Online Toolkit Helps U.S. Manufacturers Go Green

November 1, 2011

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The Sustainable Manufacturing Toolkit, a new, free online resource developed with input from the International Trade Administration, can help U.S. businesses measure their environmental performance and thereby become more competitive.

by John Ward, a writer in the International Trade Administration’s Office of Public Affairs.

This start-up guide is part of the new Sustainable Manufacturing Toolkit, an online resource created with input from the International Trade Administration.

This start-up guide is part of the new Sustainable Manufacturing Toolkit, an online resource created with input from the International Trade Administration.

Sustainable manufacturing—that is, the creation of products in an environmentally and socially responsible manner—has become a business buzzword lately. But as companies face increased costs for materials, energy, and regulatory compliance, sustainable manufacturing has also come to be recognized as a smart business practice, as more and more manufacturers realize that “greening” their processes can be a key strategy for achieving global competitiveness.

It was in response to a dearth of internationally comparable performance indicators for sustainable manufacturing that the International Trade Administration (ITA) joined with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international body headquartered in Paris, France, to develop the recently released Sustainable Manufacturing Toolkit.

Guide and Portal

The toolkit consists of two parts: a 52-page start-up guide, which provides a step-by-step approach to measuring and benchmarking environmental performance, and a web portal, which supplements the guide with more technical guidance, data tools, and useful links.

The heart of the start-up guide is a series of seven steps that companies can take to prepare, measure, and improve their sustainable manufacturing processes. The discussion of these steps is enhanced by seven “good practice” profiles that highlight successful efforts undertaken by manufacturers from around the world, including three located in the United States.

The inclusion of the real-world examples is an important element, notes Andrew Wyckoff, director of the OECD’s Directorate for Science, Technology, and Industry. “We think it is important for [companies] to have the right tools, but also to be informed about what works. That’s why we have included .… [these] best practice case studies that illustrate the many benefits of sustainable manufacturing.”

How to Access the Toolkit

The Sustainable Manufacturing Toolkit is available online at www.oecd.org/innovation/green/toolkit. Resources available on the site include a downloadable booklet, Start-up Guide: Seven Steps to Environmental Excellence, as well as a variety of links to technical advice and examples of good practices.

Focus on Needs of Smaller Enterprises

The global market for low-carbon products already exceeds $5 trillion, according to the OECD. Companies that can demonstrate green credentials will enhance their viability in the marketplace. But this can prove a particularly daunting challenge to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). According to the OECD’s Wyckoff, while SMEs account for approximately 99 percent of all enterprises, and two-thirds of employment, in the 34 countries that are members of the OECD, many have not yet embraced the opportunities that come with the adaptation of sustainable manufacturing processes. “They may be struggling with their short-term survival, or cost pressure from clients, or lack of knowledge and resources to invest in environmental improvement, or simply not know where to start.” Thus, the toolkit was especially designed with the needs of small manufacturers in mind.

Close Collaboration

The development of the toolkit was the result of a close collaboration between ITA and the OECD that began in 2006. The OECD was well situated to develop the toolkit due to its access to a wide array of public and private stakeholders and its unique collection of statistical data from around the world. This allowed for an unparalleled degree of comparability and applicability across borders.

For its part, ITA was able to draw on the knowledge and experiences of a large number of U.S. experts through its leadership in the OECD’s Committee on Industry, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. By providing access to both business practitioners and academic specialists active in the field of sustainable manufacturing, ITA was able to facilitate the development and refinement of the toolkit, thus assuring that it was both user-friendly and met the real needs of industry.


  1. While it may be understandable that SMEs might find a green, sustainability initiative daunting, much smaller businesses, businesses operating at the “micro,” level might find this a more viable solution than the alternative. At any rate, the creation of the manual and the portal to facilitate use is commendable. Sustainable green manufacturing must become a rallying cry for the future.

  2. In order for this to be a viable option the standards must be written in plain English. If being environmentally excellent means complying with volumes of government speak regulation then many small businesses won’t even bother with start up. I remember the old saying “quality is free” on a grand level this is true however in practice it generally costs. I agree Green will be rally cry of future but who will go first and prove the best practices actually result in profits.

    • I agree completely. Browsing through the half complete web portal I couldn’t imagine many small businesses pursuing this.

  3. This is a great step. It’s nice to see more manufacturers trying to go green. It’s also great to see that there’s toolkits like this out there to try and make it easier. I’d like to see more efforts like this

  4. this is a great initiative. However, its not enough to just give credits in case of using sustainable manufacturing. Those using commercial, harmful methods of productions should be fined.

  5. For anyone who has had the good fortune to teach environmental sustainability to students, the SUSTAINABLE MANUFACTURING TOOLKIT produced by the OECD is a Godsend. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  6. Not only is “going green” a better business practice in terms of costs to manufacturers, consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious when it comes to the products they buy, so this will affect sales figures as well.

  7. It is encouraging to see grass roots highly practical resources that should at least raise awareness and make things a little easier for organizations to venture into the area of sustainable manufacturing. The “ripple effect” can often be more powerful than we imagine.
    Webmaster of parkpcs10

  8. I believe sustainable manufacturing process should be introduced to every businesses worldwide. Sustainability can be the key to growth and dominance if applied the right way. this tool kit definitely makes it easier for business owners to have an in-depth idea of what sustainable business practices can achieve.

  9. Going Green is the way to go. Becoming more environmental friendly benefits everyone and is also cost effective all around the world.

  10. Companies that start developing more efficient products, especially in the automotive and transportation industries will be ahead of the curve in the future. It benefits both parties involved.

  11. This is certainly going to be a big help for ecopreneurs willing to embark on sustainable businesses, as also existing businesses who wish to make their processes environmentally friendly.

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