A typical sustainability plan starts with evaluation of every aspect of a business to identify and prioritize where the most significant benefits lie. The National Association of Manufacturers suggests that the categories to be evaluated by the plan include:

  • Minimizing environmental impacts through the selection of less harmful raw material input.
  • Improving the environmental, health and safety profile of operations.
  • Improving performance processes to increase efficiency and reduce waste.
  • Managing use of materials to provide economic benefits while protecting biodiversity.
  • Collaborating and interacting with supply chain members to manage your total environmental impact.
  • Building sustainable practices to help support, attract, develop and retain a highly skilled, diverse workforce.

ISO 14000 provides one such framework for reference. A family of standards related to environmental management, ISO 14000 helps organizations minimize how their operations negatively affect the environment and comply with applicable laws, regulations and other environmentally-oriented requirements. It relates more closely to how the product is produced than the product itself.

By setting out the criteria for an environmental management system, ISO 14000 can be used by any organization that wants to improve resource efficiency, reduce waste and drive down costs. It is segmented into an easily understandable framework – Plan/Do/Check/Act/Improve – to make implementation manageable. (For more details about the basic principles and methodology for the ISO 14000 standard, visit iso.org/iso/iso14000.)

Bob Moffit, product manager and LEED green associate at Ashland Performance Materials in Dublin, Ohio, steers composites manufacturers in the direction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s easy-to-read Bulletin 180/B-09/001, “Smart Steps to Sustainability; A Guide to Greening Your Small Business.” Based on a five-step process, the guide tackles the topics of waste, purchasing, water, energy and transportation. (Access the bulletin at epa.gov/osbp/pdfs/smart_steps_greening_guide_042101.pdf.)

Materials Are a Good Place to Start

Materials used by composites manufacturers are one of the highest priority factors to assess. The evaluation should range from any raw materials entering the building for production all the way to the cleaning supplies used by the maintenance department. While not appropriate for all applications, the emergence of ecologically-friendly biocomposites derived from bio-based resins and/or natural fibers provide an immediate opportunity for sustainable composites manufacturing.

Kalwall Corporation, a manufacturer of composite light transmitting sandwich panels for building and construction in Manchester, N.H., pays close attention to eliminating potentially hazardous waste to avoid the cost of disposal. “In order to reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) across the board, we switched from solvent-based coatings to water-based coatings for our products. It turned out to provide better performance than our previous coatings,” says Ken Schmidtchen, engineering manager. “We went so far as to change our cleaning products to further eliminate solvents and VOCs.”