A Guide to Sustainable Materials
Updated: Dec 9, 2022
Sustainability is important for a number of reasons. It helps to protect our environment, conserve natural resources, and reduce pollution and waste. Using sustainable materials in manufacturing helps to ensure that these things are taken into consideration during the product development process.
There are many materials that can be used in the manufacturing process, but not all of them are sustainable. So, what makes a material sustainable? And why is it important? Read more to find out!
What Makes a Material Sustainable?
There are a few key criteria that make a material sustainable:
1. Renewability: Sustainable materials are those that can be replenished or replaced naturally and at a rate that does not exceed the rate of use. This means that the material can be used over and over again without depleting the earth’s resources.
2. Energy Efficiency: The production and use of sustainable materials should require less energy than the production and use of non-sustainable materials. This helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of pollution.
3. Durability: Sustainable materials should be durable, so that they can be used for a longer period and do not need to be replaced as often. This helps to reduce waste and the consumption of natural resources.
4. Recyclability: Sustainable materials should be able to be recycled or reused after their intended use. This helps to reduce pollution and the need for new resources.
5. Safety: Sustainable materials should be safe for both humans and the environment. They should not contain harmful chemicals or pollutants that can cause harm.
What Types Of Sustainable Materials Are Used In Manufacturing?
There are three main types of sustainable materials used in manufacturing: renewable resources, recycled materials, and biodegradable materials. Each type of material has its own set of benefits and drawbacks, so it is important to choose the right material for the job.
Renewable resources are materials that can be replenished within a human lifetime. Examples of renewable resources include wood, bamboo, cotton and plant-based fibres like wheat. Renewable resources are often used in construction and furniture-making because they are durable and eco-friendly.
Recycled materials are waste products that have been reprocessed into new materials eg. paper, ocean-bound plastics, glass and metals. Recycling reduces the need for virgin materials and their energy-intensive processing, which helps to conserve natural resources.
Biodegradable materials are materials that can be broken down by bacteria or other organisms. Biodegradable materials include algae-blended resins and paper-based materials. They are often used in packaging because they are compostable and environmentally friendly.
Related article: A guide to sustainable packaging solutions and materials
What Are Some Recommended Blends Of Sustainable Manufacturing Materials?
Blends of sustainable manufacturing materials offer the best of both worlds: the environmental benefits of using different sources of green renewable and recycled materials together, including the possibility of adding virgin material for its manufacturing advantages eg. purity, accurate design and shape formation.
By using a blend of sustainable materials, manufacturers can create products that are certified to be environmentally friendly and still meet the needs of their customers and markets.
The 4-Blend Levels
Generally, there are five levels each with its advantages in costs, blends of sustainable and virgin materials, and eco-friendly certification standards.
Clean Ocean Blend (Most Eco-Friendly)
100% Ocean-Bound Plastics
Standard Blend (Retailers Choice)
Post-Consumer Plastic 50% & Virgin PP 50
Plant-Based Blend (Most Aesthetic)
20% Post-Consumer Plastic & 20% Eco Friendly Wheat
Economy Blend (Lowest Cost)
20% Post-Consumer Plastic & 80% 2nd Grade Recycled Plastic
The different levels of sustainable and certified materials blends mean retailers have great flexibility to meet the ever-growing demands for more environmentally friendly products.
What Are The Sustainable Materials Certifications?
Sustainable materials are those that have been sourced in a way that does not negatively impact the environment. There are a variety of sustainable materials certifications, each with its own set of standards.
It might be difficult to figure out what means when there are so many certifications, grades, and labels for a single product category. Sometimes, this is due to the fact that certifications began in various locations around the world and have since grown large enough to span borders.
Also, differing organizations can have the same noble goal but contrasting viewpoints on the multi-faceted processes and priorities to get there. Some may think stringency is critical, while other groups favor gathering as many firms under the sustainability umbrella and guiding them to greener options over time.
A well-known sustainable materials certification is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Its certifications ensure that the materials have been sourced from well-managed forests and that the rights of workers and local communities have been respected.
More globally recognized sustainable material certifications include:
GRS - Global Recycle Standard
An international, voluntary, full product standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of recycled content, chain of custody, social and environmental practices and chemical restrictions.
OBP Certification Program
Encourages the removal of Ocean Bound Plastic from the environment by adding value in effectively collecting and treating it before it reaches oceans.
The Recycled Claim Standard
RCS is a voluntary, international content claim standard that gives credibility to recycled material claims by tracking recycled input through the supply chain of products.
These rigorous certification programmes and their trustworthy labelling on products mean eco-conscious shoppers can be certain they are purchasing products with environmental friendliness uppermost in mind.
Which Sustainable Manufacturing Material Should I Choose?
When choosing sustainable manufacturing materials, it is important to consider the benefits and drawbacks of each type of material for the purpose of final product.
There are many types and blends of sustainable manufacturing materials to meet your needs and preferences. Consider the cost, durability, and environmental impact of each type of material before making a decision. Sustainable manufacturing materials can help to reduce your carbon footprint and make your products more eco-friendly.
If you enjoyed this guide, check out our guide to sustainable manufacturing.