A greener future for manufacturing

How industry can reduce its carbon emissions

Industry is becoming increasingly aware that it contributes to global warming by emitting greenhouse gases (GHG). It also produces waste that can be polluting for the environment and difficult to dispose of. IEC Standards help companies introduce greener manufacturing processes.

A global food manufacturer uses solar energy at one of its plants (Wikimedia Commons)

A growing number of companies are looking to produce goods in ways that are more energy efficient, less wasteful and less polluting. Green manufacturing, which refers to the renewal of production processes and the establishment of environmentally friendly operations within the manufacturing field, is making headway. Greener production processes are not only better for the planet, they can also help industry to save costs by drastically reducing their energy bills and use of raw materials.

Lowering GHG emissions

Benchmarks need to be established in order to help enterprises reduce their carbon footprint. The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) started back in 2015, in the run-up to the Paris climate change conference. Its aim is to help companies set targets to reduce their GHG emissions according to scientific information on how to avert climate change. The initiative is a collaboration between the non-profit Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), the World Resources Institute (WRI), the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the non-profit We Mean Business Coalition.

Currently, 684 companies worldwide have joined the initiative. They have agreed to meet different targets to reduce their GHG emissions. For instance, a Danish energy provider aims to reduce its GHG emissions by 96% by 2023. “Faced with a situation where our fossil fuel business started to decline and present a real risk to our future profitability, we made the decision to completely transform our business model to become a renewable energy company”, explains Filip Engel, Senior Director of Group Sustainability, Public Affairs and Branding at the company and quoted on SBTi.

IEC expertise crucial for greener processes

IEC helps companies planning to make a transition to cleaner sources of energy by developing standards for renewable energy systems. Several IEC Technical Committees enable small and big renewable energy systems to operate safely and efficiently, on-grid or off-grid. They include:



The standards they publish help to fulfil several UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 13, which is to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Boosting energy efficiency

Promoting energy efficiency by introducing new procedures and technologies, such as energy harvesting, is no longer exceptional for enterprises across a wide range of industries. Energy efficiency is not only better for the environment, it also enables companies to make substantial cost savings.

IEC has developed many standards which enable manufacturers to measure energy efficiency gains and set performance requirements. For example, IEC TC 2 prepares performance and safety standards for rotating machinery which is used in multiple manufacturing plants across the globe. It publishes the IEC 60034 series of standards, ranking electric motors according to their energy efficiency. These standards have been widely adopted throughout industry and regulators have often taken this classification system on board.

LEDs used in factories, warehouses and plants enable companies to widely reduce energy consumption for lighting on manufacturing sites. IEC TC 34 produces safety and performance standards for lighting, including IEC 62031 which establishes safety specifications for LED modules for general lighting. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 2016 and 2017 were critical turning points for energy efficient lighting, with LEDs reaching one third of market sales.

IEC Standards also help offshore oil platforms become more energy efficient. IEC TC 18 has published a major revision of the IEC 61892 series of standards which are key documents for the safety and performance efficiency of offshore platforms recognized by industry and regulators worldwide.

The series has been thoroughly brought up to date in line with fast technology changes in offshore platform electrical and electrotechnical technology. Improving energy efficiency is a key driver: the standard specifies the efficient use of generated power, as well as of high efficiency motors and variable speed drives to optimize power consumption. It also recommends the use of low-loss transformers and other high-power equipment as well as the re-use of lighting fixtures with high efficiency long-life lamps. In addition, it specifies energy optimization by using waste heat recovery as well as the establishment of an energy management system.

Managing e-waste

A growing number of companies are looking at ways of recycling electronic waste rather than disposing of it in landfills or by burning it in incinerators. Circular economy models are starting to be implemented by the more environmentally conscious enterprises. These models reassess how resources are managed and how waste is perceived throughout the entire lifecycle of a product from its initial design to its use, repair, reuse, remanufacture and, finally, its transformation into parts for new products.

The Advisory Committee on Environmental Aspects (ACEA), which provides guidance to the IEC Standardization Management Board (SMB) on issues related to the environment, and IEC TC 111, which develops several standards relating to environmental issues, are examining requirements for the circular economy. For instance, IEC 62430 specifies procedures to integrate environmental aspects into the design and development of products as well as the materials and components from which they are composed.

While there is still much work to do before the different industries around the world can claim to use green manufacturing processes, IEC International Standards are already supporting companies and manufacturers that are pioneering these new production methods.