Top Sustainability Trends in Manufacturing

Oct. 10, 2022
Explore practices that contribute to a comprehensive sustainability strategy, that work alongside reducing CO2 emissions, to slow down global warming.

Manufacturers across all industries have focused on energy saving measures for decades to decrease overhead costs and improve profit margins. Looking for ways to lower the cost of energy has been a constant component of a business model that includes operational improvement and efficiency. Today, as companies move to an overall sustainability strategy, energy conservation is just one of many parts of a working sustainability model for manufacturing.

While companies have traditionally maintained energy efficiency to cut costs and improve margins, the larger and more urgent focus on energy conservation is to reduce or eliminate the use of fossil fuels and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions to achieve a net zero effect that will mitigate further warming of the planet.

In addition to significantly reducing CO2 emissions to slow down global warming, there are other practices that contribute to a comprehensive sustainability strategy.

Factory energy management systems (FEMS). This is a method of introducing energy conservation systems into existing production systems. FEMS relates to “smart manufacturing” processes in which every step in the production process is tracked to produce the most efficient energy use. Today, manufacturers can use FEMS powered by artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor most and least optimal energy management.

Designing facilities for sustainability. This can involve several factors, including locating factories where materials and resources are nearby and improving logistics while reducing transportation. This can also include design factors like use of natural lighting and transitioning toward more efficient or “smart factories” that are designed to use less energy in production operations.

Investing in energy efficient machinery. Energy efficient machinery in factory production systems complements manufacturers that are using alternative energy sources and helps them make the move to 100% alternative energy operations.

Increasing reliance on additive manufacturing (AM). AM in conjunction with AI-driven generative design enables manufacturers to build parts that are designed specifically for AM. Parts produced with AM use less material, produce less waste, and can be faster and more cost efficient to produce. The parts are lighter and can be fabricated from material that is often recyclable.

A shift to recyclable materials. Manufacturing with recycled materials reduces the amount of non-biodegradable materials in the environment. Companies in the food and beverage and consumers goods sector are moving toward the use of totally recycled and re-filling of all plastic containers.

Increased interest in bioplastics. Bioplastics are new eco-friendly alternatives to petroleum-based plastics. They can be made from natural resources such as corn, seaweed, sugarcane, or even shrimp shells. Most bioplastics are also biodegradable.

Contributing to a circular economy. Many manufacturers are shifting away from a “take, make, and throw away” mentality and toward a circular economy. In this economy, waste is considered a valuable resource, and companies research new and more efficient ways to extend a product’s useful life. To achieve this, they are designing products to use materials with end of life disposability and impact to the environment as key design criteria. There is also a move to a service-based model where products are leased instead of sold, meaning they can be more easily refurbished, remanufactured, or recycled by the manufacturer when they reach end of life or break down.

Sustainability strategies are becoming an integral part of manufacturing companies’ business models. Not only are companies striving to be good corporate citizens, but they also understand that sustainability is good for their business, customers, and profit margins. The digital transformation that most businesses are currently involved with is also key to helping companies implement sustainability strategies and practices.