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Small Changes that Help Manufacturers Go Green and Make a Big Impact

Small Changes that Help Manufacturers Go Green and Make a Big Impact

Opportunities for Canadian manufacturers to begin “greening” their operations are everywhere—the challenge is knowing exactly how their journey should begin.

The opportunities for Canadian manufacturers to begin “greening” their operations are everywhere — from the amount of electricity their equipment uses to the waste that often accompanies the production of goods. What’s sometimes challenging is knowing exactly how their journey should begin.

For some, the first step is to bring together stakeholders from departments across the company to form a sustainability committee. These kinds of groups can begin looking at the overall impact the company’s manufacturing processes are having on the environment and developing a plan for improvement.

In other cases a single executive is appointed or hired to act as the company’s chief sustainability officer, where they can be dedicated full-time to tracking data such as carbon emissions and guiding efforts to reduce any negative effects from production.

Another approach is to reach outside the organization first, by connecting with non-profits or other third parties who have expertise in green manufacturing best practices. Joining industry associations or attending events about how to drive sustainability may also be part of the initial plan.

These are all good ideas, but they’re far from the only options available to Canadian manufacturers.

The truth is, you begin your sustainability journey even before you’ve allocated financial resources to support a committee or program.

You can make progress long before you’ve invested in new equipment, changed business processes or begin looking at data through a “green” lens.

In fact, many of the steps outlined below could be adopted by manufacturing companies as well as businesses in many other markets. Discuss them with your team and you might wind up brainstorming even more ideas to shift to a sustainability-minded culture:

1. Empowering Employees To Work From Anywhere

One of the biggest sources of fossil fuel consumption happens before a factory or manufacturing plant begins its daily operations. It’s the influx of employees driving their cars on long commutes, sometimes from homes in another city or town.

While some employees have to be on site, such as those working on a production line, manufacturing teams are made up of many knowledge workers who don’t. This could include those who work in sales, for example, as well as marketing, HR, finance or even customer service.

As we all experienced over the last few years, it’s now possible to use digital technologies to equip those who aren’t on the front lines to do their work elsewhere. They might get their jobs done from home, a coffee shop or a coworking facility.

Perhaps best of all, reducing the time employees need to spend on the road can improve satisfaction while benefiting the environment at the same time.

2.Transforming Paper-based Processes Into Digitally-Driven Tasks

Manufacturing has traditionally involved a lot of paper, from the initial contracts with customers to a bill of sale, support documentation and more.

In most cases, though, there are plenty of applications available to eliminate the need to print all that materials. Just look at tools such as DocuSign, for example, which make it easy to finalize agreements with a few clicks. Online knowledge centres or customer portals can provide an easier way to offer self-service than flipping through a manual.

Beyond saving some trees, digitizing documents and processes makes them more accessible to people, and avoids the risk of misplacing documents.

3. Offering Alternatives To Packaged Convenience

Having a vending machine filled with snacks or even meals has been a standard in many companies for a long time, including manufacturers. Unfortunately, a lot of the wrapping and other materials associated with those treats finds up in a landfill — with dire consequences for our future.

If you company has an eating area for employees, consider setting up a table or counter space with a few simple and affordable appliances that would encourage people to prepare healthier snacks. Those that have an on-site cafeteria could look for suppliers with healthier, less packaged products to put on the menu.

4. Recycling Electronics To Benefit The Community

Every company eventually builds up a stockpile of old computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices. While organizations are often very careful about what kind of technology they purchase and its costs, the same attention isn’t always given to how they’ll dispose of those tools once they need to upgrade.

Regardless of where they’re based, most manufacturers can probably find nearby schools or community centres that would benefit from gently used electronic equipment. Cutting back on e-waste is as viable a sustainability initiative as any other.

5. Educating Employees To Take Action

We’ve all been guilty of leaving the lights on occasionally, or failing to power down our devices when we’re not using them. Who hasn’t left the tap running a little longer than necessary? These habits don’t seem like a big deal, but they can add up significantly in terms of how they adversely affect the Earth’s natural resources.

Manufacturers don’t have to limit themselves to changing the way they produce products to achieve carbon neutral or even carbon neutral status. They can also arm their workforce with knowledge that could influence how they behave on the job and even when they’re not working.

Remember that, increasingly, many employees are choosing where they want to work based on whether they share their employers’ values, and the extent to which they feel a sense of purpose. Weaving in sustainability into training and professional development can go a long away, especially when you pair it with more concrete actions at a company level.

Starting with small steps towards a greener future can quickly build a sense of achievement and momentum within a manufacturing firm. It can inspire those who might become part of a broader environmental working group, or even help identify your first chief sustainability officer. Suppliers and even customers who hear about the steps you’re taking might also decide to follow your lead — at which point a small effort starts to become a lot bigger.

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