Opinion: Why Industrial Evolution report must go to COP21

Posted on 21 Oct 2015 by Callum Bentley

Manager of the Manufacturing Commission, Michael Folkerson explains why he wants to take it’s Industrial Evolution report to Paris for COP21.

Michael Folkerson - APMG
Michael Folkerson – All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group (APMG).

The Manufacturing Commission has been working on an inquiry into the sustainability of the industrial sector since the beginning of this year.

This inquiry – Industrial Evolution: making British manufacturing sustainable – compiles nine months of evidence sessions, data handling and pulling together a wide variety of facts and figures into a hard copy report that will rest on the desks of MPs across the country.

Why industrial sustainability?

I think it’s fair to say that since 2008 there has been a renewed interest in the state of the manufacturing sector and the need to rebalance our economy – part of the reason why we decided to focus on that area.

Our findings are significant and point towards the potential for a forward-looking and sustainable industrial strategy.

Work such as the Government Office for Science report – The Future of Manufacturing – did a very good job of examining some of the major trends and challenges which will affect manufacturing in the UK over the coming decades.

However we undertook this inquiry because we believe that none of the existing research has so far adequately addressed these issues from a policy perspective.

Have we fully appreciated how we could take advantage of the complete range of opportunities on the horizon? Faced with a myriad of significant challenges, what would government and the sector itself need to do in order to survive and thrive?

This is why inquiries like this are so critical for focusing the attention of policy makers and industry leaders on these long-term issues.

The Manufacturing Commission is cross-party, independently governed and has drawn data from all corners of the sector, academia and government.

Initial findings

Our initial findings pointed towards four key ‘alerts’ (issues that really need addressing), which we recently published to the sector and have formed the basis of the final inquiry report:

  1. UK manufacturers face challenges to the future supply of critical materials, which may threaten national security: as raw materials supplies dwindle and extracting them becomes more dangerous and environmentally damaging, it’s evident that we need to look at reusing what materials we already have and developing a circular economy.
  2. Further devolution of powers could be a barrier to a more sustainable system: evidence for the inquiry suggests that devolution may be a barrier as a sustainable system strategy would require national government leadership.
  3. The UK needs to close the gap between the worst and best performers on non-labour productivity to make a meaningful difference: many firms have already made staggering advances in their use of materials, water and energy, however too many others are not treating this as a strategic priority
  4. Transitioning to a sustainable industrial system depends on the leadership of UK manufacturing companies, and of UK government: this alert is significant. The UK’s government needs to lead on the development of a new industrial strategy, but it needs to bring manufacturing companies along too to develop a strategy that will last. After all, these are the organisations that will have to implement it and they need to be listened to

Becoming a leader in manufacturing

I want to highlight that a global transition to a more sustainable form of manufacturing will need to happen on a global scale, and the UK can be a leader in many areas of this transformation.

However, we need to be inwardly critical and have a deeper understanding of these challenges and opportunities in order to really flourish.

The final report findings will emphasise themes that look at the overall sustainability of the sector, from environmental matters to circular economy and economic resilience; leadership; redesigning the manufacturing system, and innovation – all vital aspects to enabling the sector to transform, flourish, and evolve.

But our final conclusions will be released at the report launch on October 27.

It is clear from the conclusions of the inquiry we are about to publish that we ultimately need another industrial revolution, based on a deeper understanding of the interaction between manufacturing and the physical world it takes place in.

That is why I want to take this report to Paris for the climate talks COP21 – there is a way forward, and this report really drives how this can be achieved.

I am really looking forward to seeing the impact of the report.