The Future of Green Manufacturing: Trends to Watch

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Green manufacturing, once practiced by a small minority of corporations, has quickly become a critical part of business planning. As public awareness of the environmental impact of manufacturing increases, the demand from consumers, the government, and corporate investors is forcing manufacturers to re-examine their processes and adopt “greener” policies.  What are some important trends emerging from this demand for green manufacturing?

Green Supply Chain Management

Outside pressures in the form of increased regulation, climbing costs for water and energy, and a call for greater corporate social responsibility have led manufacturers to focus on the sustainability of their supply chains. The greening of a supply chain is a long-term process that involves significant investment, and there are public and private resources available to companies interested in reducing their footprint.  The Environmental Protection Agency created the Green Suppliers Network to help manufacturers and their current suppliers improve processes and remain compliant with ever-changing environmental standards and regulations.

The key to greening a supply chain is the ability to optimize economic responsibility and ecological responsibility.  Many profitable organizations successfully manage green supply chains including Xerox, Herman Miller, Hewlett Packard, and Timberland, paving the way for smaller organizations and manufacturers to follow suit.

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Corporate Social Responsibility

Manufacturers have a responsibility to their stakeholders. And as these stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, and shareholders – enact pressure for responsible corporate citizenship, manufacturers are becoming more aware of how their policies and procedures affect the world around them.

Corporations will move quickly towards adopting green manufacturing practices in order to attract new investors and appease current investors who demand corporate responsibility. In fact, the Investor Network on Climate Risk indicates that investor pressure is the main reason many manufacturers are moved to reduce carbon emissions.

And increased corporate social responsibility can lead to benefits outside of improved public relations and investor relations. As part of General Mills corporate social responsibility efforts, the company is on track to reduce their energy costs 20% by 2016. As of 2013, they had already saved over $600,000. No matter what their initial motivation for taking on social responsibility, the benefits have a positive impact on the environment as well as the bottom line.

Process Improvements

The sustained, global economic downturn has forced manufacturers to take on a lean, streamlined approach to processes. As costs rise for water and energy consumption, manufacturers are looking more toward reusing and recycling waste products to increase efficiency and reduce costs.

This growing need for a more efficient use of existing resources has expanded beyond the manufacturing process into the day-to-day operations of the organization as a whole.  For example, communications systems can be streamlined to save money and increase efficiency. By moving from a traditional hard-line system to an online phone system, manufacturers can reduce barriers and create new opportunities.

Companies with manufacturing operations typically have more than one location. For employees to communicate between locations with a traditional phone system, they must dial an outside line, incurring long distance or even international toll charges. But a unified communications system can bridge the gap between locations, whether it’s across states or across oceans. Employees can reach one another through in-network extensions. They are also able to easily transfer outside calls between one another, improving customer experience and satisfaction.

A simple switch to an online phone system also improves productivity of traveling managers and executives. They are able to forward their desk phone to any line, or even a laptop, preventing missed calls.  And integrated conferencing software and technology allows collaboration without the added expense of third-party programming.

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Sustainable Practices for Sustainable Businesses

As manufacturers streamline their processes, improve their supply chains, and practice good corporate citizenship, they realize many benefits. Though green manufacturing requires a long-term commitment of time and resources, these improved processes bring greater efficiency and reduced costs across all departments. It also gives manufacturers the opportunity to generate new public relations opportunities and fosters a greater level of trust among the communities in which they operate.