The concept of sustainable manufacturing is difficult to pin down. To critics, the notion of truly sustainable manufacturing is a pipe dream. But to creative minds with an eye toward the future, sustainable manufacturing is an ideal to march toward with zeal.
In my view, the key to achieving sustainable manufacturing is to bring the focus to local manufacturing. Local manufacturing is kickstarting a new wave of sustainability because it advances all three pillars of sustainability — environmental, social and economic.
Perhaps what’s most exciting about the evolution of sustainability is that we are finally advancing the discussion beyond simply the ecological impacts of factories. In the auto industry, this means being committed to looking far beyond just tailpipe emissions into things like water use, noise and the impact paved roads have on the planet.
We are advancing this discussion because local manufacturing can clearly address the social and economic pillars of sustainability. To wit, the social perspective we have long ignored in developed economies is the impact that mass manufacturing has had on the quality of life for workers — and therefore on the quality of local economies. The documentary “Manufactured Landscapes“ portrays this idea.
In looking at the social impact of sustainability, it has grown difficult for diverse, educated local economies to develop when skillsets become geographically concentrated and distributed around the world. But herein lies the power of local manufacturing — it reintroduces meaningful work, quality education and a deepening of social networks in cities and towns around the world.
From an economic perspective, sustainable profits in a free market are the only way to allow a business to survive. Therefore, local manufacturing must highlight its advantage in creating sustainable profits. At Local Motors, our microfactories believe in making big things locally. We cut down on energy and shipping costs, and we promote proper energy choices in vehicles depending on where they are geographically. All of this makes smart economic sense, and can only be done when manufacturing takes place on a small scale.
While we focus on local manufacturing, other car companies are manufacturing on a huge scale in singular places, then shipping around the word. Big car companies make big impacts in small places. They tend to overwhelm cities and towns with their economy, which could have dire consequences. Look no further than Detroit.
When manufacturing shifts to the local scale and technology is smartly utilized, decisions can be made quickly. Vehicles can be designed and built anywhere in the world. We’re able to do that by utilizing direct digital manufacturing (DDM), which is synonymous with a radical reduction of tooling costs. Today’s auto industry, meanwhile, is constrained by complex, expensive machinery and supply chains.
We’re passionate about sustainability and local manufacturing because we’re determined to build the world’s first cradle-to-cradle vehicle — one with a full-cycle sustainable profile. It will be fully recyclable, locally built and profitable. It’s an ambitious goal, but also an important one.
The modern auto industry is not set up to be sustainable in the long run, and we’re overdue for a change. To see the kind of change that will benefit both consumers and the planet, sustainable manufacturing has to be the goal. A move into local manufacturing is the way to get there.
This piece also appears in Longitudes, the UPS blog devoted to the trends shaping the global economy.