Sustainability has secured a place at the top of the corporate agenda of many industries. To maximize success in this area, manufacturers must emphasize the importance of sustainability throughout a product’s lifecycle, from conception to rollout to end of life, while simultaneously giving careful thought to product design, distribution, and components sources.
One of the chief goals of manufacturers in regards to sustainability is to reduce their CO2 emissions, particularly those generated during the material design phase. This makes it crucial to select the proper material. No matter which material is chosen, it is best practice to only use one if possible (even if the design involves multiple layers) as single-material products can be recycled more easily during the end of life phase. Manufacturers should also consider using recycled materials such as recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) to decrease a product’s carbon footprint.
During the product design phase, also known as product assembly, suppliers should recommend that reusable materials be used. Metals are a good suggestion as they offer a wide range of reprocessing options. That being said, the reprocessing of any material requires the guidance of those with extensive expertise.
On the opposite end of the product’s lifecycle is disassembly, which is often forgotten about, yet remains an important factor to consider in sustainable product design. Minimizing the number of components is the simplest and most effective way to ensure this process is environmentally friendly.
The Role of Transport
Materials are undeniably a significant contributor to the carbon footprint of a product during assembly and disassembly. However, it is also important to consider ways in which transport practices can be adapted to meet sustainability targets. For instance, manufacturers may opt to strategically locate production facilities so that the distance products need to be shipped is minimized. Container ships used to export products overseas are known to be high greenhouse gas emitters. In fact, the 15 largest container ships generate the same amount of pollution as all of the world’s cars combined. To change this grim reality, materials can be sourced in-region to circumvent the need for intercontinental distribution.
Identifying the Right Partner
Three (3) questions should be asked when searching for a sustainable supplier:
1. Does this supplier have expertise in not just their product area, but also in sustainable engineering practices more broadly?
2. Does this supplier adhere to their own sustainability ideals and objectives?
3. Does this supplier understand your product performance requirements and business needs?
Challenges relating to sustainability and environmental impact are complex. However, effective collaboration can be achieved when manufacturers themselves not only prioritize sustainability, but also partner with suppliers that prioritize the reduction of their own environmental impact.