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Enock Ebbah

5 Eye-Opening Ways Manufacturers Can Be More Sustainable

May 2024

A recent report by Lloyds Bank, "ESG in UK Manufacturing," highlights that Sustainability is rising on the business agenda. Businesses and organisations are more than ever embedding Sustainability in their business strategy. Manufacturers, however, are struggling due to several obstacles that put them behind their sustainability goals. But fear but, potential fixes for these hurdles are perfectly attainable to correct the industry's course.


Why Manufacturers Need to Be More Sustainable 

Sustainability provides a framework for organisations to evaluate how their products, services and processes impact the environment and society.

Many organisations specifically choose to use the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) framework to set their sustainability goals. The environmental topics in ESG cover greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and biodiversity. Additionally, ESG blends in social factors such as labour practices, as well as governance topics, including anti-bribery policies, diversity, and inclusion.

As an industry, manufacturing is vital in creating a more sustainable economy, environment, and society. Manufacturing processes often consume large amounts of energy, water, and raw materials while generating pollution and waste. By adopting more sustainable practices, manufacturers can help mitigate environmental degradation, conserve natural resources, and protect ecosystems.


How Can Manufacturers Become More Sustainable?

Manufacturers face a vast number of challenges and barriers to achieving their sustainability goals. However, there are solutions to improve sustainability and mitigate some of these challenges.


Stakeholder Expectations and Demands

Stakeholders usually have diverse expectations that can have a knock-on effect on manufacturers' efforts to become more sustainable. As a result, companies grapple with competing stakeholder demands from different sources and addressing core business goals. For example, customers and employees may prioritise social and environmental impact, while investors may emphasise financial performance.

Companies must devise a strategy to effectively allocate time, money and personnel to address sustainability initiatives without compromising other critical business functions.


Lack of Understanding and Skills in Sustainability

A significant barrier across most industries that also arises in manufacturing is a lack of understanding and skills in sustainability. The World Economic Forum (WE Forum) report indicates that more qualified talent and skilled workforce are needed for companies to design, implement, and manage sustainability strategies. The UN Global Compact emphasises the need for companies to prioritise and invest in quality environmental training for their leaders and workforce.

Good examples of courses that are centred around building sustainability in an organisation and are well-known are the IEMA Sustainability Skills for Managers and the IEMA Environmental Sustainability Skills for the Workforce.


Lack of Vision Among Senior Leadership

The lack of a clear vision among senior leaders and the board can be a significant barrier to manufacturers achieving their sustainability goals. With a shared understanding of the level of transformation that comes with implementing sustainability goals, decision-making among the senior leaders and the board becomes cohesive and consistent across the company.

Companies can tie senior leadership compensation and performance bonus with sustainability outcomes and drive collaboration to avoid senior leaders working in silos.


Inefficiency in Existing Operations

Inefficient manufacturing processes often lead to higher resource consumption. Neglecting to develop these processes and promote sustainability sees energy, raw materials, and water go to waste. In addition to this, it leads to colossal waste generation rates and increased environmental pollution.

As far as business impacts go, higher production costs from unsustainable practices affect profitability and the company's ability to compete. Inefficient operations may also be at a high risk of not complying with environmental law, which can lead to heavy fines and further consequences.

A practical solution to solve inefficient processes is implementing circularity principles, including product reuse, recycling, and remanufacturing processes to ensure efficient material, energy, and water flows.


Supply Chain Impact

Manufacturers face many challenges originating from the supply chain. The supply chain can be the most significant source of emissions for manufacturers, and lack of adequate data from suppliers may hinder their ability to assess the practical opportunities to alleviate potential negative environmental impact.

Manufacturers need effective procurement policies that engage the supply chain effectively to ensure purchases of products and services address environmental and social impact as well as quality and price. New environmental laws, such as the latest UK carbon tax laws, are expected to financially impact businesses that source carbon-intensive products from the supply chain. Thus, companies that efficiently address the environmental and social impact of the supply chain are likely to have a competitive advantage.

These changes can initially seem daunting, and companies tend to look at the short-term financial commitment. However, considering the long-term life cycle cost and benefits far outweigh the initial costs of implementing sustainability strategies, it is definitely in manufacturers' best interests to consider implementing some of these changes.



Which Environmental Courses Help Manufacturers Become More Sustainable?

One key driver for sustainability in manufacturing is proper education of leadership and the workforce. We strongly recommend that manufacturers implement training programs that will help inform all aspects of the organisation on how to be more sustainable in their day-to-day work.

Our recommendation is to begin training leadership with the IEMA Environmental Sustainability Skills for Managers course below. The course will provide leadership with crucial learning outcomes such as:

  • Understanding drivers for change and barriers.
  • Using data for performance improvement.
  • Environmental sustainability across the value chain.
  • Improving resource efficiency.

It drills down into the finer details to give managers and supervisors the ability to drive change amongst their teams. Companies that contribute to the global and local community enjoy increased satisfaction from key stakeholders, such as customers, employees, and the public. Through new positioning in the marketplace, you’ll be able to embrace new market development and business opportunities.




About the Author 

Enock Ebbah MSc has a wealth of combined experience, having spent 13 years developing and delivering energy, environment and sustainability projects, energy research and responsible engineering. His specialist expertise in strategic Net Zero solutions, energy transition, decarbonisation initiatives, and sustainable approaches to using energy, materials, and resources for sustainable development. As an Environment and Sustainability Consultant at Astutis, Enock helps organisations deliver ambitious environment, sustainability, and Net Zero outcomes by providing environmental assessments, environmental and sustainability training, ESG materiality assessments, and sustainability reporting and strategy.


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