Skip to content

Sustainable manufacturing: The why, the how, and the who

April 19, 2024
12 min read
Ioana Neamt

Ioana Neamt

Contributing Writer

As consumers, we get a lot of direction about how we could make more responsible, green, and mindful choices in our day-to-day lives. However, at least in terms of products that we can buy, those better choices must first be made available to us. Who creates those more responsible, green, mindful options for us to consider? Among the multitude that is the answer to that question, manufacturing businesses have a big role to play in manifesting this green new world that more and more of us want to live in.

To that end, the concept of sustainable manufacturing has been growing in its influence across industries, lifted (and sometimes dragged up) by the notable increase in consumer preference for products that are made with ethical and sustainability principles in mind.

What is sustainable manufacturing, and why is it important?

Everything about sustainable or green manufacturing makes it important in our delicate day and age. It prioritizes making products in a way that minimizes any negative impact on the environment and on the communities it touches, conserves resources as much as possible, and creates a safe and healthy work environment.

A sustainable manufacturing process considers these and more guiding principles throughout the entire lifecycle of the product, from the choice of materials that go into making it all the way to what happens to it when the product reaches the end of its useful life.

Sustainable manufacturing practices: Your itemized to-do list

Adopting a range of practical strategies in the interest of going green helps not only the wider sustainability movement, but also has the power to lend sustainability to the success of your business.

  • Use recycled materials — If applicable to your particular business, this can reduce your reliance on first-time resources and contribute to minimizing landfill waste. If you’re worried about using recycled materials, you can start with recycled paper packaging. 3D printing is another example of reducing material waste through reuse, while also enabling on-demand or bespoke manufacturing.
  • Monitor and increase energy efficiency — Consider using energy-saving technologies and processes that can lower your energy consumption and the dreaded carbon footprint. Choices like operating in green-building-certified facilities, investing in energy-efficient machinery, and even making good use of natural light throughout the day can have a significant impact on your consumption profile.
  • Draw on renewable energy sources — By powering operations with solar, wind, geothermal, or other renewable energy, manufacturers can contribute greatly to the transition to a low-carbon economy. Conduct energy audits to identify where you can make improvements and invest in increasing your efficiency across the board.
  • Optimize your use of resources — Water is both a precious resource and an essential element in almost everything we do. Sustainable manufacturing demands that we find ways to use less of it and explore water recycling techniques. Moreover, if using recycled materials does not work for your process, consider where and how your raw materials are sourced, as well as how you can optimize your use of them to leave nothing to waste.
  • Make durable and repairable products — In the design of your product, consider its entire lifespan. Creating a durable product will make it a reliable staple for your clients. Making it repairable also goes a long way toward minimizing waste, while saving your clients the frustration of frequent replacements.
  • Create a safe working environment — When workers can trust the care, health, and safety of their workplace, they will operate more confidently, efficiently, and will be better at training in new practices designed to increase sustainability.

Benefits and challenges of sustainable manufacturing

It turns out that best practices in sustainable manufacturing add up to almost immediate benefits. In addition to actively contributing to improving our collective environmental situation, you can improve the bottom line and gain a competitive edge in business by leveraging consumer favor.

  • Cost savings — Efficiently reducing waste and resource consumption translates to lower manufacturing costs, which in turn has a positive effect on the profit margins of your business.
  • Increased efficiency — A very close second-favorite benefit all around, a well-crafted increase in efficiency can lead to a more streamlined production process and better output.
  • Client satisfaction — Every brand understands the importance of its fans, and that is no different in manufacturing. As consumers are more and more focused on companies that prioritize sustainability, being true to the movement will show in the quality of your products and in the satisfaction of your clients.
  • Future-proofing — Climate change and resource constraint issues are not likely to ease up the pressure any time soon. The sooner you adopt sustainable practices and lean into the mindset, the better positioned you will be to remain competitive in a rapidly changing world.

Of course, it can’t be all sunshine and no rain, so let’s also take into account some of the challenges. Sustainability imperatives have not historically been at the forefront of manufacturing industries. And, considering the degree of change necessary to turn established practices around toward greener goals, some of the challenges of achieving more sustainable manufacturing processes can seem daunting.

  • Upfront costs — Upgrading machinery, facilities, software, and everything in between adds up to a hefty price tag, but investing in the future is a smart business practice that pays off in the long run.
  • Supply chain complexity — In order to build a supply chain that ensures sustainability, from raw material sourcing to product disposal, you need to identify and collaborate with partners and suppliers that share your commitment.
  • Measuring impact — It can be difficult to develop metrics to track your progress and demonstrate the effectiveness of the practices you implemented, but monitoring and measuring are essential.
  • Regulation compliance — Environmental and industry regulations can be too slow in getting with the times, but can also sometimes change faster than anticipated. What’s more, regulations are not always uniform, and staying up to date with the compliance landscape can be quite consuming.
Man with a clipboard standing in front of a concrete wall with green plants growing inside the wall.

Which companies engage in sustainable manufacturing?

While there is still much work to be done across the industry, there are quite a few examples of companies that take their environmental and social responsibility seriously and have spearheaded sustainable approaches to their responsible manufacturing processes.


Pharmaceutical company Merck has long been recognized by the EPA’s Energy Star program for its commitment to using clean energy. The world-renowned science and biotechnology firm has set its sights on a goal of acquiring 100 percent of its global energy from renewable sources, by 2040.


American IT company HP serves as a good example for its work to ensure the ethical sourcing of its raw materials. Specifically, HP engaged in proactively bringing together an ethical and sustainable supply chain through partner vetting, using recycled materials whenever possible, and sourcing first-use minerals from outside of any conflict zones.


Chemical industry company Milliken has been in business since 1865 and has seen its fair share of trends and changes. In the meantime, it has also learned valuable lessons, which it puts to good use. The company has long committed to completely eliminating waste from its manufacturing process and has so far made impressive strides. Milliken has found ways to direct 99 percent of manufacturing waste to reuse and recycling, instead of it going to a landfill.

Embrace the power of sustainable manufacturing with Katana

Walking the sustainable walk is all about making the right choices. With Katana’s cloud-based solutions designed for manufacturers, you can inform your decisions using live inventory, production, accounting, and reporting features.

  • Get detailed insights on production efficiency, inventory levels, and material usage
  • Create and optimize workflows to reduce idle time in the manufacturing process
  • Schedule manufacturing with the Katana production planning feature, which allows you to work with real-time information on lead times and production capacity
  • Prevent delays in purchases and order shipping through efficient inventory planning and forecasting
  • Monitor and manage your resources with Katana’s manufacturing analytics and production scheduling software
  • Improve workflow visibility, ensure efficient collaboration, minimize downtime, reduce waste, and more with Katana production management tools

Get a demo to learn more!

Sustainable manufacturing FAQs

How do you manufacture in a sustainable way?

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! While this does not detail the complexity of the manufacturing process, it is a good set of principles from which to start. Commit to sustainable practices and then educate yourself and your company on the options. Set goals to benchmark your progress. Implement closed-loop manufacturing, waste reduction, and management systems, and partner with suppliers who are committed to reaching the same goals as you.

What are the best tools to empower sustainability?

We build sustainability through guiding principles and how we approach the work we do. Powerful tools such as Katana inventory management software can help manufacturers maintain an efficiency level that reduces waste, trace raw materials to ensure sustainable sourcing, and integrate with like-minded partners to build a sustainable network.

What is the key to sustainable manufacturing?

Monitoring, maintenance, and future-proofing are essential elements of sustainable manufacturing. Prioritize sustainability in your decision-making process, monitor the progress of your implementations, maintain the efficiency of your machinery and your operations, and adopt relevant new technologies as they become available.

What are the 3 pillars of sustainability?

Sustainability goes hand in hand with our responsibility to build a world that can face current and future global challenges. To that end, the three pillars of sustainability are environmental protection, social equity and well-being, and economic cooperation.

Ioana Neamt

Ioana Neamt

Contributing Writer
With more than 10 years of copywriting experience, Ioana has a fondness for longform writing, investigative journalism, cats, and Victorian-style mansions.

Table of contents

Get inventory trends, news, and tips every month

Get visibility over your sales and stock

Wave goodbye to uncertainty by using Katana Cloud Inventory for total inventory control