What is Sustainable Manufacturing?

From the U.S. Department of Commerce1, "sustainable manufacturing is defined as the creation of manufactured products that use processes that minimize negative environmental impacts, conserve energy and natural resources, are safe for employees, communities, and consumers and are economically sound."

A workshop sponsored by the U.S. National Institute for Standards and Technology provides a more detailed definition which also expands the scope of Sustainable Manufacturing across the life-cycle2.

"Sustainable manufacturing is a systems approach for the creation and distribution (supply chain) of innovative products and services that: minimizes resources (inputs such as materials, energy, water, and land); eliminates toxic substances; and produces zero waste that in effect reduces green house gases, e.g., carbon intensity, across the entire life cycle of products and services."

Since the purpose of manufacturing is the production of products, it is difficult to separate manufacturing decisions from the broader impacts of product use and disposal. Product design decisions (including material selection), and business strategies that affect the product life-cycle and product recovery have a significant impact on the sustainability of the manufactured product. Sustainable Manufacturing clearly must consider the manufacturing process and upstream material flows, but also should consider how a product is used and the recovery strategies after use.

Sustainable Manufacturing Diagram

As society considers the impacts of global climate change and regional economic disparities, a visionary view of Sustainable Manufacturing considers it as a means to maintaining the high standard of living which we have come to enjoy in the developed world3.

"Sustainable Manufacturing is the pathway to re-establishing manufacturing as the main activity in the future clean economy, built on the principles of sustainability. Given the new and most serious constraints imposed by the reality of climate change on business, companies of all sizes are adapting their business models and strategy to include the triple environment they operate in and affect: economic, natural and social.

"Products and processes will require significant changes in order to qualify as sustainable. Investing in sustainability will provide great opportunities for growth, competitiveness and innovation to manufacturing companies transitioning from the carbon-constrained economy of the 20th century to the carbon-neutral, clean economy of the 21st century."

  1. [http://www.trade.gov/competitiveness/sustainablemanufacturing/how_doc_defines_SM.asp]
  2. [Sudarsan Rachuri, Ram D. Sriram, Anantha Narayanan, Prabir Sarkar, Jae-Hyun Lee, Kevin W. Lyons, Sharon J. Kemmerer (Eds.), "Sustainable Manufacturing: Metrics, Standards, and Infrastructure - Workshop Report", NISTIR 7683, 2010.]
  3. [http://sustainablemanufacturing.biz/4701/index.html]