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Product Assessment Key To Sustainable Manufacturing



July 5, 2018, 6:54 am

The characteristics of a company’s products’ are critical to the environmental performance of the business, as well as the customers’ ability to manage their own environmental impact. The quality of the products, often more than anything else, helps to define the reputation of the business, inspire the employees in their daily activities and decisions and build and maintain loyal relationships throughout the supply chain as well as with the customers.

While many factors affect the environmental performance of a product, it is the original product design that largely determines performance even before the product leaves the company. Paying attention to the environmental issues and opportunities, throughout the design and improvement cycles, has many benefits, which include:

  1. Substitute recycled/renewable materials for non-renewables:
  • Saves material cost
  • Creates a more attractive product for some buyers
  1. Reduce hazardous substances in products:
  • Lowers cost of monitoring, treatment and disposal
  • Products seen as safer and more desirable
  1. Improve recyclability or biodegradability of products:
  • Enhances value of material inputs
  • Reduces cost associated with disposal
  1. Lower product energy requirements:
  • Reduces cost of use
  • Can improve product desirability
  • Anticipated regulatory requirements and future standards
  1. Improve product durability:
  • Lessens the need for non-renewable materials
  • Increases product value

Manufacturers may make a single or several hundred products and each one will have its own unique environmental profile and impact, which can and will occur long after the product has left the facility where it was manufactured. In certain cases, how a customer uses a product, throughout its life cycle causes the greatest environmental impact and is also the manufacturer’s greatest opportunity for green innovation and improvement. The types of environmental issues and opportunities presented by products include their:

  1. Material composition: and whether they comprise recycled, renewable or reused materials, or are non-renewable or hazardous
  2. Need to be disposed of or recycled: at the end of their useful life
  3. Energy consumption: and release of greenhouse gases during use
  4. Ability to help customers: and consumers to reduce their own environmental impact

Indicators to measure performance:

Manufacturers can use several quantitative key indicators that relate to the environmental performance of their products:

  1. Recycled/reused content of your products
  2. Recyclability of your products
  3. Renewable materials used in your products
  4. Nonrenewable materials used in your products
  5. Restricted substances contained in your products
  6. Energy consumption in using your products
  7. Greenhouse gas emissions from the use of your products

In order to measure these indicators, the company will need to know the proportions of recycled or reused materials, renewable materials and restricted substances used in the products. The company will also need to record the weight and volume of each product produced and also record how much energy each product requires in a typical year of use. Another key estimate required will be the duration of the viability of the product which can be found by either testing the product or via other means.

A company’s journey towards sustainable manufacturing may only just be starting and the first set of chosen indicators may prove a real challenge to assemble and learn from but a company can benefit a lot as they progress. The rewards will certainly be worth the effort. As the company develops and expands further, it might find that it grows beyond the indicators decided upon earlier and will need to update and expand their list of performance indicators.

Companies will also need to consider the whole lifecycle of the products. There are many methodologies available that take into account the total lifecycle impact of products’ from inception till termination, including raw materials sourcing, refining, manufacturing, distribution, use and reuse/recycling/disposal. Although highly technical in data analysis and calculation, they enable you to compare similar products on the basis of their full impact and can help you design products with consideration for environment, cost and value from a very early stage of development.

Sustainable manufacturing is about more than improving environmental performance and while many companies begin with environmental aspects the social and economic dimensions are just as important. These might include: workplace quality issues; human rights; ethics; anti-corruption; and customer satisfaction. The economic aspect may go beyond the familiar financial issues to encompass the wider effects on the economy, such as job creation, tax payment and local development.

Source: OECD, www.

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