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Background on the ASTM Sustainable Manufacturing Standards

ISO 14000 family of standards on environmental management have been helping manufacturers improve their sustainability.   While these standards are a useful first step and help in developing a management approach to sustainability, they fall short of providing specific guidance for manufacturers to really dive deeply into their processes and find opportunities for improvement at that level.  The new ASTM standards provide that guidance to help manufacturers go through their processes one by one, capture the characteristics of those processes in terms of how they impact the environment, and look for opportunities to be more sustainable in their operations.  The characteristics of a process are descriptions of what goes into and out of the process, what the process does in terms of how it transforms its inputs, and what other types of resources it uses.  We call these descriptions unit manufacturing process or UMP models.

Our research also showed that when manufactures and their academic counterparts take a deep dive into understanding the processes, they would often focus on different metrics and the results would be very difficult to compare and reuse [1].  The standard format defined in ASTM E3012-16 provides a basis for ensuring that a consistent set of details are covered and that they are covered consistently.  This consistency will allow for better comparison, more reuse, and, in the end, more reliable results.

In addition to a systematic approach for characterizing the processes, the guide defines an initial formal representation for those characterizations.  Structure and formalism are needed for computer-interpretation to allow direct use of the representations for effective communication, computational analytics, and exchange of performance information. A formal information model promotes new software tool development that can link manufacturing information and analytics for calculating the desired environmental performance measures. Also, specific software tools will improve decision support capabilities while facilitating the development and extension of standardized data and information bases such as Life Cycle Inventory (LCI).  LCI data is used in life cycle assessments (LCA), part of the 14000 family of standards.  This is where the two approaches to sustainability assessment—the top down approach coming from the ISO 14000 family and the bottom up measurements coming via the ASTM standards—come together.  ASTM E3012-16 is a starting point for computer-interpretation.   Work is still needed to realize the vision of computation analytics and tool integration, but we now have a standard place to start.  

1.  Review on Sustainability Characterization for Manufacturing Processes. NISTIR 7913, US Department of Commerce, National Institute of Standards and Technology, 2013.
Created August 25, 2016, Updated April 24, 2020