Begin with the tool kit: Your sustainable manufacturing journey

The newest research indicates that sustainability is becoming a business imperative for a majority of manufacturers. Research also confirms many manufacturers have not quite figured out how to address it or where to start. Fortunately, an organization that has been around since after World War II is helping manufacturers around the world with a sensible approach to sustainability.

The Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation offers manufacturers help with the creation of a comprehensive tool kit and start-up guide for sustainable manufacturing. The OECD traces its roots back to the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe after the Second World War. The principal aim of the organization is to promote policies for sustainable economic growth and employment, a rising standard of living, and trade liberalization.

All the tools

The tool kit provides a practical starting point for manufacturers to improve the efficiency of their production processes and products, leading to improved financial and environmental outcomes. It was developed specifically for small to mid-sized manufacturers. It includes 18 of the most important and commonly used environmental indicators. They are the heart and soul of the tool kit. These indicators have been developed to help measure the environmental impact related to the production activities of a single facility. The guide provides advice for collecting data and calculating indicators that can lead to immediate performance improvements.

The goal is to reduce the amount of resources used (inputs) and optimize processing (manufacturing) to make the product (output) with minimal impact on the environment. This formula determines the intensity score of the product – for example, glass products have a high energy intensity score because of the energy required to convert raw material into glass. Use of intensity indicators provides manufacturers with a multi-pronged approach to improving their score. Reduce the numerator, increase the denominator, or some combination of both.    

Generally speaking, most manufacturers begin their sustainability journey by reducing energy consumption. Changing lights, upgrading air compressor systems, and installing variable frequency drives are typical first steps. Few manufacturers, however, actually track and report their energy intensity – energy consumed per unit of output. Tracking total energy consumed as a ratio of output helps track and communicate trends relative to actual activity and, as previously mentioned, provides incentives or rewards successful efforts directed toward increasing output.

As a rule, efforts directed toward increasing output yield significantly greater returns to the manufacturer compared to projects that reduce energy consumption. Conversely, I have seen examples of equipment upgrades made to reduce energy consumption that have led to improved output as a result of more consistent process parameters. 

Other intensity indicators relating to production facilities include water, greenhouse gas, residuals, air emissions, and residual releases to surface water. The tool kit provides clarity on each of these indicators and encourages manufacturers to choose the indicator or indicators that best fit their needs. It is extremely flexible and adaptable to individual organizations. In addition to the indicators applicable to operations, the tool kit provides a comprehensive set of product and material indicators for those inclined to pursue opportunities outside of their own facility.

I would advise and encourage application of the tool kit using a cyclical (plan – do – check) management process. I am confident that most manufacturers will discover they know more about sustainability than they thought they did. I am equally confident a review of the indicators will help them discover opportunities for improvement they may not have otherwise discovered. Some will inevitably discover the world of sustainability will present opportunities for new products, new markets, and new services. The OECD manufacturing tool kit is a valuable and legitimate guide to those desiring to apply sustainable practices in their organization. 

OECD forum

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development groups 34 member countries committed to democratic government and the market economy. It provides a forum where governments can compare and exchange policy experiences, identify good practices, and promote decisions and recommendations, as well as set international standards. The OECD is also one of the world’s largest and most reliable sources of comparable statistical, economic, and social data.

Randy Bertram is a senior manufacturing specialist with WMEP.

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