Sustainable Manufacturing


Men working in a carpentry workshop, South Africa.If you currently manufacture or plan to manufacture a product or products anywhere in the world —whether to sell in your home country or elsewhere — you should be familiar with the Sustainable Manufacturing Toolkit created by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The organization is made up of the most advanced “democratic, free-market countries” — 34 at present, including the United States. Together they discuss and develop economic and social policies by which most of the world abides. 


With mounting global concern about the effects of climate change and abuse of the environment, the OECD’s toolkit provides 18 internationally acceptable indicators for companies of any size to measure and improve the environmental performance of their manufacturing facilities and products. Measuring environmental performance is a key first step toward sustainability, but it can be difficult, especially for smaller companies. For this reason, the toolkit, which is available free of charge as a booklet and as a website at, was designed to be easy to use, even for nonexperts. It links improvements to financial costs and benefits, provides frameworks to help make decisions, provides information and links to more detailed metrics and guidance. The OECD suggests the following seven action steps to ensure sustainable manufacturing.


1. Prepare: Map your impact and set priorities. For any journey you need a good map to help you get to your destination. Bring together an internal “sustainability team” to set objectives, review your environmental impact and decide on priorities. There will be many ways to reduce the environmental impact of your facility and improve its perfor-mance, and no single person will have all the answers.


2. Select useful performance indicators. Identify indicators that are important for your business and what data should be collected to help drive continuous improvement. The 18 OECD indicators are a great starting point, but they are by no means exhaustive. Some companies will benefit from adding more indicators over time, while other companies may only want to use a handful of the indicators provided.


3. Measure the inputs used in production. Identify how materials and components used into your production processes influence environmental performance. The first set of indicators relates to the raw materials and intermediate products used in your production processes to make your products. Take a closer look at the impact that material inputs can have on your environmental performance.


4. Assess operations of your facility. Consider the impact and efficiency of the operations in your facility (e.g. energy intensity, greenhouse gas generation, emissions to air and water). Look at what happens within your facility and the activities you undertake to transform a variety of inputs (Step 3) into end products for delivery and sale (Step 4).  


5. Evaluate your products. Identify factors such as energy consumption, recyclability and use of hazardous substances that help determine how sustainable your end product is.


6. Improve: Understand measured results. Read and interpret your indicators and understand trends in your perfor-mance. The work involved in identifying and tracking indicators will yield significant information that can help to improve your knowledge, strategy and results.  


7. Take action to improve performance. Choose opportunities to improve your performance and create action plans to implement them. Your efforts should be starting to pay off now. Now, you need to make your decisions happen — by setting clear targets and creating a tangible action plan.


Sustainable manufacturing is not about a final destination or result but about continuous learning, innovation and improvement, the OECD states. It advises after completing all seven steps; revisit the process regularly (e.g. yearly or every few years) to continually improve your activities.