable resources, recycled components, and reduced amounts of raw materials.

Why is sustainable manufacturing (or any other type of industry) important?

Achieving sustainability in manufacturing is important because that particular sector draws from the planet's natural (renewable and nonrenewable) resources and fossil fuels more than any other. Manufacturing includes such types of business as metal, mineral, and ore subterranean mining, deep sea drilling and exploration, and surface (strip) mining of forests and surface minerals. It also includes the production of an inexhaustible list of items from microscopic medical components to gargantuan industrial machinery.
Every day of our lives we use dozens, if not hundreds, of items for a variety of purposes that are the result of the manufacturing industry. Our constant use of products that are the result of manufacturing, and the industry's continual need for materials to create those products, has spawned the need for this sector to both become hyper-aware of its own sustainable practices and accomplish goals that are focused on sustainability.
By achieving a diminished dependence on natural resources, companies are able to spend less on mining, harvesting, and extracting those resources from the Earth, and the ability to achieve long-term continuity of their operations. This longevity is especially important in the manufacturing industry, because our modern world is able to remain a well-oiled functional machine largely due to the products of global manufacturing.

Is sustainable manufacturing possible?

Absolutely! Technological and industrial advances are being made every day, and innovations in manufacturing are enabling companies to do more with less and make better, more efficient use of what they have. Manufacturing equipment is becoming more energy efficient and creative ways of using residential and commercial waste, harnessing gases released from composting landfills, and turning more toward renewable and alternative resources are paving the way toward consistently sustainable practices and operations.
As with any shift in a way of doing business, sustainable manufacturing should start with a detailed plan that outlines goals for achieving sustainability. A thorough review of a company's existing operations can help determine what areas can benefit from a transition to more sustainable practices. It will also provide the company with a clearer understanding of how they will reap the financial, environmental, and operational advantages of sustainable business practices. Not just in manufacturing but in all types of industry, sustainable operating practices are the future of business.

Author Bio:
Nicole is a writer for the manufacturing industry, and has spent many years researching ways to improve the industry. In her opinion, Statewide Bearings offers some of the highest quality manufacturing materials she could find.

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