Sustainable Manufacturing

What Does It Look Like?

Author : Cara Thompson

What does Sustainable Manufacturing Really Mean?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines Sustainable Manufacturing as “the creation of manufactured products through economically-sound processes that minimize negative environmental impacts while conserving energy and natural resources .” In part that means designing and operating manufacturing processes to minimize impacts to air, water and landfill, seeking to limit the impact supplying the world’s goods has on our natural environment. Sustainable manufacturing also seeks to address resource conservation by building and continually improving production processes that optimize energy usage, utilize clean fuels for energy or steam production, optimize raw material conversion, as well as many other avenues for conservation that minimize negative impacts on the environment. The world’s understanding of sustainable manufacturing is extending to human and societal impacts, including operating manufacturing facilities in a safe and healthy manner to ensure the well-being of employees.

What Does Traditional ‘Sustainability’ Have to Do With It?

Traditional sustainability comes from the desire to balance the needs of humans and nature for generations to come. Many companies are focusing on their environmental impacts through their operations to better understand how we can avoid mass consumption of natural resources and enhance our environmental quality. This continues to evolve within the manufacturing sector to a holistic approach that incorporates previous initiatives such as pollution prevention, recycling, waste reduction, conservation, among others.

Benefits of Sustainable Manufacturing

More and more, communities, B2B customers and consumers expect manufacturers to leverage sustainable practices to run their operations. Rather than a competitive advantage, it is an expectation. One could consider sustainable practices that include health, environmental and product life-cycle concerns as a “license to operate,” whether granted by the government or society.

The tangible benefits of sustainable manufacturing include:

  • Reduced operating costs
  • Increase environmental benefit through reduced natural resource consumption
  • Increased conversion and throughput
  • Lower compliance or regulatory costs

The intangible benefits of sustainable manufacturing include:

  • Improved brand recognition and reputation
  • Improved recruitment and retention
  • Capability building

Milliken & Company published its first annual Sustainability Report for 2018 as a mechanism to measure, report and hold the organization accountable to deliver on its commitment to make a positive impact on the world for generations to come. Milliken’s sustainability goals focus on Planet, Product and People as the foundation of our journey to 2025. Planet goals support reduction of carbon emissions, waste disposal and water usage. Product goals respond to stakeholders’ priority of circular economy while People goals reinforce its commitment to the health, wellness and safety of associates, diversity and inclusion and technology and innovation.

After concentrating on laying the groundwork and truly setting the stage for the next five years, we have gained insights by listening to what is important to our internal and external stakeholders. We have seen progress towards our 2025 goals by way of redecide greenhouse gas emissions and a decrease in lost time incidents. While we still have work to do, we are seeing the results of our actions. We will continue to uncover the solutions necessary to achieve our long-term goals.

Ways to implement sustainable manufacturing practices (with examples)

Operational Excellence through a performance management system, such as the Milliken Performance System, is a methodology that embraces leadership principles and problem-solving tools to create sustainable organizational improvement within manufacturing organizations. The same methodologies that improve the efficiency, safety and quality of operations also positively affect traditional sustainability metrics around emissions, water usage, waste disposal, and energy consumption.

How Operational Excellence Supports Sustainability

Operational Excellence leaders believe in connecting a consistent framework for improvement and problem-solving to achieve business objectives.

Strategic Clarity through leverage of the Daily Management System

Strategic Clarity starts at the corporate leadership level who cascade values and objectives throughout the organization. Including sustainability breakthrough improvement targets in cascaded objectives and clear metrics leads to the inclusion of sustainability projects in a plant’s prioritized process improvement plan, rather than simply being vague aspirations or buzzwords. The Daily Management System connects sustainability metrics to the routine measurement and action planning of manufacturing sites and ensures execution of improvement plans and goal attainment. Further integrating sustainable technologies, process and practices into on-going management system ensure sustainment.

Daily Team Maintenance

Daily Team Maintenance (DTM) helps operators and engineers uncover what we can do today that influences our future environmental impacts. For example, DTM inspections lead operators to identify and then eliminate machine water or compressed air leaks so that we are not wasting water, in turn improving our waste and cost measures. Also, identification of minor machine stops and partnering with maintenance or engineers to eliminate improves OEE and efficiency, reducing wasted resources.

Focused Improvement

Using off quality or scrap performance measures to identify Focused Improvement (FI) projects to eliminate root cause of the off quality or scrap reduces our waste disposal impacts. Connecting sustainability metrics to manufacturing losses such as scrap, breakdowns, or OEE enables the manufacturing organization to leverage their performance system framework to eliminate losses that impact our planet as well as traditional performance goals.

Planned Maintenance

Maintaining and extending equipment life through the sub competencies of the Planned Maintenance pillar builds the foundation for reliability excellence. The reliability achieved through elimination of breakdowns and improved preventative and predictive maintenance processes reduces repairs and maintenance costs in the long run. Well maintained and functioning equipment also prevents spills and releases, reduces energy consumption and supports the achievement of sustainability goals.

5S + Workplace Organization

Most people associate 5S with housekeeping – and they would be partially correct. Deploying a systematic approach to maintaining tools, supplies and workspaces in a clean, safe condition builds the foundation for Operational Excellence through introducing simple process improvement and system discipline. This reduces opportunities for the environmental impact of spills, releases or unsafe conditions.

Sustainability is the long-term objective of many organizations. Building sustainable manufacturing processes is one lever to support this objective. There are many problem-solving methods out there to lead to quick wins. But to ensure long-term improvements that support sustainability goals, you need a systematic approach. Operational Excellence methodologies, such as the Milliken Performance System provide the framework for manufacturers to translate a company’s strategy, including sustainability in long-term, lasting results.