Digging into Manufacturing Sustainability

In our article on Solving the Sustainability of the Supply Chain is Systematically Strenuous and Surprisingly Serpentine, we noted that while there are easy two-word answers for reconfiguring the global supply chain for greater supply chain assurance and more sustainability at the 30,000 foot level, when you dig into the details, it’s not so easy as you have dozens of facets to get right to truly optimize sustainability across:

  • Support
  • Sales
  • Logistics
  • Procurement
  • Manufacturing
  • Materials

Manufacturing sustainability is much more involved than just choosing sustainable materials and focussing on sustainable design. When you are manufacturing you have to think about all of the following:

  • Materials: are the materials renewable, reclaimable, recyclable, or compostable — if not, the materials are not sustainable
  • Design: is the design using as many sustainable materials as possible; minimizing the use of non-renewable materials in minimal supply; ensuring the product is designed so that non-renewable materials can be fully reclaimed / recycled; ensuring the product can be produced in a sustainable manner? etc.
  • Production: are the lines modern, minimizing energy and MRO material usage (fluids, parts that wear out, etc.), efficient, etc.
  • Waste: does the chosen production method minimize waste, i.e. if cutting, how much waste metal or wood, and can it be reused/reclaimed?
  • Energy all energy production and transmission has a Carbon cost, even solar, as there was an initial carbon production in producing the panels, thus, the production method should minimize energy utilization (especially if producing EVs … considering a battery pack can produce between 2.5 and 16 metric tonnes of carbon in its production, it’s critical all production be energy efficient)
  • Water for cooling and cleaning should be minimized as well, and, if directly reusable, reused, and then reclaimed for future reuse (through an energy efficient processing plant)
  • Workforce as there needs to be a sufficient workforce and training in place to make sure they are suitably skilled for, and efficient at, the job to minimize errors and the resulting waste that comes from every human error

Furthermore, how you think about many of these requirements differs for every type of product you are producing, and often requires extremely specialized expertise to address the design, materials, production process, and waste. Manufacturing sustainability is not easy, but if you can’t ensure your manufacturers are sustainable, then you definitely can’t claim to have sustainable Procurement.