Reducing Waste: Good for the Environment and for Business

Eliminating waste is a tenet of Lean manufacturing because it makes good business sense: Less waste is a byproduct of more efficient production, with a greater percentage of the energy expended getting directed toward activities that create value. It is an excellent example of why sustainability is good for business.

To be effective, waste reduction efforts must be a priority at every level of an organization, and employees must be empowered to tackle challenges unique to their sites. A team whose members think and act like owners and have a passion for sustainable innovation is better equipped to solve problems locally. Aptiv’s internal Sustainability Awards recognized several initiatives from individual sites all over the globe to reduce waste and save money.

Sustainable production

Aptiv’s plant in Neumarkt, Germany, identified an opportunity to reduce copper waste with a minor redesign to the stamping process. A particular cable terminal requires the stamping of a sheet of copper 2.5 mm thick. The original design utilized only about 40 percent of a 68 g copper piece, with the rest discarded as punching waste. However, by reducing the width of the copper strip from 58 mm to 46 mm, the team saved about 13 g of copper per unit. It might not seem like a lot (a little heavier than a AAA battery), but it certainly adds up during the production of more than 250,000 units every year. That small change saved about 3.7 tons of copper.

Sustainable packaging

Customers and regulators have specific requirements governing how products are packaged and delivered. So while it might seem like a no-brainer to substitute packaging materials with more sustainable options, in practice it requires planning and clear communication between customers and suppliers. An Aptiv plant in Singapore coordinated with all stakeholders to ensure that incoming packaging materials were suitable to reuse for final product delivery. By reusing incoming cartons, the site expects to save nearly $325,000 and 263 tons of new packaging material every year.

Sustainable processes

A manufacturing plant is a complex ecosystem of interconnected systems that are managed with sophisticated tools. An Aptiv plant in Anting, China , implemented an intelligent utility management system in late 2021 as part of its mission to reduce energy consumption. The platform will provide real-time data analysis, energy control and automation capabilities for multiple systems, including chillers, air compressors, water coolers, air conditioners and lights. It is tied into the plant’s recently installed solar panels to optimize renewable energy supply by generating an estimated 2.9 million kWh of electricity per year — preventing 1,600 tons of CO2 emissions.

Many companies view sustainability too narrowly and limit opportunities to reduce waste  by taking a top-down approach.  To make the greatest impact, sustainability initiatives should come from every level of the organization and be integrated into every process, from how products are designed to how resources are sourced and managed to how the final product is delivered. These initiatives demonstrate how, by empowering employees at every level, small changes can lead to big results for both the environment and  the business.