Responsible Manufacturing: The Backbone of a Strong Circular Economy and Aftermarket Suppliers

Monday, September 19, 2022

Responsible Manufacturing: The Backbone of A Strong Circular Economy and Aftermarket Suppliers

By John Chalifoux, president & COO, MERA – The Association for Sustainable Manufacturing

John Chalifoux

The automotive aftermarket is a great industry — one that has been around since the advent of the automobile. It’s safe to say that the first aftermarket part was likely installed on the first working automobile moments after the early end of its first test drive. That’s what our industry does. We supply the parts, technologies and services that help people keep their vehicles on the road, every day, after their vehicles are first made. And we have been doing it for more than 100 years.

Early aftermarket parts included motor oil (open engine oiling) and replacement leather drive belts, along with tires, rims and, yes, spokes. Parts were repaired, rebuilt, remanufactured and made new. They were installed wherever needed, including on the road and in the garage. It was our industry’s way of helping society meet its need for transportation.

Sustainability and ESG

Fast forward to today. Vehicle technologies have advanced, and so have manufacturing processes. Aftermarket players continue to make parts, provide services and run their facilities in a world with a sharp focus on sustainability and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors. For many companies in the aftermarket industry, particularly remanufacturers, sustainability has been a part of who they are. The ESG term may be newer, but the basic concept is not. 

When all of ESG is taken collectively, it is about a company’s—your company’s—impact on the planet and people. Is your company’s impact on the environment positive? How does your company treat its employees and other stakeholders? Does your company’s messaging and actions match its brand?

Responsible Manufacturing

At the end of the day, when looking at sustainability and ESG, one word—one revelation—rises to the top: responsibility. Everything associated with this broad topic is about being responsible and communicating your company’s responsibility to all stakeholders.

Aftermarket suppliers, similar to companies in so many other industries, practice responsible or sustainable manufacturing. (Where along the way did the cell phone capture the glory? The automobile was—and still is—the ultimate mobile device.) Anything in your facility, your process, your interaction with stakeholders that is tied to reducing, reusing, remanufacturing or recycling is worth noting. These four processes are intertwined with a strong circular economy, and it’s likely that one or more can be linked directly to your company. Sure, there is work to be done. That can be said about sustainability in any industry. Yet it is time for the automotive aftermarket to capture, measure and communicate the good that it does for society. Whether we are talking about supplying needed parts and services or helping people be mobile for work and pleasure, the automotive aftermarket plays a key role in the nation’s economy.

Reduce. Reuse. Remanufacture. Recycle.

A few years ago, MERA introduced a new symbol for sustainable manufacturing. We did so to better position our members in the marketplace. We wanted to highlight the corporate social responsibility of manufacturing companies that produce high-quality goods – a second time – by reusing core materials and conserving embodied energy in existing products.

We all know the 3 Rs of the environment: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. It’s captured in the iconic recycling symbol. Yet this symbol did not do a good job to raise awareness and acceptance of remanufacturing—the most pragmatic example in a circular economy. So, MERA opened up the symbol and added a fourth arrow, remanufacture. As with the other Rs, remanufacturing minimizes the impact on the environment, but it should always be considered before traditional recycling: Reduce. Reuse. Remanufacture. Recycle.

Reduce: Does your facility practice energy and water conservation? Maybe you are utilizing sustainable materials or clean energy? Record it. Report it.

Reuse: Do you ship or receive parts in returnable dunnage? Does your facility re-use raw materials? Can your product be repurposed? Measure it. Share it.

Remanufacture: Are you part of the life-cycle extension associated with remanufacturing? Do you remanufacture parts? Do you supply the core material that is the lifeblood of this like-new part-producing process? Capture it. Communicate.

Recycle: What do you and your people recycle? Metals, plastics, office electronics? Take note of it. Celebrate.  

“The price of greatness is responsibility.” Winston Churchill

Now more than ever, it is important to communicate to key stakeholders how your company operates responsibly. Yes, the symbol above was conceived for remanufacturers, yet it can also apply to any company. Even if you can’t speak to the remanufacture arrow, you can certainly highlight your company’s actions as related to the other three arrows. As always, it is important to be factual and to speak with data. We will stay away from the green washing that has afflicted others. Together, we will communicate that responsible manufacturing is the backbone of a strong circular economy and the companies that supply the automotive aftermarket. We will share the greatness of our industry and how we proudly accept the responsibility to meet the needs of today’s society.

Remanufacturing Section at AAPEX

This year at AAPEX, any company involved in the making or selling of remanufactured automotive parts will have an excellent platform to promote, even increase, their ESG profile. Remanufacturers, core material and component suppliers, distributors and retailers will be visible throughout the show. And many will be concentrated in the Remanufacturing Section (Level 2, The Venetian Expo) at AAPEX—a special gathering of remanufacturing-related exhibitors organized by the Auto Care Association and MERA. (AAPEX is co-owned by the Auto Care Association and the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association — AASA, MERA’s sister organization.) Wherever your exhibit is located on the show floor, AAPEX is the perfect place to host key stakeholders. On Wednesday, Nov. 2, be on the lookout for green shoes. See how the remanufacturing industry is walking the talk on sustainability.

Sept. 19, 2022