Why Local Manufacturing is the Key to Sustainable Manufacturing

For some businesses, it pays to go local. It's good for the planet, too.

Jay Rogers | Local Motors

The concept of sustainable manufacturing is difficult to pin down.

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The key to achieving sustainable manufacturing is focusing on local manufacturing.

To critics, the notion of truly sustainable manufacturing is a pipe dream. But to creative minds with an eye toward the future, sustainable manufacturing is an ideal to march toward with zeal.

In my view, the key to achieving sustainable manufacturing is to bring the focus to local manufacturing.

Local manufacturing is kickstarting a new wave of sustainability because it advances all three pillars of sustainability — environmental, social and economic.

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Perhaps what’s most exciting about the evolution of sustainability is that we are finally advancing the discussion beyond simply the ecological impacts of factories.

In the auto industry, this means being committed to looking far beyond just tailpipe emissions into things like water use, noise and the impact paved roads have on the planet.

We are advancing this discussion because local manufacturing can clearly address the social and economic pillars of sustainability.

To wit, the social perspective we have long ignored in developed economies is the impact that mass manufacturing has had on the quality of life for workers — and therefore on the quality of local economies. The documentary “Manufactured Landscapes“ portrays this idea.

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In looking at the social impact of sustainability, it has grown difficult for diverse, educated local economies to develop when skillsets become geographically concentrated and distributed around the world.

But herein lies the power of local manufacturing — it reintroduces meaningful work, quality education and a deepening of social networks in cities and towns around the world.


From an economic perspective, sustainable profits in a free market are the only way to allow a business to survive. Therefore, local manufacturing must highlight its advantage in creating sustainable profits.

At Local Motors, our microfactories believe in making big things locally. We cut down on energy and shipping costs, and we promote proper energy choices in vehicles depending on where they are geographically.

All of this makes smart economic sense, and can only be done when manufacturing takes place on a small scale.

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The modern auto industry is not set up to be sustainable in the long run – we’re overdue for a change.

While we focus on local manufacturing, other car companies are manufacturing on a huge scale in singular places, then shipping around the world.

Big car companies make big impacts in small places. They tend to overwhelm cities and towns with their economy, which could have dire consequences. Look no further than Detroit.

When manufacturing shifts to the local scale and technology is smartly utilized, decisions can be made quickly. Vehicles can be designed and built anywhere in the world.

We’re able to do that by utilizing direct digital manufacturing (DDM), which is synonymous with a radical reduction of tooling costs.

Today’s auto industry, meanwhile, is constrained by complex, expensive machinery and supply chains.

We’re passionate about sustainability and local manufacturing because we’re determined to build the world’s first cradle-to-cradle vehicle — one with a full-cycle sustainable profile.

It will be fully recyclable, locally built and profitable. It’s an ambitious goal, but also an important one.

The modern auto industry is not set up to be sustainable in the long run, and we’re overdue for a change.

To see the kind of change that will benefit both consumers and the planet, sustainable manufacturing has to be the goal. A move into local manufacturing is the way to get there. goldbrown2

This piece also appears in GE Reports


Every morning, wake up to the blog that gives you the latest trends shaping tomorrow.

Jay Rogers is CEO and Co-Founder of Local Motors, a technology company that designs, builds and sells vehicles through the use of co-creation and microfactories.

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Reprinted with permission of Longitudes, the UPS blog devoted to the trends shaping the global economy.

1 Comment

  1. Sandy Montalbano

    We agree that local for local makes good economic sense.

    The impact of offshoring on the U.S. economy and the environment has been significant. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the growing U.S. trade deficit with China alone cost 3.2 million jobs between 2001 and 2013. Job losses occurred in every state, primarily in manufacturing. Offshored jobs have diminished American employment opportunities, helped contribute to wage erosion, had a dramatic and negative effect on the domestic economy, and negatively impacted the environment through higher carbon emissions and other pollution from some developing countries and from long distance transport.

    Reshoring can improve the sustainability of the U.S. economy and reduce corporate carbon footprints on the world environment.

    Companies are recognizing that with the use of the refined metrics of total cost of ownership to uncover the hidden costs and risks of offshoring and reducing costs with sustainable strategies such as robotics, improved product design and automation they can increase competitiveness and manufacture profitably in the U.S.

    The Reshoring Initiative Can Help
    In order to help companies decide objectively to reshore manufacturing back to the U.S. or offshore, the not-for-profit Reshoring Initiative’s free Total Cost of Ownership Estimator (TCOE) can help corporations calculate the real P&L impact of reshoring or offshoring. http://www.reshorenow.org/TCO_Estimator.cfm

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