The Path to Sustainable Manufacturing Runs Through Industry 4.0 and Is Achieved Through Collaboration

Pete DiSante & Nicole Kampe, Automation Alley
December 8, 2021
Download PDF


Industry 4.0 has provided the roadmap for sustainable manufacturing, but it's going to require a collaborative effort. Pete DiSante and Nicole Kampe take a look at the road ahead.

The Path to Sustainable Manufacturing Runs Through Industry 4.0 and Is Achieved Through Collaboration

The manufacturing industry is heavily responsible for global emissions of greenhouse gases. In fact, in the United States, manufacturing accounts for almost a quarter (23%) of direct carbon emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, The World Economic Forum reports that industrial waste makes up at least 50% of global waste. Much of these environmental issues are the result of poor manufacturing processes. It’s clear from these sobering statistics that manufacturing companies must take ethical responsibility for their environmental footprint, but embracing sustainability also makes economic sense, and the path to sustainable manufacturing runs through Industry 4.0 and collaboration.  

Sustainability Through Digital Transformation

Industry 4.0 has traditionally been viewed in terms of digitizing operations and reaping benefits; however, it can also play a significant role in achieving sustainable manufacturing. By utilizing the digital technologies of Industry 4.0, environmental responsibility does not need to be at odds with productivity and profitability. There are numerous factors that affect sustainability. Learning and embracing the technologies and principles of Industry 4.0 can be a game-changer for achieving success with sustainable manufacturing.  

For example, manufacturers should be investing in 3D printing, especially with the rise of on-demand and customized products. With its unparalleled ability to increase speed-to-market, lower costs, reduce waste, and customize specialty parts, 3D printing is transforming the way we make products and is accelerating sustainability.  

Industry 4.0 can also enable operational efficiency, renewable energy, lifecycle management and supply chain data transparency. Taking it one step further, manufacturers should prioritize the “circular economy,” in which every product at the end of its life is made into something else.  

Sustainability Through Collaboration

True sustainability requires not only diligence in keeping your own shop floor in order, but it involves many aspects that can seem beyond your control. It involves not only meeting market demands but creating market demands; not only finding the most-affordable supplies, but finding alternatives supplies that are eco-friendly to produce; not only being a good employer, but also being a good and conscientious citizen of your neighborhood, state and country; and not only engaging in fair competition with your competitors, but also realizing when it’s best to cooperate with them for the common good.

The research report “Joining Forces: Collaboration and Leadership for Sustainability,” produced by MIT Sloan Management Review, states: The network of interdependencies among companies, governments and the public has created a world of mutual reliance, in which collaboration is a necessary route to progress. Companies need to reach out to others if they want to address sustainability challenges, help shape the social context in which they operate and even explore vital new market opportunities. This concept is hard to grasp, especially for a business that is barely keeping up with the competition. But in this ever-developing global era, it is essential.

The health of our planet is also a critical imperative.  With cooperation, there is a path towards a common goal. In 2010, for example, Walmart and Patagonia oversaw a group of ten apparel companies and established The Sustainable Apparel Coalition. This group developed an index that apparel companies use to compare environmental performance outcomes in areas such as energy efficiency, material waste, water use, and sustainable raw materials. This index helps to steer the companies towards informed business decisions in choosing suppliers as well as to improve internal operations, such as reducing fabric waste in product design. Adopting standards developed by groups such as these show that your company is a concerned citizen of our country and our planet.

Making a Positive Impact

The Harvard Business School Online points out that: Sustainability in business generally addresses two main categories: the effect business has on the environment; and the effect business has on society. The goal of a sustainable business strategy is to make a positive impact on at least one of those areas. Today’s consumers have far more information available to them than they did last century. This heightened knowledge, not only of what technologies and manufactured goods are available, but also what impact those technologies and companies have on the environment, on the employees, and on the health and well-being of the human race, can have a profound effect on where they choose to spend their money. It can also affect your ability to hire responsible and qualified employees. Your sustainability will depend on how you use Industry 4.0 and collaboration to ensure your company is making the most ethical and economical business decisions.  

Pete DiSante & Nicole Kampe, Automation Alley
Pete DiSante & Nicole Kampe, Automation Alley

Pete DiSante serves as a project manager at Automation Alley. He started as a Controls Engineer at ANR Pipeline before moving to the US Army-TARDEC, where he was a member of the External Business Office. He retired from TARDEC in 2018. Nicole Kampe is Manager of Global Content Strategy and Development at Automation Alley and is responsible for content strategy and development as it relates to Automation Alley's brand and image, including Automation Alley’s two signature initiatives: the annual Technology in Industry Report and Integr8, the global Industry 4.0 Conference. Nicole manages Automation Alley’s blog, internal media relations and creates thought leadership opportunities for the organization in the form of white papers and roadmaps in coordination with the World Economic Forum’s global network of Advanced Manufacturing Hubs. Nicole is a graduate of Oakland University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. Prior to joining Automation Alley in 2012, Nicole was an award-winning journalist at The Oakland Press where she served as a writer, copyeditor and page designer, and was honored on multiple occasions by the Society of Professional Journalists.‍

Become a Member