We are facing a climate emergency and the environmental challenges are far worse than what we had thought them to be. Against this backdrop it has become imperative that manufacturers, an integral part of the industrial world, initiate measures to combat the environmental challenges. In this article we take a look at the green initiatives of the manufacturing world….
Article by Arijit Nag
Lately, we have realised that the climate situation is far worse than what we earlier thought it was. Green manufacturing, an emerging industrial trend with an achievable, long-term future for sustainability, addresses the environmental challenges at a systemic level. With stark difference in opinion among governments across the world it has become imperative that a common platform is found to combat the climate crisis.
Manufacturing activities have been one of the major polluters of the environment. Here is where green manufacturing trends come into play. Green manufacturing is primarily about changing the existing business and manufacturing practices, as well as the mindset of stakeholders, to mitigate the industrial contribution to climate change and other environmental concerns. Incidentally, green is not a hollow word. There are tangible ways to drive sustainable practices both within manufacturing facilities, across the supply chain, and through the customer base.
Technological change brought about by Emerging Green Technologies (EGTs) is relevant for the entire world irrespective of countries. Emerging green technologies are those which have already reached a certain technological maturity but have comparatively low market penetration or technologies that are still in a relatively early stage of technological maturity, albeit in principle already applicable in daily live.
Green manufacturing encompasses the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) present new opportunities for innovations to develop sustainable, environmentally friendly materials; decarbonise energy; tap digital ideas for doing more with less; and extend the life cycle of goods within a “zero waste to landfill” framework.
Reduced use of natural resources and energy can result in lower carbon footprint, technology advancements optimising efficiency, resilience, and sustainability across the full manufacturing process, including the supply chain and building of a strong foundation for a global circular economy.
The largest payoff of the green manufacturing approach is energy savings. Here, environmental and business benefits go hand-in-hand. We see a bright future for decarbonising energy. The latest Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) report “Mission Possible” declares that reaching net-zero CO2 emissions by the middle of the century is a very real target.
The benefits of incorporating eco-friendly initiatives into manufacturing processes are becoming increasingly apparent; not only can this lead to cost reduction and higher efficiency, it also boosts your reputation, positioning your company as a responsible corporate citizen as more and more consumers seek environmentally friendly products and packaging.
Moreover, the reality is resources and raw materials are dwindling, and the need for sustainable, renewable materials and methodologies is the way forward for all industries. Companies are now seeking ways to become a part of the circular economy — a “take, make, and dispose” alternative to the traditional economy. In the circular economy, companies keep resources as long as they can extract maximum value from them, then recover and restore materials wherever possible — minimising waste and emphasising on renewable resources.
Industry will be deriving the biggest benefits from investments into green manufacturing practices. Businesses that take a forward thinking approach towards their manufacturing processes can see unbelievable cost savings. Machines and equipment are becoming much more energy-efficient and can have a lasting impact on a manufacturer’s bottom line. Much of the equipment found on the average shop floor largely consists of legacy equipment that may be holding a business back from reaching its green manufacturing goals.
Beyond the actual manufacturing process, there are also other ways a manufacturer can reduce their energy costs. Smart lights are available that can sense the amount of natural light throughout a facility and only illuminate those areas that need it most. Even something as simple as ensuring all your air hoses and compressors are sealed properly can result in a large reduction to a manufacturer’s overall energy consumption.
Putting Reverse Logistics plan in place also helps reduce the amount of raw materials needed to produce new components or products. Reverse Logistics is a process that ensures once a product reaches the end of its lifecycle it will be returned to the manufacturer. Once the manufacturer takes possession of the used product, they can breakdown those used products and secure the remaining raw materials. Making use of materials that would normally be thrown away can mitigate what the manufacturer needs to spend on making new products.
Reverse Logistics strategy isn’t just beneficial to manufacturers; it can have a great impact on the amount of waste that they produce. Instead of products ending up in land-fills, manufacturers can ensure all the materials that can be used again, will be used again. This is especially important in industrial sectors. Steel is one of the most recyclable materials in the world and these manufacturers work on slim margins. The more raw materials they can reuse, the better chance they will have to turn a profit.
Focusing on green manufacturing and business practices will lead to a reduction in carbon footprints left behind by businesses. This can have important tax implications and even result in receiving incentives from the federal government. Manufacturers can even receive additional incentives for investing into renewable energy infrastructure like wind turbines or rooftop solar panels. So not only will a manufacturer be producing their own energy, they will be paid for any energy they put back into the grid (in many US states).
It isn’t just manufacturers that have been focusing on the importance of going green. The public has shown that they would rather do business with a company that takes the environment into consideration throughout their manufacturing process. A manufacturer that is making a large investment in both time, energy and money to make sure their products are manufactured with the environment in mind can strike a chord with the public.
A manufacturer’s commitment to creating a green business can greatly improve their marketing effort. Explaining exactly what they’re doing to ensure they reduce waste and their energy consumption can make them much more attractive to buyers.
A completely sustainable large-scale manufacturing operation may still be a few years away but this does not mean manufacturers can’t limit their environmental impact. As manufacturers continue to invest into new technology that can streamline processes, machines that help reduce energy consumption and a continued focus on lean manufacturing, the manufacturing industry continues to become greener every day. This focus on green practices isn’t just a huge bonus for the environment, the manufacturing industry benefits as well.
Arijit Nag is a freelance journalist who writes on various aspects of the economy and current affairs.
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