Sustainable Practices For Manufacturing Hard Goods

Implementing sustainable business strategies is getting increasingly popular in the manufacturing industry as more prominent international and local industry players of all sizes acknowledge the long-term value of sustainable management for business growth and resilience.

Sustainable manufacturing starts with building a sustainability team for effective collaboration between managers, material experts, process engineers, product designers, production, procurement specialists, and environmental, health, and safety officers.

Engaging representatives from every department helps organizations to evaluate all the key sustainability aspects of the manufacturing process and understand how to work more effectively to save resources, time, and money.

Sustainable manufacturing has a lot to offer:

  • Integrating sustainability across business functions improves production processes and profitability
  • Using innovation, scenario planning, and strategic analysis reduces environmental, health, and safety risks and associated financial losses
  • Improving environmental performance helps ensure compliance with increasingly stringent regulatory constraints
  • Optimizing operational efficiencies reduces resource costs and industrial waste from production
  • Introducing stakeholder engagement policies helps train and retain qualified employees, builds long-term business viability and resilience
  • Strengthening brand reputation and public trust with a visible commitment to sustainability enhances sales and competitiveness on the market attracting new customers, partners, and investors.

Sustainable/Recycled Raw Materials

Choosing sustainable raw or recycled materials improves the resource efficiency and safety of the manufacturing, prevents eco-toxicity, extends the lifespan of many instruments and equipment, minimizing the risks and need for repairs.

Recycling materials preserves their embodied energy, so the amount of energy required for the recycling process is usually far less than the energy used for the primary production. The largest energy savings can be achieved by recycling metals and thus avoiding the energy-intensive mining and processing of ore. For example, recycling aluminium from scrap uses 88-95% less energy than primary aluminium production, secondary copper results in 15-65% energy savings. Lead can be effectively recycled multiple times without losing its properties with 60-75% energy savings compared to the primary lead production. Energy savings from recycling iron and steel can be up to 72%, beryllium recycling saves 80%, and 50% for recycling cadmium. An estimated 40% of the nickel used in the production of stainless steel comes from post-consumer stainless steel scrap resulting in 90% energy savings for the secondary nickel production. However, when it comes to recycling paper, although the secondary production requires 40% less energy than the primary production, more fossil fuels can actually be required for paper recycling.

Smart solutions like using antimicrobial copper alloys to protect solid surfaces from microbial contamination instead of using enhanced chemical cleaning protocols can prevent the spread of bacterial infections and reduce human exposure to toxic substances from the cleaning products. The EPA has registered 500 copper alloys including brass and bronze as capable of killing 99.9% of disease-causing, potentially deadly bacteria within two hours even after recontamination.

ECO Design

Sustainable product design strategies allow manufacturers to evaluate and address the environmental impacts throughout the entire life cycle of the product, optimize resource consumption, minimize energy use and waste during production and transportation of the products.

Incorporating sustainability considerations into product development ensures the long-term availability of materials and resources, helps achieve compliance with product quality and safety regulations, and avoid using harmful materials that can be restricted in some countries or highly likely to be banned in the future. Material choices and product design should incorporate the recycling capability and publish the specifications in their product declarations.

Sustainable Packaging 

Sustainable packaging logistics help develop integrated packaging, product, and supply chain systems to ensure safe, efficient, and effective handling, transportation, distribution, storage, retail, use, reuse, recovery, and disposal of goods, minimizing the negative environmental impacts and risks, while maximizing the social and consumer value, sales, and profits. For example, replacing wasteful single-use containers, plastic, Styrofoam, cardboard, and pallets with reusable, recycled, and recyclable packaging like collapsible bulk boxes helps optimize the shipping, storage, and handling of hard goods.

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition defines the following criteria for sustainable packaging:

  • Designed to optimize the material and energy use
  • Sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using clean production technologies and best practices, renewable energy sources
  • Maximum use of renewable and recycled materials
  • Satisfying the market demand for performance and cost.
  • Healthy, safe, and beneficial for individuals and communities throughout the entire life cycle and in all probable end of life scenarios
  • Effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial cradle to cradle cycles.

Analysis of sustainable packaging logistics strategies shows that an upfront investment in sustainability actually accelerates the economic growth and profitability due to significant savings from multiple reuses, easier handling, less labor for assembling boxes and crates, smaller floor space use during storage and shipping, and reduced packaging costs per piece. Sustainable packaging gives a strategic competitive advantage to manufacturers, as it shows their commitment to implement the best industry practices, improves public trust, and strengthens their brand reputation.

Recycling Programs

Manufacturers are the primary consumers of recycled materials obtained from end-of-life products and industrial scrap, and they can also contribute to closed-loop material recycling. Incorporating waste recovery and recycling in-house as part of the manufacturing process or supplying scrap materials from production to other companies for recycling can reduce your company’s waste and associated costs. Utilizing scrap processing solutions and including post-consumer recycled materials like metal, plastic, paper, glass, rubber, electronics, or textiles as part of your manufacturing process can bring significant savings of energy, raw materials, and reduction in emissions from production.   

It is important to remember that recycling is not the ultimate sustainable solution as it also consumes energy and water contributing to resource depletion and pollution. An efficient recycling program for manufacturing requires a detailed analysis of the environmental footprint including energy use at each phase of the recycling processes to determine the most sustainable recycling routes. To optimize the recycling processes, manufacturers must carefully develop their sustainable recycling strategies and the supporting structures, systems, performance goals, key performance indicators, measurements, and performance monitoring protocols.

Sustainable Factories

Incorporating diverse business intelligence tools, specialized sustainability software, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT) into your factory operations can help you predict, model, plan, monitor, and evaluate the efficiency of factory operations, adapt manufacturing workflows, conduct preventative maintenance, coordinate, and implement robust environmental, health, safety, and quality control systems to ensure continual performance improvement. The International Organization for Standardization has just released a new voluntary standard ISO/IEC 30141, Internet of Things (IoT)Reference architecture that provides a framework with reusable designs and industry best practices that can help establish reliable, safe, secure systems for smart, sustainable manufacturing by gathering the key performance data, protecting the privacy, and preventing disruptions from cyber attacks and natural disasters

Sustainable Energy

The carbon footprint from manufacturing operations can be reduced through various energy-efficient solutions, and not all of them require much capital investment. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that renewables could reach up to 27% of the total manufacturing energy consumption by 2030 with the availability of affordable sustainable, biomass sources, and can further grow up to 34% due to carbon emissions trading. IRENA’s analysis shows that energy efficiency and renewable energy production are the most cost-effective methods for reducing the energy-related industrial CO2 emissions, but to achieve the climate objectives of the Paris Agreement renewables deployment must accelerate six times faster than today.

Investing in green energy production systems to support the manufacturing process like using biomethane obtained from renewable resources instead of the natural gas can make manufacturing self-sufficient and carbon-neutral. Rethinking the lighting positions, schedule, and intensity of lights to target work areas more effectively helps avoid wasting energy, reduce electricity bills, and improve the working conditions for employees.

Hazardous Waste

Manufacturing waste often contains elements classified as hazardous, which may accumulate in production areas that are difficult to access, posing health and safety risks to employees. Using non-toxic materials for production, finding sustainable alternatives to traditional chemical solutions, and extending the life cycle of the chemistry, can significantly reduce the quantity of waste production, prevent employee exposure to toxic solvents and fumes, reduce costs for hazardous material disposal, and ease the environmental regulatory burden on the company.

API Sustainability Services

Our team unites experts in sustainable manufacturing practices with extensive experience in environmental management, material assessment, and recycling.

API Recycling Verification Services will help verify and validate the authenticity of your recycled products, processes, and raw material sources.

Supply chain traceability and verification

  • Tracking your products back to the source and authenticating the raw material sources.
  • Assessment and validation of the percentage of post-consumer recycled content, post-industrial recycled content or total recycled content contained in a product

Recycled product footprint – calculating the sustainability impacts of your recycled products

Recycled content preparation and validation – consulting service to help you ensure a recycled product has the right percentage of recycled content

Contact us today to receive a professional consultation on introducing effective sustainability strategies, incorporating recycling programs into your manufacturing process, developing supporting protocols, systems, performance goals, indicators, measurements, and more.

For more information about sustainability in manufacturing, click here.

All data is quoted from and belongs to published literature. API does not hold any responsibility for the accuracy, timeliness or validity of any data or information.