Sustainable Factory Planning

As financial, environmental and stakeholder benefits of sustainable manufacturing become clearer, an increasing number of businesses are moving towards greener factory models. 

With global consumption of raw materials set to almost double to 167 Gigatonnes by 2060,* there is no doubt that the pursuit of environmentally-friendly manufacturing processes will have a positive impact on the world.   But what is sustainable manufacturing, what role does factory planning play and what are best practices for implementation?

Benefits of Sustainable Manufacturing

We are far removed from the years of only niche businesses using green strategies as part of their brand positioning.  Today’s modern manufacturing facilities recognise the range of benefits that can come from creating a more sustainable operational environment through building environmental objectives into both strategy and tactical operations.  These benefits can include:

Employee Benefits

  • Improved employee safety
  • Improved morale
  • Increased appeal to next generation (Z) of workforce


Branding Benefits

  • Increased brand value
  • Appeal to ethical businesses in ongoing supply chain


Economic Benefits

  • Decreased regulatory concern
  • Reduced waste handling, treatment, storage, disposal and categorisation costs
  • Reduced production costs
  • Reduced maintenance costs
  • Increased long-term business viability


Community Benefits

  • Reduced environmental impact
  • Reduced emissions
  • Increased stakeholder trust

Where can manufacturing be made more sustainable?

Sustainable manufacturing is about adopting practices that reduce waste and environmental impact throughout the manufacturing process, while simultaneously maintaining economic viability.

Its practice should not be isolated to one part of the production process, but rather applied to the full product life cycle of the items being produced. The tool widely used to implement Sustainable Manufacturing is the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), which allows for methodical assessment of environmental impacts across each stage of the life cycle of any commercial product, process or service.

Used correctly, it can identify the areas of greatest environmental benefit and help monitor the impact and long-term effectiveness of any changes.

We can see from the diagram below that the 5 key stages of production; (Raw Materials Acquisition, Materials Production, Product Manufacture, Product Use and Final Disposal) each carry their own impact on the environment through their energy consumption, water usage and waste/emissions levels.

At each stage of the lifecycle, the LCA model supports the user in assessing environmental impacts of the product, process or service through documenting an inventory of material inputs and environmental outputs (material flow) and evaluating the impacts associated with them. This methodical application allows for a balanced approach to each stage and permits the user to make informed decisions about where changes can be implemented for best effect.

By assessing the following material flow at each point, priority can be given to stage of life cycle that will see the most impact across energy, water, emissions and waste reduction.

ISO Framework

The ISO 14040 and 14044 standards cover the four phases of the quantitative assessment framework (goal and scope definition, inventory analysis, impact assessment and interpretation) that can be used across the LCA. These phases can be seen in the below diagram:

Sustainable Factory Planning

It is likely that sustainable factory planning will form part of the overall plan within a sustainable manufacturing strategy. Environmentally-friendly design, build and processes within a factory environment can make a big difference to energy and resource consumption. The trickier part is approaching this in a way that incorporates long-term payback and profitability for the business.

At FEG we have developed an in-house framework for approaching sustainable factory planning.

Scope Definition

Our framework starts the journey to sustainable factory planning with defining the scope in which the whole project will be realised. Whether new build or improving an existing factory design, this stage is integral to ensuring measures incorporated are appropriate and feasible, and is closely linked to the setting of measures of success. Considerations at this stage include:

  • Internal and external environments – what are the limitations to any factory design?
  • Local communities – what are the considerations to those living around the site?
  • Culture – is there anything that will block adoption of any strategies developed?
  • Business strategy – how will this impact future plans for the factory?
  • Budget
  • Stage of building – new builds/redesigns will have their own specific considerations
  • Goals – what are the aims for the business with regards to sustainable manufacturing. Is it linked to environmental or financial aims?

Measures of Success

Stemming from the overall goals of the environmental factory project, how will the success of the project be measured? This could be in financial terms or levels of waste/emissions/energy consumption for example. Defining these correctly at the start of the project will dictate future decisions further down the line, saving time and keeping focus to meet targets. The OECD Sustainable Manufacturing Indicators*** are a reasonable starting point but there are other areas of consideration that could be incorporated so it’s important to keep an open mind at this stage.

Sustainable Design

True green factory planning includes robust integration of sustainable thinking at the point of design. Some areas of consideration to be explored include:

  1. Appropriateness of initial site selection to ensure minimal environmental impact further down the line at build and operations stages, including natural landscaping
  2. Factory layouts that consider the flow of people/materials and their use of energy and materials
  3. Equipment selection – is the equipment made in an environmentally-friendly way? Does it reduce energy consumption or waste on the site in comparison to alternatives? Is it smart in its use of energy/resources? Introducing environmental checks into procurement processes can help.
  4. Use of on-site waste and energy e.g. recycled water systems, heat waste recovery systems, power sharing of machinery
  5. Use of natural surroundings e.g. rainwater and solar systems, wind turbines
  6. Energy-conserving product specification e.g. lighting products, low flow sanitation systems
  7. Adequate stormwater drainage system
  8. Air quality considerations e.g. use of scrubbers and robust HVAC systems
  9. Digitalisation – Embrace IOT/Industry 4.0, can this reduce energy consumption and make production more efficient?

Sustainable Build

The actual build of the factory is an important consideration in its overall impact on the environment. From choice of building material to construction suppliers and methodologies, a sustainable build sets the bar for the future operations of a green factory.

  • Preservation/Enhancement of natural habitat and resources
  • Materials that conserve heat/cool within the factory environment where required e.g. cool roof coating
  • Eco-friendly building materials and construction methods
  • Environmentally-friendly suppliers and considerate construction partners

Sustainable Procedures & Culture

The impact of employee behaviour on sustainability KPIs can be dramatic. Adjusting mindset to reduce waste/consumption through on-site behaviours can bring about great results.

Taking the time to understand the cultural barriers to adoption of a sustainable factory environment can mean the difference between success and failure. By identifying where issues in change management behaviour lie, these can be addressed through training, stakeholder management and change management strategies.

Engendering pride in being part of an environmentally-friendly environment can work well to engage employees. For example, visibly labelling products produced as environmentally friendly or introducing a rewards scheme.

Training is another key element of introducing a sustainable culture. This could focus on daily processes (e.g. smart water use) or training on specific equipment that has been introduced to save waste/energy consumption. Creating sustainability teams and ambassadors can bring impetus and focus to the sustainability programme.

Sustainable Operational Procedures

Operations hold a wealth of opportunities for improving sustainability. Importantly, it is not always the “big” changes that make most impact. A series of small changes can bring about equally impactful results. The analysis and improvement of processes within the factory environment is often where most results can be seen. These are some of the common areas of analysis that can bring about sustainability wins:

  • Sourcing, transportation and storage of raw materials and resources
  • Working with environmentally-friendly suppliers by introducing sustainability checks into PQQs
  • Introduction of Industry 4.0 technology into processes e.g. to create more energy-efficient heating/cooling systems, to understand machine usage/consumption/waste points, to introduce more energy-efficient cleaning/maintenance schedules
  • Use of renewable energy sources
  • Use of heat pumps, heat exchange systems and heat recovery systems
  • Use of biomass energy, particularly when the biomass forms part of the waste of the factory environment itself
  • Factory layout – ensuring lines and equipment are strategically placed on the floor to reduce on-site transportation and make best use of natural heat/cooling resources within the processes.
  • Regular maintenance of machinery to reduce downtime and unnecessary wastage
  • Investigating ways to use natural factory wastage/by-products within other processes or recycle into the same process.
  • Waste management procedures
  • Use of Kinetic Energy Recovery systems in on-site machinery
  • Analysis and understanding of noise and air pollution both within and outside the factory environment, actioned where required
  • Use of technology such as variable speed motors, servo drives and hydraulic pumps to reduce energy consumption where possible. Ideally use equipment selected from the ETL (Energy Technology List) produced by the Carbon Trust
  • Setting of targets relating to:
    o Energy usage.
    o Resource usage, water etc.
    o Emissions – air quality and waste water with levels relative to legal consents..

Controls, Monitoring & Remediation

Every sustainable factory project should include ongoing monitoring and optimisation at various levels of the company, from senior management to factory floor. The data being analysed should be linked to the original KPIs, which feed into the overall sustainability aims. Data should be easily mineable and digestible – any difficulty in accessing data will reduce the likelihood of it being used within the project.

  • Use Industry 4.0 to connect systems to gather data in real time and create a one-view picture of all data
  • Use this data to generate management reports that break down energy/resource usage by process. Relate it to production volumes e.g. Ltrs per kilo or tonne, Kw/Hr per kilo or tonne..
  • Use this information to produce KPIs for the various processes with line managers responsible for the management and reporting of the information.
  • Set up threshold alerts for consumption/waste/emissions to identify anomalies or where processes are not being adopted
  • Only focus on data that is useful. Anything else will just damage the impact of the data you need users to concentrate on.
  • Measure inputs as well as outputs e.g. material usage
  • Ensure actions are taken from the data generated by appointing officers/ambassadors on site and incentivising results.
  • Conduct regular internal audits and reviews to monitor performance of processes and procedures and identify and areas where improvements could be made.


Use of the OECD 18 quantitative sustainable manufacturing indicators can be a useful starting point for defining KPIs. These can be seen in the below diagram across the three pillars of Inputs, Operations and Products.

Importantly, even if you do not have all the data you need at the start, do not let this deter you from tracking what you are able to. Whatever can be tracked will make a difference to your progress.

Areas for Consideration in Factory Planning

Introducing sustainable practices within a manufacturing environment can be both time and cost intensive, two resources typically in scarce supply within factory sites. This can make it harder to implement green factory planning measures, which can be met with resistance from both management and shop floor employees.

– Use proven examples of success and hard data through appropriate goal setting in the early stages to build strong business cases
– Adopt an approach of continuous learning – start with smaller measures and show results to give evidence to introduce further programmes of work
– Learn from and be open about failures, transparency within the project will build trust
– Show the financial gains in both short pay-back and longer-term profitability gains
– Ensure that the project team includes the skills and understanding needed to manage sustainable practices. If this requires new talent or training then this should be incorporated early in the project.

At FEG Global, we can help with your sustainable factory planning project with our in-house team of expert engineers, air pollution and ventilation specialists. We are also specialist providers of heat recovery systems. An example of our work can be seen in this project for Kimberly Clark  and you can view more about our HVAC services here 

** Green Factories for the Future Part 2: Green Factory Building & Design. International Conference on Environmental Research and Technology (ICERT 2008)