Home OPINIONS Greening the Shopfloor: The Adoption of Sustainable Manufacturing Practices

Greening the Shopfloor: The Adoption of Sustainable Manufacturing Practices

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Manufacturing
 
Manufacturing sector is a vital engine of economic growth, since it carries a significant environmental footprint. If manufacturing as a function takes the lead in responsible growth, it will have an impact on a variety of sectors and industries across the board. By embracing sustainable manufacturing practices, businesses can become responsible stewards, minimizing their impact on land, water, and resources, while paving the way for a healthier planet.

The Challenge: Environmental Impact of Traditional Manufacturing

The traditional manufacturing model is often resource-intensive and wasteful. Here’s a glimpse into the environmental challenges:
– Resource Depletion: Manufacturing relies heavily on finite resources like metals, minerals, and fossil fuels. The global extraction of raw materials has increased by over 235% since 1970, reaching 104 billion tonnes in 2024. This growth is due to industrialization and urbanization, and has accelerated since 2000, even as the global economy and population growth have slowed. The UN expects this extraction to increase by another 60% by 2060, which could have disastrous consequences for the climate and environment as relentless extraction depletes natural resources and disrupts ecosystems.
– Energy Consumption: Manufacturing processes are major energy consumers, often relying on non-renewable sources like coal and natural gas. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that the manufacturing industry accounts for nearly one-third of global final energy consumption. This dependence on fossil fuels contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, a key driver of climate change.
– Waste Generation: From raw material scraps to industrial byproducts, manufacturing generates substantial waste. In India, that figure stands at a staggering 43 million tons of hazardous waste. This waste pollutes land and water bodies, or takes up valuable landfill space. Waste management needs to go hand-in-hand with economic development otherwise all other economic activities will become a waste.

The Path Forward: Embracing Sustainable Practices

The good news is, there are practical and achievable strategies that manufacturers can adopt to create a more sustainable future.
– Energy Efficiency: Reducing energy consumption is a must on the path towards sustainable manufacturing. Upgrading to energy-efficient machinery and lighting, implementing smart grids for real-time monitoring, and exploring renewable energy sources like solar and wind power can significantly lower a facility’s environmental footprint. Tesla is an example of a large-scale manufacturer that is considered a leader in energy efficiency. It’s not just its cars that run on alternate energy sources; every Tesla factory is designed from the ground up to run on renewable energy.
– Waste Reduction and Recycling: The concept of “reduce, reuse, recycle” is equally applicable to manufacturing. Employing lean manufacturing principles to minimize waste generation, exploring closed-loop systems where production byproducts become raw materials for other processes, and implementing robust recycling programs are all crucial steps. Adidas is a successful case study in this context. In 2015, Adidas partnered with environmental organization Parley for the Oceans to raise awareness about the health of the oceans and the impact of pollution. At the same time, Adidas committed to integrating recycling methods in its own production. By 2020, just over half of the polyester used in Adidas products came from recycled plastic waste. Adidas has since further committed to only using recycled polyester in the manufacturing of its garments by the end of this year.
– Sustainable Product Design: Environmental responsibility needs to be embedded throughout a product’s lifecycle. Designing products for durability, easy disassembly, and recyclability using eco-friendly materials can significantly reduce the environmental impact. Dell, for instance, integrates recycled plastic into their computers and offers take-back programs for used electronics, promoting a circular economy. It uses modular design techniques to make products easier to disassemble and harvest. This reduces the time needed to repair, upgrade, or recycle components.
– Sustainable Supply Chain Management: Building a sustainable supply chain involves collaborating with vendors who share the manufacturer’s environmental commitment. This includes assessing the environmental practices of suppliers, optimizing logistics to reduce transportation emissions, and sourcing materials from responsible sources that minimize deforestation or habitat destruction. IKEA, for example, works with forestry stewardships to ensure their wood products come from sustainably managed forests.
– Embracing Technological Advancements: Industry 4.0 technologies like artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, and big data analytics can play a transformative role in sustainable manufacturing. These technologies allow for real-time process optimization, predictive maintenance to minimize resource consumption, and improved waste management. Siemens, for instance, uses AI-powered digital twins to optimize factory operations and reduce energy consumption.

Building a Greener Future

Transitioning to sustainable manufacturing requires a collective effort. Businesses need to invest in new technologies and processes, while governments can play a crucial role by enacting legislation that incentivizes sustainable practices and discourages environmentally damaging ones. Consumers also have a role to play by supporting brands committed to sustainability and making informed purchasing decisions.
By working together, manufacturers, governments, and consumers can create a future where industrial growth and environmental responsibility go hand-in-hand. Sustainable manufacturing isn’t just about protecting the planet, it’s about building a more resilient and prosperous future for all.
World Environment Day serves as a powerful reminder that we have a collective responsibility to protect our planet. By embracing sustainable manufacturing practices, businesses can become champions for a greener tomorrow.
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
Rahul Garg, Founder & CEO, MoglixRahul Garg is the founder and CEO of Moglix, a B2B e-commerce platform for industrial tools and equipment. He has extensive experience in strategy, product management and operations within the technology industry. He currently holds 16 US patents and has partnered with quite a few early-stage startups.