Your guide to sustainable supply chain best practices

By Izzy de la Guardia, Senior Design and Development Engineer, and Kathleen Bollito, Customer Application Engineer


Making the manufacturing industry greener requires implementing sustainability best practices from end to end, and the importance of supply chain sustainability can’t be understated. Manufacturing and transporting goods are energy-intensive processes, and the majority of most companies’ environmental impact can be attributed to their supply chain.


However, supply chains are complex, and making them sustainable isn’t an easy task. This article in our sustainability series will give you a place to start. Here are three ways product teams and manufacturers can carry sustainability through the final leg of the production process.


How to increase sustainability across your supply chain

1. Work with sustainable suppliers

To start building a more sustainable supply chain, prioritize working with sustainable suppliers that are making concrete efforts to reduce their environmental footprint. Ask questions like:


  • What is your waste management process or sustainability strategy? If your partner doesn’t have a waste management process or sustainability strategy, you might not be on the same page when it comes to using sustainable supply chain practices.


  • Can I visit you? If possible, schedule a visit to see a potential supplier’s facility and practices in person to make sure they’re sustainable.


  • How sustainable are your suppliers’ suppliers? You’ll also want to examine your suppliers’ suppliers, or your tier 2, tier 3, or tier n suppliers. Working with sustainable suppliers whose suppliers are also sustainable can help further reduce your supply chain’s carbon footprint.


You’ll also want to inquire about any prospective supplier’s green business certifications. These certifications are awarded to companies with principles, policies, and practices that improve quality of life and benefit the planet. There are several general green business certifications, and each has its own standards. Some popular certifications include:


  • The Rainforest Alliance Certification: Products certified by the Rainforest Alliance are produced via environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable methods.


  • B Corp Certification: Certified B Corp companies have committed to balancing profits with purpose. They want to have a positive impact on the environment, their employees, and their community.


  • Green Seal Certification: Granted by Green Seal, this certification is awarded to products that meet Green Seal’s high standards of health and environmental leadership, performance, and safety.


  • CarbonFree Product Certification: This certification is granted to businesses with products that have low carbon emissions and that are committed to continuing to reduce and offset their current carbon output by


  • Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI): Organizations certified by the SFI use fiber from certified forests and post-consumer recycled material.


  • Energy Star Certification: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grants Energy Star Certifications to products, services, and buildings that meet their energy-efficiency standards.


  • Sustainable Materials Rating Technology (SMaRT) Consensus Sustainable Product Standards: SMaRT-certified products are good for the environment, economy, and global community. They’re rated using a points system.

2. Switch to a distributed manufacturing approach

Adopting a distributed manufacturing strategy is one way to make manufacturing more sustainable. Traditional manufacturing strategies involve producing large quantities of goods at a single production facility and then sending them to warehouses for storage and future distribution. Unfortunately, this approach to manufacturing contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, freight is responsible for 40% of the U.S. transportation sector’s greenhouse gas emissions.


A distributed manufacturing model, on the other hand, spreads production across multiple geographically dispersed manufacturing facilities. This allows for greater flexibility and scalability, faster turnaround times, and shorter supply chains. By producing products closer to your customers, you can reduce transportation distances, get products to customers faster, and lower your carbon footprint. Shorter supply chains with distributed production also reduces the need for air freight. Transporting parts by truck or train instead of air can greatly reduce products’ environmental impact because air transport releases 11x more emissions than truck transport and 31x more emissions than train transport per km/per ton.


By using additive manufacturing technologies in these local production facilities, you can further maximize your resource usage and lower production costs. Additive produces less excess material waste than subtractive manufacturing processes like CNC machining. Plus, you’ll be able to manufacture goods on demand, eliminating waste from obsolete parts and reducing the water and electricity consumption associated with maintaining warehouse space. In fact, you can pair traditional high-volume manufacturing technologies like injection molding with lower-volume technologies like 3D printing to dynamically respond to changes in demand. For example, you can validate a part on additive technologies while your volumes are ramping up, use injection molding at peak production, and return to additive as your volumes ramp down at the end of its lifecycle and for ongoing spare parts production.

3. Make shipping and transporting goods eco-friendly

To make shipping and transporting goods more eco-friendly, try these tips:


  • Consolidate shipments: Planning a lower quantity of larger shipments instead of several smaller shipments will reduce your transportation emissions and energy consumption. Plus, it can increase your packaging efficiency.


  • Use less packaging: Using smaller packages and less filler material can go a long way towards creating a more sustainable supply chain. Consider designing a custom packaging plan with your supplier for higher-volume production.


  • Use less plastic in shipments: Where possible, look for packaging materials made from recycled materials and those that are more easily recyclable or biodegradable. For example, you could replace bubble wrap with scrap cardboard, plastic packaging tape with paper or water-soluble tape, and custom thermoformed plastic with alternatives like Mushroom® Packaging, made from natural biodegradable materials.


Eco-friendly packaging


  • Opt into eco-friendly programs: Some suppliers offer environmentally friendly shipping options that use less plastic and packaging, and others may provide carbon offsetting options. If your supplier has programs to improve your sustainability, take advantage of them — or create your own.


  • Extend lead times: Extending your lead times will enable you to pick transportation modes that are less emission-intensive. While land and sea transport are slower than air transport, they are often cheaper and release less carbon.

Creating more sustainable supply chains with Fast Radius

Improving sustainability in the manufacturing industry means taking a closer look at your supply chain. Paying attention to who you’re working with, shifting to a distributed manufacturing model, consolidating shipments, and using less packaging can increase sustainability. If you need some help, partner with an experienced manufacturer.


Fast Radius is passionate about building more sustainable manufacturing and supply chain strategies. Contact us today to start building a more sustainable supply chain.


Visit our resource center to learn about using additive for end-use parts, sustainable manufacturing practices, and more.

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