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How manufacturers can address global sustainability challenges in 2015

Manufacturing firms have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders when it comes to addressing global sustainability challenges.

Manufacturing firms have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders when it comes to addressing global sustainability challenges. The industry - on a global scale - underpins economies around the world by creating vital jobs and infrastructure however with the benefits come a unique set of challenges for communities and the environment.

In 2015, sustainability challenges and opportunities in this sector will expand, as companies, consumers, regulators, and activists demand greater attention to detail regarding environmental and social issues such as climate change and conflict minerals. Furthermore shifting markets and business practices raise new issues, such as the integration of connected technology into manufactured products.

With this in mind, Manufacturing Global takes a look at the four key sustainability trends affecting the sector in 2015.

Supply chain management: From conflict minerals and human trafficking to environmental degradation and resource scarcity, there are growing regulatory, commercial, and societal expectations that manufacturers need to understand and address in their supply chains. Most of these issues exist in a complex supply network beyond first-tier suppliers, so tackling them can be a challenge. At the same time, companies have an opportunity to increase transparency, improve sustainability, and strengthen supply networks to reduce business risks.

Managing human rights: Appropriate policies, due diligence, and impact assessments can help address concerns that manufactured products can be used to limit human rights - such as preventing freedom of movement or conducting illegitimate surveillance - especially with the increasing integration of information technology into “smart” products. Responsible human rights policies and approaches can also address concerns about the supply chain challenges mentioned above. Here, too, there are significant opportunities for manufacturers to empower people by providing good jobs, education, and products that address people’s basic needs for sustainable and reliable energy, water, and shelter. Furthermore, manufacturing firms have a responsibility to ensure their own employees are treated well and with respect.

Addressing climate constraints: Global manufacturers affect the world’s climate through their own energy and resource use and through the impacts of their products and supply chains. These companies are often incredibly efficient in their internal operations, but fewer companies understand how they can influence climate impacts upstream and downstream from their own operations.  Fewer still know how climate change will affect operations and markets. As energy prices slump, there is a risk that less attention will be paid to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But there is a tremendous opportunity for manufacturing companies to understand the full range of climate impacts on their operations and markets, and to work with customers and partners to develop products and services to meet those needs.

Implementing global sustainability strategies: Complex global manufacturing organizations need effective sustainability strategies that empower local operations while connecting back to a global vision. One element of this is to engage with customers to understand how companies’ products, services, and technologies can become environmentally and socially sustainable solutions to their customers’ needs.

To address these issues, companies should start by thinking about risks - to brands, markets, supply chains, and operations - and about the opportunities to enhance business relationships, obtain competitive advantage, build reputation, and address the real needs of people around the world.

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