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Getting More Disciplined on Sustainability

In the 20th century, two of the most important disciplines that manufacturers embraced were lean manufacturing and safety. Lean practices were adopted not only on the factory floor but throughout many functions of the manufacturing company, leading to significant gains in efficiency. Best practices in safety have become almost part of the DNA of companies; it is the first message you see when entering many plant and factories throughout the country. Companies pride themselves on how few reportable safety incidents they have.

In the 21st century, the two disciplines that are now rising to the level of lean and safety are cybersecurity and sustainability. As manufacturers increasingly connect their plant floors, their companies, and outside their four walls, cybersecurity has become a fundamental necessity in order to ensure the continuity of business operations. In fact, the Manufacturing Leadership Council has advocated that cybersecurity be addressed and treated in a manner similar to that of safety.

The concept of sustainability has evolved from one focused on simple waste reduction and recycling to the much broader notion of the circular economy, which aims to redefine growth by designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.

But manufacturers are taking the idea a step further. According to the results of MLC’s new survey on Manufacturing 4.0 Sustainability, published in this issue under the headline “The Sustainability Imperative: Embracing the External Dimension”, Executive Editor Paul Tate writes that manufacturers consider sustainability critical to the industry’s ability to drive future competitiveness and growth. Moreover, they are increasingly thinking about sustainability in terms outside their four walls.

Also in this issue are a number of other noteworthy articles on sustainability. In “Boosting Industrial Sustainability Through Transformational Technologies”, Professor Steve Evans of the University of Cambridge says that digital technologies such as analytics, IoT, and augmented reality offer specific opportunities that can support a pathway to a sustainable industrial system.

And “In the Vanguard of Sustainability”, the NAM’s Laura Berkey-Ames details how the NAM’s partnerships with the Department of Energy and the EPA are helping the industry continue to lead the charge in protecting the environment.

What’s your perspective on sustainability? Write to me at [email protected]   M

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