Sustainable Manufacturing

Whilst the phrase “sustainable manufacturing” is one many are familiar with, pinning down what it means is less easy.

To some, it is as simple as being “green”, but the growing consensus is that the concept extends much further than that. For example, the US Department of Commerce sums it up as:

“The creation of manufactured products that use processes that minimize negative environmental impacts, conserve energy and natural resources, are safe for employees, communities, and consumers and are economically sound.”

This could, therefore, encompass areas as diverse as minimising emissions, paying tax responsibly and operating good working conditions as detailed below.

What are the benefits of Sustainable Manufacturing Practices and why should Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) be embracing them?

The key is to recognise that not only are there tangible, monetary benefits, such as reducing energy costs by investing in energy efficient plant and machinery, or increasing use of renewable energy sources, but there are also significant intangible gains to be had from improved relations with employees, suppliers and customers.

For example, a 2016 Cone Communications study reveals:

  • 75% of millennials would take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company.
  • 76% of millennials would consider a company’s social and environmental commitments before deciding where to work.
  • 64% of millennials would not take a job if a potential employer did not have strong corporate responsibility practices.

As a result, in the dynamic, challenging, global economy which UK manufacturers are currently operating in, the gains from developing a culture of sustainability will be a key tool to their survival. With their appetite for innovation and ability to react more swiftly than their larger competitors, UK SMEs are ideally placed to do so.

However, in order to build a sustainable manufacturing business that generates real gains, there are several hurdles to overcome:

  1. The need to identify which sustainable initiatives will generate the greatest gains and more importantly how these will be measured.
  2. An action plan should be drawn up to prioritise initiatives and deliver them.
  3. The results of the activities should be measured and fed back into the start of the process to generate a culture of continuous improvement.

Measurement is important and there are many indices, ratings and standards that aim to do this. Tools such as the OECD’s Sustainable Manufacturing Toolkit are a useful place to start.

In summary, not only is introducing a culture of sustainability into all areas of the business model a means of safeguarding the long term future of UK manufacturing businesses, but it can also generate both financial and non-financial benefits if carefully implemented and monitored.

This article featured in issue 4 of our Manufacturing and Engineering newsletter series.

Read The Engine Issue 4

If you would like to discuss this with us in more detail please get in touch with one of our team on 01903 234094.