Manufacturing growth and sustainability go hand in hand

With the year drawing to a close, it's become increasingly clear that 2013 has seen continued signs of economic renewal in the United States and abroad. At the same time, it's also apparent that sustainable product sourcing has become vital to the manufacturing supply chain. And in 2014, these two phenomena are likely to be intimately related.

The domestic energy boom

Energy has been a center of new economic activity in the United States, and the sector proved more productive and promising than ever in recent months. A report by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) revealed that domestic oil and shale gas production has been behind a recent economic and job creation spurt, and much of that growth has been focused on forward-thinking methods of energy sourcing. The study found that the unconventional gas and oil supply chain contributed $284 billion to U.S. gross domestic product in 2012. Furthermore, innovative domestic energy activity currently supports 2.1 million jobs overall.

"This report confirms that manufacturers' best days are ahead and that the shale revolution could spur economic growth and job creation for years to come," commented Jay Timmons, president and CEO of NAM.

Sustainability is key to growth

The energy boom promises to benefit companies in all sectors, including a wide range of manufacturers with disparate specializations. But the danger lies in setting aside sustainability in the name of growth.

Many companies are putting ecologically sound procurement and distribution practices at the core of their operations. In CF Industries' most recent corporate sustainability report, the fertilizer manufacturer highlighted some of its successes in implementing environmentally friendly production practices and green logistics last year. At one of its U.S.-based facilities, it reduced gas usage per ton of ammonia produced to its lowest rates ever.

Much of the firm's effort in sustainability is geared toward providing farmers with the resources they need to meet the challenges of a changing global food landscape.

"The demand for more food is being driven not only by an increasing population but also by a shift to more nutritious, protein-rich diets as nations develop," the firm wrote.

Nation development also means that overall food demand will be increasing in the coming years. CF Industries noted in order to provide sufficient nutrition to the world's population in 2050, farmers will have to raise their food output by 70 percent.

As global economies develop and demand patterns change, managing a sustainable production supply chain may prove the deciding factor between a company's ability to keep up with the growth or fall behind.

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