Rethinking Manufacturing Sustainably

Globally, a growing number of manufacturing companies across different industries are paying more attention to sustainability as a significant tool in driving their strategy and operations to increase growth and global competitiveness. This has become an encouraging trend that has evolved from the niche of those who traditionally positioned themselves as “green,” and now includes many prominent businesses across different sectors as they are gradually acknowledging the significant financial and environmental benefits from sustainable business practices.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, “Sustainable manufacturing is the creation of manufactured products that use processes that minimise negative environmental impacts, conserve energy and natural resources, are safe for employees, communities, and consumers and are economically sound.” These products are manufactured in such a way that they minimise negative environmental footprints, are safe for all stakeholders, are economically sound and conserve energy and natural resources. These will allow manufacturers to maximise resources while protecting the environment.

Sustainable manufacturing directly positively impacts the global competitiveness of brands, as well as improves operational efficiency by reducing cost and waste, promoting long-term business viability and lower regulatory compliance costs, improved sales and brand recognition, greater access to financing and capital, and easier employee hiring and retention. Manufacturers who seek to acquire these benefits, wear their sustainability lenses all through the product manufacturing process, from design through production to distribution; with the inclusion of packaging, which is sometimes considered an afterthought.

former president of the National Association of Manufacturers, Jerry Jasinowski, helped to oversee a study conducted by the University of Indiana that looked at how leading companies in the sustainability movement have achieved their successes. “One of the companies reported that, while growing 40 percent over the past 15 years, it had saved about $7 billion through sustainable manufacturing practices”, says Jasinowski. He continues, “Another reduced its manufacturing footprint in North America from 15 million square feet to 5 million square feet. Still another eliminated 14 hazardous waste streams, reducing its annual waste disposal tab from $750,000 to $40,000 in one year.”

In Africa, where access to financial resources is limited compared to other developed countries, it is important to reimagine our manufacturing sector in order to increase access to capital, or better still, eschew the need to acquire hefty loans. Some critical ways to achieve this, is the reduction of energy and water use, cutting emissions from manufacturing processes and reducing physical waste and recycling. There is also the need to explore collaboration with technology companies to create accessible innovations that are environment-friendly, to replace or improve obsolete manufacturing tools, for a greener now and future.