Improving material efficiency is widely accepted as one of the key challenges facing manufacturers in the future. Increasing material consumption is having detrimental impacts on the environment as a result of their extraction, processing and disposal. It is clear that radical improvements in material efficiency are required to avoid further environmental damage and sustain the manufacturing sector. Current resource management approaches are predominantly used to improve material consumption solely in economic terms. Meanwhile, environmental assessment methodologies can determine sources of significant environmental impact related to a product; however, a methodology to effectively assess material efficiency in production systems is currently not available. This paper highlights the benefits of material flow modelling within manufacturing systems to support advances in increased material efficiency, proposing a framework for ‘material flow assessment in manufacturing’ that promotes greater understanding of material flow and flexibility to explore innovative options for improvement.