It’s Earth Day, April 22, 2014, and I’m an environmental attorney.  So I felt compelled to make sure that my post this week focused on the environment and the efforts of the manufacturing community in improving our environment.   The (relatively) easy part is done – companies comply with the various air, water and waste laws and regulations that deal with end of pipe or stack emissions.

But American manufacturing is smart, and realizes that that’s not enough.  An even greater impact can be felt when you look further up the process, or just think differently. Furthermore, it is not only better for the environment, but usually better for the financial bottom line, to do so. This isn’t new, and I’ve written about this idea before, talking about safer chemicals and changes to avoid the need for permits.  But I’d like to sharpen the focus a bit, in the spirit of Earth Day, and share some resources and thoughts on “Sustainable Manufacturing.”

  •  US Department of Commerce Sustainable Manufacturing Initiative (SMI).  The resources include a toolkit on Sustainable Manufacturing Metrics, which allow companies to measure their performance. Companies can join the Sustainable Business Clearinghouse, or find out about sector focus studies, such as the first on packing machinery.
  •  National Council for Advanced Manufacturing’s Sustainable Manufacturing portal.  Resources on green jobs,  green products and clean tech, regional sustainable manufacturing.

One of the tenants of sustainability is that it looks at a process – in this case, manufacturing – from a number of angles. So rather than focus just on the economic impacts of a process, it considers the environmental and social impacts as well.

The University of Oregon just published a study that began on the factory floor and looked at all three “legs of the stool” to figure out a way to manufacture, in this case stainless steel knives, in a way that had a positive economic, environmental and social return.  Here’s a link to an article about the study.  As described in the article, “The method considers manufacturing techniques, speed of the operations, environmental impacts, materials, energy used and wastes. Decisions can be based on compliance with laws and regulations, and the effects of different approaches on worker safety and satisfaction.”

Sustainable manufacturing is an example of doing well by doing good.  Which seems appropriate for Earth Day.