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July 5, 2024

10 Most Effective Ways to Reduce Manufacturing Carbon Footprint

As new research has arisen in the 21st century, it's become clear that we as individuals and collectives need to be more aware of our impact on the environment. Carbon dioxide is the main gas that is causing global temperatures to rise, and manufacturers have a duty to understand their carbon footprint and try to reduce it as much as possible.

The Oxford dictionary definition refers to carbon footprint as:

A measure of the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of a particular individual, organization, or community.

In a manufacturing context, the carbon footprint is particularly significant due to the intense energy consumption, resource extraction, and emissions associated with producing goods. Reducing these emissions is crucial not only for environmental sustainability but also for compliance with global regulations, and maintaining a good reputation with the public. Companies focusing on reducing their carbon footprint don't just see benefits in cost reduction and efficiency, but also in public opinions and brand loyalty.

Current State of Carbon Emissions in Manufacturing

The manufacturing sector is among the largest contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions. It accounts for a whopping one-fifth of global carbon emissions and 54% of the world’s total energy usage. This is largely due to the reliance on fossil fuels for energy and inefficiencies in material usage. Recent studies suggest that if manufacturers do not take decisive action to reduce their carbon outputs, the sector will continue to heavily exacerbate global warming and environmental degradation.

10 Ways to Reduce Carbon Footprint in Manufacturing

However, despite being such a large proportion of global emissions, there is growing awareness and action among manufacturers to address these figures. As such, we have put together the 10 most effective ways that manufacturers can reduce their carbon footprint, and the many benefits of doing so.

Improve Energy Efficiency

One of the most straightforward methods to cut emissions is improving energy efficiency. Implementing smart meters to monitor and manage energy usage allows manufacturers to identify processes that may be using excess energy. Implementing a manufacturing analytics software like Busroot can also enable you to monitor your energy usage and identify areas where you can make savings.

For example, the software can identify that one of your machines is frequently overheating and using lots of excess energy. Putting in place mitigation like fitting new fans or properly cooling the area can reduce your energy consumption and improve your carbon footprint. Overall, energy efficiency not only reduces emissions but also lowers operational costs.

Switch to Renewable Energy Sources

Transitioning to renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydropower can dramatically reduce a manufacturing facility's carbon footprint. These technologies are becoming more cost-effective and accessible, providing a viable alternative to fossil fuels. Investing in renewables not only helps companies reduce emissions but also shields them from the volatility of fossil fuel prices. It can also enhance a company's brand as environmentally conscious, appealing to a growing demographic of green-minded consumers.

Optimise Manufacturing Processes

Adopting lean manufacturing techniques ensures that your processes are as efficient as possible and aren't wasting either energy or materials. Examples of lean manufacturing techniques include 5S, Kaizan and Kanban. These approaches focuses on reducing non-value-add activities, conserving energy and materials, and thereby lowering the carbon footprint. Lean practices not only help in reducing emissions but also significantly improve productivity and reduce costs. Streamlining processes through lean methods is thus a win-win for both sustainability and business performance.

Source Low-Carbon Materials

Using recycled materials and those sourced from sustainable methods can greatly reduce the carbon footprint of manufacturing processes. This strategy not only lessens the reliance on virgin raw materials but also promotes a circular economy. By integrating more low-carbon materials, manufacturers can significantly reduce the environmental impact of their products throughout their lifecycle. This practice also helps in complying with increasingly stringent environmental regulations and meeting consumer expectations for sustainable products.

Enhance Supply Chain Transparency

In this day and age, transparency within supply chains can be a bit tricky. There are so many moving parts, but it's crucial that you are aware of all aspects of your supply chain. This includes knowing exactly where your products have come from, how the people who have produced them are treated, and how they have been transported to your factory. All of this data is crucial for identifying high-emission areas and making better decisions as to where you source your goods. By choosing sustainable options you can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. But this isn't the only benefit, in order to achieve a transparent supply chain you need effective communication, and this communication strengthens the relationship between supplier and vendor. This can reduce delays and improve overall efficiency of your supply chain.

Implement Sustainable Logistics

Optimising transportation logistics — from route planning to vehicle loading — can be a great way to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. There's advanced software available that can create more efficient delivery routes, meaning your materials come to you quicker and damage the environment less! You can also opt for transportation companies that choose cleaner fuels to further decrease impacts. Sustainable logistics not only contribute to carbon reduction but also to significant cost savings in fuel and maintenance.

Adopt Digital and Industry 4.0 Technologies

Adopting Industry 4.0 technologies such as IoT devices, AI and analytics softwares can help manufacturers to identify areas that could be improved. For example, our manufacturing analytics software Busroot uses IoT devices to monitor key metrics within your facility, including OEE, downtime, cycle time and asset utilisation. It can identify patterns in downtime for example, it may show that your machine keeps breaking down when it's load exceeds a certain level. By implementing a fix, you now have less periods of downtime, less material waste and less unnecessary energy usage. As such, these technologies can improve the efficiency of your facility, which naturally optimises your carbon emissions.

Encourage Recycling and Waste Reduction

Developing comprehensive recycling programmes within manufacturing operations is vital to reducing your environmental and carbon footprint. Reducing waste that goes to landfill ensures that the emissions used to create the product are not in vein. It also means that your waste can be used to make new products, reducing the need for virgin materials. Effective waste management and recycling can also translate into cost savings by reducing the need for raw material purchases. It's important to ensure that your employees are engaged and on board with your recycling efforts, as they will be the ones implementing such changes and ensuring they are a success on a day to day basis.

Embrace Sustainable Product Design

Designing products with sustainability in mind is another brilliant way to reduce your carbon footprint. Some useful sustainable product design considerations include:

  • Reducing the size of your product so it uses as little material as possible
  • Designing modular compartments so if one part breaks, you don't need to replace the entire thing
  • Designing refillable products, so you only need to buy the main product once
  • Ensuring the packaging isn't too
  • Use recycled materials

Sustainable design not only helps in reducing the environmental impact but also meets the growing consumer demand for green products. Furthermore, it can lead to innovation in new product categories, opening up new markets and opportunities.

Promote Green Commutes for Employees

It's not just your physical factory and products that encompass your carbon footprint, it's your employees too. How employees get to and from work is a big contributor to a manufacturers carbon emissions, so try encouraging employees to lift share, cycle, or use public transportation during their commute. Sometimes it's not enough to purely encourage though, you need to offer incentives such as cycle to work schemes where you finance the cost of a new bike, or monetary benefits for people who use public transportation. Such initiatives may seem expensive, but they can enhance the company's reputation as an employer committed to sustainability, and this may help in attracting and retaining employees, saving money in the long run.

Challenges and Solutions

As much as sustainable initiatives sound pretty easy to implement, there can be certain challenges.

Data Collection and Management

Effective carbon management requires accurate data collection. Implementing advanced tracking systems can address this need, though it requires initial investment and training. The data collected help in making informed decisions that lead to significant reductions in carbon emissions. These systems can be integrated with existing IT infrastructure to streamline data management and ensure continuity and accuracy. Luckily, Busroot is a very affordable option to energy management, and can start from as little as £10,800 per year! Check out our pricing page for more information.

Financial and Operational Barriers

The upfront costs of some sustainable practices can be high, and this may put some companies off from investing. However, long-term savings and potential government incentives can offset these expenses. Strategic planning and phased implementation can also ease these transitions, such as fitting solar panels in chunks so that you don't have to pay for it all at once. Financial barriers can also be mitigated by seeking partnerships and grants focused on sustainability initiatives. This approach helps in distributing the financial risk and aligning with broader industry movements towards green practices. To save money on digital investments, check out our Lighthouse Project where we are offering the opportunity for 25 manufacturers to implement our manufacturing analytics software completely free of charge!

Overcoming Resistance to Change

Cultural shifts within an organisation are necessary for sustainable practices to take root, and this can sometimes come with resistance from employees. Education and engagement at all levels of the company can help mitigate this resistance. Leadership commitment is crucial in driving change and fostering an environment where sustainability is valued. Regular training and communication can also ensure that all employees are on board and motivated to contribute to the company's sustainability goals.

Future Trends in Sustainable Manufacturing

Emerging Technologies

Innovations in materials science, energy efficiency, and digital tools promise to further reduce the carbon footprint of manufacturing in the future. Continuous advancements in technology provide new opportunities for manufacturers to enhance their sustainability efforts. Staying abreast of these developments is essential for maintaining competitive advantage in an increasingly eco-conscious market.

Regulatory Changes and Policies

Governments worldwide are tightening regulations around carbon emissions, which will drive further changes in manufacturing practices. Staying ahead of these regulatory changes can prevent compliance issues and position companies as leaders in sustainable manufacturing. Proactive engagement with policymakers can also influence the development of practical and favourable regulations.

Long-Term Sustainability Goals

As global awareness and regulations increase, long-term sustainability goals become integral to corporate strategies. These objectives not only focus on reducing environmental impacts but also on maintaining economic viability and social responsibility. Setting ambitious yet achievable goals helps in guiding the strategic direction and operational adjustments needed to achieve sustainable growth.

By embracing these strategies, manufacturers can significantly reduce their carbon footprint, benefiting both the planet and their bottom line. Through persistent effort and continuous improvement, the manufacturing sector can lead the way towards a more sustainable and environmentally responsible future.