Embracing sustainable manufacturing
Protecting the planet is top priority for everyone – right from consumers to manufacturers. With consumers becoming more aware about the environmental impact of products and services, green consumerism is on the rise.
A growing number of manufacturers have realized the financial and environmental benefits of sustainable business practices. Sustainable manufacturing has become a critical factor in their ability to maximise profitability with cost savings, customer demands, and new business opportunities as main drivers.
Creating efficiencies while operating responsibly
Manufacturers always see energy consumption and raw materials as the biggest expenses that impact their profitability. If they opt for sustainable ways of manufacturing then these costs could be reduced to a great extent. By reducing energy costs, companies could expect better bottom-line performance and compete on price without compromising on quality. The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), spends over $200 billion per year to power manufacturing plants. To help cut those costs, Sustainability in Manufacturing coalition has been formed along with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). Supported by the DoE’s Better Plants Program, this partnership focuses on driving energy efficiency improvements and fast-tracking the implementation of energy-efficient tools for U.S. manufacturers.
Packaging is another basic requirement for all companies. Not only does it comprise a major chunk of their investment, but also in waste generation for customers. Reusable or buyback of packaging is slowly, but steadily gaining traction.
Apart from these, companies can opt for sustainable ways by replacing materials and processes that affect the environment negatively with eco-friendly ones that assure the least amount of pollution or degradation.
Sustainability is driven by awareness
Increasing awareness towards sustainability is a very important factor for industries to show their commitment to responsible environmental practices. This involves instilling consciousness among employees helping them understand the need and urgency as well as among partners up and downstream a business’ value chain. For example, companies are increasingly asking their suppliers to comply with globally accepted standards, which specify requirements for an effective environmental management system (EMS).
Manufacturing companies are already stepping up to the challenge and taking initiatives to build a more sustainable future. They are designing products that conserve energy, reduce waste, and eliminate pollution.
Let us look at the key factors that are being considered for a sustainable way of manufacturing:
Optimised use of Energy
Cutting energy costs are paramount especially when generated from fossil fuels owing to the emissions they contribute to. Replacing a single-speed motor with a variable-speed or servo drive, using a variable-speed hydraulic pump, or using alternative sustainable sources of energy like wind, solar, or hydroelectric power are some of the various ways to achieve this objective.
Of course, substituting power generated through fossil fuels with renewable energy such as solar, wind or hydroelectricity is the most effective way to ensure consumption of power that is green. However, just about 26% of the world’s electricity comes from renewables. The scope to move to these sources will require policy intervention and creation of cost effective mechanisms that can promote adoption mainly in developing countries.
Consuming only supplies and resources that are needed for producing the finished product is not enough in itself for eliminating waste production. A significant amount of waste is also results from scrapped products that do not meet quality parameters. While manufacturers must consciously use materials such as metal, paper, or even packaging material, they also need to invest in research, collaboration and tech and reduces product defects as well as increases their durability
Manufacturers must restrict the use of production materials that are not environmentally friendly by replacing them with eco-friendly alternatives. Additionally to avoid water pollution, they should invest to ensure treatment of waste water before it is discharged into water bodies.
Recycling forms a vital element of sustainable manufacturing. It not only allows utilized materials to be reused, thereby avoid extraction and conserving limited resources; but also significantly reduces waste generation while reducing pollution.
Green manufacturing initiatives by STL
At STL, sustainable manufacturing is core to how the company operates. Its operational fundamentals are built on the UN SDGs and business decisions guided by comprehensive materiality assessments.
Some sustainable manufacturing initiatives that have been undertaken by STL include:
Leveraging water resources wisely – To ensure water is utilized in most judicious manner, STL has done a complete water mapping of its operations to understand where and how improvements need to be made. Based on these findings, dashboards at manufacturing plants have been introduced to evaluate consumption trends, cooling towers have been upgraded with mechanised dosing systems that have optimized blow-downs, recycled water is used in the scrubbing process high-efficiency Reverse Osmosis plants and condensed recovery systems have been setup in addition to several other investments. This has resulted in reducing and reclaiming 29% of its freshwater intake. During FY20 STL managed to repurpose over 1.24 lakh m³ of water, as compared to 0.78 lakh m³ in FY19.
STL has also installed five injection-type water harvesting structures at its manufacturing locations to counter the continuing water shortages through a harvesting potential of over 3000 m3 cumulatively. .
Lifecycle Assessments– STL conducts the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for its products and aims to cover 100% of product families by 2030. This includes assessing the ecological impact of raw materials, production, logistics, deployment, and disposal. The assessment helps STL identify areas for improvement that ensure its products have minimal environmental impact as well as are durable and eco-friendly. The LCA is complemented by a stringent Quality, Environment Health and Safety (QEHS) policy regime to minimise accident, spillage, and the overall ecological signature of STL’s operations.
Opting a Zero Waste to Landfill (ZWL) strategy – With a majority of its manufacturing units in India, diversion of waste from landfills is a material issue for STL as well as aligned with India’s national priorities. This approach has allowed the organisation to safely divert over 64k MT of industrial wastes from landfills while repurposing others like optical fibre and cable fragments,, Sodium Hypochlorite, and low smoke zero halogens (LSZH). By collaborating with textile, water, and effluent treatment sectors, STL has been able to repurpose these wastes back in to the value chain, resulting into substantial revenue flows in addition to a circular use of resources. Even packaging waste is repurposed to ensure limited resources are not wasted helping avoid 830 MT of plastic. In 2020 STL received the prestigious ZWL certification by Intertek, a US-based Total Quality Assurance Provider, for its manufacturing facilities in India. At present, while the company’s manufacturing facilities at Shendra, Rakholi, and Dadra divert over 99% of the manufacturing process wastes away from the landfill, the plant at Waluj diverts more than 96% waste. In FY20, STL went a step further reusing over 21,000 MT of the total 30,306 MT of waste generated prioritizing it over recycling.
Reducing carbon emissions – The company has a multi-dimensional approach to check, balance, and mitigate carbon emissions with resolute action, implemented through an ISO 14001 certified Environmental Management System. Through several frugal innovations and process tweaks, STL has been able to avoid more than 5500 tCO2.
For STL, sustainable manufacturing is a fundamental part of its enterprise culture. It has taken several ambitious goals for 2030 including 50% reduction in its carbon footprint, becoming water positive globally, having 100% of its manufacturing facilities zero waste to landfill certified and covering all its product families under LCAs. STL is committed to recalibrating its processes for enabling a sustainable future beyond tomorrow.