Manufacturers report four-fold strategy in embracing sustainability

By Made In Group
schedule30th Jan 23

Manufacturing is at the centre of the government's commitment to ensuring the UK becomes the first economy to achieve 'net zero' status by 2050 through an act of Parliament . So how do firms address these changes and steer away from the rhetoric on this still misunderstood shift in businesses operating in the UK? 

Why is manufacturing under pressure to change?

Its costing us

Prior to Brexit, the UK was encountering a £5bn-£9bn a year environmentally related health care impact alone; when CO2 is factored in, this is more than we spend on security, intelligence, the Arts and Transport. Its a big cost and burden on the NHS

Education and enforcement has worked so far but too slowly

Despite the redline headlines, the UK is churning out 40% less CO2 than we were 40 years ago, so the media and government focus is working and needs to continue if we're to achieve these goals.

Contribution to the nation doesn't match return

Greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing and construction were 66 MtCO2e in 2018, 12% of the UK total but only 9.8% of GDP so the sector needs to work harder to reduce this further.

Perception of the sector

Reportedly higher levels of 'social and environmental' motivation in millennials looking that the sector are more likely to pick a sustainable employer than a less sustainable employer, so in an industry already high on competition for talent needs to be greener.

Energy costs are going up

42% of manufacturers are reporting their energy costs are going up and energy bills have increased for most firms by a minimum of 100%, so in a sector tightly controlled by margins; energy usage must be reduced 

Best Practice From Today's Panel:

Made in Group members met this morning to identify shared experiences of the root causes of the problem and also what dynamic businesses are doing to address it.

Made in Group members on the panel included Greyhound Box, CBE+, Yorkshire Profiles, NCMT and Winman and the topic was discussed in detail about attitudes, observations and examples of how firms are addressing this challenge

How are manufacturers approaching sustainability?

There were 4 main tranches of response to the sustainable conundrum from panelists

(1) Environmental Compliance 

Firms are recognising working hard to adhere to increasing legislation such as waste into water bodies, emissions, there are severe penalties and both environmental and health critical processes which if broken could have catastrophic consequences. There is therefore an element of 'stick' to be aware of 'having to comply' legally.

(2) Operating to increasing pressures from customers

More and more manufacturers are reporting increased expectations from their customers to be operating more sustainably. Both winning work and keeping it are the two main strategies firms have for growth but 'sustainable practice' and environmental consciousness are cited as becoming crucial factors in how work is being placed. Buyers are asking them more at the point of quotation about their sustainable practices.This in turn is shaping how members look at their own procurement.

(3) Shaping smarter energy usage in processes

With energy cost pressures being what they are, members have been looking at intelligent engineering solutions around the business to reduce energy wastage. This has included, re-using heat created in manufacturing processes elsewhere in the factory for heating of work areas and offices, re-use of energy from plating tasks redistributed into the business and finally nitrogen generation facilities.

(4) Shaping a move to environmentally sustainable products

Several members creating products out of aluminium and also cardboard are able to cite the environmental wins linked to the recyclability of these products. Even if their products are not using as sustainable materials as others; gains can be made into the packaging of their products and parts for instance.

(5) Challenges: 

There are a number of unforseen constraints under which these firms are operating that hinder implementation of sustainable practices such as in one case; the energy usage to site is not sufficient enough to power the nitrogen generator investment required; so there is a supply issue. In another firm the business is keen to invest in solar panels of power generation but the site landlords don't wish to allow it - so further education needs to be carried out for site landlords perhaps.

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