The need for businesses to strive to be more sustainable in the face of the climate crisis is apparent to us all. Improving energy efficiency, reducing waste and ensuring that employees and hosting communities alike, are kept safe and undamaged from their business activities is the responsibility of all business leaders. Protecting the environment is simply a given for every business that seeks to sustain itself.
However, as the COVID crisis has brought a range of new pressures on our industry, and the calls for a more sustainable future increase, it becomes apparent that true business sustainability goes well beyond environmental impact and the health & safety of employees.
The definition of Sustainable Manufacturing from the EPA, in the USA, is valuable in this context with its broader definition of the sustainability agenda for a manufacturing business:
“Sustainable manufacturing is the creation of manufactured products through economically-sound processes that minimize negative environmental impacts while conserving energy and natural resources. Sustainable manufacturing also enhances employee, community and product safety.” Ref. Environmental Protection Association, USA
The inclusion of “economically-sound processes” is very salient; highlighting that capital is also one of the critical resources that must be managed sustainably. It seems evident that as our industry emerges from lockdown that economic efficiency (the effective use of cash) will be ever more critical. This will surely compel manufacturers through-out the supply chain to look more closely at capital efficiency, inventory levels and through-put times and encourage a much leaner model for fulfilling customer demand. The times of ever larger warehouses and higher inventory levels to meet customer demand for product choice will surely come to an end as make-to-order processes are prioritised across the supply chain.
The use of ‘enhance’ regarding employee, community and product safety is also a powerful challenge. Not just to maintain but to make better. Again, the bar is set higher here than I believe many businesses operate with. We all need to strive to be better and to enhance the sustainability of our manufacturing operations from start to finish so that they contribute more positively to the wellbeing of employees, communities and the environment. Eliminating materials of concern, waste and the inefficient use of unclean fossil fuels, going beyond the simple regulatory requirement, must be a priority for all sustainable businesses.
Operating with a truly sustainable strategy, while continuing to respond to the evolving demands of their customers for product choice and performance, will surely be the key for the successful businesses that will emerge in this new era for our industry. Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs should be the overriding measure that we apply.
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