In the 1980s, with the birth of the lean manufacturing movement, the rallying cry was, “Reduce, reduce, reduce.”

Today, with the sustainability movement in full swing and regulatory compliance concerns and customer demands for responsible environmental stewardship becoming increasingly pressing, the rallying cry for sustainable manufacturing is now “Reduce, recover, recycle, redesign, and remanufacture.”

With the growth of both social and governmental mandates for conservation of natural resources and protection of the environment, the business case for going beyond “lean” practices and evolving into “green” approaches has become imperative.

Whereas earlier manufacturing models took a linear view of the product lifecycle as “cradle to grave,” contemporary approaches to sustainable manufacturing take a cyclical view: “cradle to cradle.”

What this means in practice is an approach to product design and production that extends beyond even the disposal stage, where instead of products or their components sitting in landfills and literally going to waste, these products or components are deliberately recovered to be used as the raw material for a new generation of products.

The obvious aims of sustainable manufacturing boil down to the relationship between sound ecological approaches and profitable economic practices, and central to this relationship and its scaled implementation is investment in automation technology.

Automation technology makes possible the measuring, mapping, monitoring, and regulating of highly complex, recursive process parameters, extracting and analyzing the necessary data for manufacturers to reduce energy consumption, realize peak resource efficiency, and minimize adverse ecological impact to water, soil, and air.

But what about the business case for sustainable manufacturing? Can manufacturers equal or exceed their pre-sustainable-practice profit margins by adopting greener operations? The answer depends on a number of factors, but many businesses are already making a good case for the economic viability and advantage of sustainable manufacturing.

Jerry Jasinowski, former president of the National Association of Manufacturers and later The Manufacturing Institute, commented on a study conducted by the University of Indiana that examined 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,” Jasinowski said. “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.”

The Environmental Protection Agency’s website uses real-world case studies to make its business case for sustainable manufacturing, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) provides a Sustainable Manufacturing Toolkit which outlines a set of internationally applicable, common, and comparable metrics for gauging the environmental performance of manufacturing facilities.

“We think it is important to have not only the right tools, but also to be informed about what works,” explains Andrew Wyckoff, director of OECD’s Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry. “That’s why we have also included a range of best-practice case studies that illustrate the many benefits of sustainable manufacturing. Saving money, improving products, making operations more efficient and increasing sales are all possible for those taking up this new challenge.”

If you’re looking to make your manufacturing operations leaner or greener, or are trying to bring a green product to market, we can help. At Pivot, we have a track record of over forty years of expert experience in partnering with manufacturers to optimize their operations and with businesses to help them successfully launch new products. Contact us today and see what we can do for you.