In today's environment, factoring sustainable processes and goods into manufacturing is no longer an option -- it's a critical piece of a modern business strategy for companies trying to compete on the global market.
So said Giancarlo Losma, president of Italy's Federmacchine, during his speech at the "Fast Forward: Strategies for Solving Manufacturers' Most Challenging Problems" conference put on by IndustryWeek and the Italian Trade Commission last week.
"Sustainability is a fundamental requirement in manufacturing today," he said. "Climate changes and the increasing awareness of public opinion towards issues relating to the impact on the environment translate into a new approach to the way companies are run."
For manufacturers of capital goods -- a critical and oftentimes overlooked component of eco-friendly efforts -- this presents a particular set of challenges that determine the sustainability development success all the way down the supply chain, Losma explained.
"A product can only be considered truly eco-friendly if it meets certain conditions during its whole life cycle," he said. Because sustainability is traced all the way from design and selection of the materials to be used, through manufacturing to the recycling and reuse of materials at the end, to create sustainable products, manufacturers must take a closer look at their basic tools to meet the standards.
"At the base of the production chain, capital goods define the technological content, the performance, and the capability to meet the requirements of the end users of most of the products being sold," he said. "For this reason, machinery plays an essential role in the manufacturing of sustainable products and in sustainable systems."
Taking this view, manufacturers of capital goods face three challenges to successfully bring sustainability through the supply chain:
- Producing eco-friendly machines and products
- Limiting the impact on the internal and external environment
- Training highly-specialized personnel
Focusing a business plan around meeting these challenges can be the key to unlocking new profits in this age of sustainability.
Producing Eco-Friendly Machines and Products
In addition to his role as president of Federmacchine, Losma is also the founder and president of Losma SpA, a global manufacturer of eco-friendly air and liquid suction systems for machine tools. This has put him in a unique position to appreciate this challenge.
The most recent product put out by the company -- the Green Heart filter -- perfectly exemplifies the extent to which manufacturers must ingrain their sustainability efforts into their business model to make an impact, Losma explained.
"We have decided to manufacture a product that could, in all aspects, have a limited environmental impact," he said. "In terms of materials used to manufacture our products, Losma has made a clear sector choice to give preference to recyclable materials and steel that can be used indefinitely."
For Green Heart, this meant composing the filter system using exclusively natural materials and selling it ready to use, without wasteful packaging. Furthermore, Losma SpA designed the manufacturing process used to create it to completely carbon neutral.
Focusing so intently on eco-friendly design like this is key to making sustainability represent a competitive advantage for the company, Losma said. As this product demonstrates, doing so requires that it becomes an integral part of the overall business strategy, even if that means
rethinking every component tin the process.
Limiting the Impact on the Environment
"Losma SpA operates in an eco-friendly sector," Losma explained. "We produce filters -- components capable of reducing as much as possible the impact of production machinery of any kind on the outside environment as well as within the company walls."
These filters help ensure the safety of the operators working on the machines and limits the dumping of toxic waste into the environment, which goes far in muting the standard industrial impact.
Products like this, he said, continue the full-life-cycle sustainable process -- using eco-friendly components on machine tools to limit environmental impact, companies guarantee sustainable production throughout the entire process, from suppliers through production and into the market. In doing so, their products meet the standards traced by the life cycle assessment tools and, in so, the consumer demands.
Training Highly Specialized Personnel
Transforming a manufacturing process to meet these sustainability standards is no easy task. Doing so requires some heavy investments in training to create a culture of workers capable of meeting the complex tasks these advanced production practices require.
"The strong technical and technological component of the sector means that specific and continuous training of staff is absolutely necessary," said Losma.
This ongoing process makes capital goods manufacturers act as disseminators of the critical knowledge and technological know-how that is vital for both the economic system of the country and also the individual workers.
"In this way, we manufacturers provide an answer to social development for both the individual and the community," he said.
Creating this culture of trained staff is the final component in the building a business strategy around sustainability, said Losma.
"The employees of the companies in the capital goods sector are extremely skilled, highly specialized operators," he explained. "As the investment made on each employee is rather expensive, it is clear that each company wants to keep their staff to themselves once trained."
This puts a new focus on creating a better environment to help keep those highly skilled workers helping develop your company's sustainability efforts.
"In a sector like ours, human resources are the real asset of the company. For this reason, we guarantee opportunities and professional growth for all out staff," he said. "This effort in ensuring loyalty is an advantage for the company, which makes a profit not only from the production turnover, but also from the preservation of its personnel."
And it is this, he said, that makes sustainability "a real business strategy."