Question: What does a pile of garbage have to do with sustainable manufacturing?
Sustainability and Manufacturing
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (lovingly called GPGP) is an enormous vortex of discarded plastic sloshing around on the surface of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California. The Ocean Cleanup Project estimates that the patch covers an area of 1.6 square kilometers, consists of at least 1.8 trillion pieces, and weighs approximately 80,000 tons.
Such an amount of plastic could entirely cover the state of Texas. Twice.
But the GPGP is not alone. Four more giant garbage patches float around merrily on other oceans as well, not to mention the countless garbage depots on dry land.
And if that’s not reason enough to worry, let’s take a look at the 2018 UN report on climate change, according to which we have about 12 years to stop a climate catastrophe.
Hello sleepless nights.
According to a recent Nielsen survey conducted globally, 66% of consumers (including 72% of all Millennials asked) would pay more for sustainably produced goods.
But climate change is enormous. What can individual persons like consumers, small business owners, and manufacturers do to stop it?
Well, as it turns out, quite a lot.
Sustainability and sustainable development in particular have been buzzwords for a few decades, but they’ve never been as important as today. Just like with climate change, many people used to believe that sustainability was something our grandchildren would have to worry about.
Now that climate change is becoming real and tangible in the form of extreme weather, people are increasingly looking for ways to contribute to the fight against the phenomenon. This is where manufacturers come in.
Sustainable Materials and Packaging
While many people are committed to fighting climate change, most of them would be unhappy to give up their lifestyles or certain comforts they’re used to. But what if there was a solution that made both possible at the same time?
Enter sustainable manufacturing.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, “sustainable manufacturing is the creation of manufactured products through economically-sound processes that minimize negative environmental impacts while conserving energy and natural resources.”
Products created and packaged in a sustainable way are becoming increasingly popular with consumers. According to a recent Nielsen survey conducted globally, 66% of consumers (including 72% of all Millennials asked) would pay more for sustainably produced goods.
Benefits of Sustainable Manufacturing
Besides this competitive advantage with customers, there are other considerable benefits of sustainable manufacturing as well.
For example, becoming sustainable means you have less waste to manage, which significantly lowers your costs. Reduced time spent on waste management means more efficient and streamlined operations, another thing you can save funds on.
On the other hand, it’s true that sustainable raw materials may cost more than unsustainable ones. However, the benefits outweigh the costs by far.
Sustainability builds credit with the public, helps create a favorable image of your brand with customers, and contributes to your business’ long term success.
Once you’ve decided that sustainability is the path for you, it’s time to take action. But how to get started?
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) created a list of seven steps for manufacturers to make their operations sustainable.
The seven actionable steps can be grouped into three categories: preparing, measuring, and improvements.
- Review your environmental impact and set your priorities;
- Choose your performance indicators.
- Review how your production inputs influence your sustainability;
- Find out how your operations influence your sustainability;
- Discover how sustainable your end product is.
- Find ways to lessen your environmental impact;
- Bridge the difference between the goals set in 1a and reality.
Once you’re done with 3b, you can start reviewing your improved environmental impact and see how you can further reduce your footprint.
As the graphic shows, becoming sustainable is a cyclical process. Whatever you’ve achieved, there’s always room for improvement. But this allows you to start small.
Don’t try to save the world at once. Set reasonable goals in 1a (like source 5% of raw materials from sustainable producers) that you can realistically achieve. Once you’re done with your first cycle of sustainability, you can up your goals and start again, aiming higher (like using 10% of sustainable raw materials).
Sourcing Sustainable Materials
Creating a sustainable supply chain requires a lot of effort and trust. Ultimately, it all boils down to this question: how do you know if your supplier uses sustainable production methods?
Several industries (for example, Canadian beef production) have a program in place that certifies sustainable producers. If you’re in the food and beverages industry, you’re in luck’s way.
Switching to recycled plastics, recyclable loose fill packaging peanuts, and corrugated paper (cardboard) ensures that you produce a minimal amount of garbage (if any).
But if your industry doesn’t have such a certification program yet, you’ll have to do the groundwork yourself. Visit trade shows, ask your network, and search the web for available producers. Engage in conversation with potential suppliers and find out if their processes are in line with your sustainability goals.
While this does sound like a lot of work, the end result is worth it. Finding reliable suppliers who share your sustainability goals has a really high pay-off in the long run.
Using sustainable packaging reduces your waste output and helps you achieve your goals. For example, switching to recycled plastics, recyclable loose fill packaging peanuts, and corrugated paper (cardboard) ensures that you produce a minimal amount of garbage (if any).
Become a Superhero
Bear in mind that sustainability is not some sort of luxury. Soon (yes, even in your lifetime), sustainable production will be inevitable in many parts of the world if we want to keep our planet habitable.
Becoming an early adopter means that you’ll have a big advantage over your competitors. Not to mention the immeasurably good feeling that you’re actually doing something important to save the world.
Sustainable manufacturers are superheroes.