Reduce, Reuse, Remanufacture and Recycle

British industry can see which way the wind is blowing, and has made rapid progress to ensure operations have a sustainable foundation, writes Ashley Oulton.

During the past month I have spoken to more than 40 manufacturers to get a deep sense of their progress on, and specific priorities for, the sustainability of their business

UK manufacturers are certainly very aware of the benefits that a sustainable manufacturing strategy can bring. Most frequently cited were:

  • increased operational efficiency
  • reduction in costs and waste
  • reduced carbon footprint
  • and building reputation with customers, staff and their community

A starting point for many of these manufacturers was a shift in mindset to embracing the ‘Circular Economy’.

This was viewed as designing products in a smarter way using reusable and recyclable environmentally friendly materials so that each product at end of life can become a new resource. This is a real priority in establishing a sustainable way ahead.

However, there is a lot of confusion over how best to incorporate it into existing products and processes.

Professor Steve Evans of the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM) at the University of Cambridge explained that, “A lot of companies are practising continuous improvement and a lot of people have the tools for Kaizen but are typically using it to focus on labour productivity.

“If you focus the same tools on energy and water and waste reduction and efficiency we know you get good results, so this is the single most powerful tool.”

Sustainability strategy plans should be addressed in a coordinated, integrated and formal manner and the initial focus should be on increased competitiveness and revenues and not just cost-cutting and improved efficiency.

It’s also important that all stakeholders collaborate and work together to agree on the requirements prior to it being implemented.

One of the biggest challenges that manufacturers face is to implement a cost-effective sustainability strategy that has buy-in from all employees. There will also be initial additional costs and it’s clear that UK manufacturers will be competing with overseas competitors who may not have to follow such strict policies.

However, many companies find that when they begin introducing sustainable practices such as waste and energy reduction, water efficiency and circularity, it creates a leaner operation that drives down costs and makes them much more competitive.

Sustainable manufacturing checklist:

  • Organise an internal sustainability team who will set objectives, review your environmental impact and decide on priorities.
  • Identify targets that are important to you and data that should be collected to measure your progress
  • Examine your production process and determine how materials and components affect your environmental performance.
  • Look at operations’ impact and efficiency such as energy, greenhouse gas generation and emissions to air and water.
  • Determine how energy efficient and recyclable your products are.
  • Assess your results and understand trends in your performance.
  • Decide on a strategy to improve your performance and implement an action plan.


Ashley Oulton is the Conference Production Manager of the Sustainable Manufacturing Summit series of conferences, the next of which is taking place online on 18 June.