The Beginners Guide to Sustainable Manufacturing

If you’ve been in manufacturing for a while, you’re no stranger to doing more with less. The challenge has always been to make more products in less time, with fewer workers and a smaller budget.

Today, that’s still the same — but with the added difficulty of reducing your impact on the environment.

That’s where sustainable manufacturing comes in. But what does a sustainable factory look like? And how do you find the time and resources to execute it at your facility?

We’ve put together this simple guide to help you answer these questions and make your factory more sustainable — starting today.

What is sustainable manufacturing?

In simple terms, sustainable manufacturing — also known as eco-friendly or “green” manufacturing — tries to meet production demands while minimizing your factory's impact on the environment. It covers a wide range of issues such as energy and material usage, water consumption, air emissions, waste and recycling, to name a few.

Benefits of sustainable manufacturing

The most obvious benefit of sustainable manufacturing is that it’s good for the environment. But you’ll likely notice many other benefits as well, such as:

  • Reduce costs by improving efficiency and reducing waste
  • Increase productivity
  • Comply with regulations
  • Attract and retain employees
  • Meet stakeholder expectations
  • Improve your brand image and gain a competitive advantage

5 sustainable manufacturing tips

Now that you know the benefits of sustainable manufacturing, you might be wondering how to actually get started creating a sustainable factory. We’ve put together a list of five simple strategies that you can implement right now to become more sustainable.

An added benefit: When you see the impact these small changes can make, it will , give you momentum to tackle bigger projects in the future.

Reduce your energy use

The average commercial building wastes 30% of the energy it consumes, according to In other words, if you’re just starting out, there are lots of opportunities for improvement.

Start with the low hanging fruit. For example, simply turning off lights when not in use can reduce lighting expenses by 10-40%. Unplugging or turning off equipment before you leave for the night can also reduce energy waste due to “phantom loads”.

Join a waste exchange

A waste exchange is a service that allows organizations to swap, buy, and sell waste materials. It's an easy and cost-effective way to repurpose waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

Manufacturing scraps like cardboard, metal, plastics, pallets and spools are prime candidates for a waste exchange. To locate a waste exchange near you, this free waste exchange listing from Environmental, Health, and Safety Online is a good starting point.

Ditch the plastic

...Water bottles, that is! Staying hydrated is important to ensure worker health and safety, especially in hot manufacturing environments. Unfortunately, all those plastic water bottles can really add up. In fact, humans buy one million plastic bottles every minute.

Instead of disposable water bottles, consider installing a water filter and giving your workers reusable water bottles to keep at their workstation. You can even order customized bottles with your organization’s logo!

Relocate your recycling bins

If you’re having a hard time getting employees to recycle, it might be because the trash can is more convenient. Simply moving your recycle bins closer to the workspace can make a big difference in your recycling rates! In fact, research from the University of British Columbia suggests that making recycling bins more convenient can boost recycling rates by 141%.

Go digital

Did you know it takes 3 gallons of water to produce a single sheet of paper? Digitizing your records is a cost-effective way to save paper and, in turn, reduce your environmental impact.

Today, everything from work instructions to production records, inspection forms, equipment maintenance and training records can be digitized. Many manufacturers have gone paperless on their assembly lines in recent years, including Tesla Motors, Volvo Construction Equipment, Ametek, Bombardier Transportation, and Haas Automation, according to Assembly Magazine.

Your next steps

By following these tips you'll be able to reduce your environmental impact and create a greener, more sustainable factory. To learn more, check out this article on the future of sustainability or learn about our corporate sustainability software.

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