Manufacturing is the largest emitting industrial sector in the UK, generating 16% of total greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. If the UK is to meet its target of becoming net zero by 2050, manufacturers have a considerable part to play.
As more and more manufacturing businesses put sustainability at the top of their agenda, the benefits are becoming increasingly clear. Commercially, moving toward greater sustainability can reduce costs and increase profits. But it can also have a positive impact on talent attraction, development and retention – people want to work for a business with a social and environmental conscience. This is a topic Joe Walton, Director at Michael Page Manufacturing, discussed in a recent panel discussion on employee engagement with sustainability issues.
Last month, our Senior Operating Director Ruth Hancock participated in the judging panel for the ‘Sustainable Manufacturing’ category at The Manufacturer’s MX Awards. We sat down with her to learn more about the exciting innovations she saw there.
What did the week involve?
Ruth: Following the initial sift of participating companies, I visited the final five manufacturing facilities with the other judges and a moderator. The remit was the same for each business: a 20-minute presentation, followed by a site tour, a Q&A, and some initial feedback.
What did you see?
Ruth: The passion and commitment to sustainability was incredible. Every business had a clear and relatable strategy, and sustainability was the backbone to every business decision. The determination to make a positive difference shone through.
Each facility had their own unique challenges, from enabling low carbon energy generation to waste management and recycling, and they were all working in environments where cost and quality were factored in at every stage. Some had been focused on sustainable manufacturing for over a decade, while others were just a few years into the journey.
How did the companies approach sustainability?
Ruth: By using the clarity and guidance that science-based targets provide, the manufacturers had all approached change differently. Some concentrated their efforts on their facilities – for instance, by upgrading lighting and installing onsite wind turbines – while others looked at the broader ESG agenda, factoring in how sustainable and engaged their teams were. Many aimed big and adopted the “shoot for the moon, and even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars” mentality. If the idea is to reduce plastic in packaging, aim to eradicate it entirely.
Those businesses who have made steps towards engaging their entire workforce have an ace up their sleeve when it comes to attraction and retention. Increasingly, candidates are drawn to businesses which live and breathe their green credentials, and they want to be part of the shift. For that reason, businesses need to consider how they will approach ESG and sustainability, then build a communication strategy so that their employees, suppliers, and customers can be part of the shift, without greenwashing.
Websites and internal communication platforms are an obvious starting point for this. I saw some great examples in a number of facilities where the business’s sustainability journey and plan were proudly displayed on the walls of the factory. This led to an increase in engagement and ideas.
How can manufacturers accelerate their progress?
Ruth: I think there are a few key approaches which will stand manufacturers in good stead:
Be unique. One size doesn’t fit all, and the way in which a manufacturer becomes more sustainable depends on their product, their process, their facility, their people, and their culture. For progress to be made at the pace required, sustainability needs to be at the core of everything. Some of the most innovative initiatives I saw came not from the senior leadership team or head of sustainability, but from the shop floor.
Be clear. Avoid getting lost in the details: there is so much that can potentially be changed, improved, and achieved, that sustainability risks being a very noisy place where little gets done. Defined, quantifiable goals, and a succinct plan with regular reviews are the route to success.
Be brave. Don’t wait for the solution reach a standard of absolute perfection before embarking on change. Time is not on our side.
Be loud and proud. Tell your employees what you’re doing, what’s going well, and what’s not. Tell your suppliers and hold them accountable for their green credentials. Tell your customers and ask them to come on the journey with you.
Finally, be generous. Share your success, failures, challenges, and ideas with other manufacturers. Join forums and industry discussions and help the industry come together and succeed together.