Creating a sustainable manufacturing business: what are the benefits?
Between 1990-2020, manufacturing was the fourth highest industry in terms of producing greenhouse gas emissions. It is an industry that made over £400 billion worth of sales in 2021, yet many are now asking, at what cost?
The UK has manufactured a huge variety of products for decades - from chemicals and pharmaceuticals, to food and drink. Many of the manufacturing processes used can be complex and involve operational procedures that are often seen as hard to decarbonise.
Yet faced with a climate change emergency and consumer behaviour driving the need for urgent action, manufacturers are reacting and sustainability is improving.
With an increasing demand for manufacturers to invest more time and money into finding greener alternatives there’s never been a better time to create a sustainable manufacturing business.
What does sustainable manufacturing involve?
Sustainable manufacturing relates to the creation of products by using processes that minimise their impact on the environment, whilst also conserving or using renewable energy where possible.
For a manufacturing business to be considered sustainable, it is also essential that they consider the health and safety of their workers, the quality of life within any community in which they operate, as well as making a positive difference to society in general.
Examples of sustainable manufacturing practices include:
- The development of renewable energy technologies
- Manufacturing products that can capture carbon
- Creating and utilising a greener supply chain
- Reducing overall energy consumption
- Focussing on long-term goals
- Seeking to improve the health and well-being of both workers and consumers
- Upholding human rights and labour standards
What are the benefits of creating a sustainable manufacturing business?
Sustainable manufacturing doesn’t need to be expensive. In fact, many businesses may even be eligible for government grants and schemes which offer the funding required to make positive changes. The government grants and schemes may also be useful resource to look at for those capital-intensive investments.
Reduced business costs can emerge as a direct consequence of taking a sustainable approach. Simple switches such as replacing inefficient lighting with LED bulbs could help to save a sustainable manufacturing business money in the long-term.
With a more detailed focus on long-term planning and efficiency, a sustainable manufacturing business can make changes that result in benefits such as minimal wastage and lower energy and water consumption.
As well as potential reduced costs in the future, many of these strategies and changes will have a positive impact on the wider natural environment.
Utilising technology to develop a greener supply chain
The COVID-19 pandemic showed the entire manufacturing industry just how outdated and fragile supply chains had become.
Some supply chains within the industry have also been responsible for huge levels of carbon emission with inefficient movement of products (usually in vehicles powered by fossil fuels).
- To identify patterns, risks and opportunities developing in order to minimise their wastage and improve business efficiency
- To offer visibility and demonstrate accountability to customers who are increasingly seeking out sustainable businesses.
With 50-70% of operating costs being attributable to supply chains, any sustainable manufacturing business could reap the benefits of developing an efficient and easy to manage operation.
Harnessing energy efficient assets
It is not only technologies such as AI and tools such as Blockchain that can help businesses to maximise their efficiency and increase their sustainability.
Since 2011, there has been over £10bn invested in UK Electric Vehicles and battery research and development.
Among the 150 models of plug-in vehicle options on sale in the UK, there are a number of vans and trucks that can be utilised on manufacturing plants, within warehouses or elsewhere in the manufacturing process.
With vast heating and cooling systems and heavy automated equipment, many manufacturing plants consume large amounts of energy. A sustainable manufacturing business will be able to benefit from the developments in new renewable energy technologies such as biomass, hydroelectric power and even green hydrogen.
Reach new consumers and build public trust
Consumer behaviour is one of the key drivers of sustainability across industries. Sustainable manufacturing businesses can benefit from the increase in people wanting to buy sustainably made goods produced using environmentally friendly manufacturing methods.
Showing customers a business that is greener and more energy efficient than a direct competitor will usually benefit the reputation of the sustainably focused option.
In a competitive marketplace, businesses need to stand out and show specific examples of how they incorporate sustainable practices into the daily running of the business.
Sustainable manufacturing businesses can expect to appeal to new customers whilst building trust and solidifying their reputation as a thoughtful business that is helping to tackle pressing global issues.
Increased health and wellbeing of workers and consumers
With 2.5 million jobs provided by UK manufacturing, there is huge potential to increase the quality of life for workers. Investing in the health and wellbeing of employees in any business could result in less illness, mental health issues and absenteeism.
Consumers will also benefit from sustainable manufacturing businesses by:
- enjoying more eco-friendly, sustainably made products
- potentially being exposed to less air pollution due to reduced carbon emissions
- playing a part in having a positive impact for future generations
Have a positive environmental impact
There is an urgent need to reduce the millions of tonnes of harmful gases released into the atmosphere from manufacturing processes.
Regardless of the Net Zero target of 2050, it’s clear that changes need to be made - not just for meeting consumer needs, but for the local and global environment. Air pollution is a huge contributor to poor health in the UK and sustainable manufacturing businesses can be confident that their methods and models are helping to reduce this.
Sustainable manufacturing businesses can also seek to optimise any non-renewable resources that they have. International clothing manufacturers such as Patagonia have led the way in using recycled materials whilst many technology companies are offering customers the chance to hand over used laptops, printers and cartridges for reuse.
Businesses can also aim to educate and inform their workforce about the importance of sustainable practices such as recycling in the workplace.
It’s clear that the manufacturing industry has been forced to respond and react to calls for change in the way in which it operates.
From reducing air pollution and energy consumption to gaining an advantage over competitors, creating a sustainable manufacturing business has a huge number of benefits.
With a government commitment to reducing carbon emissions and consumers demanding sustainable goods, the demand for a sustainable manufacturing business is only going to increase.