In recent years, sustainability has become a top priority for industrial businesses. This trend toward “green” and “eco-friendly” practices has been embraced by companies of varying sizes and industries with great success.
In fact, significant progress toward industrial sustainability has already been made. According to an Oxford Economics Report, a staggering 88% of industrial businesses are already prioritizing sustainability. And with Gen Z emerging as the “sustainability generation,” further progress seems inevitable.
However, while sustainability is becoming more of a priority for many industrial businesses, much work remains for a sustainable transformation. The remaining changes may seem daunting and unattainable, but a combination of regulatory mandates, consumer demand, and financial considerations are already accelerating this process.
What is Sustainable Manufacturing?
Before exploring its trends and underlying justification, it’s important to define sustainable manufacturing. While it is self-explanatory in some regards, there is a level of nuance that should be explicitly called out.
Sustainable manufacturing is defined by the EPA as “the creation of manufactured products through economically-sound processes that minimize negative environmental impacts while conserving energy and natural resources.”
However, sustainable manufacturing is about more than just the environment. In practice, it should also improve safety for employees, the products being produced, and the greater community. It follows that the implementation of sustainable manufacturing practices is crucial for a better future.
A fitting example is the sustainability policy for Eastman, an innovative global specialty materials company. Eastman has excelled at making sustainability a core part of their business strategy. In addition to addressing how they will help to mitigate climate change, they also prioritize how they will help to care for society through actions to promote gender parity and racial equity.
Why Pursue Sustainable Manufacturing?
In addition to promoting the health and safety of the environment, employees and products, there are a number of other reasons that sustainable manufacturing is beneficial.
These 3 reasons help to sum up exactly why sustainable manufacturing can make financial sense for industrial businesses.
- It can help to improve operational efficiency by reducing costs and unnecessary waste.
- Sustainable practices can help you reach a whole new audience of customers, increasing your competitive advantage.
- Being known for sustainability can help to protect your reputation and build trust with your community.
Sustainable Manufacturing Trends
The Digitalization of the Physical World
The term “digital transformation” is becoming played out, but its implications are mission-critical for industrial businesses looking to maintain a competitive edge.
Around the world, manufacturers are bringing digital connectivity to physical items like production lines, tools and equipment, lighting systems, and more. By connecting these “offline” things with the online world, an added layer of valuable data is enabled.
Digital connectivity gives manufacturers the insights needed to allocate resources as efficiently as possible. Analytics show exactly when and where there is waste, empowering management to make informed decisions about how work is done.
In addition to everyday operations, digitalization can (and should) also be applied to building and maintaining facilities. By implementing digitalization when work is being done on a facility, it ensures that work is completed correctly and according to specifications. This improves business continuity through the prevention of rework and unplanned downtime.
Tapping Into Distributed Energy Resources (DER)
With sustainability on the rise, it’s no surprise that Distributed Energy Resources (DER) are being increasingly adopted as a way to increase cost savings while reducing emissions. DER, defined as technology that produces and stores energy off the utility grid, can vary from onsite fuel cells and microturbines to photovoltaics and solar power.
DERs provide a flexible way to leverage alternative energy sources. By allowing facilities to install onsite systems, it’s never been easier to make the shift towards sustainable manufacturing. However, some states are better than others for DER policies and market opportunities.
Tying Leadership Goals to Sustainability
Many industrial businesses are putting their money where their mouth is by linking sustainability goals to management compensation. This ensures that leadership is incentivized to prioritize corporate sustainability goals.
Additionally, roles wholly dedicated to sustainability are increasingly being added to employee rosters. From Chief Sustainability Officers to HSE managers, these new positions are tasked with executing corporate environmental programs.
By including employees at all levels in corporate sustainability goals, industry progress is already accelerating. It’s only a bonus that this can serve as an effective recruiting tactic.
Building Strategic Collaborations
The transition to sustainability isn’t easy—regulations continue to change and technology evolves on a nearly daily basis. Just as a solution to one problem is implemented, another more pressing issue arises.
For that reason, companies are increasingly leaning on each other in the name of progress. By building strong relationships with other businesses, organizations and authorities, challenges and progress on sustainability measures can be readily shared. This open line of dialogue stands to greatly benefit the manufacturing sector.
Manufacturers looking to build strategic collaborations can start by looking into memberships with the National Association of Manufacturers, The Association for Sustainable Manufacturing (MERA), and the Association for Equipment Manufacturers. Each of these organizations possess useful resources for manufacturers looking to adopt more sustainable practices.
Sustainable Manufacturing KPIs
To track the progress of your facility and larger organization in achieving sustainability, it’s important to understand which KPIs should be tracked.
A great example of using KPIs to track sustainability performance is Borealis. A global leader providing advanced and circular polyolefin solutions, Borealis’ sustainability performance indicators include environmental, health, and safety performance indicators, which are published each year as part of their annual report.
According to OECD, there are 18 key indicators for manufacturing sustainability that all facilities should track and incorporate into sustainability goals. These indicators fall under three categories: Inputs, operations and products.
- Non-renewable materials intensity
- Restricted substances intensity
- Recylcled/resused content
- Water intensity
- Energy intensity
- Renewable proportion of energy
- Greenhouse gas intensity
- Residuals intensity
- Air releases intensity
- Water releases intensity
- Proportion of natural land
- Recycled/reused content
- Renewable materials content
- Non-renewable materials intensity
- Restricted substances content
- Energy consumption intensity
- Greenhouse gas emissions intensity
Our Corporate Sustainability Commitment
Any sustainability program should be clearly outlined, including both goals and KPIs. At Cumulus, our ESG priorities fall under three categories: environmental, social, and governance.
- Environmental. Provide clients with innovative technology to eliminate leaks and fugitive emissions. This includes lowering overall energy consumption at Cumulus facilities through reduced electricity usage.
- Social. Continue our internal commitment to Diversity and Inclusion best practices while adopting an external focus on local community involvement.
- Governance. Support employees’ wellbeing through an enhanced focus on mental health while remaining committed to our founding principle of operating ethically regardless of circumstance.
To achieve true progress in sustainability, businesses must adopt a holistic approach. Rather than just trying to keep pace with the latest industry trends, true accountability to ESG commitments is required.
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