Underwriters Laboratory: Sustainable manufacturing will attract customers

Sara Greenstein from Underwriters Laboratory explains how the average consumer's expectations of a product correlates with manufacturing production and how that affects the industry at large.


What’s the direct relationship between consumer expectation and manufacturing production? That’s the question Underwriters Laboratories set out to discover when it launched its “Navigating the Product Mindset” study in 2011. Sara A. Greenstein, senior vice president and chief marketing and strategy officer for UL discussed the study’s details with Plant Engineering.

PE: One of the more interesting parts of the study is that consumers have a different view on component parts as it relates to product safety than do manufacturers. Why is there this disconnect?

Greenstein: It’s clear from the study that consumers are becoming more interested and savvy about products, and not just about the assembly of their products, but about the components of their products. A holistic view of the data leads one to presume that consumers are becoming more aware of the global supply chain’s complexity, and with that, how component parts impact the quality and safety of a final product. Added to that is the power of social media and the Internet. Consumers have greater access to uncover the details surrounding products’ components. Manufacturers could view this as an opportunity to differentiate their products by informing consumers about component parts.

PE: Product quality – and by extension manufacturing quality – is an important issue for both manufacturers and consumers. Is there a sense that product quality has declined in recent years?

Greenstein: No, quite the opposite. The study says that more than half of all consumers perceive product quality to be better today than five years ago in all categories (with high tech having the highest response and processed food the lowest), and Chinese and Indian consumers are the most positive about product quality today versus five years ago. So, in general, confidence in product quality is quite high, among both consumers and manufacturers. It is interesting to note despite the perceived improvement in product quality, on average 76% of all consumers feel manufacturers do not use the best materials in their products, so there is still opportunity for improvement.

PE: Product reliability is viewed as having a greater impact on profitability than sustainable manufacturing. Sustainable manufacturing is viewed as potentially profitable. Are we moving toward sustainability as a profit center? And at what speed?

Greenstein: UL recognizes that the environmental space is still relatively young and evolving. At the same time, however, we also recognize that sustainable practices--from green manufacturing and commerce to green building and lifestyles--are the wave of the future. Sustainability is to the 21st century as fire safety was to the 20th century, and before we know it, it's going to be requisite.

Download Navigating the Product Mindset here.

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