In manufacturing, sustainability refers to the practice of producing goods and services in a way that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This encompasses environmental, social and economic considerations.

Sustainability Content

Sustainability: It’s time to get on with it

With net zero deadlines getting closer, more emphasis is being put on the need to cut carbon footprints.

The UK’s commitment to the Paris Agreement means that we have to play our part in limiting the global temperature rise and focusing on sustainability. To do this, emissions must be halved by 2030, with net zero being achieved no later than 2050.

This goal is beginning to slip from our fingers – with the UK set to miss its fourth and fifth carbon budgets. To achieve the sixth, the country needs to cut emissions by a staggering 78%.

Action from the business world is key to achieving this.

Despite the growing urgency of reaching net zero by 2050, many organizations have yet to accept the reality of the threat. QMS International’s research of business attitudes found environmental sustainability was only listed as a top or second priority by 1.9% and 11.2% of businesses respectively. The majority (23.4%) put it as the seventh business priority – out of eight.

Why act now?

By being proactive now, organizations can dodge future headaches, especially where legislation or seeking new business is concerned.

Acting now will ensure that organizations stay in step with other clients and customers. For example, 69% of respondents to the survey said good green credentials were either very important or quite important to their clients.

Becoming more carbon-friendly can save money and create new jobs too. In the report, “Manufacturing resilience: driving recovery towards net zero” by the All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group and Policy Connect, it stated matching the most efficient operator in the manufacturing sector would, on average, enable a company to become 24% more profitable, create 30% more jobs and cut greenhouse gas emissions by a sizable 9%.

Short-term actions

Simple actions, such as implementing wider recycling efforts, are easy wins that can help a business towards greater sustainability and feed into a wider circular economy.

Other actions, such as enforcing a paperless policy, can also be useful. This has recently been made easier by the shift towards home or hybrid working, which naturally limits employees’ access to printing facilities.

Energy efficiency in general can be very rewarding too, with consistent monitoring being an easy but often overlooked first step. Manufacturers can easily keep tabs on their usage with half-hour meters, for example. However, a recent survey by Make UK revealed that more than 95% of manufacturers do not use them.

Medium-term actions

A key medium-term action is developing a system designed to monitor, measure and improve an organization’s environmental management. Systems such as ISO 14001, the international Standard for environmental management, can help to put this structure in place.

ISO 14001 helps organization to consider all aspects, risks and impacts of their environmental performance and to plan strategically. Ultimately, it can lead to cost savings as well as a demonstrable commitment to managing environmental risk. With greater monitoring and measurement processes, it can be easier to spot opportunities to reduce waste, for instance.

Other medium-term shifts could include building up a new supply chain of more local suppliers or replacing equipment and vehicles with greener alternatives.

Long-term sustainability actions

Longer-term actions require an organization to build up a detailed strategy that integrates environmental management into their business objectives. By doing so, businesses can build success and ensure sustainability is part of every decision-making process.

An organization can, for example, investigate new, greener products and services, tying together the search for profits and new commercial opportunities with environmental concerns.

Although medium and long-term actions require more time and investment, they are key to long-term success. By using them, organizations can avoid the implementation of piecemeal solutions that fail to drive continual improvement, something that is absolutely necessary when it comes to winning the race to net zero.

– This originally appeared on Control Engineering Europe’s website.

Sustainability FAQ

  • What is sustainability?

    Sustainability is a holistic concept that encompasses economic, social and environmental aspects and aims to create a balance between meeting the needs of the present and preserving the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

  • Why does sustainability matter in manufacturing?

    Sustainability can lead to cost savings, improve brand reputation and help companies to meet government regulations. It also can improve the company's long-term viability and brand reputation.

  • What standards can help manufacturers achieve sustainability?

    There are many standards manufacturers can use to achieve sustainability. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is the most widely used sustainability reporting framework. Other standards like ISO 14001, ISO 26000 and U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification are useful, as well.

  • What challenges do manufacturers face when it comes to sustainability?

    Achieving sustainability is not a straight line and manufacturers can face several challenges. It can be expensive at times, particularly if the company is replacing a lot of inefficient equipment. Companies also might not know what to track or how, which can lead to frustration. Workers might not like the changes, either, if they feel it's making their jobs harder rather than easier. Sustainability is a long-term project and not a short-term one and companies need to have a plan that reflects this.

Some FAQ content was compiled with the assistance of ChatGPT. Due to the limitations of AI tools, all content was edited and reviewed by our content team.