Designing Green Factories

The requirements under climate policies and rising energy prices are forcing the hand of businesses in manufacturing. In order for their production to be as resource-efficient and greenhouse-gas-neutral as possible, new-build factories as well as existing ones must be designed to be sustainable. Their goal of becoming a green factory requires comprehensive factory planning that connects sustainability with ideas such as digitalization and New Work in a useful way.

What Is a Green Factory?

A green factory is a factory that makes products with almost 100% greenhouse-gas neutrality by combining renewable energies, smart connectivity, and demand-side energy management. It represents one of the three elements of a zero-emissions company (alongside green products and a zero-emissions supply chain) and is characterized by things including eco-friendly processes, a flexible production environment, and highly efficient use of resources and energy. The factory remains robust and adaptable throughout its entire life cycle and helps to reduce the entire organization’s carbon footprint.

The climate-neutral factory of the future includes five dimensions that must be designed with sustainability and climate protection in mind: the production network, factory, building, segments, and workstation. They build on each other, influence each other, and form a company-wide production network that is integrated into the overarching supply chain. 

Transparency – which is essential for components such as intelligent control over energy and production flexibility and energy management – is created in these areas by using digital technologies and practicing lean management

How Is a Green Factory Constructed?

There are two ways to create a green factory

A distinction can be made between:

  1. new-build projects on greenfield sites (green greenfield)
  2. upgrading existing production facilities (green brownfield)

Both options have their advantages and disadvantages. New build makes it easier to use less energy-intensive technologies and methods (building fit-out, architecture, etc.), however it generates a large amount of emissions during construction and these emissions have a harmful impact on the project’s climate footprint.

Green brownfield projects, on the other hand, offer more starting points for reducing the output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and, in doing so, meeting statutory climate targets. However, they also require new ways of thinking that differ strongly from classic factory planning.

It is easy to lose track of things in this complex environment, especially with the many questions that are hard to answer without generalist expertise:

  • How can businesses develop and implement a sustainability strategy for a site?
  • How do they report on carbon emissions and perform energy audits?
  • What needs to be done to respect biodiversity at a site and how can space be used in a way that conserves as many resources as possible?
  • What steps need to be taken to accomplish a self-sufficient supply of energy?
  • How can ongoing production operations be integrated into energy and material streams in a way that achieves a circular economy?
  • What methods can be used to get around legal planning hurdles (e.g., solar parks in industrial precincts)?
  • What needs to be considered when designing working environments (New Work)?
  • Can unpreventable emissions be offset?

What Is the Best Approach for Businesses to Take?

It is important that businesses take a structured and targeted approach when they plan their green factory. Sustainable factory planning affects different target areas. They include aspects such as greenhouse-gas-neutral production as well as a more extensive notion of zero emissions in relation to local and regional influences on the business environment. The initial design also needs to go beyond present-day requirements and support the factory structures’ entire life cycle so that they can contribute to the entire company’s climate neutrality over the long term.

This complexity requires a comprehensive approach. To this end, our consultants make use of a staged plan that incorporates all dimensions of sustainable factory planning and includes a continuous improvement process.

Success Factors for Your Green Factory

  • The “where” factor: site search and evaluation 
  • The master plan: general structure and plant structure 
  • A necessary mindset shift: building structure and architecture 
  • Detailed planning makes the difference: area structure and production resources

Ten Assertions about the Green Factory

Essential guidelines according to which sustainability optimization can take place:


Six Steps to a Green Factory

1. Analyze

Step 1 focuses on digitalization and efficient process design (“Lean Is Queen, Digital Is King”). Businesses measure all the emissions that are caused indirectly or directly by them and integrate energy data into the “value stream” planning and optimization method. This provides transparency about the largest energy consumers in the production process.

2. Present the Data

To gain an overview of the main greenhouse-gas emissions that are generated, they must be broken down, reported on an annualized basis (we use the three scopes under the Greenhouse Gas Protocol for orientation), and documented in a standardized manner. The initial reporting generates reference values that businesses can later use to measure the success of the actions they take, and reveals the most important areas for action.

3. Define Objectives

As part of the conceptual design, businesses define their strategic objectives for the green-factory project based on a sustainability vision that points out a direction for development and a target image. These objectives produce reduction targets that have deadlines and incorporate statutory specifications as well as forecasts of technological developments

4. Implement Measures

With the business’ current status and its objectives in mind, consistent actions must be defined that can be integrated into long-term strategy with an appropriate time frame in accordance with their effectiveness and viability. This lets emissions be reduced systematically.

5. Demonstrate Improvement

To conduct an adequate cost–benefit analysis, businesses need to provide evidence of each optimization from the actions taken. Providing evidence of these benefits at first may involve not only financial benefits, but even just simply proving the viability of an action with added value that the factory will only profit from in the future.

6. Improve Continuously

Whether new build or a rebuild, every green factory comes with a continuous improvement process. Extensive change management is critical for this as the employees must internalize green thinking. Secondly, the improvements that have been initiated must be translated into standards.

Start now with our guideline!

Zero Emissions: Take the Journey to Become a Greenhouse-Gas-Neutral Company

If you want to read more about how to create suitable concepts for areas of action such as green factories, zero-emissions supply chains, and green products, you will appreciate our Zero Emissions guideline. It gives you numerous tips and explanations to help you make your business more sustainable.


Do you have questions about the idea of a “green factory”? Get in touch with us today.

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